By Mike Flavin 

There has been a lot of buzz about the UK’s IO Earth over the past year or so, and listening to their second release it’s easy to see why; Moments is a truly remarkable recording, a creative work that draws the listener in for a musical journey through a world of sounds not often heard on the ‘typical’ prog album.

It’s difficult to summarize or find proper comparisons, but one of the most striking elements of the album is the integration of ambient styling with traditional rock instrumentation, as Arabic and other world music melodies combine with soaring vocals. Indeed, the entire affair is a study in contrasts: trancelike but energetic, delicate but rocking, modern but with nods to the past, diverse yet focused, and complex while not straying needlessly from melodic. Add a little of The Orb and maybe a pinch of Hans Zimmer soundtrack to your favorite prog groups, and you will have a glimpse into the sound of IO Earth.

There are several standout tracks that best illustrate the diversity of the music, especially “Drifting”, which builds a Gregorian chant in four part harmony, then adds a thumping acoustic/electronic drum beat with strings behind the dark vocals of Claire Malin before taking a left turn to an instrumental break featuring cornet with a Pink Floyd style synthesizer solo and then returning to the main melody – a variation of the original chant. In the hands of less skilled arrangers a track like this could easily have been a shambles, but the transitions are seamless and the effect is utterly hypnotic.

Probably the most immediately striking track of the album is “Finest Hour”, which is built up from a recording of Winston Churchill’s famous speech over a pulsing mid-tempo electronic beat, alternating with the full power of the band at the bridge. The effect is very dramatic and powerful, and brilliantly executed. The motif is repeated at the close of the album’s hugely symphonic final track “Turn Away”.

It’s almost unfair to single only a few tracks out from the rest, but there is so much to enjoy here that it would be almost impossible to go over it all. Although at first listen the album seemed somewhat schizophrenic, Moments has grown on me like few albums ever do, and IO Earth has the potential to become a major force in the world of symphonic progressive music.

For fans in the United States, IO Earth will be making their American debut at the 2012 edition of the Rites of Spring Festival (RoSFest) in Gettysburg, PA

IO Earth homepage