There’s been no shortage of releases for IQ fanatics to absorb since the most recent studio album The Road Of Bones came stampeding into their lives five years ago. Two lengthy live sets (including their first ever blu-ray), a jam-packed deluxe anniversary edition of their classic Ever album, the wonderfully charming Tales From A Dark Christmas, and even a soundtrack by Michael Holmes for the film based on their concept album Subterranea. But what many of the die-hards have made apparent (from their thrice weekly internet posts on the subject) is that what they’ve really been clamouring for is a new studio album. Truthfully, five years can feel like an eternity to wait for the next album from one’s favourite band, but it’s actually not an unusual length of time between releases in today’s musical climate. Either way, that wait is mercifully over on 27 September, when IQ unveils its twelfth studio album.
Festooned with the customary IQ-isms that have endeared them to their ravenous fan base for over 35 years, Resistance is a lavish and dramatic affair – a double CD (or triple vinyl LP, if you prefer) that dares to better its weighty, potent predecessor. Melodic keyboard lines and guitar solos are plentiful. Epic compositions built on mood, texture and dynamics frequently burst into all out instrumental rapture. Peter Nicholls delivers his evocative lyrics with a fervent theatricality and enchanting voice, as rich and characterful in 2019 than at any time in his career. And oh my… those bass pedals and mellotrons. The sheer, thunderous majesty of them, compelling the listener to shut their eyes, lest they become alarmed at the sight of their arm hairs standing on end.
Leadoff track A Missile recalls previous album openers Frequency and From The Outside In, with its heavy beat and chugging riffs, dotted with an array of keyboard sounds courtesy of the impressive Neil Durant, and intricate, high-energy playing from stalwart drummer Paul Cook. The band’s unique brand of beautiful eeriness is on full display in Rise, as Nicholls sings: Angels die, redemption rages, the age of man on an empty page, and chances are this will save your soul – or break it forever… a powerful and effective track that demands the listener’s attention until it has ended. Stay Down is another highlight with its long piano and vocal intro slowly building as the addition of string sounds, acoustic guitar and percussion become increasingly ominous until the lid is blown off and we are in full-on IQ territory (yes, those never unwelcome pedals and mellotrons again). An early favourite from the album for sure, and I don’t expect it will fade over time. Original bassist Tim Esau, now back for his second album in a row, is again the unsung hero of the band, cementing these tracks with a booming resonance that may lift some speakers a few inches from the floor. The track fades into Alampandria, which at first appears to be an atmospheric synth piece to link larger pieces of music together, but surprisingly it becomes its own brief yet striking song – an unusual arrangement for IQ.
Holmes gets in a prolonged and tasty guitar solo over the climactic ending of Shallow Bay, another strong piece with Cook showing again why he’s one of the most underrated drummers in the biz. Epic closing track For Another Lifetime begins on something of a bizarre note, with Nicholls singing over top of what sounds a bit like being in a Parisian café – if it was visited by a UFO(!) But after a spell, this opening section leads to a purposeful large scale piece that delivers everything that IQ does best. The band fire on all cylinders as emotive vocal sections give way to dazzling instrumental workouts – all the while showcasing Nicholls’ lyrics, their meaning just elusive enough to give them a broader, more universal appeal. This is a track that needs to be put into their live set.
As with Bones, disc 2 is decked out with the tracks that were not considered thematically worthy of inclusion on the album proper, and these four alone total close to an hour. To think of these as somehow ‘lesser’ or as mere bonus tracks would be to do them a grave injustice. This disc is essentially another new IQ album, one that will disappoint precisely zero fans. In fact, the two longest epics are found here. Of these, Fallout is perhaps the best, but there’s no doubt any of these tracks will be someone’s favourite of the entire Resistance set, as they are all of tremendous quality. At 22 minutes, The Great Spirit Way is the longest piece across both CDs, and is in some ways a typical journey through the dynamic landscapes, peaks and valleys that the band has become known for throughout the years, but with perhaps more in common with their earlier albums than the rest of Resistance.
IQ know exactly how to conjure the atmosphere their fans adore (and demand), which is not to suggest they are catering to them. Perhaps this is just the kind of stuff they love writing and listening to themselves. And if it is a matter of being a tad formulaic, it’s a formula that works, as they’ve successfully proved by crafting and honing their own sound through the long voyage of their career. Within mere seconds of hearing an IQ track, there’s never a doubt as to who it is – a massive accomplishment in an age where any one band can sound like a hundred others. Come the new year, the band will have existed in five different decades – their rare longevity made all the more unusual by the consensus among fans and critics that they continue to outdo themselves with every release, and that’s something that can only be admired.