By releasing the recordings of their comeback concert at NEARfest 2006 the legendary Canadian progressive rock band FM gave a new sign of life in 2014. On the excellent CD and DVD package Nearfest 2006 (see review) a collection of songs taken from their classic albums Black Noise (1977), Surveillance (1979) and City Of Fear (1980) could be enjoyed. Plus two new which were never released before. I ended my review of this release by telling our readers that since 2011, founding member Cameron Hawkins (vocals, bass and keyboards) had reformed the band. While doing this he had worked on new material which would see the light of day on a new studio album set to be released April 2015. I already knew that this album would be named Transformation. I hoped it would contain the same high quality prog tunes as the 2006 lineup presented during their excellent performance at NEARfest. In the meantime I received a review copy of this new studio album!
Of course I was very curious if the band would manage to create the same kind of progressive rock as on their studio albums I mentioned earlier. When you see the line up in the booklet you can see that Hawkins is not accompanied by one of his old band mates. Not even one who joined him when he climbed the stage to do the FM NEARfest show in the city of Bethlehem. For this new studio album Cameron was accompanied by drummer Paul DeLong (Kim Mitchell, Roger Hodgson), viola and mandolin player Edward Bernard (Druckfarben) and violin player Aaron Solomon. Together they recorded and wrote nine brand new compositions which were mixed by the well known producer and engineer Terry Brown who had worked with acts such as Rush, Tony Levin Band, Dream Theater and in the past recently with Blurred Vision.
Everybody who knows the back catalogue of this fantastic band and hears Transformation the very first time can completely agree with me that the band walked on a different musical path. As for myself it was very difficult to hear any comparisons with the musical style I heard on the bands earlier releases. Only on the track Re-Boot, Reawaken I heard traces which were so recognizable in the band's early career. The typical drum roll of Martin Deller and the sound of the violin which played an up tempo part. As for the violins they have become the leading instrument on this album. Probably not so strange if you have two members in the present line up who can handle this instrument in a perfect way! However .... gone are the fine Mini Moog solos that Mr. Hawkins so often managed to perform on his instrument. Most of the time the synthesizers on Transformation have a supporting role. This can in a way also be said about the contributions on the mandolin. They are not that much upfront in the compositions as in the old days. Some words can also be told about the way Hawkins sings nowadays. It seems his voice goes to a higher region. More high pitched. Very close to the way Jon Anderson used to sing in Yes. Therefore throughout the entire album I had more or less the feeling I was listening to a new Yes album instead of hearing FM from the start of their career. Only this time it seemed Yes had influences taken from bands such as Kansas or UK. Bands that also have the violin as a solo instrument on their albums. But what FM delivers on this new release is way better than what Yes presented on their latest album Heaven & Earth (2014). The songs that they recorded may not sound that complex as they used to sound in the early days. But believe me it must have taken them as much time and effort to write and to record as they did years ago!
Does this mean Transformation is a weak album? No way! It's an excellent album with only great compositions on it. Only you can't compare it to the music you could hear on their albums released between 1977 and 1980. I guess the album title in a way tells a lot about the musical path the band takes nowadays. They are into a transformation which will lead to a musical style that will be recognizable for the fans of today for many years to come!
Whether you like this album depends on if you were hoping for an extension of the classic FM sound or a fresh new approach. As with many bands that reform they almost never return to the sound that gave them so many fans. The musicians have grown older and developed their musical style. They don't live in the past but in the present. Because I live in the present too and the past has some great memories I dig the new course the band has taken all the way! Therefore my thumbs go up for Transformation and can only say welcome back FM, you have been away much too long!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2015