Album Review: Rise of Realism May Have Made the First Less-is-More Prog Record with Mirage

Rise of Realism spin their own cinematic brand of progressive rock through a less is more approach not often associated with the genre resulting in Mirage, a record that runs the full emotional gamut. Yet despite confounding genre and incorporating influences from across the board, Rise of Realism keep an atmospheric contemplation firmly in place at the core of the record. The pondering depths seep outward and color each of the eight tracks so we’re left with a cohesive record that explores an entire universe without losing specific themes of philosophy and impact through subtlety.

We’re inducted into this universe through the repetitive, nearly percussive synth textures of “Believe” which finds the most capable support in skeletal woodblock subtlety. We feel the coldness that comes with the dimming light of a setting sun along with the ersatz glow of city lights growing in brightness, all captured in evocative guitar strums that perfectly exemplify Rise of Realism’s adept understanding of the power in simplicity. Rugged, weathered vocals that sagely recall Leonard Cohen grimly narrate this encounter and we’re left with the impression that we’re catching glimpses of the post-apocalyptic dystopian metaphysical western that is Mirage as we’re quickly pulled past industrial support beams in their monolithic permanence. Synthscapes recalling the cinematic scope of Vangelis inaugurate the instrumental “Industrial Sunset”, conjuring the plastic beauty of a synthesized biodome recreation of a majestic natural park, lost to time. This gives way to a powerful determination as guitars at once victorious and tragic roll in on waves of drum and burbling synth. The record’s title track finds cascades of synth ushering in synchronized male and female vocals that not only serve as a hallmark of Mirage, but are also responsible for many of the album’s strongest moments. The beat plunges into the effervescing, shimmering soundscapes, hooking in for ultimate impact while tragic glam rock guitars propel melodies that stack losses against gains in the full spectrum of conflict.

The album takes a momentarily strange detour on “Only a Handful are True” offering up, by contrast, one of the album’s most experimental moments. Tribal drum loops, guitars strummed with western grit, and loungey backing vocals merge with the cautionary lead male vocal and a classic chase scene piano line in a track that nearly rebels against the flow of the rest of Mirage. But Rise of Realism follow it with one of Mirage’s strongest tracks with the slightly sinister villainy of “Beacon.” Washes of synth give way to a keyboard line that seems inspired by Middle Eastern scales, weaving through a jangling rock beat for an effect that’s ancient, golden and regal. “A Monumental Journey” is steeped in nocturnal orchestral wonderment with aspects of the instrumentation seeming to buzz at a high frequency while the song itself crawls along slowly and sentimentally. The entwined vocals seem to savor every moment as they drift upon the mysterious, magical blue night on the edge of something truly spellbinding. A gentle vulnerability is strummed and plucked from the guitars on “Is It You” before the beat picks up into a dusty storm of effected guitars with gruff pondering vocals as our guide. A blanket of backing vocals reinforces with strength and blankets with softness while the general melody of the chorus hints at dark edges to the pages of this story. The album closes with the Pink Floyd-esque space prog of “No Rush.” Sliding guitars and acoustic strummed textures work with a plodding, direct beat to hold things together in the face of drifting galactic expansiveness. Yet, the vocals bravely turn to face the wide openness in a tone that is at once celebratory and lamenting.

Mirage presents a tapestry of conscious, artfully controlled beats, warm synths painting cold soundscapes, groove-anchored bass lines, interlacing vocals, and guitars that run the distance between pregnant and foreboding and ingeniously understated. Rise of Realism use simplicity to dramatic effect to create a piece of art that defies expectation while distinctly remaining even after the music has stopped.

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