Opening track Ignore Alien Orders gives a full flavour of the album to follow: a progressive piece that builds from piano to a giant crescendo and calming down once more. A slightly creepy vocal sample plays throughout the opening that gives a sense of unease to the piece to start with, but the major key following feels reassuring and warm. The building further with the piano and percussive sounds with a lead guitar is reminiscent of the full mastery Johnston has, and a real tribute to his talents. The track would fit seamlessly into a sci-fi film soundtrack with its opening and closing running towards that kind of feel.
Throughout the album, there is a blend of a huge range of influences. Elements of hard rock creep in with the title track with the shredding and sweeping sections on the lead with crashing drums, blues rock on Impossible Things with its moody guitar riffs and more complex, cymbal/tom-driven drums. Poison Touch brings a neat funky style that is not as strong on other tracks, and the jazz-influenced riff and piano are key to this. Elsewhere, aspects of gypsy and pure prog rock are evident in every little touch of all instrument from the muted upstrokes of the guitar to plinky-sounding fingerstyle of the chording. Mostly this gives way to Johnston’s fantastic solos of the centre of the piece.
The album is mixed to near-perfection also. In the centre sits the lead guitar that gives the melody that would be given by the voice in a piece with vocals. The drums are directionally set to give a fully surrounding and immersive sound with the main groove in the centre and the toms and cymbals surrounding the spectrum. The piano even moves about in the mix on occasion, which weaves through the many layers of complex instrumentation seamlessly.
The standout track has to be the epic Hypergiant which stands at a solid 7:32. The track features some of the more complex, rock-focussed lead guitar parts that really show off Johnston’s abilities in this department, and the piano chording works well. The drums are heavy and simple, which allow a beat to be kept while not interfering with the supremacy of the guitar.
Overall then, Nick Johnston has put together a very good album. Spanning a range of genres with a mass of infusion, the work must surely be counted as one of the best prog albums of the last year for its sheer musicianship and capability on display. Not just guitars but piano, bass, drums, synthesisers and samples are used to create an auditory sensation like few vocal albums can, and the album really is a treat.
Stream the whole album below: