Pennsylvania's North Star return with their first release since the 2000 comeback album Tempest, which was their first record since 1991's Power. For those who are not familiar with this US prog band, they have been around the scene since the mid-70's and first made their mark in 1984 with the release of Triskelion, which was a strong mix of Genesis & ELP styled 70's prog with some of the newer influences of the neo-prog movement of bands like Marillion and IQ. Well, fast forward to today and Extremes, which is more of a full-fledged band effort after the mostly instrumental Tempest. Back once again is the classic line-up of Kevin and Glenn Leonard on keyboards and drums, guitarist Dave Johnson, and vocalist Joe Newnam. Bass on the album is handled by Johnson and Kevin Leonard. Once again, the sound is rooted in classic keyboard-led symphonic prog, with Gabriel era Genesis as the main point of reference. As with other bands of recent memory like The Watch, Mangala Valis, and Citizen Cain, North Star are able to successfully scratch that Genesis itch that many of us seem to have, with Newnam's effective Gabriel-ish vocals, Leonard's wide array of keyboards, Johnson's multitude of electric and acoustic guitar patterns, and Glenn Leonard's intricate drum work. Add that together with melodic and symphonic songs that also happen to be pretty lengthy, and you have the recipe for a formula that works.
The opener, "Midnight Soldier", kicks things off in grand fashion, and at nearly 9-minutes long gets the progressive blood pumping with plenty of majestic keyboard passages, tasty guitar licks, and addicting vocals. "Sometimes In the Suburbs" is a real emotional ride, with wonderful Banks styled keyboard melodies from Kevin Leonard that just screams the Selling England By the Pound era of Genesis, as does the pastoral and atmospheric "Battles Waged Before". Just close your eyes and pretend that this is a lost Genesis track, as Newnam's vocals and Johnson's lush guitars lead you in to some wild Moog solos from Leonard, which makes for an intoxicating brew. Quirky lyrics and intricate keyboards lead the way on "The Form", and the whole band fires up some bombastic sounds on "Stained Glass Door", featuring some molten guitar solos from Johnson. The ultra complex and symphonic "Living on the Fringe" is another tour-de-force for Leonard's acrobatic keyboard passages and Johnson's nimble yet muscular guitar leads.
While Extremes might not be the most original sounding prog album that you'll hear this year, there's no denying that these talented veterans know their niche and turn out quality 70's influenced art-rock that lovers of the genre can enjoy.
1) Midnight Soldier (8:35)
2) Star Child (4:00)
3) Sometimes in the Suburbs (7:00)
4) Battles Waged Before (10:10)
5) The Form (6:55)
6) Dr. Pill's Backlash Ballroom (2:13)
7) Unleashed (6:12)
8) Live with Liberty (4:14)
9) Stained Glass Door (3:39)
10) Living on the Fringe (8:37)