Before you start reading, a warning in advance: this review will contain only superlatives and expressions of joy. This debut album Our Time On Earth by the UK based band Compass is one of a kind. Debut albums as this one are rare. Another warning is that the band is not a classic progressive rock band, but operates at the edges of the spectrum. Later on more of this topic, the positioning of the band.
The biography of Compass tells us that Steve Newman is the founder of Compass. Back in 2017 Steve Newman started to write tracks for a new project. His intention was to think out of the box and to write tracks which had nothing to do with his current band Newman. Steve Newman called it “liberating”. He also wanted to cross several genres.
Steve at first started searching for a singer. Over time he meet singer Ben Green. The two worked together and they formed the nucleus of Compass.
Dave Bartlett joined the project in 2019. Dave was the bass player of the Newman touring band. Steve thought it obvious to offer him this job.
A short while later drummer Toni Lakush joined and the project shifted into a real band. In the upcoming months the band started recording the songs. On the album Steve Newman plays all guitars and also all the keyboard parts. And here we are, 2020 the debut album Our Time On Earth sees the light.
Interesting detail is the fact that the band Newman also released an album, Ignition, March this year. It was the band's thirteenth album. Newman is a melodic rock- / AOR band. When you don't know the band, but love the genre, it isn't a bad idea to check this band out. The typically UK melodic rock, with great guitar riffs and strong vocals by Steve Newman, triggered me to dive deeper in the discography of this band. To me Steve Newman seems to be a revelation, creative brain and “workaholic” in a positive way.
The positioning of the music of Compass is rather difficult to indicate. Steve himself talks about the influences he had during writing the album. He mentioned bands as: Dream Theater, Rush, Saga, through It Bites, and Pink Floyd. Personally I must confess that this is true. The album is a journey through the musical landscapes of hard rock, AOR, melodic rock and progressive rock. Compass mixes it all up into a very pleasant end product. Besides, the album is not a brewery of some “mess of styles”. On the contrary, the album has a consistent composition and sounds smooth.
The album Our Time On Earth opens with the up-tempo track Skies Of Fire. The base of the song is a more or less melodic rock orientated verse and also chorus. The chorus is catchy and contains great vocal harmonies. The bridges which connect these parts, are tight and heavy and reminds me of Saga. That also applies to the guitar solo, which is great by the way. A point that I also have to mention are the vocals. From the viewpoint of instruments this opening track is impressive. The vocals are maybe beyond impressive. These are so powerful, transparent, clear, etc. You are listening to James Labrie's brother.
Our Time On Earth (part I) opens very atmospheric, keyboards and a clean guitar build up the tension. The track develops into a mid-tempo, heavy and catchy song. The beat of the song is great. I don't know how exactly to describe it, but it's a beat on which you feel the urge to move.
The synthesizer parts of this song are fabulous. In the bridge of the song the band returns to the atmospheric style. This gives the track the variety that it needs.
Last but not least, Steve Newman is a guitarist and this is quite obvious. The guitar solo in this track is heaven made. Steve is fast, melodic and has outstanding timing and phrasing.
Caught In A Frame is a track containing some Dream Theater- and Rush ingredients. It's very up-tempo and falls back on Rush-like guitar riffs. The whole song is in the sixth gear.
The sixth gear journey continues with Neon. The tracks opens with heavy riffing guitar intermezzo and the gear is shifted back a little. The chorus is majestic and contains great harmonies. It's a chorus which stays in your head after you heard it a couple of times.
At this point of the album it became clear to me that Compass is not just some band. No Compass has players with excellent skills and creates tracks that are so spot on and so original that you can't deny that this is an exceptionally talented band.
The Preacher And The Pigeon Feeder is one of my favourite tracks. It opens with classical piano and a subtle overdriven guitar. When the rest of the band comes in, a very atmospheric intermezzo is created. It has a pleasant tension. Rest of the song has several soundscapes, which are incredibly melodic but also have a melancholy component in it. In the track the band comes back to the phenomenal starting piece.
I think you have to listen to the track to understand what I mean.
The album continues with Another Life Suicide. This track is a mid-tempo song with once more very heavy guitar riffs. Riffs which carry the track and which are supported by a ultra-strong rhythm section.
The chorus of the song contains great vocals and harmonies. The guitar solo is one that has a nice structure. It's working itself to its zenith.
A Warning From History is with its 10:43 minutes the longest track on the album. The tracks opens with a nice organ and a slightly distorted guitar. The opening verse reminds me of Dream Theater. Rest of the song falls back on melodic rock from the seventies. For example there a intermezzo's which reminds me of Kansas. The tracks is once more a journey through musical history. It contains many different style elements and different soundscapes.
The albums ends with Our Time On Earth (part II). An atmospheric piano/keyboard intermezzo opens the track. After a while an acoustic guitar comes in and distorted vocals start. The track develops into a mid-tempo track with incredible guitar solos and melancholic soundscapes. This is the track that touched me the most. The whole atmosphere is “killing”.
Compass has done what most bands can't: to come up with a debut album that is mind blowing. From beginning to the end this album has tension, great musical parts, spot on guitar parts, extremely great vocals, incredible rhythm section, high end production and much more.
In the last years for me there were just a couple of debut albums which had the same beauty as this one.
Beside this I am really surprised that someone as Steve Newman is able to let loose his history with the band Newman and managed to create an album that is so different.
For me personally this will be a top 10 album of this year. In the time I have this album, I have played it very, very often. I can't get enough of this fabulous album.
This said, there is just one rating that fits: 5 out of 5 (when 5+ would be a possibility, that would be the score).
***** Aad Bannink (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2020