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Utopia – Stalker Award winner

by Dave "That Metal Guy" Campbell at 10 October 2021, 9:34 AM

UTOPIA came together in March 2020. John was coming off the back of a busy touring and session schedule and felt this was the time to finally start the band which he'd been thinking about doing for years. For a vocalist he had no one else in mind but Chris Reese. After months of writing it was then just a matter of getting each person to record their parts which posed its own geographical problems with his chosen musicians living in different parts of the world. Once recorded, the album was mixed and mastered by Rob Hobson at Silent City Records.

The concept of the name UTOPIA is a reflection of mental health/neurodiversity and social structures in the world we live in…the double-edged sword of trying to lead a happy life in a world of conflicting ideology and bad faith between humans…the pitfalls of attempting a sophisticated life despite us being poorly evolved primates who are highly individual in their own rights. Its ultimately rooted in varying degrees of sensitivity, mental health and neurodiversity based on individuals trying to interface with one another in a constructive way. The album contains eleven tracks.

“The Bus Station Roof” leads off the album. It begins an all-out assault on the ears, with thick, dissonant tones and without a lot of structure. The vocals range from deep guttural to shrieking screams. What death trap have I fallen into? “Full Length Biography” opens with what sounds like Pac-Man in the background. Like BTBAM, UTOPIA is just playing around with you, through varied meters, unstructured madness, and an attack that come from every side. “Impotent Prophet” begins with odd electronica, leading to another assault on your flesh. I really enjoy the more ambient and melodic moments here, because it shows that the band has an ear for melody, and isn’t all about brutality.

“A Projection of Me on You” opens with more a more breathable riff, and slow, lumbering pain. In case you haven’t noticed by now, bassist McSporan is a master at his instrument. Sounds exude from outer space and envelop you with cold, biting air. The title track spends some time on development of melody in the beginning, though it is an odd and twisted affair. Here the band shows it is not all about their mastery of compositions and time itself, and a portal was opened that gave me just the briefest glimpse of how the world around me might work as a whole. “Spirit Wives” is two minutes of head pounding music coupled with the awe of discovery. But what is out there…it still remains a mystery to me.

“What about Me” opens with a more linear sound, but soon falls back into madness. Suddenly, it pauses, as if you were looking up at the stars and fell asleep, having one of the most vivid dreams you can ever remember. “Happiness” breathes just a little deeper, with turn-on-a-dime musical arrangements and dark, angry musings. Happiness might be the furthest thing on your mind right now. “Smiledyanwednodded” is an odd title for an equally odd song, with a flurry of bass guitar and lead guitars, keys and vocals, with a very loose song structure. The repeated pattern towards the end is a mesmerizing set of bars. “Moscow Holiday” begins with bass notes and some loose background noise. Suspense builds. From there, a slow, grinding groove ensues. The structure is a little more solidified in this song, but it is still fairly abstract.

“It’s Not the End” ends the album with furious anger, though charming notes come through at times. It’s as if the band is continually lost, but with one little step, are right back on track again. Although the musicianship is incredible, some of the songs are frigid, sterile reminders that music needs to be able to breathe, to have life, and exists mostly to make one feel good. Not all music, mind you…especially in the genre of Metal. Most of the songs are short, because you could not literally squeeze another note into the music…it is so tight, forcing it would result in a backfire so powerful, the universe might implode. The vocalist is very impressive, showcasing a variety of styles, and the individual members are equally as adept. Is this a supergroup of sorts?

However, that being said, I disagree with their basic tenant that we are “poorly evolved primates who are highly individual in their own rights.” Indeed, RUSH would do well to remind us that “folks are basically decent…conventional wisdom would say.” The fact that the world still moves forward would suggest that most of us have figured that out. Sure, there are many exceptions, but when we focus on them, we lost sight of the bigger picture. But this argument is for another day. I have heard dazzling displays of musicianship before, but combined with the song structures here, this is some of the most unique music I believe I have ever heard. When they slow down to push some melody, some beautiful and wonderous things happen.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 7
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

1. The Bus Station Roof
2. Full Length Biography
3. Impotent Prophet
4. A Projection of Me on Your
5. Utopia
6. Spirit Wives
7. What About Me
8. Happiness
9. Smiledyanwednodded
10. Moscow Holiday
11. It’s Not the End 
Chris Reese – Vocals
John Bailey – Guitars
Si King – Guitars
Arran McSporran – Bass
Billy Rymer/Baard Kolstad/Lee Fisher/Si Blakelock/Si King – Drums
Mike Moran - Synths
Thomas Harrison – Synths
Record Label: APF Records


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