Milliontown – Frost* (2006)

Album artwork for Milliontown

Album artwork for Milliontown

In the progressive rock scene, it is often hard to rise up above the continuous stream of new music being released.  The problem is certainly not that too many groups end up sounding the same.  After all, this is a genre that prides itself on being unique.  No, the usual problem is that there isn’t enough substance in the music.  It can be a surprisingly difficult task to write intricate and musically complex songs that also feature strong, memorable material.  As a result, any artist that can accomplish such a task often stands out amongst their contemporaries.  It is for this reason that I discovered Frost*, a neo-prog outfit from England. From the first time I heard Milliontown, their debut album, I was hooked.  It contains all of the crucial elements to appeal to several different musical followings; it’s got crunchy guitar riffs for the rockers and rollers, lighter material with a poppier edge to appeal to a more mainstream audience, and of course it has heaps of intense instrumental breakdowns that attract all the prog fanatics.

From the first moments of “Hyperventilate,” featuring an open-ended piano solo that climaxes into a powerful 7/4 groove that quickly establishes the group as a prog powerhouse, it is easy to tell that Milliontown is going to be an exciting ride.  It is beautifully produced, thanks to the meticulous work of Jem Godfrey, who is the keyboardist, main vocalist, and producer.  The guitar tracks work extremely well with the rest of the rhythm section to fill up the entire sonic field, whether it’s with polished distortion or raw acoustic simplicity.  The real star of the show, however, is the multitude of synth sounds.  Whether it’s with a subtly-effected piano sound or a soaring synth lead, Godfrey packs a punch that easily distinguishes the band’s sound.

Compositionally, there is a natural flow to the album.  After the fast-paced instrumental “Hyperventilate,” we hear a more droning headbanger in the form of “No Me No You.”  It’s based around a more traditional song structure, but it adds some flair with a rather intriguing use of dissonance in the bridge.  Following along is “Snowman,” a downtempo song that allows the listener’s ears to take a break and enjoy the band’s calmer sensibilities. The keyboards on this song take on a very Mellotron-esque role that emphasizes the masterful vocal interplay that occurs.

“The Other Me” starts out with the unexpected use of some bluesy slide guitar technique. This song, which starts to bring the energy level back up, makes a very interesting use of noise to create this industrial sort of mood.  Everything from the electronic stuttering to the vocal effects to the purposeful destruction of the drum sound creates this distinct Nine Inch Nails-Frost* fusion.

“Black Light Machine” is the first of two progressive epics on Milliontown.  It’s divided into two main parts, the first being a heartening piece reminiscent of the older days of symphonic prog, while the second half kicks it up into what has now become a very characteristic Frost* sound that features some phenomenal synth-guitar interplay to carry the song out.  The final song on the record is the title track, “Milliontown.”  Clocking in at almost 27 minutes, this piece is the true masterpiece of the album.  The epic progresses in a very similar fashion to a classic Dream Theater epic, divided into various “movements.”  It fluctuates between moments of calm and moments of serious shredding, with both an extended instrumental intro and outro that feature many of the same themes.  After the final climactic notes fade away, your thoughts will most likely range anywhere from “That was the most incredible piece of music I’ve ever heard” to “What in the world did I just listen to?” Either way, it leaves you stunned and (hopefully) extremely appreciative of the sheer amount of effort that had to have been put into such a masterful work.  If you’re looking for a unique and refreshing album to listen to, Frost* is a perfect choice for anyone who enjoys either some well-thought out rock music or some classic prog material with a more memorable twist.

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