In the liner notes of the latest Rocket Scientists release Supernatural Highways (2014, see review) the band's keyboard player Erik Norlander wrote that more music from this American prog rock trio was to be expected very soon. Well he didn't lie at all, because towards the end of 2014 a complete new album was released shortly after the earlier mentioned EP. They named it Refuel and it is their fifth studio album since they were formed in the late 1980s.
In my personal opinion I always thought that Rocket Scientists was the perfect outlet for Erik Norlander to write more radio friendly progressive rock tunes in combination with fantastic instrumental prog tunes. In Mark McCrite (vocals, additional keyboards and guitars) and Don Schiff (NS/Sticks, bass guitars, cello, viola, mandolin and additional organ) he found the perfect companions to make this perfect mix. They are not just excellent musicians who master their instruments, but can also write music that fits this format! This great musical format can once again be heard on Refuel. Maybe some lovers of progressive rock find this format not the perfect one. But not for me! Right from the start when the band released their debut Earthbound in 1993 I knew I had to follow this great band. I have to admit that on this new album this strong combination comes to the fore front even more than on the band's predecessor. However donīt get me wrong. The compositions on this new studio album are still strong enough to be labelled as progressive rock. The album certainly doesnīt contain any fillers or weaker tracks. Everything is of a very high level composition wise. You can split them up in two parts, or maybe even three parts. First you have the strong instrumentals Refuel, Regenerate, Reconstruct and Galileo during where the musicians show how fantastic they can play their instruments. Secondly you have the more catchy tunes which are easy to sing along to. Good examples are the towards Asia sounding She's Getting Hysterical and Cheshire Cat Smile (with Kelly Keeling on guest lead vocals). But also tunes like It's Over and The Fading Light are in that second category. The third category are the tunes that include lyrics but don't have that many catchy vocal lines. Just listen to the tracks Martial (with lead vocals by Norlander), The World Waits For You, Rome's About To Fall and The Lost Years (with Lana Lane on guest lead vocals) and you know what I mean. But you have to keep in mind that not only the excellent solos can be heard on the instrumentals. There is enough room for them on the songs with vocals as well. This way the band just knows how to keep them attractive for the progressive rock lover and makes sure enough variety is available. After all variety is the spice. Therefore it was also wise to include Jon Papenbrook on trumpet, Eric Jorgensen on trombone and Rich Hofmann on piccolo and trumpet. By adding them on several tracks the band's compositions get an even fresher sound then on the band's back catalogue. Finally a special mention goes to excellent drummer Gregg Bissonette who's helped the band in the recording studios since Revolution Road (2006).
After the melodies descended in my brain considerably and I was not so distracted by the catchy nature of some of the songs, I realized how strong all these songs are on Refuel. I could enjoy beautiful instrumental themes on this album next to less complex sounding tunes. While doing this I just never got the idea I didn't listen to a progressive rock band! Refuel lives perfectly of the combination of elements taken out of pop and progressive rock. And if you think the same way as I do and love this strong combination this is the perfect album to add to your CD collection! And if you are not convinced yet just look at their amazing videos on YouTube!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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