Over the course of the last year or so, two themes have stood out to me as I take in as much of the music scene as I can; 1) progressive music has come out of the shadows, and 2) vintage sounds have become more than merely a gimmick. And when the two trends come together, you can either end up with the hipster indie-rock equivalent of a metal band, or with something that recalls the olden days in the best of manners. For the sake of my sanity, Corsair is decidedly the latter.
Corsair borrows heavily from early progressive and heavy metal tropes, piecing together a canvas of vintage tones and approaches that bring to mind a simpler time, when music was all about music, and not who could amass the most YouTube views or Facebook likes. It's that sort of detachment from the world at large that comes through in those mildly-overdriven guitar tones, the kind that sound oh so sweet to ears overloaded by washes of digital fuzz.
If you need any proof that Corsair isn't here to jump on trends for the sake of popularity, you only need to listen to opener “Agathyrsi”, an instrumental tune with heavy riffs, plenty of twin-guitar harmonies, and solos that pretend shred never happened. I'm not sure the composition works as a song, but there's more than enough melodic guitar playing to make up for whatever structural problems there may be. It's certainly not the common way to come out of the gates and win fans, but it does make a statement, which is more important.
The tone shifts dramatically on “Chaemera”, which introduces laid-back vocals and a sound not unlike a relaxed Thin Lizzy outtake. With doses of vocal melody, and yet more solid guitar soloing, the blueprint begins to take shape. “Falconer” confirms which direction the album is going to take, with it's descending arpeggiated riff, restrained vocal approach, and focus on the almighty guitar solo.
A lot of the appeal of the record comes from those solos, the tasty swaths of notes dancing through our heads, topped off with a saturated tone straight out of the days of Eric Clapton and Cream. It's a controlled fuzz, the kind of sound that makes both the guitar and the guitarist seem inhuman, and turns the solos into other-worldly experiences. The biggest shame of the album is that the rest of the songs are rarely as captivating as the lead playing, which isn't to say that the songs aren't fun little romps, but they lack the killer instinct that comes in this middle sections.
“Gryphon Wing” offers strong vocal hooks, but it's still the instrumental section that shifts the pace around and takes it to another level. The varying moods and sounds during those minutes is everything a progressive bit of music is supposed to be, while still maintaining the standards of old-school rock.
The centerpiece of the album is clearly “Path Of The Chosen Arrow”, whose driving uptempo verses fall away into a gorgeous half-time chorus with the most inviting vocal on the whole record. And like the rest of the songs, it opens up in the middle into a fantastic series of riffs and solos that take the sound in a different direction. There's so much done right in a song like this, that nitpicking seems pointless.
“Corsair” isn't a perfect album, and I'm not sure I would even call it great, but it is a rousing success. After the odd and ill-fitting opener, the album is a strong set of progressively-tinged classic rock songs that feature all the great guitar playing you could ask for. It does sometimes feel like a band of musicians still figuring out how to write a song, but the seeds are there. Next time out, Corsair could grow into a monster of a band.