(Mascot Label Group/
For better or for worse, I've always 'self-identified' as a Metalhead. Not surprisingly, I have frequently found myself drawn to the realm(s) of Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and Prog Super Groups. Examples of such acts, while far too numerous to be discussed amid the confines of such an admittedly limited forum, invariably surround us all. A prime example of this is the Neal Morse/Mike Portnoy-fueled collective Flying Colors. Issuing their self-titled debut in 2012, the group's mission, as chartered by executive Producer Bill Evans, is to seamlessly blend complex compositions and virtuoso performances with accessible songwriting. Further bolstering their then still burgeoning reputation via the exhaustive Live In Europe (2013), Second Nature (2014) and Second Flight: Live At The Z7 (2015), the future appeared invariably bright. Now, with the release of the highly-anticipated Third Degree (2019) upon us, they at long last appear destined for the global recognitions they've so rightfully earned.
On the brilliant Third Degree (2019), an expertly assembled nine song collection of Progressive Hard Rock, each track, beginning with the relentlessly pummeling--albeit soaring--“The Loss Inside” and the shimmering, (and apparently Mahavishnu Orchestra-influenced) “Cadence”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of all parties involved, myself most definitely included. Deftly building upon the veritable tidal wave of momentum initiated with the release of the equally ingenious Second Nature (2014), the group wastes little--if any--time submerging listeners amid an all-consuming auditory barrage. Blissfully intertwining an element of originality that has thus far defined the entirety of their career, the group wastes little--if any--time driving home each key focal point. Effectively re-introducing themselves to the public at large (e.g. those still unfamiliar with their discography), the group hints at the ingenuity bubbling just below the surface without spoiling the surprise.
Continuing with the hook-laden, quasi-ambient “Guardian” and the towering, acoustic-shaded “Last Train Home”, the airtight--to say the very least--combination of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Casey McPherson, lead guitarist Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Flying Colors, Kansas), keyboardist/vocalist Neal Morse (The Neal Morse Band, Transatlantic, ex-Spock's Beard), bassist Dave LaRue and drummer Mike Portnoy (Adrenaline Mob, ex-Dream Theater, Sons Of Apollo) steamrolls ahead with a carefully-calculated aplomb. Exceeding even the most optimistic of 'fanboi' expectations, the group showcases an impossibly fluid skill-set early and often, remaining subdued and tastefully restrained without sacrificing substance or tone. While not necessarily for the uninitiated (or, for that matter, anyone without a strong Prog background), the group delivers the goods with an authenticity that, oddly enough, manages to belie the 'more-than-considerable' talents of it's combined virtuosic membership.
With Evans obviously returning as Executive Producer and the acclaimed Rich Mouser (Dream Theater, The Generators, Spock's Beard) handling all Mixing and Mastering duties via Los Angeles, California-based Mouse House Studios, other standouts, including the emotionally-charged second single “You Are Not Alone” and the exhaustive, equally impressive lamentation “Crawl”, offer a wealth of further evidence in support of the group's already well-documented lyrical and musical prowess. Fortified throughout via a variety of bonus tracks (most notably “Geronimo”, an alternate instrumental Mix/version of the previously-mentioned “Last Train Home” and “Waiting For The Sun”, all of which are only available via the deluxe box set), Third Degree finds the group effortlessly distancing themselves from their few peers. Succeeding without, of course, overwhelming everyone with the redundancy of the genre's elite, the quintet only further solidify their reputation as a pure creative force.
But is it really that good? Absolutely! A true instant Prog classic, the majority--if not all--of the delightfully accessible wares contained herein are seemingly guaranteed to appeal to both die-hard completists and clueless newcomers alike. Although our shameless appreciation and recognition for the mighty Third Degree is arguably belated, it remains an obvious candidate for record of last year or, at the very least, a serious contender for the loathsome Best Of lists soon to be bestowed upon us all. Love it or loathe it, this is quite possibly as good as it gets. As a result, if you've once again found yourself in search of a thought-provoking yet musically challenging reprieve from the painfully mindless din and clatter that so often populate the charts and airwaves (let's face it, the proverbial mainstream and it's associated banalities are exactly what they seem to be), then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane catholicons for whatever it is that ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
Third Degree (2019)
Second Flight: Live At The Z7 (2015)
Second Nature (2014)
Live In Europe (2013)
Flying Colors (2012)
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