Guess we are pretty lucky to have two releases from the formidable Stick Men within just a few short months of each other, with the recent live Midori and now their new studio album Prog Noir both scratching that itch for some eclectic, King Crimson inspired prog-rock. Of course, having current members of that legendary band on board in the forms of Tony Levin (Stick, vocals) and Pat Mestelotto (drums, percussion) sure doesn't hurt, but throw in the multi-talented Markus Reuter (Touch guitars, vocals) and you have a trio that means business. Prog Noir features 10 new tracks, running the gamut from intricate prog, to jazz fusion, to lean atmospheric rockers, all performed impeccably by the group with their usual sophisticated twist.
When you have two of the best rhythm players in the business on board, it's not hard to imagine that much of Prog Noir is a bona fide groove fest, and it certainly is. The title cut kicks things off, Levin's elastic Stick weaving around Mastelotto's acrobatic drums as Reuter creates much of the coloring, the almost spoken word vocals providing for moments of distraction from the alluring instrumentation. It's a trend we also see on the quirky "Plutonium" as well as the darker, more robotic "The Tempest", where vocals become just another instrument; they aren't necessarily there to impress, just to add to the wall of sound. This might come across in a negative way to some, as neither Levin or Reuter are necessarily a good singer, but their vocals complement and blend in with the instrumentation rather that distract from it. Reuter's blazing Touch guitar solos on "Schattenhaft" have a jagged, sizzling quality that will certainly remind of Robert Fripp at times (and just check out Levin & Mastelotto cooking up a storm underneath him on this one), while his gorgeous, liquid lines on the soaring "Rose in the Sand / Requiem" are a thing of beauty. Perhaps the most intense tune here on Prog Noir is the complex "Leonardo" (a nod to MoonJune Records main man Leonardo Pavkovic?), chock full of twisting, swirling, dazzling lines from Levin & Reuters while Mastelotto digs deep with some incredible drum work...uncanny stuff. "Trey's Continuum" is another jaw dropper with some incredible ensemble playing, and the quirky "Embracing the Sun" is like a head on collision between King Crimson and Gentle Giant, the musical counterpoint that is going on will make your head spin with sheer delight. Vocals return for the lengthy closer "Never the Same" (is it me, or does the singing sound a tad like Roine Stolt & Hasse Froberg of The Flower Kings?), a fun, upbeat & atmospheric prog rocker with some sensational work from all three members to finish things up here.
The talents of these three musicians is clearly on display throughout Prog Noir, a fun, adventurous album filled with charming melodies and daring instrumental virtuosity. Whether I'm completely sold on the vocals or not really matters not as they only play a role in a few songs, ultimately this is a very strong album that will be hard to ignore by any serious progressive rock fan.
See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!
1. Prog Noir
4. The Tempest
6. Rose in the Sand / Requiem
8. Trey's Continuum
9. Embracing the Sun
10. Never the Same