XNA – When We Changed You (2014)
XNA is a new melodic progressive rock powerhouse from the USA founded by vocalist David Hussey (Genesis tribute band Gabble Ratchet) and Adam Malin (keyboards and composer of several solo sci-fi rock operas), together with impressive musicians Danny Bryle (guitars), Scott Connor (drums, percussion) and… the famous Billy Sherwood (Yes, Yoso, The Prog Collective) providing bass, additional guitars and producing.
It’s really great when a new band releases their first album and it really strikes a chord. Such is the case with XNA’s debut “When We Changed You”.
You know all those awkward questions that children ask at various stages of their development – ‘why is the sky blue?’, ‘are we nearly there yet?’, ‘where do babies come from?’, ad nauseum – if they ever ask the real toughie: ‘Dad, what is prog rock?’, answer dramatically by slipping this little gem into the CD player and all will be revealed.
Apart from ‘Close To The Edge’ and ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ you couldn’t find a more definitive progressive rock album if you tried.
For enthusiasts of the genre, and particularly the work of Genesis, Yes (’70s and ’80s), Camel or Starcastle, “When We Changed You” is a feast to be devoured at one sitting – the exceptional music demands this – and not bolted down either, but savoured for the masterpiece that it is, an object lesson in how both to compose and perform contemporary progressive rock.
A glimpse at the sumptuous artwork (hardback digi-book with 24 page insert) and a track list with titles such as “Banner Of The Whyte Boar”, “The Vale Of Avalon” and the sixteen-plus minutes of “At Childhood’s End”, any aficionado will know what’s coming.
And it doesn’t disappoint.
Things get underway with the instrumental, bombastic organ-led and faintly middle-eastern vibe of “At Childhood’s Beginning” which is followed by the exceptional title track, again heralded by those majestic keyboards and sensitive guitar themes before the powerful vocals enter. There are sweeping time changes and styles which serves to highlight the skills of the musicians involved. The movement from powerful musical pictures effortlessly into the gentle, melodic side of the music succeeds in maintaining the listener’s interest.
The two ‘epic’ compositions, “Banner of the White Boar” and “At Childhood’s End” are indeed tracks that make you stop in your tracks. The first has an almost medieval structure throughout but features great swathes of keyboards, including harpsichord, guitars and the lyrical storyline is excellent. The sheer power provided by the bass and drums is very dynamic, as it is on all tracks.
“At Childhood’s End” is the final on the CD and sees the band flexing their collective muscles on a stormer of a track, seamlessly veering from the powerful audio scenarios to the most gentle of passages. This track draws the listener in and it is hard to believe that at its completion, 16 minutes have passed, so immersed have you become in the soundscape being presented.
Each track tells a story and is musically unique, with changing tempos, themes, and plenty of catchy melodies. The keyboards seem to be the dominant instrument, although there is plenty of great guitar work. The vocalist, David Hussey, has a perfect voice for this kind of music, and he offers the occasional quirkiness that accentuates the lyrics.
The more ‘regular in length’ songs are exquisite as well.
There’s a definite brilliance in the way “The Vale of Avalon” that constantly juxtaposes aggression with naturalistic warm and tranquility; it feels as if the band is performing centuries ago, in the middle of the countryside. Again, what keeps this record from feeling too run-of-the-mill is its tones, like the chimes of triumph and the morning wonder of nylon strings.
“Annapurna” holds its own with lovely harmonies and arpeggios, and while Hussey can sound a bit overly dramatic at times, his voice still fits perfectly with the music, driven along by the tight knit band of musicians with some amazing flashes of keyboards and guitars.
“When We Changed You” is a stunning piece of Progressive work very close to masterpiece, and the more times you listen to the album, the more you become aware of the superb skills shown by those involved. The ability of XNA to create a retro style, but to make it sound so good and modernistic in its approach is simply amazing.
Multi-instrumentalist Billy Sherwood is as prolific a producer as he is a musician, and he seems to introduce new projects as often as he can. Fortunately, this most recent (for now) venture manages to impress instantly and consistently. An ambitious and amiable excursion into dazzling yet ominous Prog wonderlands, it’s probably the best thing Sherwood has done in a long time.
There’s a level of refinement and attention to detail here that is rarer than you’d think, for as virtuosic as most Prog bands are, few make you feel like every note and tonal quality is meticulously chosen.
“When We Changed You” is outstanding Melodic Progressive Rock of the highest calibre. Don’t pass this one by!
1 – At Childhood’s Beginning
2 – When We Changed You
3 – Banner Of The Whyte Boar
4 – The Flying Dutchman
5 – The Vale Of Avalon
6 – Annapurna
7 – At Childhood’s End
David Hussey – vocals
Adam Malin – keyboards
Danny Bryle – guitars
Scott Connor – drums, percussion
Billy Sherwood – bass, additional guitars, production
BUY IT !