Vonassi are a new three-piece band signed to ProgRock Records that play a brand of progressive rock not wholly dissimilar, musically and lyrically, to mid-period Porcupine Tree, although there is less "darkness" about Vonassi's soundscape. The emphasis here is on the guitars, which are enticingly played in a multitude of textures – various electric rhythm, acoustic, lead lines. The use of keyboards I would say is decorative, rather than as a front-line instrument – but at times this decoration is extremely effective and pretty. The vocals are very good. The album has a bass-centered production which brings out the beefy, driving bass lines but leads to a little loss of definition at times and this tends to mask some of the keyboard finery. Overall, however, this is a very enjoyable prog-rock album, the outstanding highlight of which are some catchy riffs, and it hopefully heralds a successful career for the band and its musicians. It's well worth checking out, and it will repay careful, repeated listening.
The band hails from Chicago and was formed by Jeff Vaughn and Vince Buonassi: combine parts of the surnames of the pair and you get the band's name – neat! After starting work on an EP that was to develop into the The Battle of Ego album the band recruited vocalist and guitarist Chase Carter. The trio do a fine job on the instrumentation: the main sleeve note credits are for Jeff on drums, Vince on bass and Chase on vocals and lead guitar, but they each seem to play a bit of everything, although Vince keeps off the drums and the lead guitar is Chase's sole territory. In particular, Jeff and Vince both play rhythm guitar and keyboards on a number of tracks. The songwriting is very strong and shared between Vince and Jeff.
"The Drudge" kicks off, one of the heavier pieces with its thumping bass and riffs; lyrically it serves as a good introduction to the album's recurring theme of, loosely, the "difficulties of modern life". It's a good song but, for my taste, it could have been lifted by a more sensitive production. Still, I guess people are working on a budget...."Gini" lightens the musical mood, the electric piano and keys shine through, the sung melody and guitar accompaniment is effective. "Beginnings" takes us neatly through a couple of musical moods, leading us to the rockier "Strong Arm Welfare", which has the most overt sociological/political statement of the album, it might leave some people cold lyrically, but it is an excellent song musically, and I enjoyed the quirky ending: it's an album highlight.
"Pausing for the Cold", "The Battle of Ego" and "Authenticity" are segued and act as a musical triptych, linked musically and lyrically; they are effectively one piece. Excellent! Vince's themed composition shows how you can be "proggy" without taking 20 minutes about it; delivering beautiful, sensitive melody, catchy rocky rhythm and thoughtful lyrics. This trio of songs is another of the album's many highlights and contributes to the middle section of the album being particularly successful (not that there are any bad moments!). "Open Hands", which follows, has some beautiful, sweeping synth work and one of the catchiest riffs of the album. The bass work is, again, pretty impressive. The band, only a trio don't forget, have put significant thought and imagination into these arrangements.
Extra special mentions of the album's closing section go to "The Now Game"'s riff and bass-line and the long closing number, "Coiled", which has more than enough, lyrically as well as musically, to justify its seven or so minutes of music – bizarrely, the last four minutes approximately are silent! You wait for the "hidden track" that stays hidden! – there are some great riffs and rhythms in those seven minutes, the combination of guitars and bass is the key to this album's success.
The Battle of Ego is perhaps not the easiest album ever to get into but, hey guys, this is prog-rock after all, and there are sufficient melodies and rhythms to make you give it those crucial extra spins that will get you hooked. I don't think that this is an album to get into by listening to sound-clips though, so you may well have to trust me on this one, dip into your pocket, and buy the whole thing. I doubt if you'll be ruing it as money down the drain.
1) The Drudge (4:45)
2) Gini (4:24)
3) Beginnings (5:25)
4) Strong Arm Welfare (4:55)
5) Posing for the Cold (2:29)
6) The Battle of Ego (3:00)
7) Authenticity (3:11)
8) Open Hands (4:00)
9) In the Mirror (5:05)
10) The Now Game (4:12)
11) Field of View (4:33)
12) Coiled (11:00)