2012 was a jolly fine year for music - or at any rate, music that I like. It was also the year in which I discovered a genre that took my ears by storm for some while, and which I can only attempt to name something like "technical instrumental djent-y metal-y stuff". Since that's such a crap name, go away and listen to Chimpspanner, Cloudkicker, Scale the Summit and Intervals, and you'll soon get the gist.
Just 6 tracks, but 100% awesome. Some incredible guitar work here from Paul Ortiz. If you haven't tried the genre give this a go. Top track: "Cloud City"
Real good honest-to-horned-gods metal, from a Swedish power trio. Love JB's voice. If you don't like this, you don't like metal. It's that simple. Top track: "Silver Moon"
I love Max Richter's minimalist neo-modern classical stuff, and if that's too poncy a sentence for you then I quite understand. But his reworking of Vivaldi's classic is absolutely sublime. I'm listening to it right now, in fact. Are you? Top track: "Winter 1"
If you like your metal British, traditional, angst-free, long-haired, beer-fuelled and up-front, then Savage Messiah are for you. Fun fact: in the mid 2000s I was in a band with Savage Messiah's lead guitarist Joff Bailey. Top track: "In Thought Alone"
I was never a huge fan of Creed, far preferring the heavier Alter Bridge and the preternatural Myles Kennedy's voice over the frankly-a-bit-whingey Scott Stapp's, but I didn't know what to expect when Mark Tremonti - guitarist for both bands - launched a solo album. What I got was bloody good though. Top track: "Brains"
And the winner is...
Supergroups often end up somehow not quite equalling the sum of their parts, be it due to ego clashes, overhype, production nightmares or whatever. But sometimes it does in fact work out - see Velvet Revolver, Audioslave, Them Crooked Vultures and even the David Lee Roth band of the late 80s for details. And so it is with Flying Colors.
The pedigree of the lineup is unquestionable: on lead guitar we have Steve Morse - solo artist and main axeman for The Dixie Dregs and latterly Deep Purple, he is an absolute star in the six-string heavens and would be considered "most valuable player" in any normal band lucky enough to have him. Versatile, tasteful, and - like Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden - can take over flying the plane on tour if the pilot has a heart attack.
On bass is Dave LaRue, also from The Dixie Dregs and the Steve Morse Band, so we know he can keep up with ole Steve, but who has also held down the low end for John Petrucci, Vinnie Moore, Joe Satriani and Jordan Rudess among others. He knows his way around, shall we say.
On keyboards it's Neal Morse (lending the band a 40% Morse/non-Morse ratio that is unparallelled in the world of rock) from prog superluminaries Spock's Beard and Transatlantic, and while he does bother deities in his spare time, he's no slouch on the ivories so I'll let him off just this once.
Thumping the tubs, it's Mike "Yeah sure, I'll play on that" Portnoy, the busiest man in prog/rock. He should really need no introduction, but if you turned up here by accident and really need to know who MP is, go look up Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, OSI, Avenged Sevenfold, Stone Sour, Adrenaline Mob, The Winery Dogs, and probably your mate's band who didn't really get anywhere but bugger me their drummer was good. (Rumours of him starting a project with Geoff Tate called Sour Grapes remain unconfirmed.)
And on lead vocals we have Casey McPherson, who I'm not really that familiar with, though I gather he's lead singer for an outfit called Alpha Rev. Make of that what you will.
So this could be an album of endless prog wankery. Is it?
Honestly, no it's not - it's bloody good. Don't get me wrong - this is a prog-tinged rock album, and everyone in the band can (and does) hold up their end, but it's much more than a collection of 6-minute synchronised 32nd-note wankfests that gets samey after the first track (DT, are you listening to this?). This is an album of songs with hooks. You know, like they used to make? Back in the day? There are virtuoso passages, there are indulgences, but all of it works in context and you never get the feeling that anyone in the band is waiting for their bit so they can show off.
Damned fine album, that. Get on it.
Top tracks: "Blue Ocean", "The Storm", "Forever In A Daze"