We’re All In This Together
Anybody with a cursory familiarity with rock history knows a society in turmoil often foments some our most powerful music. It’s a necessity, really, and it’s not exclusive to rock and roll, or even to music. Some eras are so well-defined and documented by artistic expression that focuses on social and political commentary that the art becomes an immutable part of the period’s cultural fabric. In the realm of rock and roll, we need only look at the Vietnam War era as one example of a sweeping wave of politically charged music inspired by the events of a particular time. Listening to “Fortunate Son” or “Run Through the Jungle” is the closest thing we’ll ever get to time travel.
It seems like we’re about ready for another such wave, and it’s easy to understand why. As the world roils and rifts around us, this chaos will be frequently reflected in the art being created. Not all art, of course. Those who work in stories or fantasies or escapism intended and experienced as a refuge are just as vital.
Not so for the hard-edged London-based progressive rockers IT on their new album We’re All in this Together. The band’s gritty portrayal of life circa 2017 is a harrowing vision of the strains that many of us face trying to negotiate the often cruel snares of a contemporary society increasingly ruled by and for the elite. IT’s savage fusion of blazing guitar riffs that slash through a futuristic soundscape of synths and electronics battered by Will Chism’s tight-as-nails drumwork is viscerally compelling and authentic. Vocalist Nick Jackson delivers the sharply pointed lyrics with a fiery intensity that suits the music, completing a picture that is dark, but not without hope.
The songs are primarily written by Jackson and Andy Rowberry, although Chism and bassist James Hawkins also contribute. The album follows a concept of sorts, the battle against the establishment and whether the present state of the world is sufficient to bring people in massive numbers to fight for change—a revolution. The ending is ambiguous. The first single and closing track, “Revolution”, concludes with a query: “It’s a revolution / a seed, a solution / it’s like evolution / it’s forever, it’s forever / it’s a revolution?” We’ll see.
“Power” propels the collection with a frenetic jolt of searing guitar, a rock-solid rhythm and an impassioned vocal. The song is a caustic indictment of governments which are, in effect, corrupt oligarchies controlled by cash and corporations. The last section presents an impressive vocal arrangement and restless waves of synths that fuse with the guitars to ratchet the tension tighter and tighter until the final second.
After the torrid hard-rock opener, IT slows down the pace with a slow-burning drama that echoes Pink Floyd sonically and in Jackson’s richly sonorous voice reminiscent of later-era David Gilmour. “Born into Debt” is a taut and ominous piece quivering with the specter of impending violence. Jackson inhabits the point of view of a man so broken and desperate by lack of opportunity and bitter hopelessness that he’s on a knife’s edge of turning to crime. Jackson’s lyrics are suggestive, offering inner thoughts that don’t spell out anything explicit but the listener can feel the simmering frustration likely to boil over at any moment. “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose,” a legendary artist once wrote.
“Working Man” has an vast, wide-open feel to it. A mid-tempo rocker built on a foundation of acoustic guitar and piano until the electric kicks in on the third verse, “Working Man” reflects on the endless consumption that absorbs so much of our time, energy, money and overall existence, and those who toil to produce all of these things we are conditioned to covet. “Gamble the Dream” is another powerhouse rocker with an ambitious vocal arrangement and molten torrents of guitar. It tells of feeling cheated, of realizing that all the idealistic dreams we are sold and the expectations to which we are expected to conform are often the hollowest of promises.
“Voices” is an eerie and poignant reminder of the flesh-and-flood humans—brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters—sacrificed by the masters of war, profiteers and political opportunists who leave cities leveled, battlefields soaked in blood, cemeteries filled and empty holes of grief in the hearts of loved ones left behind. The album’s centerpiece is the 12-minute behemoth “The Path of Least Resistance,” an elaborate piece that perhaps best demonstrates the meticulous attention to detail IT lavishes on their music. The sound effects, the vocal reverb, the unpredictable and cleverly crafted musical arrangement… it’s headphone music of the highest caliber.
A late highlight is “House,” with its soaring chorus and a wicked groove during the verses. It’s one of the more melodic tracks on the album, and would be a perfect choice as a potential single. “Down the Hatch” is a defiant inventory of the toll austerity takes on the ordinary citizen. It’s no shock that in the late ‘70s, during a comparable period of malaise and austerity in England, the punk movement arose. What movement will emerge from the stranger-than-fiction existence in which we now find ourselves? Defiance? Resistance? Or are we too anesthetized to rise up and act? IT lays out the challenge boldly and with genuine fervor.
