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Unified Past: Spots

I was honored to be invited back to review Unified Past's new release Spots after reviewing their last album Observations in August of 2011. Unified Past is a Syracuse, NY progressive rock band headed by master's degree in classical performance guitarist and vocalist Stephen Speelman. Unified Past is also fortunate to include: drummer, Victor Tassone, who has recently worked on The Colin Tench Project, Andy Bradford's Oceans 5, and John Orr Franklyn's Reaching Ground Project. Dave Mickelson, completes the triad, on bass guitar. Mickelson is also bassist for Joey Belladonna's band as well as Chief Big Way.

Spots is Unified Past's sixth release and their second release for Melodic Revolution Records. With Spots, Unified Past has launched with the bold brushstrokes of Ed Unitsky's cover and CD artwork, and some fresh sounds which engage the listener on an "aural adventure to various musical spots across the progressive rock landscape", while infusing their own signature features and benefits of sound and emotion within.

"Blank" kicks things off within an aural space soundscape of keyboard and synth infusion that will delight the senses as well as unleash the emotions of the keyboard player in anyone. Then Tassone's joins in the growing speed train of motion that is filling the headset. Speelman's Eddie Jobson – like electronic vocals are perfect for this spacey, gyrating, galactic sound. Mickelson's bass is solid and anchors the production well. Those great lyrics I remember from Observations, are now augmented with even deeper feelings on Spots: "I'm your forgotten one. I'll always be your son. Treasure the time we spent. How much it meant". Amen.

"Deep", opens with cascading guitar riffs and keyboards surrounding the soundscape, as capable bass balances the brilliant high keys with deep lows. The drums pound measured rhythm perfectly between the highs. That Eddie Jobson effect on the vocals is fantastic. "Discolored sights. There before my eyes, distorted fields of view. Kaleidoscopic and picturesque - So complex I can't see through. Random chaos can be perceived..." Yah, just like that! However, what seems to be obscured to others makes perfect sense to Speelman as he sings, "What lies beyond is so obvious. It doesn't need to be revealed to us. No need to shout or to make a fuss. It all makes perfect sense". Yes.

"Hot", well yes it is. I'd say 'white hot', if you enjoy laser sharp electric guitar chords throwing lightning like Tesla back at the sky, then yes, you'll enjoy this. But don't forget the deep bass providing balance and the constant rhythm of that drum assault. The organ – like keys and synths maximize the feelings and emotions that fill the soundscape. The band even bursts into some nursery rhyme themes just for fun. Yes, throughout this album you can sense and feel the magic and enjoyment this band is having in the performance. There is an accompanying You Tube video which I suggest you watch to experience the full effect, (, 2013). This is a power packed instrumental showcasing each band member's potential to rock.

"Seeing" has a very cool lead guitar mountain climbing sequence at the opening that immediately grabs your attention, before Speelman's vocals, "I'm out there traveling; the sky looks threatening. The landscape gets redefined as it goes by so fast", then, more of those fantastic keyboard rhythms take over. "Observing cultures; amazing sculptures. I drive on, into the night, ready to win the fight. Feeling wired, far from tired". Yah, a red hot ride into the sunset in Unified Past's own "Red Barchetta".

"Tough" opens full of power with those shoulder gripping bass and electric guitar growls which let you know they mean business. Solid thunder and power from the drums, with few keyboards at the opening. This is meant to threaten and amaze in other ways. Simply one of the best instrumentals on the album. A heavy metal landscape of pulverizing drums and keyboard wizardry which arises from the ashes later to stun and amaze. At over eight minutes it is one of the longest tracks on the album. You'll want to thank them for that.

"Age" is another soaring epic of power lead electric, heavy bass, and Neil Peart – like drumming. Then some of those Eddie Jobson keys I remember from the Zinc album. Only the rest of this song is heavier, set to a Rush, (think light keys/heavy bass), meets King Crimson, (epic keys and thundering guitar from above), with maybe Keith Emerson's keys thrown in for safekeeping. Speelman sings, "I'll act my age when I'm in the grave. Alive with moments that I save. The outside form might show it's worn. But inside I'm feeling so reborn". I couldn't have said it any better.

"Sun" dazzles with more of those brilliant lead electric climbs at the opening. But the heavy bass bolts through the doors along with the thunder of drums to re-charge your batteries with another brilliant instrumental extravaganza. With a title like "Sun", you know it will soar high.

"Big", opens with memories of everything from ELP, King Crimson to bits and pieces of Rush's 70s epics. Yes, thinking big is well within the realms of this track. Emerson would probably appreciate all the many tips of the hat. This is another keyboard enthusiast's wonder track. But the bass, drums and launching guitar spires will satisfy as well.

"Wet" is another instrumental track full of magnificent keys, chugging bass, pounding drums and master's level guitar shredding.

"G" is put simply, as much fun as you can have with the chords of the bass. A bass lover's drift through thick full notes full of weighty images.

For "The Final", Speelman drops the electronic vocal acoustics. He sings with all the power given to him. "I'm feeling enlightened, a new sense of being. The meaning of life I now know. "Glowing around me, buzzing within me. Rising above from down low". "Sharpening focus, my perception's evolving. Expressing what I never show I could hear the silence roar. I could sense the weather change. The storm grows. And things I barely knew-became so clear", with that Geddy Lee vocal I remember from Observations.

