For the most of you the Atlanta (Georgia USA) based progressive rock band Surreal will be an unknown band. Although they've released three full studio albums and one EP, Surreal hasn't gained a foothold in the Netherlands yet. Hopefully this review will change that a little bit. I have followed this band from 2011 on and have seen them grow to their today's stature.
The biography of Surreal starts with the following interesting sentences: “Surreal is an uplifting, progressive pop/rock band from Atlanta whose music explores some of life's most extraordinary moments. This vision took them to a top 25 spot on national indie radio!”. I think the band knows itself quite well. For years Surreal managed to combine uplifting rock music with progressive rock. So when you are in search for downer music, Surreal will not be your cup of tea. Uplifting soundscapes are very characteristic for Surreal.
Corey Lennox and Brandon Horsley are childhood friends who formed the base of Surreal. Corey Lennox became fascinated with songwriting in his teens. He went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and got a degree in “Contemporary Writing and Production”. Over time he moved back to Georgia to take a next step in his musical carrier. It was in that time that Corey Lennox discovered the beauty of progressive rock. Together with Brandon Horsley he started a journey to compose songs between some extremes.
Lennox was influenced by bands as Dream Theater, Rush, Marillion and also U2. Horsley on the other hand was influenced by more heavy bands ranging from RA to 30 Seconds To Mars.
Surreal's line-up is as follows: Corey Lennox (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Daniel Graham (bass, vocals), Brandon Horsley (keyboards) and Jeffrey Matthews (drums, vocals).
On their first albums the bands combined a lot of influences in rather compact songs. This resulted in albums which have varying atmospheres in most of the songs. I liked these albums for that reason. Besides that I really like the voice of Corey Lennox. This voice reminds me a little bit of James LaBrie (Dream Theater) in his early days. Lennox's voice is more polished in my opinion, but the timbre is in the range of Labrie.
Starmaps & Constellations is the third full album by the band. When I first listened to it I was pleasantly surprised by the style and the consistency. For me it looked like the band has “broken” with the past. What I mean to say is that the varying character of the songs was replaced by more unity.
The album takes off with the track Orion. Orion opens with spacy synthesizers and very heavy guitar riffs. After a short while the heavy atmosphere shifts to a mellow vocal part. Corey Lennox's vocals are sublime. The general character of this track is rather heavy, just the vocal parts are calmer. The bridge of the song contains clean guitar parts which develop in a heavy guitar- and synthesizer section. The opening of this album is really great. The first pile has been driven into the progressive rock ground.
The Best Days is an up-tempo heavy track that reminds me of The Smashing Pumpkins. Even the vocal are Billy Corgan-like. This track is typically an uplifting track. These are the tracks that made Surreal the band that they are today.
This line is continued on the third track of the album, Embers. Normally embers do glow, and glow is exactly what this track also does. This heavy track gives the album the fire it needs. The keyboards play a remarkable role in this track. The lay a steady foundation underneath this song. The guitar takes the lead in some sections, but the keyboards continue to prevail in this song. The track also makes clear that the rhythm section of Surreal is incredibly steady. Graham and Matthews are playing as if their lives are on stake.
Journey To Atlantis is one of the longer tracks on the album. The track starts with dark synthesizer soundscapes and a fantastic piano intermezzo. They create a sound which gives you the feeling as if you are in the mythical Atlantis archipelago. The track has Dream Theater-like atmospheres. Corey Lennox proves that beside a great songwriter, he also plays incredible good guitar. He's fast but always accurate and spot on. Journey To Atlantis is a seven minute instrumental track, which oscillates from atmosphere to atmosphere. Personally I think this is one of the best tracks on this album.
After this great journey Surreal continues with Resurgence. Resurgence is a lingering mid-tempo track with Muse influences. Especially the keyboard parts reminds me of Muse. The track high end and would fit on every Muse album. The atmosphere of this track is rather dark, but overall it has also an uplifting element in it.
Acoustic guitar and modest vocals are creating the base of Chasing Wind. The track has an open character and creates some sort of pleasant break in the album. Chasing Wind is a little bit a singer/songwriter song with a pop rock sound. This easily could be a single that will reach some charts. The end section of the track is more or less jazzy- fusion style. I think this is a great way to end a song.
Fire Cloud (part 2) is a follow up of Fire Cloud, a track of their debut album Autumn from 2008. Fire Cloud (part 2) is a mid-tempo track with a melancholic atmospheres. The breaks in this song are very well chosen. The heavy guitar parts create the base of this track. They give this track tension. The vocals of Corey Lennox are once more fabulous. I really like his transparent- and clean voice over the heavy layers of the songs.
The albums ends with Northern Cross. The Northern Cross constellation is an obvious theme on this album. The track has a heavy character with great guitar parts. The screaming vocals are sounding very atmospheric, which fits perfect in the track. This album ends on a majestic way.
As a self-proclaimed amateur astrophysics, the album title Starmaps And Constellations appeals to me. But also when I look further then the title I must confess that this album fascinated me from the beginning to the end. I think that Surreal has exceeded itself.
Surreal are a band that has grown in the last couple of years. All the tracks sound more matured then they ever did.
Besides that, Surreal has excellent musicians and an awesome vocalist. Together with a more steady sound, I think that this band is ready for much more pleasant musical surprises. It wouldn't surprise me also that a major label will sign this band sooner or later.
Starmaps And Constellations gets a 5 out of 5 from me. They released their best album by far, in my opinion. As mentioned the album contains great atmospheres, great tension, musical craftsmanship, excellent vocals and guts. I am really curious what the future will bring. It's all in the stars and they are shining brighter than ever.
***** Aad Bannink (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2020