We’re All in this Together is a focused and authentic expression of the resentments and toils of many told through razor-sharp lyrics and blistering hard-rock that will blow the casings off your speakers if you play it loudly enough. The production and mixing by Jackson and his colleagues is outstanding. The album has a crisp, cutting vibe, a remarkable sonic clarity. The arrangements are elaborate and complex—a lot of things are happening, and in the wrong hands it might have been overblown, but IT nails it.
Someone looking back a few decades from now seeking to make sense of our world could do far worse than absorbing this strident collection that is dynamic not only in lyrical content but in its tightly-wound musical ferocity. It’s angry, yeah, but We’re All in this Together isn’t just a recitation of outrages and grievances. The album doesn’t just raise the specter of the troubles we all understand so well, it provides a very clear solution. It’s in the album’s title, it’s woven through all of the songs, it’s in the final question posed by “Revolution,” and Jackson sings it explicitly in “Last Chance”: “Together, together / only we can change this fate.” It’s a solution we’ve heard so many times before.
Power to the People. People Have the Power. Stand! Lift Every Voice and Sing. We Shall Overcome. The Rising. Get Together. We’re All in this Together. Endless others, famous and forgotten, by superstars and unknown bands playing their hearts out in small clubs or garages, rising out of the endless anxiety, anger, and frustration of their daily lives. All are calls to action and awakening. And of course, as we know, it is true, after all. We do have the power. If only we had the will to wield it.
Welcome back to the Closet Concert Arena fellow progheads! This week we’re venturing into the “far back” corners of the Concert Closet as the search for all things prog burrows into the rich soil that is the prog garden. With all the crazy stuff happening on this rock we call home, the music coming from the prog garden has begun to take on an ominous tone. The Mute Gods recent release is but one example of progressive rock hitting you over the head in an effort to pull you from your slumber.
Now another prog band steps up to the podium with a sound that is all at once foreboding, foretelling, relevant, and urgent. Like Nikita Khrushchev banging a shoe on his desk at the UN, so does IT bang the ground in the prog garden with their latest release, “We’re All In This Together.”
IT has been tilling acreage in the prog garden for quite some time now; long enough to have laid down strong roots and delivered a healthy harvest. Indeed; “We’re All In This Together” is the fifth album IT has offered to the masses in twenty plus years…but for the immediate let us envelope ourselves in the this new release and discover the wonder that is IT…
The first cut released as a single is “Revolution” and it comes at you right away–straight between the eyes. The percussion tells you this song has no intention of backing down; the tension mounts as short direct vocal snippets pierce the skin…and then chaos reigns down. The song erupts like a levee unable to hold back the flood, and just as suddenly it rescinds. You begin to assess the damage but your auditory canals are flooded once again…the tempo continues to run the gambit from complete bedlam to controlled restraint. However; the message is bold and clear–you cannot and will not hold IT back. The prog garden may just be ground zero for the new uprising…
The next track to catch my attention is called “The Path of Least Resistance.” An opening reminiscent of a police state clampdown, this piece enters through the headphones and traces a path directly to the heart. IT continues to fill the canvas with dark colors, but more out of necessity than desire. IT has the urgency of The Mute Gods, the angst of Seconds Before Landing, and the relevance of The Clash at their counterculture best. IT ties it all together in burlap with a bow made from old navy yard rope…
Liner Notes…IT calls London home, the place where many a great prog band got its start. The band originally came together in 1994 using multimedia outlets to get their message out. Almost a throwback to the 60’s but with up-to-date technology, IT used videos playing behind the band to coincide with deep lyrics, a dark portentous sound, and a thought provoking intensity to grab the listener by the ears and dare you not to get involved. By 2009 IT had four albums to their credit and continued to dig deeper, bringing profundity to the prog garden in songs dealing with all the madness and mayhem the world had to offer.
