Pure Reason Revolution - Hammer and Anvil

by Dan Upton

Pure Reason Revolution have an interesting history, at least in terms of their musical output. I first came across their debut The Dark Third, along with a sampler EP An Introduction to Pure Reason Revolution, when it was described to me (well, by a prog CD distro) as "Pink Floyd meets The Beach Boys." Not an altogether inappropriate description; the album blended ambient passages, heavy riffs, and ethereal harmonized vocals across sprawling yet hooky compositions. (Side note: The Dark Third should be on your must-own list.)

But then there was this shift with 2009's Amor Vincit Omnia took a lot of people by surprise. The first single from the album, "Victorious Cupid," held fairly true to the sound first demonstrated on The Dark Third, but the rest of the album had a lot more of an electronic influence. Sure, there were still live instruments, but a number of the songs were heavily driven by dirty, distorted synths. Still, despite the unexpected turn, it grew on me after two or three listens, with equally excellent songwriting and dynamics paired with a danceable groove on many tracks.

That brings us to their third full-length, Hammer and Anvil. This new album largely follows the path set upon on Amor Vincit Omnia. As with that previous disc, there are a handful of songs that are more straightforward prog rock in the Pink Floyd vein but embellished with modern synth arrangements. A perfect example of this is the lead single of sorts (available as a promo for free download in exchange for a tweet or Facebook post), "Black Mourning," which also links back to a song from The Dark Third with a similar lyric passage and vocal harmony. Album closer "Armistice," although not my favorite of the tracks, is also guitar- and synth-driven and evokes The Cure. The Porcupine Tree-ish "Patriarch" drifts along on spacey pads with guitar in the background and a huge chorus and buildup at the end.

Then there are several fairly meaty tracks with thick synths that, despite largely foregoing guitars, are amongst the heaviest riffs the band has written. "Last Man, Last Round" has an industrial feel and a haunting verse backing. Surprisingly enough, the ethereal vocal harmonies fit well over the heavier backdrop.

There are two tracks that really see them stepping out of their comfort zone, and arguably with mixed results. Album opener "Fight Fire" pairs a vicious Prodigy-like dance groove and stronger, deeper vocals with blues lyric writing: one phrase repeated three times, followed essentially by the end of the thought. The groove itself is pretty good, although the club track writing is a bit of a departure from most of their songs, and Chloe's vocal delivery fits the song well, but the lyrics themselves don't do anything for me. Then there's "Blitzkrieg," another song that is basically a straight-up club song with a piano interlude in the middle. The dance groove part of the song is well-constructed with great sounds, but may turn off a lot of listeners who came in on The Dark Third and grudgingly followed through despite not caring for the electronic bent or dance music.

Frankly, this has been another one of those CDs I've put off writing up so I had a good excuse to keep listening to it. Like I said, closer "Armistice" doesn't do much for me, and "Fight Fire" is a bit of a toss-up for me, but the remaining 8 songs are all killer. If you're into prog rock or more adventurous music, pick this up without delay. And, for that matter, go grab their other two for good measure.

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