DIAGONAL - The Second Mechanism

Diagonal - The Second Mechanism

5 songs
44:58 minutes
***** ***
Rise Above


It’s been already four years since the eponymous debut by English retro proggers Diagonal, and a lot seems to have happened in this long time. First of all the septet has shrunk to a quintet, and especially the departure of vocalist and keyboarder Alex Crispin has left traces. Apart from the eleven minutes long magnum opus Hulks and some occasional oohs and aahs, the songs on the follow-up The Second Mechanism are making it over the rounds without any vocals. Other than that, their sound hasn’t changed that much, and the Brighton based musicians still adhere firmly to vintage retro prog rock with an authentic early Seventies analogous flair.

Like on the debut, we get once again five tracks. The opener Voyage / Paralysis is with its six and a half minutes the shortest track, with the remaining four all running longer than eight minutes. But let’s stay with the opener for a little. This track is one of the most straightforward and hence one of their most dynamic ones. While the guitar, bass and drums provide an expected prog rock backbone, the saxophone seems to be taking over the role of the vocalist. The following These Yellow Sands comes with a more oriental touch, which makes sense, considering its title. The fluid, meandering sax line makes it sound a little like Van Der Graaf Generator on a trip to the Middle East. It doesn’t take long though to build momentum, and let’s face it: that’s when I like Diagonal best. Influences come from many directions: Soft Machine, King Crimson, and even Hawkwind on the more psychedelic parts. I even felt reminded a little of the early solo material of the late Swedish multi-instrumentalist Bo Hansson.

But let’s move on with Mitochondria, another long track which starts sullenly with a moody accordion driven part that gives the saxophone once again room to spin a hypnotic melody. A few minutes into the song, the pace quickens to please the listener with another onslaught of sweaty fusion prog jazz. The aforementioned Hulks is the only track with vocals, which is a bit of a shame as David Wileman’s understated performance has definitely its charms. He sounds like an aged hippie in a folk rock band, but in a good way. And if you think now is the time to look at photographs of the band, you will be surprised that they don’t look like incense swathed Gandalfs, but could actually be mistaken for a modern metal band. This may be only a detail, but somehow it is charming that you don’t have to look like a Catweazle to play old school progressive rock.

The final track Capsizing keeps up with the overall very high level, and when all has been said and done (the former less than the letter on this album), I am left with a warm feeling in my gut region that is only slightly tempered by the fact that with such a talented vocalist on board, there could have been less instrumentals. But maybe Diagonal are still looking for how to sound after the departure of two former band members. Fans of gnarly gnarly olde-tyme prog rock with a healthy dose of jazz should be delighted with the anti-modernist delights that can be discovered on The Second Mechanism. Let’s only hope that the next album won’t be taking four years to see the light of day.

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