Going through the inevitable growing pains, maturing, growth, and just plain soul searching, IT was on hiatus after album #4…using that time to solidify the band and put together what would become “We’re All In This Together.” The current line-up is Nick Jackson on guitar and vocals, Andy Rowberry on lead guitar, James Hawkins on bass, Ryan McCaffrey on keyboards, and Will Chism on drums. IT is part of the Progressive Gears Records stable of prog bands and well worth immersing yourself in…
The last slice to fill out this week’s prog buffet is titled, “The Working Man.” The song opens on the dark side as you would expect–but this is more rye toast dark than charred pumpernickel coal. There are slices of light cutting through the doom and gloom, much like rays of sunshine piercing the rain clouds after a thunderstorm rages across an open field…which makes the brightness that much more glaring. Don’t misinterpret; this is not a “clap your hands and hug your neighbor” happy upbeat tune. Rather it is a song that declares the defiance, pride, and determination of those that carry the weight every day without fanfare. Top notes of Fire Garden permeate the air, as do hints of Lost In Kiev and Scarlet INside. The Dropkick Murphys without the throat punch…prog for the introspective…
Learn more about IT at their website IT Band. The new album as well as the band’s previous releases can be found here…and of course this is my plea for you to support IT and all the bands that make the prog garden their home. You can get more info on IT and other bands on the Progressive Gears label on Twitter @ProgGears, Facebook Progressive Gears FB, and on the Progressive Gears Bandcamp site Progressive Gears BC. Don’t think of it as tasking a risk–think of it as taking charge.
The clip posted below is a smorgasbord of tastes from the new album…designed to draw you in and capture your emotions like a siren call to the prog faithful. If The Mute Gods put the world on notice, IT is telling you there is still time…but you have to stand up and act now. Passion and grit drip from this album like sweat from the brow of a third shift factory worker…and the aroma is what satisfaction smells like…
You know when you listen to an album and then look the band up and realise you have missed out a fair few albums and some cracking music? Well that’s how I feel about IT and the album ‘W.A.I.T.T.’ (We’re All In This Together) after just a couple of plays. It is definitely an album of, and for, its time. 2017 is a time of flux politically with some scary things happening to everyday people everyday right now. This album is one that reflects that narrative very well.
Nick Jackson (mastermind No 1), Andy Rowberry (mastermind No 2), James Hawkins (Bass), Will Chism (Drums), and Ryan McCaffrey (keyboards/saxophone) form the band, each seem to have their hands in many pies but they still feel like a unit on this album. Check the website out for whom and what they are, it’s fascinating to see the influences they cite, no spoilers from me I promise.
Thematically the album is roughly the equivalent of “I am Daniel Blake”, the narrative of an austerity ridden country on the wrong end of one too many cuts and the impact these make on the key characters. In 10 songs we are taken on a journey cutting from the political voice to the personal voices of the characters. Opening with Power, a menacing bass line drags in a driving guitar riff with an urgent riff building tension relieved only briefly by spoken voiceovers, talking of the selfish power mad political masters.
Now, before I go any further I want to stop and reflect that the subject matter is dark and filled with insurrection and revolution. Although political in context this in no way makes this preaching or ranting in the way it delivers. Think of Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’ or Steven Wilson with ‘Hand Cannot Erase’ as topical and full of insight but still damned fine albums rather than the protest songs that will be filling your minds from my first few paragraphs. Much has been said by Prog Fans about politics and music and how they should never mix. Although I fundamentally disagree with that, I accept that some think this and I do not want to prevent anyone from even trying to hear what I see as an excellent album.
Moving swiftly on, the music flows from one song to another and has been considered and crafted to have the feel of a single suite rather than 10 songs glued together in the name of a “concept”. The Working Man is catchy and has a rather gloomy, if eminently ‘singalong’, chorus line. “Living on a landfill of plastic and bone” is an ear worm if ever there was one, if a tad strange to anyone not tuned into to your headphones. This is melancholy in the mould of Porcupine Tree or Steve Thorne, at its best poppy & accessible but also with hidden depths.
Gamble The Dream is a real rock out with a hard guitar riff driving the song, reflecting the pressure on the economy and the drive to achieve. In the gloomy Voices we find ourselves in the head of the protagonist of the album. A George Galloway speech slots in here assaulting Blair and Bush directly on the impact of the Iraq War and the aftermath. The most challenging song on the album but it is anthemic in its delivery.
The epic in length and content The Path Of Least Resistance, at just under 12 minutes, showcases the song writing and musicianship. The key and time signature changes with a wailing guitar solo are wholly worthy of a Guthrie or a Gilmour.
The album ends with Revolution, a thundering bass line with a malevolent tone and a Theremin (?) wailing in the background. The ultimate end to all corrupt systems or a desire change things in extreme circumstances? Again another riff and hook line here that you may well find yourself singing along to on the commute home.
This album has something for everyone – strong riffology, melody, song writing at its core and a tongue in it’s cheek throughout. If art is a reflection of society then this album is art. Fans of Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree or Steven Wilson will find something in this to delight in. This is the face of modern Prog shown in a bright light. It blows the cobwebs away stimulates the brain and challenges us to think.
As ever this is not a song by song review nor is it highlights but a whistle stop tease and my opinion of the Album.
Guy Bellamy – Great Music Stories