Band: Retreat from Moscow | Album:Life as We Knew It | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2022
From: Cardiff, UK | Label: Independent
For fans of: Rush, Genesis, Marillion, The Flower Kings
This Welsh quartet has a unique history. Originally formed in the late 1970s, they played live shows for several years but never released anything. After disbanding in 1981, Retreat from Moscow entered a (nearly) 40-year period of hibernation. In 2019, the band’s core reformed and started to record both old and new material. The result of those sessions is Life as We Knew It.
This band’s debut, four decades in the making, is a fun, punchy bunch of prog rock cuts. Many of the compositions certainly feel rooted in late-70s prog, with no shortage of flashy instrumental passages and arena-rock grandiosity; but the production is quite modern-sounding, and certain riffs border on metallic.
The opening passage of “The One You Left Behind” is a bit of an inauspicious start to the album. The big vocal harmonies and warm melodies remind me a bit too much of Big Big Train, a band I’ve never been fond of. But I gave it a chance, and this song demonstrates the band’s abilities. There’s some good muscle in the playing, and the riffs’ grittiness is a nice contrast to the smoothness of the vocals and keys.
The main riff of “Radiation” draws from both punk rock and Rush. It’s high-energy and propulsive, but the particular chord choices are quite Lifesonian. “Henrietta”, meanwhile, opens with a more restrained atmosphere. It’s a mixed bag, overall, with some fantastic instrumental moments, though the verses are unimpressive.
The keyboard tones on “I’m Alive” sound like they’re straight out of “Tarkus”, and the stampeding mood of the music suits it wonderfully. The verses are, again, of mixed quality, but Retreat from Moscow writes and plays strong enough passages that I’m willing to overlook these shortcomings. “Constantinople”, in contrast, is a slow-moving acoustic piece for its first half, and it features a mournful, Gilmourian guitar solo. Halfway through, though, lush synths and growling bass kick off a more aggressive passage.
The 11-minute “Home” is the longest song on the album. This song is honestly one of the less-memorable moments on the album. It’s perfectly fine, but it doesn’t do much to stand out.
“Armed Combat”. Meanwhile, opens with some fantastically discordant synth stabs and piercing guitars. The verses are noticeably funky and show an indebtedness to Rush. The backing vocals are a little corny, but it’s a good overall song.
“Moving Down” is an unimpressive, dull ballad, and it’s here that the sheer length of this album (73 minutes, with the shortest song being 4:50) starts to weigh it down. Most of the music has been pretty good up to the point, but many songs could also have been served by some trimming.
Thankfully, “Perception” has some great organ tones, and the big guitar riff is a good, enjoyable kind of cheesy. “Mandragora” has some fun folk influences amid aimless balladry, and the closing “Don’t Look Back” ends strong, but its first three minutes can be skipped.
Overall, Life as We Knew It is a strong debut, and I salute the effort of finally getting something recorded and released after such a long hiatus. The album is overlong, and the second half does drag a bit. But if you don’t mind a bit of bloat or an unnecessary ballad, there’s a lot of good music here.