Album Review: IQ – The Road of Bones

There aren’t a lot of bands that I listen to that I’ve only heard one of their many records. This next band is one of them, but luckily from everything that I’ve read, the one album I’ve heard happens to be one of their best. This band has been sitting in my iTunes library for some time now, and in fact, I don’t even know how it got there. It took until my friend Niv’s amazing post about this same album for me to re-listen to it. What resulted was complete fascination. Can someone tell me how the band IQ has been sitting in my iTunes library un-listened for so long?! Thanks Niv; I owe you one.

IQ is a veteran rock band from England, currently consisting of Peter Nicholls on vocals, Mike Holmes on guitar, Tim Esau on bass guitar, Paul Cook on drums, and the newly added Neil Durant on the keyboard. I can describe this band in one word: epic. Well, I can also say they fall in the progressive rock category, highlighting all that was fascinating about the 70’s, but reinvented for modern ears using influences from multiple generations. IQ has been around since the early 80’s, and have continued to carry the torch for progressive music that was left behind by bands like Genesis and Yes around that time. Having only heard their newest album “The Road of Bones,” I can only imagine all that I’ve missed over the years.

Celebrating the album’s first year anniversary this month, any fan of progressive rock music can still hear of the album’s brilliance and impact on the music scene. Simply put, “The Road of Bones” is a beast of an album. First of all, the first CD contains five songs that clock in just under an hour. Second, there is a BONUS CD that contains six songs lasting almost the same length of time. That means the listener is invested in nearly two hours of amazing music when listening to this album. Having time restraints, I’m only going to skim over the first CD, containing what I believe are the better tracks from the album anyways.

Tim Esau
Photo by Progmeister

There is so much going on during the length of “The Road of Bones.” The listener can hear all the different instruments used simultaneously, with all the different influences each member has had from past and present generations. Being a “softer” progressive rock album than many I’ve reviewed previously, there are still brilliant moments provided by the lesser focused instruments. Each song seems to start off very slowly, but ultimately pick up into that punch-to-the-face percussive sound. The drum beats provided by Cook are very complex, and deliver amazing fills during the many time signature changes. His greatest moments are in the album’s closing song “Until The End,” a song that I cannot listen to unless I can blast it on headphones. In fact, I highly recommend my readers listen to this album with headphones. I consider it sacrilege when I’m forced to play this album on my iPhone really low in the office because of the album’s amazing production quality. The listener can also hear this quality in Holmes’ guitar solos and Esau’s deep bass lines, especially in the 19 minute “Without Walls.” The culmination of the band’s sound is featured in this song, and is what I believe to be the best orchestration on the album. What results is an immensely low and deep sound, one that could possibly destroy your car speakers if you’re playing it too loud.

As for the album’s lyrics, my oh my how dark they are. Nicholl’s provides some of the darkest, depressing, and downright gothic lyrics I’ve ever heard. Some listeners may want to just curl in a ball and cry when listening to this album, but I feel the use of darker lyrics tend to be more passionate and attention-grabbing. As touched upon in my Feral States post, I feel these darker lyrics help us to understand and relate to the pain others are experiencing. Bringing up themes of violence, mental illness, ending relationships, and in the case of the title track, a notorious road built for the exile of political prisoners in a Stalin led Russia, Nicholl’s provides absolutely compelling and hauntingly beautiful lyrics to this album. His softer, falsetto voice crawls down my spine, as if I can feel his words through me throughout the album. The first verse and chorus to the title track “The Road of Bones” are absolutely crushing, reflecting the psyche of the creator of this road:

“They survey the frozen scene, the cold countenance of hell / And they hang their heavy heads, I’m seen as death itself / Fear that holds this fragile town extends for miles around / I’ve taken all control for I am someone now… / 

…The shadow cross my face, all the signs of my mistakes / Shallow graves I mark with stones as I walk the road of bones” (source)

Photo by Hooked On Music
Photo by Hooked On Music

I got goosebumps just recalling Nicholl’s voice in my head as I wrote that. Another beautiful track is the song “Without Walls,” containing lyrics from the view point of someone suffering through depression. As the song progresses, the listener can hear the developments that occur in the character. The song’s opening words are beautiful, but help me to feel for those who experience this on a daily basis:

“Finding order torn asunder, sworn surrender stole the day / Like a wave of wasted wonder, rising up and swept away / These moments I retain, locked in against the pain / As the darkness folds around me, colder forces hold me down / And the doubt is growing stronger, I no longer can be found / Don’t tell me anymore it’s what this life is for / In sight of lost amends, your light will shine never again” (source)

Reading the lyrics to this song makes me want to reach out and hug someone, but that’s what lyrics are supposed to do. I feel if the lyrics of a song doesn’t get the listener to act in some way, then it didn’t do it’s job. Nicholl’s excels at this, and I praise him for his writing and singing on this album.

Being my first IQ album, I am highly impressed with newcomer Durant on the keyboard. I feel like the band purposely used this album as an avenue to display his talent. His symphonic approach gives the album so much more texture than if it didn’t contain it at all. This signature of his is featured on every song, and is perfectly felt by the listener due to the album’s high sound quality. The album even begins with a very dark keyboard intro in “From The Outside In” that continues through the song. “The Road of Bones” starts with an eerie piano progression, a sinister sound that perfectly complements the tone set by Nicholl’s vocals. The songs “From The Outside In” and “Ocean” highlight Durant entirely, especially the acoustic, stripped down “Ocean.” Nearly the entire song features Durant and Nicholl’s playing a ballad-like tune. Besides the added background texture, Durant also provides some amazing keyboard solos. The songs “From The Outside In,” “Without Walls,” and “Until the End” all contain dynamic solos that steal the show. Durant is an amazing pianist, and shines throughout “The Road of Bones.”

IQ band
Photo by Cultuurpodiumboerderij

And I thought I’d just skim over this album. Only an amazing album like “The Road of Bones” would result in this blog’s longest post. Remember everyone, this post was only covering the first CD! There’s still 45 more minutes of music for you to make your own interpretation. I highly recommend this album to those lovers of progressive music, and of bands like Marillion, Steven Wilson, Frost, Dave Kerzner, Cosmograf, Echolyn, and others. Please support this IQ by visiting their website, or by following them on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I’m done finishing this post, I will more than likely seek out some more of their material.

Why, oh why did it take so long to listen to these guys?!

iqcoverPurchase “The Road Of Bones” by IQ by clicking the album cover above!

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