Perhaps the most enchanting and fascinating aspect of music’s general trope is its ability to maintain an endless march through the ages, persistently developing and evolving, and in a sense acting as a series of hallmarks for each chronological era. Whilst this is a good thing, and in itself encompasses the very nature of music, it can in sense also be seen as a hindrance to the notion of ‘classic’ styles, ultimately resulting in certain sonic characteristics being essentially lost through the ages, and gradually edged out by contemporary approaches. Legendary Dutch quintet KAYAK are one of a finite roster of artists who simply refuse to contribute to this inclination, having maintained not only a career spanning from 1972 to present day, but more importantly a thoroughly traditional ‘prog’ style that is still very much alive today.
Boasting an exceedingly authentic sound that often feels like an epic incarnation of YES, GENESIS, RUSH, PINK FLOYD, QUEEN, DREAM THEATRE and countless other progressive greats all bundled into one, it’s safe to say that this is an act that still very much represent the very roots of the genre. What’s more, is that KAYAK are now in the latter stages of a pre-release campaign for their seventeenth full-length effort (yes, seventeenth), and clearly aren’t showing any signs of fatigue just yet. With the official release of the aptly entitled Seventeen on the horizon, it’s high time for us to take an in-depth look, and find out what the Dutch powerhouse have for us this time around.
Right off the bat, Seventeen is able to give the impression of something that embodies everything one would expect from a traditional ‘prog’ sound, and more. With little hesitation, opening track Somebody wastes no time in boasting a series of soaring lead hooks and enchanting vocal melodies, all neatly tied up with the welcomed addition of discreet synth-lines layered underneath the mix. In particular, this tasteful employment of electronic and symphonic elements is able prevail as a significant theme in the approach, something that undoubtedly succeeds in adding a certain extra dimension, and significantly bolstering the overall dramatisation. As a general impression, the word ‘classic’ cannot be stressed enough in terms of what KAYAK have once again been able produce here; suave, sauntering, bendy Steve Vai-Esq. guitar leads dominate a considerable proportion of the songs, boasting a traditional, clean ‘rock’ tone, coupled with the aforementioned addition of Rudess-like keys, and vocal work that could challenge any ballad throughout history, serving to form a sonic impression that truly embodies the notion of prog-rock. We see this approach exerted time and again throughout Seventeen, and it comes to act as a very apt summary of the record, in addition to the band in general.
Remaining very much in keeping with this idea of a traditional progressive sound, is the general structure of the record. Whilst this is something that one would come to expect from many prog artists, it’s certainly not something that even vaguely disappoints in this scenario, with the record as a whole spanning over an hour, and several tracks clocking in at well over eight minutes in length. Following the relatively short opening track, the listener is introduced next to La Peregrina in thoroughly unreserved fashion, an epic, bardic journey of a song just falling shy of the twelve minute mark. This track represents something that barely falls short of being a true masterpiece, boasting epic QUEEN-Esq. ballad vocals, a variety of captivating chord progressions and melodies, tempo and mood changes aplenty, grandiloquent displays of soloing, and giving the overall impression of an incredibly well-round piece of work. Not just once does a song of this nature crop up throughout Seventeen, but a total of three times, with Walk Through Fire comprising of another ten minutes, and penultimate track Cracks narrowly missing out on the nine minute mark. These songs are nicely supplemented by an anthology of much shorter, circa-three minute affairs, making for a nicely balanced, rounded structure overall.
If played cover-to-cover, Seventeen feels as though it has the potential to convey as the soundtrack to a movie. The overall level of songwriting come across as incredibly patient and passionate, essentially making for a collection of epic ballads that bleed seamlessly into one another. The previously mentioned use of keyboard synths contributes greatly to this effect, in addition to the almost poetry-like vocal work, with these two elements acting as real focal points throughout. This approach however, whilst unbelievably epic at times, can perhaps be conceived as the source of a downside for the record; listeners who are more predisposed to more of an extravagant, chaotic style littered with metre changes, heavier sections and a broader sense of variety, will perhaps be disappointed by Seventeen. Whilst unequivocally progressive in approach, technical at times, and meticulously thought-out, the formula of the record is very much established from the get-go, and isn’t significantly deviated from too much throughout. In short, to really connect with this record, it’d be fair to suggest that you’d have to be a big fan of classic prog-ballads, whereas if you’re of a much different persuasion within the realms of progressive music, this might be something you struggle with.
All-in-all, it would be fair to suggest that KAYAK have once again managed to write a thoroughly engaging piece of work. The overall approach conveys as everything from technical, to passionate and emotional, to significantly eclectic, to epic and extravagant. As far as progressive music goes, in a broad sense, this record should be exceedingly enjoyable for the general listener; with a traditional style as a base, in addition a blend of other influences, this band have been able to produce something that covers a lot of ground whilst remaining true to its roots. As impressive as this is at times, it is admittedly prone to raising some potential issues however. Contemporary listeners could conceivably struggle with it, being such a classical, 80s-Esq. formula, and lacking a certain extra edge that modern digitality might provide; this could prove to be too much of a challenging listen for those of a certain disposition. In addition, as mentioned before, certain listeners may become lost in the lengthy, meandering ballads, struggling connect with the drawn-out and conceivably convoluted approach. Of course, however, this comes down to taste. KAYAK‘s Seventeen, on the whole, represents a truly eclectic and epic musical collective, and serves to prove that this band’s 44-year career doesn’t necessarily look like coming to a halt any time soon. When the term ‘progressive’ is uttered, it would be justified to immediately think of this band as a benchmark of sorts; this is a principle that has certainly not been defied by Seventeen.
Seventeen is out now via InsideOut Music.
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