Southern Empire – Civilisation

2018 (Giant Electric Pea)

1: Goliath’s Moon (9:12)
2: Cries For The Lonely (19:13)
3: Crossroads (29:15)
4: Innocence & Fortune (10:22)

What an impact music can have. Sometimes I don’t remember my East from the West, let alone the North from the South. Every time I listen to “Civilisation”, the second album by the Australian prog band Southern Empire, I get completely disoriented. Where am I?

Reality tells me that I am in my comfortable living room, but I imagine myself in a richly overgrown area that is immeasurably large and where the sturdy neo-prog reigns in all keys. In this landscape it is a colourful sequence of fascinating, fat solos on guitar and keys, broad vocals, cool bass playing, thunderous drumming and warm, pleasant vocals. This Kansas and Dream Theater-like music sounds like Australia as a country to me.

The break-up in 2014 of the neo-prog band Unitopia has resulted in two beautiful new bands which are well established already. For example, Mark Trueack created the wonderful project United Progressive Fraturnity (UPF). The singer, together with dozens of other musicians from all over the world, expresses the beauty, the vulnerable and our destructive behavior of mother earth. Keyboardist Sean Timms, on the other hand, has kept it closer to home and founded the band Southern Empire. In 2016 their self-titled debut album was released and in an unchanged line-up, the “Civilisation” discussed here was released two years later. Just sit down. You are going to be glued to your chair, for seventy minutes.

Only four numbers are responsible, respectively 9:12, 19:13, 29:15 and 10:22. When you globally listen to the album, two things stand out, things which make every song a tasty attraction. I’m talking about the enormous virtuosity of everyone and about the fantastic way of composing in which the parts merge so smoothly that sometimes you almost need a looking glass to be able to perceive it. Sometimes you don’t. The first song Goliath’s Moon is largely based on a catchy AOR song that is beautifully interspersed with, among other things, a jazzy piano. The final minute with its swirling drums is so strong that I want to nominate it as the highlight of the album. That’s not really fair Mr. Director.

In the subsequent Cries For The Lonely, 74 solos are eager to walk away with that honor. Yet it is not only the tonal cries of the heart that should be praised, it is the context in which they take place. There is a great intro with a ditto violin solo, there are tasteful interventions of violin and guitar, the interpretations of bass guitar and drums are above average and the expressive vocals of Danny Lopresto are also extraordinary. With this song, they are a tyrant of good taste. Cries For The Lonely lasts more than fifteen minutes. Make no mistake, this is beauty for life.

With Crossroads, the band continues to create quality music. It is unprecedented how big the buoy factor is. This song is already on the debut album of UPF but because of the special Southern Empire sauce you now have two great versions at your disposal. The giga-epic, by the way, was written in Unitopia times by Trueack and Timms, hence these two versions. The finale of the song is so noteworthy, there is no escaping it. If, like me, you’re a lover of largo music, this is your time. Singer Danny Lopresto brings this Neal Morse-like piece with just the right grandeur and timing. Grandiose. The final piece of the album is Innocence & Fortune, again a fine example of tonal forge. Southern Empire makes artisanal music. You can see the person standing (or sitting) behind his instrument.

With “Civilisation”, Southern Empire has made a strong album in the field of the solid neo-prog. The music is not in the East, nor in the West, the North or the South. Southern Empire has shot right into the bull’s eye.

Cam Blokland: electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin, backing vocals
Brody Green: drums, hand percussion, ridiculously high backing vocals
Danny Lopresto: lead vocals, backing vocals, electric and acous-tic guitar
Jez Martin: fretted and fretless bass, flugelhorn, backing vocals
Sean Timms: keyboards, electric guitar, lap steel guitar, hand percussion, backing vocals
Marek Arnold: soprano saxophone
James Capatch: saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute
Steve Unruth: violin, flute

© Dick van der Heijde 2023