In the nineties the Dutch progressive rock band Marathon recorded two excellent studio albums: The First Run (1994) and Norm (1996). Unfortunately their live album Marathon Live (1996) was also their last. The musicians decided to split up into two different bands. La Villa would continue the progressive rock style, while e-Norm would perform the more radio-friendly music. Meanwhile the latter had been renamed to ENorm and recorded several albums. With the latest Finding My Way (see review) they more or less returned to the prog rock genre. Strange to say, that the other ex-Marathon members, who would stick to prog rock, remained silent until lately.
I received a copy of the debut album of a band called Gate 6. On God Machines two former members of Marathon are part of the line-up. Even Marathon's original drummer appeared to be a band member, but he left before they recorded this album.
The story of Gate 6 started in 2005 when two old friends got together to make music. One of them was Jan Koster who used to play the guitar in bands as Challenge and Isolation. The other one is Tony ten Wolde, the former keyboardist for Marathon. However, in Gate 6 they exchanged instruments, which isn't that strange because originally, Ten Wolde is a trained guitarist. His former Marathon en La Villa colleague Jacques Suurmond joined on bass. Erik Masselink (lead vocals) and Martin Kuipers (drums), two former members of Symmetry, completed the line-up.
When I listened for the first time to God Machines two things attracted my attention: the amazing strong production done by Tony ten Wolde and the stunning artwork provided by Bas Hoebink, who's also known for his artwork with Symmetry and Sun Caged. This great design fits perfectly to the story of this concept album that was mainly inspired by the Blade Runner movie. This film deals with genetically engineered organic robots called replicants, who are visually indistinguishable from adult humans. Another inspiration was Skynet, a computer system developed for the U.S. military by the defence firm Cyberdyne Systems.
The music and the story on this album perfectly fit together. The modern synthesizer sounds gives you the impression that you're listening to a science fiction story. Jan Koster not only produces these sounds with his keyboards; from time to time he plays some wonderful parts on the piano as well. Also the outstanding string synthesizer sounds are really impressive throughout the album just as the strong vocals of Erik Masselink. Although he used to be a singer in a more metal orientated band, he did a good job on this album. Sure, you still can hear his musical roots just like those of drummer Martin Kuipers, but both fit flawlessly in a more progressive rock environment. Moreover, Erik Masselink has the gift of singing both aggressively and sensitively. He sometimes even reminded me of Steve Perry, the former singer of Journey.
Maybe the most surprising parts on God Machines are the ones that refer to the Marathon sound of the nineties. I don't mean the typical Saga sound with the Ian Crichton-like guitar play, but the overall sound of the band with the keyboards and the electric guitars creating a wall of sound with delightful riffs and guitar solos! The guitars are often responsible for the more aggressive sound that tends toward prog metal. This fits nicely in the concept of God Machines that contains no weak tracks at all. The compositions are all of a high level and well-balanced between up-tempo tunes and the mellower parts that sound like rock ballads.
If Gate 6 continue to record such strong albums like God Machines, I'm sure their future will look bright. They certainly are a strong addition to the progressive rock scene. I think fans of the old Marathon albums will embrace this band, but also people who love the music of Journey, Saga, Rush, Queensr˙che, Dream Theater, Seventh Wonder, Kamelot, Andromeda, Haken or Threshold.
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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