On "A Different Man," the slow-building opening cut from Under A New Sign — the long-time-coming second album by Dutch proggers Knight Area — howling winds and twinkling keyboards quickly swell and give way to Mark Smit's thin but alluring vocals. By the midway point, the song is rocking in the classic vein of many similar bands that the members of Knight Area cite as influences: Marillion, Arena, IQ, Pendragon. Dynamic mellotron and flute interplay, rich Hammond organ and unexpectedly sharp guitars reign supreme throughout this 55-minute affair that fits comfortably somewhere in the middle of progressive rock's old and new generations.
Three years after Knight Area's The Sun Also Rises took listeners by surprise, Under A New Sign seeks to do so again — this time with a punchier, more aggressive sound that begins with track two, "Exit L.U.M.C.," and reaches it zenith on songs like "Mastermind" and "Dreamweaver." That's when this one-time studio project takes flight with its new full-band status, veering toward prog-metal territory occupied by the likes of Dream Theater, Enchant and Magellan. Despite seven band members, led by duo-keyboard-playing brothers Gerben and Joop Klazinga, Knight Area doesn't make dense music. Rather, it's vibrant and well-paced: The melancholy, prayer-like "Courteous Love" (highlighted by a cello solo) separates some of the heavier tracks, and the 13-minute epic finale "A Different Man, Part II" expands on the opening song. And as was the case with the title cut from The Sun Also Rises, Under A New Sign's title track is another instrumental — among the happiest-sounding pieces here and unencumbered by the mystical, angsty lyrics that color the rest of the record.
Still, upon initial spins, I was indifferent to this album, ready to give it only three and a half stars; after spending more time under this Sign, though, I'm bumping it up a half-notch. Repeat listening recommended.
1) A Different Man
2) Exit L.U.M.C.
4) Under A New Sign
5) Courteous Love
7) A Different Man, Part II