To my surprise I'd never heard of New Eden Orchestra (NEO) although Vikings is their second album. NEO are an American progressive rock band from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. It seems that the core members of the band have been together for over 25 years now and have always been influenced by the progressive rock legends of the seventies. However, they were also inspired by classical music and jazz orientated acts. In 2004 NEO released their debut AnyMAN after which they started to work on a follow-up that would become Vikings. However, they never released the album probably because one of their main composers Michael Lunn (keyboards, guitars) passed away in 2009. The remaining band members spent their time and energy in fulfilling Lunn's wish of recording his music.
After listening to Vikings, I'm very thankful to the musicians who carried through with this album. The music I heard on this fine album just fits my musical taste. For almost an hour I listened to the finest progressive rock music possible reminding me of bands like Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Styx, Spock's Beard, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Kansas, Glass Hammer and Kayak. You can even call the music on Vikings a real tribute to the classic prog rock bands from the seventies. Besides influences of these bands you'll hear elements from classical music, musicals, rock operas, folk, Broadway and Celtic music. By using so many different styles and genres this concept album about the voyages of the Vikings you never get bored, which is of course a big compliment to the musicians involved.
The music on Vikings is excellently performed containing exceptional good male and female vocals that sometimes come close to the singing in musicals. Every now and then the music made me think of Merlin, Bard Of The Unseen (2003) and Nostradamus, The Fate Of Man (2005), the two rock operas created by the Dutch band Kayak. The captivating keyboard sounds throughout the album are strongly reminiscent to the likes of Keith Emerson and Fred Schendel (Glass Hammer). The many excellent guitar parts sometimes sound very melodic; at other times some aggressive riffs can be enjoyed as well. Occasionally the time signatures are so complex that I had to gasp for breathe. Mentioning highlights isn't possible because all tracks contain the same high musical level without any weak spots.
Hopefully the loss of Michael Lunn won't lead to the last album of NEO. The remaining musicians had the strength and the musicianship to finish Vikings as if he was still alive. Time will tell if they also got the strength to record a strong follow-up. Let's hope that this is the case since Vikings is really superb and a 'must have' for people who enjoy the music of all the aforementioned bands. Highly recommended!
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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