It is hard to believe it has been five years since IQ's last album Dark Matter. Finally, the new release is upon us and I am pleased to report it was well worth the wait. In fact, this is the best album in their entire cannon. That statement is not to be taken lightly as we all know the quality that has been displayed by this band over the years. Their sound has not changed tremendously from their last album, although there may be more darker moments. They are like a fine wine, they just keep getting better with age. All facets of the band are at their peak and it is a pleasure to hear such outstanding music. While I enjoyed Dark Matter immensely I feel the new album has even more to like. It must be said that Mark Westworth does an outstanding job on the keyboards. There are a variety of sounds he produces and each one of them fits exactly where it should in the framework of each composition. From dark atmospherics to melodic synth and keyboard solos, there is plenty to digest for any keyboard fan. At times Westworth's playing is subtle providing a backdrop for the other instruments to shine. However, his performance can also be quite bombastic in nature dominating the musical landscape. Also a highlight is the guitar playing of Mike Holmes. Over the years he has really matured as a musician and he provides plenty of spine tingling moments through these seven tunes. Whether delicate acoustic strumming, heavier tones or deliciously melodic leads, his playing is excellent throughout and provides much of the album's backbone and bite. Also of note is Jowitt's bass which seems to be more prominent than ever before. Nicholls also leaves his mark with his unique, warm voice. Sometimes fragile, sometimes biting and always melodic, his voice suits their sound perfectly.
The album begins with the title track which sounds like classic IQ. Peaceful moments intertwined with heavier parts while never forgetting the importance of a good melody. Shards of guitar break the tranquility leading to a classic Holme's solo. Very dramatic and very IQ. The lovely piano-work of Westworth begins "Life Support", a beautiful song filled with emotion and atmosphere. Though slower in tempo, the song never loses steam and continues the momentum provided by the first track. The grandiose "Stronger Than Friction" follows with an irresistible chorus and great solos from Westworth and Holmes. There is a slight Ayreonesque feel to some of the electronic elements put forth by Westworth and the song's darker moments contrast nicely with the more melodious parts. The sorrowful "One Fatal Mistake" sees Nicholls putting his heart on his sleeve both in his vocal delivery and song lyrics as he paints a picture of longing as he sings:
There's nowhere that I'd rather be
Cause no one can mean more to me
In tenements rocked against the wind
Our desperation reigned us in.
And he goes on to plead:
The best of you was locked away for so long
Don't wait another day
Imagine all the mysteries you're made of
The great adventures you would love
The wanderlust is all you dare to dream of
Don't say its too late, one fatal mistake.
By displaying so much conviction and emotion Nicholls is able to make these songs come to life.
At almost fourteen minutes "The Province" is the longest tune and one of my favourites. Delicate acoustic passages, dramatic and dark guitar riffs, tasty drum fills, interesting keyboard sounds and various changes in tempo and mood all meld together to form one excellent piece of music.
Thoroughly enjoyable, this is an indispensible offering that IQ can be proud of. Whether you like neo, symphonic or good old fashioned progressive rock you cannot go wrong here. My favourite album of the year thus far and surely likely to be one of the top albums of 2009.
2. Life Support
3. Stronger Than Friction
4. One Fatal Mistake
5. Ryker Skies
6. The Province
Added: June 24th 2009
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Band's Official Site
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Posted by Ryan Sparks, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-02-09 21:42:19
IQ has been at the forefront of symphonic progressive rock for almost thirty years. Along with other like minded British outfits Marilion, Pallas etc
IQ picked up the torch and carried it proudly into the 80's and beyond, beginning with their cassette only Seven Stories Into Eight release in 1982. While the bands lineup has had various different looks over the years, they have consistently been able to deliver albums of unparalleled quality and their latest effort Frequency continues the trend.
The departure of original keyboardist Martin Orford in 2007 might have been viewed as something of a major setback for longtime fans, but new member Mark Westworth, (along with drummer Andy Edwards who also makes his recording debut with the band on Frequency) has integrated himself flawlessly into the mix. His beautifully layered keyboard textures on the title track, also the opening number, are nothing short of exemplary. Westworth's lush arrangements on the Mellotron blend harmoniously with singer Peter Nicholls' warm, confident vocal tones, and guitarist Mike Holmes' fiery, melodic solos. Each of Frequency's seven tracks offers a plethora of stunning musicianship and superbly crafted songs, whether it's the soaring keyboard melodies and note perfect Steve Hackett-esque guitar solo on "Life Support" or the overall epic feel to the arrangements on the thirteen minute track "The Province", the majestic qualities of this disc cannot be overlooked.
IQ is quite simply one of the best modern sounding progressive bands around. They incorporate elements of classic prog and spin it in such a way that it sounds remarkably fresh. You know these guys have chops to burn, but their subtle approach speaks volumes about their talents as composers and arrangers, as well as musicians. If you buy only one progressive album this year Frequency should be THE album.
