German progressive band Dark Suns certainly aren’t a household name, but over the past decade and change and over five albums they’ve managed to carve a solid niche for themselves in the space of dark, moody rock with heavy influences from the bygone era of classic 70s progressive groups. Their first three albums are worth a listen to those who are already sizable fans of the genre, but probably not too much more. It was on their previous album, 2011’s Orange, though, where the band showed signs of breaking out and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones towards something much greater. That album was bright, fiercely eclectic, and downright brilliant at times, mixing the band’s mastery of elongated, proggy songforms with mathy rhythms, tightly-wound psych-rock jams, and the occasional jazz flourish. The band added horns for the first time, employing sax and trumpet liberally throughout to up the ante on counter-rhythms or elevate hooks even higher.
Five years later, and the band have returned with their longest album yet, Everchild, which sits pretty at a daunting 81 minutes over 11 tracks. Those horn players (Evgeny Ring on sax and Govinda Abbott on trumpet) are now full-fledged members, and with an overall return to the darker and moodier sounds of their earlier catalogue, Dark Suns seemed intent on blending some of the experimentations of Orange within their more conventional prog framework. Thankfully for them, and us, the gambit was mostly a success, and Everchild is overall a highly enjoyable album that deserves and rewards multiple listens.
From the horn-filled opener “The Only Young Ones Left” and throughout, jazz plays a much larger role in this album than ever before. That track is a fantastic table-setter, as the band blends a cool, laid-back stoner groove with Niko Knappe’s mostly smooth falsetto vocals and surprisingly bright proggy jazz breaks. Following track “Spiders” is a more subdued and labyrinthine piece, featuring winding vocal melodies occasionally punctuated by noir-ish horn builds. The album’s closer, an epic rendition of Tori Amos‘ “Yes, Anastasia,” utilizes the horns mostly as embellishment, but it succeeds in painting a magnificent picture of its strong namesake. It’s on the ballad “Monster” though where Dark Suns truly utilize the tools at their disposal to their fullest. With the feeling and construction of an old-school jazz standard filtered through a smokey lounge haze, the piece gradually swells into a gargantuan progressive fusion machine befitting the track’s name. It’s beautiful, moving, and incredibly powerful.
Everchild is not all cerebral jazz, and there are a few tracks that are able to hit hard and play off that old-school progressive jam aesthetic to their benefit. “Escape With The Sun” alternates between a chilly desert groove befitting any of the great stoner and psych groups and a propulsive chorus that blasts off into a brief, but well-placed guitar solo and climax. “Codes” starts off similar to the prickly feel of “Spiders” but transforms into a very fun classic prog engine, jammy synths and all. The title track features a straight-up banger of a chorus, exactly the kind of fierce energy and sound you turn to this kind of music for. By blending just enough variety and ingenuity to this standard prog blueprint, Dark Suns are able to stave off most of the more egregious pitfalls that plague the genre they fit into.
Unfortunately they don’t avoid all of the most common issues, and the album is certainly not without fault. Everchild suffers from a kind of musical monotony in its back half as it settles into lengthy mid-tempo tracks that simply don’t posses the same energy or level of songwriting as the first 5 tracks. “The Fountain Garden” is fine, though at times it sounds like a bit of a re-tread of “Monster” without the jazz. “Unfinished People” starts off at a plodding pace and redeems itself once it reaches the more interesting bridge section, but it takes too long to get there. And “Torn Wings” and “Morning Rain” simply feel like unnecessary letdowns after the incredible and sharp energy of “Everchild.” One of the main qualities that made Orange such a thrill to listen to was the sheer breadth and diversity of it all, both in style and performance. Much of that was due to Knappe not sticking to any one vocal range or style throughout, even if that meant the silly, high-pitched squeals of “That Is Why They All Hate You In Hell.” Throughout almost the entirety of Everchild though he sticks to calm falsettos, a tone that is appealing and works well most of the time, but also can begin to wear on the listener after a while. Sometimes you just want to hear vocals go all-out along with the band. Restraint is not always a virtue in that sense.
The album does end on a high note though with the aforementioned cover of “Yes, Anastasia.” It is only one of two tracks that hit the 10-minute mark, but unlike the previous track, “Morning Rain,” it easily earns its runtime with a great musical narrative and compelling build throughout. It’s an excellent culmination of the aspects of Everchild that work, featuring dynamic shifts in style and energy that compliment the other and create tension that propels it towards its grandiose conclusion. When it’s firing on all cylinders, this album is an incredible piece of work that easily rivals the best material of the band’s catalog. It’s only a couple of notches short of being a truly great album, but unfortunately because most of its misfires are concentrated near the end of an already very long album, they become magnified. Nevertheless, Everchild is an exciting and thrilling collection of songs that will hopefully expose the band to a much wider audience and allow them to continue growing in ambition and scope.
Dark Suns’ Everchild gets…