It Bites

Map of the Past

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Ignoring the temptation to dine out on their solitary hit, "Calling All the Heroes," on the '80s nostalgia circuit, Cumbria quartet It Bites have instead re-emerged as a creative prog rock force since re-forming back in 2006. Their fifth studio album, and second since John Mitchell replaced original frontman Francis Dunnery, Map of the Past, is arguably their most ambitious yet, a sprawling concept record inspired by the discovery of an old family photograph. There are traces of Yes in the keyboard wizardry of "The Big Machine," A Night at the Opera-era Queen on the bombastic theatrics of "Cartoon Graveyard," and Led Zeppelin on the "Kashmir"-esque "Wallflower," but the album is more compelling when it veers away from its rock opera tendencies. Opener "Man in the Photograph" intersperses solemn organ chords with wartime radio broadcasts before slowly building into a rousing military march, "Clocks" could be mistaken for the heartfelt melancholy of Elbow until it descends into a fairground waltz, while the title track is a convincing attempt at soaring emo-rock. Other than the hideously dated "Flag," whose overblown solos and chugging riffs sound like they've been lifted from a corny '80s action show, and the less-than-subtle prog-by-numbers of "Meadow and the Stream," Map of the Past is far from the embarrassment of many of their contemporaries' more recent fare, but it's just a little too disjointed to appeal to anyone outside their cult following.