Occupying Forces is the second album from the progressive rock project led by singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Chris Johnson.
It follows on from The Fabric, released under the band name “Parade” before a heavily-promoted girl band with the same name forced a name change. (That girl band rapidly crashed and burned after their album flopped, but that’s another story.) Still, “Halo Blind” is a far better name.
to frighten off indie fans, but
it’s still got enough depth for all
but the most narrow-minded
of prog fans
It’s also a rather different band from the lineup that recorded The Fabric, although four out of the five from Halo Blind’s last live appearances in 2011 are still on board, Gavin Griffiths on drums, Stu Fletcher on bass, Stuart Farell on lead guitar and of course Chris himself, with new recruit, multi-instrumentalist Andy Knights, completing the band.
Indie-rock guitars and progressive rock atmospherics
It’s got a similar combination of indie-rock guitars and progressive rock atmospherics. But while The Fabric was by Chris’s own admission a collection of songs originally written with different projects in mind, in contrast Occupying Forces has a far more coherent feel as an album.
One highlight is the sequence of songs on the first half of the album “Mirage”, “Saturate”, “Torrential” and “Downpour”: shimmering summery pop numbers with a hint of darkness and melancholy that flow into one another to build into something more than the sum of their parts.
The whole thing shows Chris Johnson’s ear for memorable but unconventional melodies, and some great use of atmospheric instrumental passages in place of conventional solos. The final song of that sequence in particular is a thing of breathtaking beauty.
After the short jazz instrumental “The End of the First Side” featuring Jonny Enright’s trombone, the second half gets more eclectic. “Brain Dog” combines dance rhythms with some Tom Morello-style guitars. It continues with the stripped-down balled “The Puppet” with just piano and Jennifer Chubb’s cello; the burbling electronica of “Analogue”; and ending with the soaring ballads “Coma” and “Control”.
The way this record combines elements of progressive rock and indie-rock ought to appeal a broad audience. There are echoes of Anathema, Pineapple Thief, mid-period Radiohead and late-period Marillion. It’s not too dense or twiddly to frighten off indie fans, but it’s still got enough depth for all but the most narrow-minded of prog fans.
It’s been a long wait for this album; The Fabric came out as long ago as 2009. But an album of this quality is well worth the wait.
Available from 7th AprilHalo Blind