Unicorn Records, known normally for releasing CD's from quality Canadian progressive rock and fusion artists, have really hit a home run here with Norwegian band Retroheads. A brief history of the band sees Tore Bo Bendixen (who plays vocals/keyboards/guitar/bass/programming, and is also a former member of Fruitcake) putting together the pieces of the Retroheads project from early 2003-2004, writing much of the material and slowly putting together a band. Here he got together with singer Ann-Kristin Bedixen, guitarist Tommy Berre, guitarist Ole Staveteig, and drummer Harald Skutterlud (who has since been replaced by Istvan Pados), and Retroheads were born. The music of the band is firmly rooted in the sounds of the great prog music of the 70's, with a modern edge that hints ever so slightly at perhaps early Flower Kings. This is a group that realizes their influences, but has expanded on that to create something really fresh and enjoyable.
One thing that becomes quickly apparent is the overabundance of vintage keyboard sounds throughout this album. "Earthsong" kicks off with cascades of Mellotron sounds and loads of wild MiniMoog passages, and brief moments of "Man" will instantly remind you of the vibe that we all used to get when listening to those old Genesis albums of the early 70's. Ann-Kristin's lovely vocals add a nice pastoral nature to "Judgement Day", a song also notable for the intricate fusion guitar leads from Berre and supple organ work from Bendixen. "Dreams" is just that, a dreamy yet symphonic number that sees both Ann-Kristin and Tore sharing lead vocals, with Tore's sounding very much like a fiery Roine Stolt, and the music is spacey and atmospheric, featuring gobs of keyboards and stinging guitar work. Drummer Skutterud adds in some nice drum fills on this one underneath the soaring Mellotron, MiniMoog, and Hammond sounds courtesy of Bendixen.
The Flower Kings meet classic Gentle Giant on the raging "World Reveal", a song with rocking guitar licks, ARP keyboard leads rooted in counterpoint, and majestic male and female lead vocals. Plus, who can complain about the surplus of Mellotron and Taurus Bass Pedals? Certainly not me. Berre performs an excellent extended lead guitar solo here that is quite nice, and it reminded me a little of Steve Howe, especially in the fact that he mixed it up with some rock, fusion, and classical flavors. On "Urban Flight Delight", the band once again dips into their Gentle Giant bag a little, yet with a contemorary and harder edge, as they hit you with churning unison guitar/bass/keyboard lines before the main theme sets in with Tore's melodic vocals and haunting Hammond chords. Berre then jumps in with a wonderful solo that at first reeks of Steve Hackett, then progresses into a melodic, tasty, overdriven chops fest.
The two final cuts, "Taking My Time" and "The Fool" are both moody symphonic numbers. The former has a strong Genesis feel to it, with Hackett inspired guitar leads, MiniMoog, Mellotron, Hammond, flute sounds, and a gentle guitar/keyboard duel between Staveteig and Bendixen, which then leads to monstrous Mellotron soundscapes before Staveteig comes back in for a ripping guitar solo. Tore's vocals on this one reminded me a lot of early Camel, adding in another surprising 70's influence, and his keyboard work on "The Fool" will also remind you of that band as well.
Retroheads have done an amazing job utilizing modern technology and VST instruments to recreate all these vintage sounds, and progressive rock fans should undulge in the obvious "retro" experience and soak it all up, many times, for maximum satisfaction. In fact, I'll leave you now so I can pop on the headphones and hit the start button all over again.
3) Judgement Day
5) World Reveal
6) Starry Night
7) Urban Flight Delight
8) Taking My Time
9) The Foot