I never had thought that the departure of guitarist Mark Vermeule in April 2012 would have such an impact on the musical direction of Knight Area. I think that hardly anyone could foresee that the band would turn from a neo-progressive rock act into a kind of prog metal outfit when Vermeule's successor was yet unknown to the outside world. Hyperdrive, the fifth studio album by Knight Area, contains a rather drastic musical change of direction. Sure, when a musician leaves a band this sometimes leads to some minor changes. However, it's rather exceptional that a band drastically changes its musical path, because mostly the new band member has about the same musical background as the one who left.
People who already knew that the new guitarist Mark Bogert played in the prog metal band Penny's Twisted Flavour − who recorded the excellent album Sketches (2010, see review) − before joining Knight Area, could have known that this replacement would lead to a new musical direction. After I saw Bogert playing with Knight Area during the 2012-edition of the iO Pages Festival (see review), I knew the band would move towards a heavier style. However, I don't know to what extent the replacement of Gijs Koopman by Peter Vink (Q65, Finch, Star One, Ayreon) is responsible for the band's new style. The EP Between Two Steps (2013, see review) and the band's performance at the second Progmotion Festival (see review) in 2013, already showed several new and more heavy compositions meant to be released on Hyperdrive. Well, let's get a bit deeper into this album.
The opening piece Afraid Of The Dark immediately reveals the heavier approach since the electric guitars are emphatically present. However, keyboardist Gerben Klazinga doesn't let himself put aside so easily, so a real cool synthesizer sound can be heard on this track. After the sound of the heavy guitars, it's time for some quiet moments. The Lost World starts as a fine ballad, but moves into a higher gear after a couple of minutes. Again Klazinga gets a place in the spotlights with an awesome synthesizer solo. The next two songs, Bubble and This Day, already appeared on Between Two Steps. This time you won't get radio-edits of these songs, but the full album version. Bubble is a fine up-tempo tune with strong bass playing and rather heavy guitar parts. The fantastic mellow middle-section that contains some beautiful Mellotron parts is still present on this version, and also the great synthesizer solo by Mr. Klazinga can still be enjoyed. This Day is an excellent ballad on which lead singer Mark Smit shows that he can sing very gently. The amazing guitar solo performed by Mark Bogert has remained intact showing that he can play fast and relaxed.
On Crimson Skies the heavy guitar again has a leading role. It certainly is one of the songs that show the new musical direction of this Dutch band. In a way the same could be said about Avenue Of Broken Dreams. The heavy guitars are leading throughout, but with a more melodic approach. The guitar and synthesizer solos towards the end are well-done, especially when they start to play together. Living In Confusion starts very bombastic and shows something of the old musical style of Knight Area. However, as the song continues the heavier guitar parts come soon to the surface, but the Mellotron choirs in combination with the awesome guitar solo make sure that this tune can be labelled as a true prog gem. On the aforementioned EP the track Xerenity is a strong instrumental piece with a leading role for the electric guitar. Hyperdrive contains Stepping Out, another strong instrumental. While listening to this track you might think that Mark Bogert does the strong guitar playing, but the album credits mentions Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, Stream Of Passion, Star One) as the guest musician, who was responsible for the solo.
Running Away sounds like a rather short and radio-friendly song, which will probably never be performed live. Songs From The Past comes very close to a ballad performed by Queen. Mark Smit sounds a lot like Freddy Mercury here and the piano parts could have been played by this late performer as well. So thumbs up for this excellent performance! The title track is composed in the finest Knight Area tradition. It contains great guitar and keyboard parts which give the song a real prog rock sound. The song strongly moves to a beautiful climax thanks to the outstanding guitar solo accompanied by fine Mellotron passages. They end this final track and the album in style, but it's a pity that Hyperdrive lasts much too short.
Compared to the four previous albums Hyperdrive is certainly a CD that provides the electric guitars a more dominant role. I guess the album mix done by Joost van den Broek (After Forever, Ayreon, Anand, Star One, among others) is responsible for this heavier sound throughout the album. Otherwise I think the neo-progressive rock sound would have been placed more in the foreground. Of course Mark Bogert is also responsible for this heavy guitar approach, but that doesn't mean that I don't like the current style of Knight Area. It's still a great band that recorded an excellent album, but frankly speaking I prefer the neo-prog style on the previous albums to the powerful new sound. It is and it will always remain a matter of taste!
***+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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