4.5 out of 5 Stars!
I discovered this Polish band back in 2008, thanks to Internet radio. And since that day, Moonrise has never once failed to enthrall me. From the moment I heard the band’s full debut album, The Lights of a Distant Bay, I fell madly in love with the polished style, a cross between Neo-Progressive Rock and AOR and, on occasion, even some lighter Jazz. Everything sounded so damned luscious, so polished, so mellow and grand with a pitch-perfect lead vocalist (Lukasz Gall) who could have easily fit into the singer role in any number of AOR bands. Then the following year, Soul’s Inner Pendulum appeared, once again offering up more of the same marvelous sound.
But nothing new came from Moonrise for years afterward, and I feared that perhaps the band had disintegrated. Thankfully in 2012, Stop-over Life was finally released.
The title track, “Stopover-Life,” leads off the album. It’s a (mainly) instrumental piece with smooth guitar chords, lush keyboards, and an outrageously mellow sax solo that briefly brings to mind Wayne Shorter (Weather Report), while some dreamy, wordless vocals in the background give a hint as to just how wonderfully atmospheric the following album would be. And sure enough, this gentle, almost new-age piece leads fittingly into “Surrender to Win,” another grand affair of light AOR/Prog material. Marcin Jajkiewicz takes over vocal duties and delivers the melodic verses in the same winning, expressive style used on the band’s previous two releases. By this time, despite the change in vocalists, I realized that the years between albums did nothing to mar the band’s sound that had me so enamored the first two times around.
When further describing the band’s sound, I would liken Moonrise to a cross between bands such as Jadis or Marillion (the Season’s End-era), or perhaps Italy’s Doracor and another terrific Polish act Millenium, especially when it comes to the guitar tones and keyboard washes. And with the inclusion of the sax, the AOR style of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” (remember that hit with the catchy sax riff?) instantly springs to mind. This latter comparison is extremely apt on the track “Start Up Song.” I defy anyone to listen to the short sax solo near the middle and not think “Baker Street.” Go ahead, I dare you. And speaking of sax, “Guardian Angel” also features the instrument in all its full glory, which is breathtakingly beautiful.
On “Flying in Empty Lands,” the sound gets a tad heavier, especially the guitar tones and the rhythms, with both a synth solo in the song’s mid-section, then near the end, a guitar solo, which altogether fully displays not only the enormous talent of each musician, but also the band’s Neo-Prog influences.
I also must mention the final track, “Mr. Strange,” which is one of my favorites. Here the band offers up additional “beefier” instrumentation to give the album more of an equal balance. Moonrise also includes a few Symphonic Prog-Rock elements when it comes to instrumentation. The sax also makes a welcome return near the middle of the track before a Neo-Prog backdrop acts as foundation to a wonderful guitar solo with keyboard counterparts, once again bringing to mind some of the most tasty guitar/synth interplay from Marillion’s mid-career period. An upbeat closer to a moody, often-ethereal album.
For those of you who enjoy Prog-Rock of a less-demanding nature, a relaxing cross between Neo-Prog and AOR with (despite the occasional moodiness) an uplifting aura, then Moonrise might just be a band to interest you. Any one of its three albums, all so similar in scope, class, and polish, would do just fine.
And now it’s been yet another handful of years since this album appeared, so I can only hope Moonrise is about ready to release new material, and more importantly, that its found itself lucky once again and has captured the same “lightning in a bottle” when it comes to the overall sound. There’s no other band quite like this one, where each musician (every ingredient from vocals to guitar and keyboard tones to the absolutely flawless production) gels so damned well together.