Diagonal – Arc

[Cobblers Records, , 2019]

Intro: Kostas Barbas
Translation: Lefteris Statharas

For multiple reasons, Diagonal managed to leave a landmark of a record with their self-titled debut (2008). In an era characterized by numerous progressive rock releases, the fact that a British band released such a British sounding and inspiring album can only be considered as positive. In the years that followed, the return of the progressive rock sound was a fact and The Second Mechanism (2012) arrived at the right moment. Even though it wasn’t a surprise like their debut, it was a more settled and homogenous natural progression, with lots of Canterbury influences. By the way, These Yellow Sans is one of the best songs of the century in the genre. Seven years later, Arc appears as one of the most anticipated returns in progressive rock (we hope for something similar from Astra).


 

Sincere return

One thing that Diagonal could do, when they decided to meet again after seven years in a studio, was to record a natural progression of their first two albums, i.e. another The Third Mechanism. Let’s be sincere, seven years of absence are enough for something like that. According to a research, every seven years the human body has replaced almost all of its cells. Diagonal are now a new band and the biggest victory in Arc is that they manage to distance themselves from any expectations that their return had set.

Arc is a very relaxed album. Everything that happens in eight tracks flows effortlessly. That’s their biggest difference compared to their “intense” musical past, a change that seems less than a conscious choice and more as a current mood of the band. For sure, what they’re playing can only be categorized as progressive rock. However, everything goes through a psychedelic prism, the aesthetic of which characterizes the taste of the whole album. Additionally, even though the ‘70s are always the basis of Diagonal’s expressive ways, the alternative approach in music and sound, blurs the timeframes of their influences.

Another pleasant surprise lies in the differences between the eight tracks in Arc. In the starting and brilliantly rhythmic 9-Green­, one of the best moments here, we see that the basic element in the album are the vocals, while the lead guitar embarks in the new style of the band. The dreamy Stars Below works perfectly as the bridge that leads the listener to another peak of the album, Citadel, an 8-minute song that could easily be heard as a minimal version of their former selves. The up-tempo ­The Spectrum Explodes ends the first side of the album brilliantly with a great keyboard solo. The second side, while it also starts quite strongly with the mid-tempo space-prog Warning Flare and the very good self-titled track, it then loses some steam. The ambient The Vital, thpugh beautifully arranged, is a bit tiring, while the atmospheric Celestia that closes the album doesn’t really move the listener. The choice to end the album with the two more mellow tracks would be perfect if those two were at the same compositional level as the rest of the songs.

Despite the lackluster ending, Arc is a great return form a group of musicians that have nothing to prove and create an album based purely on their personal and artistic criteria. A laid-back album with some exceptional tracks, that pushes whoever wants to listen to it to multiple listens.

7.5 / 10

Kostas Barbas

 

2nd opinion

 

After their inconceivable debut, Diagonal are already a band with a big name in the traditional but non-aligned British progressive sound. With clear ‘70s norms, King Crimson influences and with their own audio identity, we could say that the two previous records that came before Arc are specimens of great talent. For sure, they could be part of any list with “the best” of the genre during those delightful discussions. However, what is the spot of Diagonal seven years after Second Mechanism?  For starters, what makes an impression is the mood for more “tidy” songs, without experimentations that led to the uncharted rattles. This of course doesn’t mean that Diagonal can’t find a different way to channel their progressive dynamics. Tracks like the self-titled, 9-Green and The Spectrum Explodes present a new, fresh approach with a more groovy aesthetic, always with the keys and the wind instruments giving their brushes and remind the already acquired. Oh, the (beautiful) Citadel does bring Anekdoten to mind, doesn’t it?

So, what does Arc have to say as a whole? A decent effort, some very strong moments, an interesting new approach that reinstates Diagonal back in the front page, but it falls behind after the two EPICS that came before it.

7.5 / 10

Panos Papazoglou