May 18, 2022

Beginning with a sample of speech, [Our Prism] heads into a pulverising yet constantly moving behemoth of a song, occupying its compact three and a half minutes with all the impact of a housebreaker who picks your lock, sneaks into the hallway, throws half a dozen hand grenades into the living room and saunters away whistling. Boom!! Followed closely by ‘What the hell happened there??’ As opening statements of intent go, they don’t get much more emphatic.

The return of Pure Reason Revolution is something which few fans of the band would have expected, and yet here we are in 2022 – eleven years since the band initially split up following a final show in Holmfirth for the Classic Rock Society – with the arrival of a new album, with core duo John Courtney and Chloe Alper joined by the returning Greg Jong, absent since 2005. In fact, since their reunion they have already produced one album, the conceptual Eupnea, which arrived in April 2020, just as the world started shutting down. For that reason it actually passed me by, but that is very soon going to be rectified now, that’s for sure. However, I digress. It’s hard to explain the niche which PRR occupied (and now do again) to anyone who remains unfamiliar with them. Their first full-length album, The Dark Third from 2006, was a landmark release, unique in its scope, which ranged from mantra-like pieces such as the 12-minute The Bright Ambassadors Of Morning, through glorious soaring choruses and steamhammer riffs. It sounds from that description as if it was prog-metal, but in reality it was far from that. Their live shows at the time were even more uncompromising, and their appearance at the Summers End festival in 2006 left half of the audience deeply unimpressed and the other half convinced that they had just witnessed something very special – this writer being in the latter camp. The next album, Amor Vincit Omnia, shook things up in a way which again polarised fans, with elements of electronica and even dance music being introduced significantly. It was PRR, but not as you knew them – but for those whose ears could attune, it was still full of merit. The third album Hammer And Anvil refined these influences again, and then the band were, unexpectedly, gone.

So, fast forward over a decade and how does the new release Above Cirrus fit into the band’s past catalogue? Well, older fans will be delighted to learn that it is significantly closer to the spirit of The Dark Third, but if anything darker and heavier still. The opening track, Our Prism, sets that stall out immediately, before overturning it dramatically and making you veer off the road into a ditch, which is what PRR were always so adept at doing! Beginning with a sample of speech, it heads into a pulverising yet constantly moving behemoth of a song, occupying its compact three and a half minutes with all the impact of a housebreaker who picks your lock, sneaks into the hallway, throws half a dozen hand grenades into the living room and saunters away whistling. Boom!! Followed closely by ‘What the hell happened there??’ As opening statements of intent go, they don’t get much more emphatic.

Of the seven tracks here (adding up to a nice listening duration of 45 minutes), if there is a centrepiece, and a standout track around which the album revolves, it would be the ten minute Scream Sideways. Positioned at Track Five, so just after the halfway point, it is clearly intended as a key statement – and boy, does it deliver. This epic track has just about everything you could want in a PRR song. It winds, serpentlike, through a number of different sections, and several ‘turn-on-a-dime’ moments when it smacks you in the head out of nowhere. There are gentle parts which lull you into melodic reverie, elements of the electronica influence here and there, and a number of parts which should have the sound of a large truck reversing down the street, with a sign on it saying ‘Punch In The Face, delivered to your door’. It’s ten minutes which are simultaneously draining and exhilarating, and it simply has to form a big part of future live shows.

There really isn’t a poor track on here, to be honest – every one has enough drama, heft and sheer powerful gravitas to level a small building. There are highlights, however, with the second track New Kind Of Evil itself over eight minutes and ploughing the same multitudinous furrows as Scream Sideways, but with the contrasts between dreamy reflection and pulverising aggression even more acutely drawn if anything. It’s kind of like being put under hypnosis very slowly and gently before, just as your eyes close, the guy shouts ‘Wake Up!!’ and smashes you in the head with one of those oversize mallets from a fairground ‘Test Your Strength’ machine. And then he does it again. And again. And even though it shocks you every time, you’re somehow hooked on it. Dead Butterfly, the next longest piece at seven minutes, has that same sort of effect. Perhaps the biggest and most unstoppable chorus on the whole record, however, is in the final track Lucid, which you could harness to power Blackpool Illuminations for a month. Even after being battered into submission by the previous 40 minutes of Guerrilla Prog, this one makes you sit up and take notice (quite literally if you are by now wanting a lie down). There could hardly be a better finale to the album, and leaves you amazed that they can turn what is essentially a very familiar trick over and over without it ever getting stale or boring.

It is the sheer power, and perfectly timed pacing, of the album which neatly prevents it from getting mired in a rut of its own making, because this could very easily have started to display elements of the ‘one trick pony’ about it. But somehow it never does, and part of that reason is the skill and care which goes into the vocal harmony arrangements. The album is a little like a swan in that regard, in that it seems to have a simple template going on, but below the surface there are so many little touches being utilised that it is shifting and changing constantly almost without being noticed. Where the swan analogy falls down of course is that they are famously calm and serene on the surface, whereas if this album was translated into swan form, it would drift along majestically for a little while, enticing you in to watch it in its easy langour, before suddenly attacking you, beating you to the floor and hurling you into the water. That’s Pure Reason Revolution in a nutshell – the Attack Swans of the prog world…

If you’ve been a fan of the previous PRR albums – particularly the early material – then this is going to be better than you ever dared to dream, and you are without doubt going to adore it. If you’re new to the band, this will give you as good an introduction to their world as any other. Give it a listen, and if you don’t run to the hills from the sonic roller-coater effect then welcome aboard, you’ll be a fan. I just can’t wait for some of this stuff to be unleashed onstage. That’s going to be some show…