One thing I really love about Prog rock besides the obvious, the music, is the album covers. The bright and imaginative designs always make listening to the record such a bigger and more exciting experience. A lot of people claim that the 70’s Prog albums had the best covers, well, here’s one from the 90’s! 1993 to be exact and it belongs to the UK band, “Citizen Cain” and their album “Serpents in Camouflage“.
Formed in London 1982 the inception and beginnings of the band weren’t smooth sailing but did get off the ground eventually. As a Power Trio in their embryonic stages they toured and gigged extensively and were on the verge of signing with Elusive Records (a Division of EMI) when their bassist/singer Cyrus broke his arm and it stopped the machine from rolling. Unable to play they disbanded in ’88 but not for long. However, there is a bootleg circulating from this period should you wish to seek it out in 1985 at “The Underground” in Croydon, UK that gives you a good feel of the band’s potential at the time because it wasn’t like anything any of the other Prog bands aside from King Crimson were doing at this time. Most of the Prog bands in the early 80’s; Asia, UK, IQ etc were falling in to a bit of a Pop Music clap trap with some of their music sadly but some of them maintained their ruggedness for tradition and didn’t go down that road. I understand that you want to break new grounds and test the waters but in the 80’s everything was up for grabs and music was a new experience with the advent of MTV generations eating up everything they could watch.
In 1990 the band was rekindled and brought on board were new blokes to help make the sound as big as it was and they named themselves, “The Kleptomaniacs” and after a few months of gigging they reverted back to the Citizen Cain moniker and this time it stayed for good. 1991 saw a demo tape release to better than average reviews and work on this album commenced but it ran in to problems and it wasn’t up to the standards they had anticipated with how it should be arranged and recorded, produced etc and the band ended up using a drum machine for some tracks which led to personnel changes and the band needed a new drummer fast. With the album completed they went on tour opening up for the likes of; Pendragon, The Enid and Final Conflict as well as being the headliner at some gigs of their own. They were well on their way now. The band has released albums up until 2012 but for now we’re staying in 1993 for the Serpents… album and let’s go have a look at it now shall we?
“Stab in the Back” the opening track to the record begins with a winding guitar riff fade in and synth winds sounds and drones as the bass bounces in before the drums opens the gates and they’re away, Whoosh! Aside from the bonus tracks there isn’t a single song under six minutes here which is a total Prog move. The vocals are so Peter Gabriel sounding from the 80’s era of his career that when I first heard this band I actually thought it was a Gabriel album I didn’t know about or some long lost Genesis record and it blew my mind when I realized and found out that it wasn’t Peter Gabriel at all! Still my favourite song by them. It has the tempo/timbre fixes and mild start/stops within it making it a true Prog track with the mystical synth whirls and trinkling guitar riffs, stout drumming and a bass line that brings up the basement to make it heavy. At almost 7 minutes it doesn’t get boring at all but maintains a fluidity to it that has you drawn in to the magic of that’s all Prog well and good. Sung in a very non-cookie cutter format which is also another great Prog element the vocals tell you a story and attains a greatness that if you know your Prog singers then you will immediately recognize the style that can’t exactly be put in to words all the time other than surreal. “Liquid Kings” has a bit of everything in it as far as influential reminders go. Everyone from Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant to a hint of Alan Parsons Project thrown in for good measure. This eleven and a quarter epic definitely came from the Prog crops they grew from their heads that’s for sure. It’s not until close to the three minute mark do we get the vocals coming in with a strong Brit accent of certainty as it commands the band to fall in to place and go forth and reign their triumphant sound to the masses of auditory canals waiting. It contains the Prog recipe to its fullest never skipping a beat and keeps you in wrapped attention throughout its duration which is a good sign by any band who writes a lengthy song because losing your audience can be tricky at times and to keep them glued to what you are doing can prove fatal to your group if you can’t do it. Around the 7:50minute mark it sounds like the vocalist is slurring his words a bit for a few bars, not a drunken slur but more like a loose dentures slur! Just saying……! The song definitely jumps from tempo/timbre like kids with a skipping rope in the schoolyard, a classic example of longer Prog songs but still making sure that all the sections segue in to each other properly.
