Birth – Born Review

Like many a metalhead, I took a circuitous route to arrive at this genre. Hair metal, grunge, and hard rock were the order of the day for a much younger Felagund. From there came the Black Sabbaths, the Iron Maidens, the Judas Priests. But before I dove headfirst into the gateway drug that is 80s thrash, I took an unexpected but rewarding trek through the mists and myths of 1970s prog rock. I fell in love with the dizzying bass, the overactive drums, and the ever-present organ, which must have come equipped at some point with a “retro prog rock” setting. While I traverse much darker and heavier musical terrain these days, I still adore so much of what I discovered. That’s the exact reason why I picked up Born, the debut full-length album from Birth, a group hailing from San Diego dedicated to introducing a new generation to the psychedelic, kooky, keyboard-heavy roots of early prog. But do they have what it takes to trod the crimson path of the kings who came before them?

As I listened to Born by Birth, it became clear I was witnessing another throwback progressive rock band being, well…born; one which harkens back to a bygone era of English prog majesty; less identified by the harder-edged, complex compositions of early Rush and more by the extended jams and intricate, less metallic instrumentation of King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Genesis. These were the bands I’d fallen in love with during my earlier sojourns, and it’s clear the Birth boys feel similarly. While the cover art may evoke doomier fare like Wheel’s Preserved in Time, the music itself screams 70s English prog. At the top of its lungs. With a lot of keyboard backing.

You’ll only find six tracks on Birth’s debut, but considering their hefty run times, this isn’t an album that’s lacking in length. Opener “Born” is the first of two instrumentals, kicking off with an ELP-inspired jam that melds majestic moments with a slower, emotive mid-section, providing the perfect introduction to what you’ll encounter on this time capsule of an album. Indeed, this first track presents a pretty accurate template for what awaits: extended, often-bloated jams, thick riffs that don’t quite spill over into doom territory, and sparse forlorn croons that sometimes evolve into more evocative, higher-pitched vox. “For Yesterday” has a great medieval-sounding intro with Pink Floyd accents and a lot of impressive but long-in-the-tooth jamming between two brief bouts of vocals. Clocking in at over 9 minutes, this track embodies my biggest gripe about the record as a whole. For old school prog fans, there’s a lot to like here, if only the length and breadth of the songs didn’t serve to diminish the album as a whole. Being derivative isn’t a sin. After all, my beloved OSDM thrives on that approach. You run into trouble when the derivation also manages to be boring.

Under different circumstances, this album could have been a retro prog success. “Descending Us,” and “Another Time” pair bold, chunky riffs with higher-pitched, emotive vocals, breaking through the undeniably impressive prog wizardry to deliver some of the record’s best moments. These gents are no doubt talented, sounding like the kind of seasoned, jazz-infused prog-rock players of yesteryear. And it’s due to these very skills and firm grasp on the sound they’re so eager to emulate that they’re able to stave off additional accusations of homogeneity. But even the best moments, like the inventive intro on second instrumental “Cosmic Tears” gives way to what you come to expect on Born: some interesting ideas bogged down by undisciplined execution and unmemorable noodling.

This is something I always say in my reviews: I wanted to like this album. But I always say it because it’s always true. And there’s significant promise on display; Birth know what music they want to play and they have the skills and songwriting abilities to pull it off. Unfortunately, even as a staunch adherent to this variety of prog rock, Birth share the chops but currently lack the charm of their eclectic English forebears. This will be a must-listen for retro prog fanatics (looking at you, Huck N Roll and El Cuervo), but I’m less eager to revisit this debut. That being said, if they’re willing to tone down some of the more tedious jamming and focus on being memorable instead of long-winded, I’m game to spin Birth’s next effort. It may just be their crowning achievement.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Bad Omen Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 15th, 2022

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