IQ

Dark Matter

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    8
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Even IQ's most dedicated fans don't expect the group to top its third-period crowning achievement, Subterranea, but does Dark Matter ever get close! This album makes The Seventh House (IQ's previous album, released three years earlier) appear very, very average. The melodies are catchier and more moving, the writing stronger, the arrangements more varied. The album's strength mostly resides in the 24-minute closing epic, "Harvest of Souls," surely IQ's best epic song, arguably their best song, period. After the oblique meanders of the cluttered "The Narrow Margin" (from Subterranea, that album's weaker point), "Harvest of Souls" offers a much clearer structure, a generous number of memorable themes, and a dark political subtext referring to American politics post-9/11. In fact, in its melodic immediacy, theatricality, and choice of themes, the song sharply brings to mind Genesis' "Supper's Ready," especially its sections "How Dare I Be So Beautiful," "Apocalypse in 9/8," and "As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs" -- down to the anthemic finale and slow fadeout. Peter Nicholls reaches a new level of vocal confidence, John Jowitt throws in some mean wah-wah basslines -- the whole band simply sizzles throughout the piece, delicate and fast-paced passages alike. The song occupies exactly half of Dark Matter and presents no weak moment, a real tour de force. Four songs share the remaining 25 minutes. "Red Dust Shadow" is a potent neo-prog ballad. "Born Brilliant" has a good riff, but little to dress it up. "You Never Will," on the other hand, is a stunner -- drummer Paul Cook has never added complexities and flourishes to a rather basic pattern like this before. But if there is a highlight beside "Harvest of Souls," it is to be found in "Sacred Sound," a track that could be hailed as the typical IQ song: lush keyboard intro, medium tempo, yearning chorus, gripping vocals. It may be a little too predictable, but it features IQ in top songwriting shape, doing what they do best. All in all, Dark Matter is one of IQ's very best albums.

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