Steam Theory – Asunder (album review)

Where the 1970s were an era of classic prog bands, the 1990s of prog metal bands, it seems  the 2010s are the time of the one man projects that may or may nog grow in to bands. Last week I posted a review for Oliver Rüsing’s Karibow, earlier I also had a review for Marco Ragni’Mother of the Sun, and (Robin) Taylor’s Universe. now it’s time for Steam Theory, a one man project of multi-instrumentalist Jason Denkevitz. Meanwhile, the list of pending reviews has a few additional ones (Tiger Moth Tales, which is Peter Jones) and Kalle Vilpuu’s Silver Ligning to name two).

Steam Theory Asunder

In case of Steam Theory, we are talking about a one man project, as said by Jason Denkevitz, who released his first album in 2010. On that album (Enduring Delirium), and 2012’s Helios Rider, some drummers and a keyboard player were playing their part – on the new album Denkevitz played all instruments himself. In the mean time, he has assembled a four-piece band though, to take the material to live performances.

On this album, which lasts almost 90 minutes, we are treated to 13 tracks, 3 of which are over 9 minutes long. The music of Steam Theory is described on the band’s web site as ‘Attempting to fuse several genres together, the goal was to maintain a priority on strong themes and melodies’. In that, Denkevitz has surely succeeded. Just looking at the notes I took while listening to the album, I come across the words ‘classic prog’, ‘movie sound track’, ‘prog metal’, ‘jazz rock’, ‘classical orchestration’ and even ‘psychedelic or space rock’ at various points. That, combined with the length of some of the tracks and the album itself, shows the strength as well as the weakness of this album: the music is heavily orchestrated, arranged in a non-trivial manner and very diverse. That makes it challenging and interesting to listen too, but also at some point almost impossible to grasp and to stay focused on. But I managed, and if I can do it, there must be more people who can.

So, what do we find on this album? From the opening, it is clear that orchestration, in an almost cinematographic way is an important piece of the music. Not a surprise for those who have read the announcement of the album, and certainly not bad. The first track, title track Asunder, starts like that, and gradually moves more into a rock feel, until exactly half way a visit is paid to jazz rock country, with a fretless bass and a shifting drum pattern as our guide. After this, the track goes off in an almost space rock direction.

The rest of the album shows more of the same heavy, sound track like orchestration, but still every track has it’s own merits. Adrift, which starts with an acoustic guitar with a mediterranean ring to it, later develops into a rockier piece with a guitar lead that borders on metal, and an instrumental part that is almost a classical orchestra. In a similar vein are the tracks Toys, Intar and Escape Velocity. The latter is a lot heavier than the former though – more metal like.

Completely different then those are Fireflies – which could be inspired by either one of the well known pieces The Typewriter, In the Hall of the Mountain King or Sting of the Bumblebee – and Shyft, which is a weird kind of Kraftwerk meets metal. Then, different again, is No Such Thing, which starts with a heavy, low, bass intro and builds up to a piece in which heavy rock and an orchestra compete for the lead. Heavy rock wins, with a biting guitar solo at the end.

The end of the album is marked by the 11 minute Saga, a true movie sound track, that is like a roller coaster ride. To difficult to explain, has to be experienced. Only thing left after this ride is Rejoinder, which indeed rejoins the listener with real life. An acoustic guitar and a (synth?) cello lead us back to reality in a calming way.

An interesting ride, that kept me busy for a while. I admire people like Jason Denkevitz for being able to play all instruments on albums like this. It is always clear though which is their main instrument, the acoustic and electric guitar playing are what makes most of the tracks really shine – even if, according to the liner notes, the main focus was on orchestration. For those who are into complex music (and most prog fans are) this is a recommended roller coaster ride, but be aware that it should be consumed in pieces, or on a long evening alone.