2019 (Butler Records)
Even the superlative isn’t enough to demonstrate how impressive this disc actually is. “D-Day” is the seventh studio album by Dutch prog band Knight Area and when this piece was released in 2019, the prog audience would be confronted with some notable changes.
The most important of these, there’s no getting around it, is the fact that Knight Area should now be addressed as a prog metal band. This transition has been in the air since guitarist Mark Bogert (2012) and bassist Peter Vink (2013) joined. On “D-Day” this means that the share that Bogert has had in the music, both in terms of playing and composing, is considerably larger than before. Keyboard knight Gerben Klazinga being less prominently present is never an issue. He often plays supporting piano parts. In a Don Airey-esque way, Klazinga asserts himself. When you hear what flashy guitar work Bogert delivers here and also what beautiful orchestral arrangements he has added to the music, one can only respond with a big smile. The solid band sound is of course full of typical Knight Area characteristics such as bombastic dynamics, emotional charge and melodic richness.
Therefore, it fits like a glove that a change of singer has taken place, the experienced Jan Willem Ketelaers has taken over the microphone from one of Knight Area’s anchor points Mark Smit. Ketelaers has a distinctive voice that sounds beautiful in the low end, excellent in the midrange and truly brilliant in the high end. He should feel like a fish in the water with the intense music that surrounds him, enabling him to use all of his capabilities.
Which brings me right to the concept of the album. Knight Area made a concept album with “Realm of Shadows” in 2009, never before as on “D-Day” was the story so evidently present. Of course, it’s all about the events on June 6, 1944 on the coast of Normandy. It was the day that several thousands of Allied soldiers carried out a massive invasion that eventually marked the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe. Knight Area treats this subject with the utmost respect, with honest lyrics that articulate all imaginable emotions. In addition to these lyrics, written by Ketelaers, the CD booklet contains a short historical explanation, containing some facts for each song. The combination of lyrics, music and artwork will keep you busy for hours.
The album opens strongly with a speech by General Eisenhower supported by beautiful, heroic orchestrations. When the song actually starts, it seems that Eisenhower has also put Knight Area on edge with his pep talk, because with New Horizon the adrenaline really oozes from your speakers. The heroism of a soldier, willing to die for a greater cause, is terrifyingly trapped in almost gothic-like atmospheres.
The following Overlord is a resounding song with driving organ playing and cool riffs. In your imagination you are in the middle of the front line with those blasting salvos from drummer Pieter van Hoorn. Blood On The Risers is the ultimate proof that Knight Area manages to create fantastic melody lines seemingly effortlessly. In this regard, attached video clip speaks volumes.
The band continues with someclassy songs and Knight Area wouldn’t be Knight Area if there weren’t any stunning ballads. Well, with Omaha Beach and When I’ll Be With You, the band exceeds all expectations. Omaha Beach is quite solemn, with fiery guitar playing at the end. When I’ll Be With You, on the other hand, is a sparkling piano piece played by Robby Valentine. The swirling play on the grand piano, combined with the intense vocals, which, in the high notes, are very reminiscent of Marcel Veenendaal (Di-rect), are unparalleled. Of the last few songs, especially the euphoric Wings Of Time and beautiful closing track Freedom For Everyone are the crown jewels on the album. Winston Churchill’s speech in March To Victory about the capitulation of the German Empire, is equally impressive. The finale of Freedom For Everyone is so immeasurably cool. Almost every band would end with a great guitar solo, Knight Area, on the other hand, has a singer in Ketelaers who, by giving himself completely, manages to frame the album’s concept with dignity, thereby giving you goosebumps.
While writing this review, it became clear once again how terribly topical this album’s concept is. “D-day” is a great album with integrity that has a subject that has often been addressed before. Never before have said events touched me as much as through Knight Area.
© Dick van der Heijde 2022