(originally reviewed for www.classicrockrevisited.com)
Posted by Alex Torres, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-06-24 12:42:35
Understand this I am the party-pooper here. I have bought two IQ albums prior to Frequency and don't enjoy listening to either: they are The Wake and Ever. I bought Frequency because I felt that I just had to hear what all the fuss was about; reviewers everywhere seemed to be going ga-ga for it. I listened to it once, it didn't impress me a lot. Then SoT sent me a review copy. Oh, bugger, I'm gonna have to listen to the thing again! So, as the third reviewer in this round-table, I am giving myself the luxury of departing with tradition by giving you a totally subjective perspective from a non-IQ fan's point of view, which may be helpful in determining whether or not you part with your cash for the album.
The immediate impression one gets as "Frequency" kicks off is that this is music with balls. Immediately, it is more appealing than the other albums that I've heard. Beyond that, on the first couple of hearings, I began to lose interest after about half-way my normal reaction to IQ and struggled to maintain concentration and focus on the music. However, this time perseverance did bring brought enhanced enjoyment as I began to attune to the music....so much so that I now intend to go out and buy Dark Matter, another IQ album with a high reputation.
There are many bands whose albums improve with repeated hearings nothing new there but there has to be a hook somewhere, on that first crucial listen, to persuade the fan to give the disc another spin. I've struggled to find that on the two IQ albums I've heard previously; Frequency is actually better in that regard but I still found it hard work initially. I have two general difficulties with the band's soundscape. First, I sometimes find the melodic development of the vocal part non-intuitive. I am expecting the melody to develop in a different direction, higher up the scale (usually at the end of a phrase), and it is suppressed, remaining the same or being lowered. The difference might only be that of a tone or semi-tone but it is enough to push me off the emotive resonance peak and is distracting, it breaks the bond with the music. Similarly, I sometimes feel the vocal note should be sustained, whereas it is cut short. Secondly, I often find the band's choice of keyboard sounds and of layered keyboard arrangements overbearing this from someone who significantly prefers bands who use keyboards to those that don't! It's as if they are trying to become a keyboard-metal band: I prefer the heaviness to come principally from the guitar sound.
Of the three IQ albums I've heard, Frequency is easily the most enjoyable. I went back to The Wake after five hearings of Frequency and still didn't enjoy it. Compared with that and with Ever, it sounds as if the band have moved towards the "rock" end of the spectrum without losing their symphonic prog compositional ability. To me, that is an improvement.
In conclusion, if you've not enjoyed their music too much before now, then it may still be worth your while giving Frequency a chance, but don't expect it to be easy you will have to put the time in and give it a few spins before you make your final verdict.
Having said all that, I'd still rather listen to Frost*'s Experiments in Mass Appeal (which has musician links to IQ) or the latest Dream Theater album, but it takes all sorts to make a world, eh?
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-06-03 18:51:23
After the opening pounding bass and guitar riffs hit your eardrums, supported by some almost "In the Court of the Crimson King" styled Mellotron, it's quite apparent that IQ are back with a vengeance on their latest CD Frequency. IQ are one of those second wave of progressive rock bands who have released a steady diet of strong albums since coming out of the UK prog scene in the early 1980's. Tales From the Lush Attic, The Wake, Ever, Subterranea, The Seventh House, and Dark Matter, are all very strong releases, and Frequency continues in that same fine tradition. New keyboard player Mark Westworth seems to have lit a fire under these guys, as his layering of Mellotron, Moog, and Hammond on the previously mentioned opening title track is a revelation, driving IQ to a newfound power. His gorgeous piano melodies pefectly co-exist with Peter Nicholls' gentle vocals on the lovely "Life Support", a song that also sees some great guitar solos from Mike Holmes, tricky drum work courtesy of Andy Edwards, and John Jowitt's beefy bass lines. Check out the raging synth blasts from Westworth towards the end of the piece for a great slice of 70's styled prog!
Other highlights here include the two epics "Stronger Than Friction" and "The Province", both with a heaping amount of symphonic arrangements, dramatic vocals, and solo spots, the lush, pastoral "One Fatal Mistake", and the mysterious, slightly futuristic sounding "Ryker Skies". I can't leave out the emotional, highly melodic closer, titled, appropriately enough, "Closer", a piece with a real Peter Gabriel feel, Holmes' lilting guitar chords supplemented by majestic piano and Nicholls' emotional vocals.
Frequency is quite simply a marvelous prog album, from a band that can really do no wrong in this writer's book. As much as I loved the keyboard work of Martin Orford over the years, he's really not missed at this point, as Westworth has stepped right in and made his mark in a big way.
If you buy only one prog release this year, this should easily be one of your top choices.
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