When I pressed 'play' on my CD-player to listen to the debut album from the Dutch band Unkh, I had to grab my whisk. Whilst listening to the first seconds of Traveller, I got the impression that a fly had entered my office, however it soon turned out that the band had fooled me, because it was coming from the opening song Barfly's Last Cigarette. Before I go deeper into the music of this release, I will give you some historical facts about this, to most people, unknown band first.
Unkh arose 23 years ago when four Dutch men began making music together out of a common interest in progressive rock. Their influences from Genesis, Yes and Camel came back in the songs, in which complex rhythms and lengthy instrumental sections alternated. After four years of performing the local circuit and releasing demo's, the band split up. In 2006, the group was revived which led, in the end, to the following line-up: Jeroen Habraken on vocals, keyboards and programming, Maarten Habraken on drums, Matthijs van Nahuijs on bass and Maarten Peerlings on guitar. Of course, all those years of many rehearsals and performing live on stage, brought the band new ideas and insights. When the band went into the studio to record their debut album, it was obvious that they were much older and wiser, than when they took their first steps into the music business. You can certainly hear this on Traveller, as their maturity is very much reflected in the lyrics in which serious adult themes are discussed. The music also sounds differently, compared to the period when they started as a band. Modern technology came into their lives too, and therefore the music is enriched by the use of samples, drum machines and other modern instruments, that were not available 23 years ago. This certainly made its mark on the compositions on Traveller. Sure, the influences from the progressive rock bands mentioned earlier are notable, mainly due to the use of strong synthesizer and electric guitar solos, just like those bands did on their albums. As time doesn't stand still and everybody in the music scene hears new bands, it's only natural that influences from newly discovered bands are used. This also occurs in Unkh. They've probably listened to bands as XTC, Muse, Talk Talk and King Crimson (with Adrian Belew on guitars), along with the so-called neo progressive rock acts as IQ, Marillion with Fish, Pendragon, Pallas, as well as the bands I mentioned earlier. Well, this melting pot of different influences taken from those bands, certainly worked for Unkh and not only for the band, but for me as well, because I like the way they hustled all those influences in their compositions very much. The band dared to look beyond the traditional progressive rock influences and therefore enriched their music in a very positive way, but still kept their own identity alive!
Mentioning specific highlights isn't easy, because in my opinion all of the eleven tracks are of a very high professional level, but pieces such as Theme Of The Mighty Mushroom and the two epics Borderlines .Fr. and Borderlines.Ca. are real gems. They probably sum up what this band stands for; strong cross-over progressive rock coming from the Netherlands! So all I can say is 'bravo' to Unkh for releasing a very strong debut album, after so many years, that is at international level!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Esther Ladiges)
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