I haven’t heard about Dukes Of The Orient, to be honest and obviously missed their debut self-titled album. The newest longplay Freakshow interested me with its description: “AOR (album-oriented rock) with a touch of Mid-Atlantic Prog”. Nevertheless, it wasn’t really what I’ve expected.
Before starting to talk about Dukes Of The Orient and their new album I need to go back to 1981 when Prog Rock super-group Asia was founded, featuring members from such bands like Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The band reached success in 1985 when the song “Heat Of The Moment” hit the charts. In 1991 the line-up was changed and bassist John Payne became a new vocalist of Asia. Then in 2007, when musicians wanted to bring back the original line-up, John founds a spin-off project Asia Featuring John Payne from which Dukes Of The Orient grown up in 2007.
The core of the band is vocalist John Payne (which is also plays guitar and bass) and keyboardist Eric Norlander (Last In Line, Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists). Actually, keyboards are the main instrument in the album: Eric experiments with various sound and effects, which become really great keyboard parties. Guitarist Alex Garcia with drummer Frank Klepacki reinforces the band and saxophonist Eric Tewalt makes Dukes Of The Orient‘s music even more peculiar.
There is no some clear genres’ divide: the song can start from catchy melody, like the first single “The Monitors”, reminding 80s music and then turn to Prog in a way. Musicians’ interaction is also interesting here as well: keyboards solo transforms onto guitar one (“Man Of Machine”) or vice versa. In the main “Freakshow” there is a gorgeous saxophone solo, which turns into a keyboards one later; together with quite Hard Rock riff the song sounds like a crazy mashup of, let’s say, Deep Purple and Madness, the first bands that came to mind, while I’m sure that many will want to correct me.
Freakshow is quite distinctive album but at the same time it’s quite diverse: Progressive combines here with some 80s soft melodies, lots of solos and bridges smoothly turns one into another and John transmits lots of mood with his husky yet emotional vocals. All of this played seamlessly, without any sharp changes. “The Last Time Traveller” starts slowly, gradually increasing the pace and becomes quite fast in the end, while “A Quest For Knowledge” endlessly turns from slow to fast and back, managing to combine lots of elements. Although, the ballad (or just a slow song) “When Ravens Cry” is quite smooth, compared to the others. Also I need to mention the mood, which created with piano and brass samples, like some historical movie soundtrack.
“The Great Brass Steam Engine” is undoubtedly Eric’s big break: instrumental with widest use of keyboards, synths and samples. Drums with bass gradually increase the pace when keyboards play the main melody and a couple of solos with various effects, creating sublime mood or tense atmosphere.
I must admit, Freakshow became some experiment for me – I was never Prog Rock fan; it’s just not my cup of tea. With this I can’t deny that this album sounds very interesting and unusual. It didn’t change my Prog Rock attitude and these songs will hardly get to my everyday playlist but all in all it was a good experience and maybe I’ll come back to Freakshow one day. But if you are a fan of Asia, Progressive and AOR, or you just want to listen to something uncommon, Dukes Of The Orient is for you.
Freakshow will be released on August, 7th via Frontiers Music srl.
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