Then some excellent keyboards lead us out into the open skyline and soundscape with power drums building drama, supported with bass and deeper keys. The grinding electric guitar drawing a deep, dark mystic haze. Yes, it's epic. Almost eight and a half minutes worth of power and glory. Speelman sings, "The night was alive with a language of sounds. That played like a symphony. Seemed like Carnegie Hall". Yah, you get that feeling here. Speelman sings, "Absorbing the night and the intense energy. Awakened to the possibilities. Transcending three dimensional fields. Such curious discoveries". Then the closing line, "And things I barely knew-became so clear". Yes, a song of discovery for Unified Past and hopefully for all who hear this album.

"Is this progressive rock?", was one of the first questions asked on the band's Facebook page when the album's debut single, "Hot" was released. Well, for my two cents and aural sense the answer is an obvious yes. For this band it is a progression from their last album. As a master's level guitar player, Speelman, already packed enough power and "gymnastics", as he puts it, into Observations to quell any discussions. Tassone's drums again prove he is one of the many underestimated drummers in the genre. Mickelson's bass further proves he is reaching higher levels of aptitude and ability that compete with the best.

Observations was an excellent album, however, the visual and aural combination of Spots improvements serge through from the opening track through "The Final". You can sense this band is having more fun on this album than the last. That is always a sign to me of not only their confidence, but their comfort with their place within the genre of new progressive rock.

Ed Unitsky's artwork captures the evolution of the band and its reach to inspire all fans of progressive rock to dream higher.

Yes, I can suggest Spots for any fan of progressive rock of the past or present. The Unified Past of this band combines the fruits of legendary sounds with the excitement in finding something new that transcends time and space. This is one of the best albums of 2013.

Track Listing:

1. Blank
2. Deep
3. Hot
4. Seeing
5. Tough
6. Age
7. Sun
8. Big
9. Wet
10. G
11. The Final

Added: September 5th 2013
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
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Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Unified Past: Spots
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-09-05 17:25:00
My Score:

Unified Past, based out of the New York area, have been around for since 1999. It was then that the band Labyrinth changed their name. They released their first album From The Splintered Present Surfaces…The Unified Past that same year but it would be another nine years until their second album Tense was released. For their first three albums Unified Past was a duo consisting of guitarist Stephen Speelman and drummer Victor Tassone. In 2012 bassist Dave Mickelson joined creating the bands current line-up. On their latest album Spots Speelman also sings and plays keyboards.

This is an album of heavy guitar riffs, pounding drums, solid lead vocals and just enough keys to add some colour. Speelman does not have a great voice but he uses it very effectively, not trying to do too much and it suites the music well. Included are six instrumentals and it is here where the band really seems to shine taking the music to new heights. Don't get me wrong, I like all the tracks but the band really takes it up a notch instrumentally and the music is all the better for it. A case in point is the album's fifth track "Tough" starting with powerful metal riffs before heading into Dream Theater-like intensity. The music slows to allow for some excellent guitar/keyboard interplay before pretty acoustic guitar and swells of orchestration signify another change of pace. Just an all-around fabulous track. Another favourite is the blistering "Hot" taking a cue from Grace Under Pressure-era Rush. At times the guitar takes on a fusion-like sound and Speelman's playing throughout the album is excellent.

The more I listen the more I like this album. The music rocks so if you like your prog on the heavy side Unified Past will be well worth your time. They may not be a household name yet but if their previous albums are anywhere near as good as Spots they are certainly a band to watch out for. Easily recommended!

Unified Past: Spots
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-06-18 10:14:20
My Score:

New York prog outfit Unified Past are now a handful of releases into their catalog and have come up with another winner here with Spots. Featuring plenty of hints at the greats of the '70s but delivered with a modern flair, anyone who is into contemporary progressive rock should find much to enjoy here.

To my ears there seems to be a 'heavier' feel here on Spots; not quite Dream Theater heavy, but perhaps a crunch factor that permeated the early Rush albums, thanks in part to Stephen Speelman's thick guitar tone, as he fires off volleys of riffs and scorching leads on tracks such as "Hot", "Age", and "Sun". Plenty of tasty keyboards flying around as well (mostly supplied by Speelman as well), which will be perfect for fans of Yes, ELP, and Genesis. Drummer Victor Tassone delivers a non stop acrobatic assault of stick work, and bassist Dave Mickelson is always busy pumping his melodic grooves underneath it all. Despite the somewhat 'low budget-ish' sounding production, it's kind of warm & charming and seems to work in this instance with these songs. "Big" just gives me this warm, fuzzy feeling, reminding me at times of The Grand Illusion by Styx with all the sumptuous keyboards and melodic yet heavy riffs.

A good portion of the album is instrumental, and that's when things work the best. Speelman isn't necessarily a bad singer, but his upper register vocals can be grating in spots, and you have to wonder what this formidable band might sound like with a really talented singer fronting these exciting progressive rock songs. All in all, Spots is, for the most part, pretty 'spot-on' as far as delivering hard hitting symphonic progressive rock, and you would be well advised to check this one out.

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