By: Gaz Cloud
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Released on February 2, 2015 via Self-released
“Brace yourself for impact; brace yourself tomorrow comes”. As a statement of intent the early lyrical refrain on this Dublin band’s debut album is hard to resist. The brief but poetic verses of ‘Travelling Man’, the opening song, allude to the creative decision that sparked M-Opus to life and gave this album its idiosyncratic title. Rather than look to the past to inspire the future, 1975 Triptych is an unashamed recreation of a classic sound and era – the back story being M-Opus are in fact a fictional band from another time, whose music is only now coming to light. A cursory glance at the pop charts will remind those less acquainted with rock history that there was a lot going on in 1975, the year of the first “unearthed” recording. But M-Opus have ears for one aspect of this year – mind-meldingly brilliant progressive rock.
Quite unexpectedly this tribute to a former time is as exceptional as some of the records it aims to emulate. Everything about the album sounds authentic, from the instrumentation to the production. Jonathan Casey’s organ forms a key component of the band’s sound, but it’s cleverly melded to grandiose guitars, melodic bass playing and sympathetic drumming that’s delicate where appropriate and powerful where needed – drummer Mark Grist’s technique is not dissimilar to a certain Mr Bruford, which must surely delight Casey, himself formerly a player in David Cross’ band.
It’s not just the sound that’s derivative but the complex, multi-faceted song writing. ‘Travelling Man’ is a perfect opening salvo and sets the scene but this is a massively uneven triptych as the middle of the three compositions, ‘Different Skies’, takes up the vast majority of the record’s run time. After a confusing burst of static noise (which bookends the piece, possibly a mistake), computerised vocals and lyrics about the ephemeral beauty of snowflakes open this centrepiece. Throughout the 11 (!) segments that make up the track the lyrics are faultless, evoking other times and places and always full of wonder. One minor criticism would be the slightly clunky references to Seasonal Affective Disorder – a condition only named by Norman E. Rosenthal in the 1980s.
It’s hard to single out highlights, but ‘Part VII, Every Day The Orbit’, is the sing-along, lighters-in-the-air moment that every progressive masterpiece needs in amongst its run time. As you’d expect, there are also fascinating instrumental interludes, none more so than ‘Part VIII, Magnetic North’, which evokes medieval folk embellished with Middle Eastern esoteric flourishes. An orchestra joins the rock instruments on this section and the results are little short of orgasmic. As ‘Different Skies’ heads towards its close there are marching drums, flamboyant guitar solos from Colin Sullivan and a contemplative ambient segment that demonstrates the Casey’s spectre extends to the legendary synth artists of the era alongside those acts in thrall to the guitar.
The record closes with ‘Wasps’, a track whose lyrics would stand up aside from the music. The music in question consists of chiming guitars, tinkling pianos and propulsive guitars that move through a pretty chord sequence. Although understated after the grandeur of ‘Different Skies’ and a little over-long this is simple and effective – a worthwhile addition to the album that conceptually brings proceedings to a neat close.
There’s been a lot of debate of late about how much of the new wave of progressive rock can be genuinely deemed “progressive”. Put that discussion to one side for 51 minutes and allow M-Opus to take your breath away, musically. It’s hard to evaluate this record by the standards of ’75 as the material M-Opus ape was at the time so fresh and invigorating. Whilst sonically there’s no new ground covered here, the inventiveness that was a key factor in making the great records of that era so memorable is thankfully intact – without this 1975 Triptych would be merely a pastiche. If simply appraising the music contained within, M-Opus’s debut deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Snow Goose, Wish You Were Here, Minstrel In The Gallery and the other classic albums from 1975 – indeed, had the record been released at the time its fabricated history claims it dates from, it would have been hailed as a milestone release. If the quartet can repeat the trick on their forthcoming 1978 album, they will be a truly great band. For now, 1975 Triptych is an album that demands to be heard.