In Extremis

Days Between Stations

Independent release, 2013

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


For this prog aficionado, one of the most exciting developments in recent years is the constant hum of cross-pollination amongst prog musicians of all backgrounds, locations, and generations. The ability to collaborate across vast distances and on their own schedule has allowed proggers the world over to work together almost seamlessly, and to their credit, many from the elder, original generation have embraced the opportunity to collaborate with younger musicians following in their footsteps.

In Extremis, the second album from Los Angeles art-rock/post-prog duo Days Between Stations, is a shining example of this phenomenon. Having wisely enlisted ex-Yes man Billy Sherwood to produce, keyboardist Oscar Fuentes Bills and guitarist Sepand Samzadeh benefit here from guest performances by luminaries from not one, not two, but three different eras and incarnations of prog pioneers Yes: founding guitarist Peter Banks, main sequence keyboard maestro Rick Wakeman, and latter-day contributor Sherwood on drums. Add Tony Levin of King Crimson fame on bass and a brief guest appearance from Colin Moulding of XTC, and you’ve got a world-class collection of talent.

All of which could have fallen flat if the songs didn’t hold up—but thankfully, they do. Bills and Samzadeh have a great feel for the sort of textured, exploratory space rock that grew out of early Pink Floyd works. In genuine prog style, opener “No Cause For Alarm” is explicitly labeled as an overture, a grand four-minute piece featuring to core duo plus the rhythm section of Levin and Sherwood (a multi-instrumentalist who’s behind the drum kit here) and the Angel City Orchestra.

“In Utero” follows, an airier, drumless piece spotlighting Bills and Samzadeh, along with a tasty trumpet solo. “Visionary,” the first extended piece here at 10:40, opens with a percussive synth effect before moving into Floydian space-rock territory and adding Sherwood on lead vocals.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Blackfoot” is one of my favorite tracks here, an extended, hypnotic instrumental built around a repeating piano line with guitar figures whirling around it, as the rhythm section does a steady dance below. Imagine a cross between Explosions In The Sky and Tangerine Dream and you’re in the neighborhood; it’s got that je-ne-sais-quoi element of grandeur that levitates both the song and the listener, especially in the last quarter.

By contrast, “The Man Who Died Two Times” immediately introduces a different tone, a sort of ...And Then There Were Three-era Genesis, British progressive pop feel. Part of the reason for that is Colin Moulding’s lead vocal, of course, but it’s also a function of the song itself, a melodious but somewhat repetitive four-minute cut that feels like a somewhat strained attempt to write a single.

A brief cleansing breath is provided by “Waltz In E Minor,” a classical interlude featuring the Angel City String Quartet and kindly dedicated to Banks, who completed his parts for this album just prior to his death in March 2013—and then we get to the real meat of this album.

The 12-minute “Eggshell Man” opens with an airy acoustic guitar-led segment that adds Rick Wakeman’s decorative Mellotron flute before moving into an intense full-band jam around 4:00.  A rippling organ riff from Bills drives them headlong into fresh territory, as we’re suddenly transported to the Middle East for a tar solo from Ali Nouri with thrumming electric guitar textures underneath (Banks, perhaps?). And then they hit you with an intense acoustic jam, and then a brief drum segue into a stately yet sizzling minimoog solo from Wakeman. This gorgeous, dynamic piece closes out with a reprise of the quieter opening section, again featuring Sherwood vocals with Wakeman’s mellotron flute decorating the high notes behind him beautifully. Love this cut.

The decidedly epic 21-plus-minute title track, again featuring Banks, is a seven-part suite that opens with a rather ominous vocal overture. The second section builds around another rather hypnotic Bills piano sequence, adding Sherwood’s vocals and what sounds like Banks on guitar swirling and dancing around them both. Between 12:00 and 16:30 lies another spectacular instrumental sequence—sections IV and V of the suite—with guitars arcing skyward while synths burble and pulse underneath, shifting and pushing one another to ever-greater heights. Ironically this, one of Banks’ final performances, is on a song about a man who is dying and looking back on his life. As epitaphs go, it’s a remarkably fitting one, and with terrific contributions from all involved.

In Extremis is a superb slab of modern prog that benefits from Sherwood’s crisp production and A-list network of collaborators. Guest stars aside, though, the songs here are the key, all co-composed by Bills and Samzadeh, with Sherwood’s help on lyrics and vocal melodies, and delivering the sort of intense, mind-expanding interstellar journey that prog fans the world over love to take.

Rating: A-

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