Easily the best release so far on the new ProgRock Records label, the sophomore platter from Atlanta's Man on Fire is a confident step forward for the band. The group has seemingly matured by leaps and bounds as far as songwriting and musicianship goes, and The Undefined Design is a gem of an album because of it.
Still comprised of Jeff Hodges on vocals, keyboards, samples, & loops, Eric Sands on bass & guitars, and Steve Carroll (the Peter Sinfield of the group, contributing lyrics and esoterics), the guys are joined by former Kansas member David Ragsdale, who plays violin on three cuts, and David Smith, Jimmy Mouton, and Adam Stoker, all adding drums. The CD is chock full of memorable melodies, lush atmospheric moments, and hard- hitting proggy workouts. Ragsdale adds some gorgeous ,whispy violin work to the fascinating "Just Out of Reach" (remixed from their debut CD), a tune that has a melody that will remain in your head for days. In a perfect world, this song is Top 10 material folks, with a catchy chorus, lyrics dealing with the promise of the afterlife, and Sands' yearning bass lines. The three part epic "Awake" is a tour-de-force for the band. The vocals of Jeff Hodges are powerful and melodic, at times sounding like a cross of modern-day Geddy Lee on the high end, and Steve Lukather from Toto on the low. Featuring lots of dreamy keyboard atmospherics, crunchy guitar work, and plenty of hooks, "Awake" is a journey that has something for everyone. Kudos to Trish Howell for adding some inspired backing vocals to this one on part two-"Bitter Tears Burning."
Other highlights include the prog-metal meets jazz-fusion of "Seven Thunders Wide" (check out the mesh of heavy guitars and Jaco Pastorius inspired bass work!), the funky "Entertaining Angels", and the Rush-like rocker "The Great Divide." Fans of Saga will dig the bubbling synth/guitar orgy of "Inside of the Circle", a churning rocker that also has lots of commercial appeal, as well as "Clouds in the Sun", which combines somber moods with upbeat, catchy melodies quite well. There's even some neat "metal meets electronica" on the rampaging "Wasted Time" , an angry tune that adds some extra dimension to this already masterful work.
There's no doubt that this CD will be getting many more spins here at Casa de Pardo for quite some time. Man on Fire has thrown together many elements here: progressive rock, prog-metal, funk, jazz, ambient, electronica, and world music, to create one of 2003's most enjoyable releases. Highly recommended!