Album Review: Chromatic Aberration – The Trial of the King

Band: Chromatic Aberration | Album: The Trial of the King | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: Cleveland, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Genesis, Yes, Rush

Bandcamp

Happy 2021, folks! I took a couple weeks off, but now I’m back to my usual (mostly) weekly posts. I’ve got a queue of EPs and other releases for an upcoming Odds & Ends. I’m also nearing completion on my next Deep Dive, so expect that in early spring. I haven’t posted a full-length review in over two months, though! So, I’m shaking off the rust and highlighting a fantastic two-piece out of Cleveland.

There’s not much about this band online. They’ve got no presence on Facebook or Twitter or anything beyond their Bandcamp page that I can find. That’s a shame, because The Trial of the King is a great way to start off the year. This record feels like an alternate universe where Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee were members of Yes. The overall sound palette is rich and full of retro synths, but the guitars are usually angular. The bass has a satisfying, snapping bite to it more akin to Geddy’s tone than Chris Squire’s usual overdrive.

“Fortune Hunter” is a short instrumental that opens everything up. Its first riff immediately begs Rush comparisons, specifically to “The Camera Eye”, with its staccato synth jabs and odd guitar chords. This quality is paired alongside slinking, decidedly modern post-rock style arpeggios for a wonderful contrast.

Folk-tinged acoustic guitar and bass-forward jamming begin “Lord of the City”. The harmonized lead vocals add to the semi-folkish Yes allusions, but the verses’ jittery, driving pulse comes right out of Yezda Urfa or Wishbone Ash. An unexpected post-punk flavor emerges in the song’s closing 90 seconds, and I must once again lavish praise upon the bass tone here. It commands the listener’s attention, and it cuts through the layers of synth and guitar.

Following this is a much-needed breather. “Approaching Storm” lives up to its name with a slow-moving, deliberate tempo for its first two minutes. Glassy organ and driving percussion announce the storm’s arrival as the band downs an espresso and jumps into high gear. The song eventually modulates back to its opening tempo and mood, though the aura grows more and more oppressive throughout. A moment evocative of “Apocalypse in 9/8” sees a martial drum pattern and enveloping organ build to a dramatic climax.

“The Incidence of Memory” is another instrumental, and it’s another place where folk touches shine through and some Genesis influence can clearly be felt.

The Trial of the King closes on its 21-minute title track. Acoustic arpeggios lay the groundwork for a sunny electric guitar solo in its opening moments, and that leads into a rather clear allusion to “Cygnus X-1 Book II”. I love the way the guitar and bass harmonize at moments, and the constant flux between the smooth keyboard tones and the raggedness of the stringed instruments is satisfying. In classic Rush fashion, there’s a clear demarcation between this song’s movements, and the second part is a raucous stormer, compared to the relatively mild opening. Despite all the strong moments in this suite, however, it does lose focus in its second half.

As I’ve discussed in the past, my feelings on unashamedly retro-prog acts can vary wildly, but Chromatic Aberration is one which falls in my good graces. It doesn’t feel overly slick, and there’s a genuine sense of passion pouring out of this record. There are only a few flaws on this album, and most of them—bloat and instrumental aimlessness—are endemic to prog. The mashup of classic sounds is engaging, too. Rather than basing their sound clearly on one act, they’ve drawn bits and pieces from across the spectrum of prog.

Score: 83/100

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