Review: Frost* – Falling Satellites

FrostBand: Frost*
Album: Falling Satellites
Year: 2016
Genre: Progressive Rock

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There are few bands that have developed such a devoted fan base on the basis of their first two albums as Frost* has. Their debut album, Milliontown, is frequently recommended to progressive music neophytes, and deservedly so. It has been ten years since its release, and myself and others consider it a classic. Fans have been on edge waiting for this third studio album from Jem Godfrey and company for eight years, with the promise of third album starting back in 2011. The wait has been accompanied by many alternating statements such as, “The band is no more” and “I’m working on the third album” via social media; leading many, including myself to adopt the mindset of I’ll believe it when I have the album in my hands. I don’t believe many bands could survive this “will he or won’t he” game for as long as Frost* has if it weren’t for the simple fact that there is not a suitable replacement for what Frost* does musically.

Jem and longtime friend and collaborator/guitarist/vocalist John Mitchell have developed a great chemistry in creating a guitar and synthesizer based sound with their feet planted in both progressive rock and pop music backgrounds. The rhythm section sees the return of Nathan King on bass from the previous album Experiments in Mass Appeal, as well as a new drummer, Craig Blundell, who is a certainly game for the job, as he was the touring drummer for Steven Wilson’s US tour last year. Seeing that this is Jem’s baby though, it should not come to anyone’s surprise the heaviness of the keyboards and synthesizers on the album. Jem really puts the various keyboard leads high in the mix, which has always been of importance to the signature Frost* soundscape. The rest of the band complements the keyboards admirably in a supporting role. Musically, the sound is closer to Milliontown than EIMA, and the song lengths and structures are closer to EIMA than their debut, providing a balance between the two while still providing something that is familiar, but not too familiar. John Mitchell has retaken the vocalist position for this album after singing on Milliontown and yielding that position to Dec Burke on EIMA, and while I enjoy Dec in his other bands and solo work, I think John’s naturally deeper voice is a much better fit for the sound of Frost* because it contrasts more with the often bright tones of the music.  When needed, those high vocals are still there when appropriate, like in the song “Numbers”. The other area where I think John’s strengths as a vocalist are utilized is that he is capable of delivering different styles within one song, which helps goes a long way in helping the album not sound homogenous.

Where I feel Falling Satellites really shines, particularly in comparison to their previous output, is in the lyric department. This is the first time I felt like I really connected with the lyrics and song meanings, particularly “Signs” and “Heartstrings”. “Signs” will end up among my favorite songs by the band, in large part because I see parallels in the subject matter of the song and just the brutal honesty of the song, and I applaud Jem for writing it, even though I privately hope no one else relates to the song’s lyrics. “Signs” camouflages the sad nature of the lyrics by juxtaposing it with an upbeat tempo, a major key signature, and bright shiny instrumentation in the chorus.

Falling Satellites is going to scratch that itch that Frost* fans have had for the past eight years waiting for their third album. I was originally just lukewarm on the album, as I quickly connected with “Signs” and “Heartstrings” and not much else. It was only after several listens that I started appreciating some of the other songs a little more. Overall, I like the return to the musical style of Milliontown, and I think that this is easily their strongest album lyrically to date. Furthermore, I found subsequent listens more enjoyable, which means there I’m finding more each listen. My biggest complaint of this album is the same one that I have with EIMA, which is that outside of the two tracks I mentioned, not much else on the album grabs my attention. The last six tracks make up a suite, but I really don’t feel the connections between the tracks, and again nothing is drawing me in after “Heartstrings”. All in all, Falling Satellites is a solid effort, and one that fans will surely be happy to have. It will harken back to their fabulous debut album at times musically and in one of the song titles, but whereas the debut had five excellent tracks out of six (the last being good), this album just has two. Hopefully the bonus tracks I have yet to hear can help that percentage, as well as having the lyrics to read as I listen if they are included in the physical copy.

Mason’s grade: B

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