Next up, “Harmless Criminal” begins like a calm waters washing ashore to clean the rocks at its feet. Actually it sounds like we came in the middle of another song as opposed to the beginning of an entirely new song but it clearly gives it a unique entrance. This song is very “Genesis” infused, the vocals are a giveaway when the chorus is sung but the music does stray to and fro from the Genesis sound. Funny, I’ll admit I’m not a Genesis fan but I like these guys, weird isn’t it? This song is fairly harmless though, never goes really fast or slow but maintains an even keel throughout. The drumming you can clearly tell is how they recorded it with a drum machine on this track which is a shame because it draws a lot away form the reality of having a real drummer in the sessions and on the record. “The Gathering” follows next and the synths are a great slightly fuzzy sound that takes you back to your 70’s Prog records on vinyl as the crackles of the record adds to the ambiance of the whole experience and makes the synths sound a little fuzzier than what they are. An eleven minute tale of the recipe’s required elements and the synths stand out in this track, very Geoff Downes, Rick Wakeman, Tony Kaye and Tony Banks infused all in to one mix making it a very rich sound and icing on the song’s cake. The actual use of a drum machine made the band play more meticulous on this record than their other releases because you can’t go off even a hair with a mechanical musician so-to-speak so this album does have a slight clinical feel to it but I feel that it made them become tighter as a group for it. Love or hate it, sometimes a drum machine isn’t all THAT bad! Ok, it’s bad but in case it worked out for them and they got their album out so we have to give them that at least eh? “Dance of the Unicorn“, now how Prog can you get? Singing about something in a fantasy realm, total Prog and comes complete with a flute solo too, very cool! For Peter Gabriel/Genesis fans you will either love or hate this band because of how much the singer sounds like Gabriel. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that it’s not him and a different band altogether but that’s ok. We’ll forgive him for it unless he’s intentionally trying to sound like that then we’ll have to ring him up and complain! The song does come with a great dirty guitar solo in the middle that doesn’t sound like the right fit but he pulls it off quite well. This track follows the recipe but has added a few nuances of their own to make it more unique and not so typical which was a nice addition to hear.
“Serpents in Camouflage” the title track is held for last check on the record and holds the top slot for longest song on the album at 13:23minutes, it keeps with a traditional Prog move and have the longest and titled track kept for the end to which they get bonus points for doing both of these elements. It has all the ingredients here; tempo/timbre, start/stop changes and I think a couple of time signature changes as well making a true Prog epic and masterpiece on the record. The good thing with this song being the length that it’s at the lyrics don’t fall in to repetition which is a strong point to their writing skills showing that they don’t just write an epic with repeated words over and over again. It regales a story and goes from start to finish with them. Not the easiest thing to do because, do you write the music or the lyrics first? Also, where do you put the lyrics in to such a grand song? The band definitely took their time making this one work, it’s very complex and has a lot of varying passages within it that takes you all over the musical map but well worth it. A tad long for the ending but I’m not complaining because I like 20+ minute Pink Floyd songs so…. but I felt that the ending to this one could have been cut back by a good minute and a half but if the song needs it, the songs gets it.
THE BONUS TRACKS
“Nighlights- As the Wheel Turns“, another song that sounds like it it flops in to the middle of it already playing is a mere four minute pop rock tune that was probably an after thought to the album. It does have some Prog elements in it but I think the band felt it was strong enough for the record at time of release. It sounds a lot like late 70’s/early 80’s TV theme music to me in spots and very shuffled drumming and almost as if they hurried this song through to get it done only to have it not make the original album release. It has a very late 80’s Jethro Tull feel to it in ways along with the Gabriel/Genesis angle. “Stab in the Back” (Live demo) a rare treat on an album where you get to hear a song before it’s recorded in a studio. This is very close to the record version and it certainly has that bootleg quality and feel to it as it was mastered as best as possible to put it on the record here for us to live the raw experience of the band live in concert. The lyrics are almost the same with a few added sections on the live version and it’s played a little faster than the Lp version which again shows how songs evolve and develop for the studio later on. The good thing is that we are able to hear every instrument clearly enough to hear how it’s beginning to take shape and come about on its own.The audience was removed from the recording to give a bit more clarity to the song but I think they should have left them in so we could hear how it was absorbed by them.
Citizen Cain is a great 90’s Neo-Prog band that is definitely British in how they do things and their sound that they produce. Not going to everyone’s cup of tea but they certainly have been earning their stripes to gain entry to the Great Halls of Prog. they’re in but they still have to earn their keep a bit I feel and in time they will get there no problem. Any of their albums is a good starting point, I just happen to stumble upon their premiere record so being able to present it to you here allows you a starting line if you wish or you can go explore them through their other albums. The ones that follow this record do come with a REAL drummer! Enjoy.