Linear Sphere set themselves the ambitious task of tracing mankind’s journey through the ages. Ambitious is a good way to describe “Manvantara”, the band’s carefully constructed second album. The opener “Origin” is much more than a scene setter and musically a guide of what is to come. 9 minutes in length, it is busy, funky, full of technical energy and with a distinct jazz orientation. I can picture Linear Sphere centre stage at the ProgPower festival, fitting in with all the conceptual, flowery and lyric-strong bands I hear every year. Whilst greatly appreciating the technical quality, which I have to say is superb and exudes excitement with its constant urgency and layers of progression, I wasn’t entirely feeling it. As I buzzed along to the flamboyant groove, I wasn’t warming to the theme.
The album stepped up another level with “Cycle of Ages”, which starts with a spoken piece by actor Paul Darrow. It’s strangely retro, as if Rick Wakeman had come and taken over proceedings. From here the album explodes. Power, passion and channelled emotion appear from nowhere. There’s a substructure with the enhancement of the chapman stick, an instrument I normally associate with Cynic who are not a million miles from here. “Cycle of Ages” ends reflectively, but its successor “Inner Flame” takes us to greater emotional heights. Again dynamic and multi-layered, the ambiance of these two tracks and much of the album reminds me a lot of Pagan’s Mind, who present a similar big cosmic vision within their work. Most importantly, I was starting to be part of this world now. The delicate rhythms continue to combine with the progressive metal guitars, as the story progresses. In technicality and sophistication, another comparison I could make is with Zero Hour. “Manvantara” has a strong driving force, and the funky technicality continues to the end.
“Manvantara” is a concept album, and thematically concentrates on man’s spiritual evolution in the face of dark forces. There seems to be a lot in the word-heavy lyrics about culture and race, including the scary-sounding “genetically-modified aryan man”. The music shares the intensity of the theme and the vocals. I didn’t however find the theme of great interest, and the weight of words and self-indulgence indeed pushed me away. What made this album special was the musical presentation which belied the overt nihilism but did reflect in its development the idea of evolution as well as being colourful and dynamic.
So this is a rock/metal progressive concept album featuring a rich blend of styles. No, I wasn’t so enamoured of the wordy lyrics but I take my hat off to the musicians who make their instruments speak. This album reached out to me in parts, and is noteworthy for musicianship of the first order, and will for sure appeal as a complete package to the Prog fan of the studious kind.
(7.5 / 10 Andrew Doherty)