1974 is a progressive classic rock band from the state of Connecticut, in the USA. In 2011, they released their first album, 1974 & the Battle for the Lazer Fortress, which served as the first chapter of what would become the Lazer trilogy. Their debut was followed by two extended plays in 2012, The Return and A Soldier’s Tale, which, although being conceptual themselves, didn’t continue the initial storyline. In 2013, 1974 & the Death of the Herald is released and carries the story through another chapter until, three years later, 1974 & the Echoes of War puts an end to the book with this final installment. Today, I want to write a short review of the three-album suite from 1974, and present you a criminally unknown band.
1974 & the Battle for the Lazer Fortress
This album begins with the massive instrumental ‘Overture’. Clocking in at almost 16 minutes, it’s the longest song from the band. By its progressive rock nature, it’s always changing and morphing into the next movement. Will it be an anthemic riff or a jazz keyboard solo? Well, both appear in the song, and many more too. ‘Intro’ is much more minimal: its 1-minute run-time and two-voice plus acoustic guitar instrumentation makes it the perfect introduction to the rest of the album, and a short time to take a breath after the exhausting overture.
‘The War That Tears Apart the Sky’ follows. Right after the classic rock riffs underlying the first verse comes the chorus that is sure to parasite your mind with its catchiness. That kind of composition is what 1974 does best, and most of the time. ‘Clone Discovery’ is a counter-example, with its unsettling vocal melodies and arrangements. They can’t all be great, and unfortunately this album is where the band shines the least. It’s probably since, at the time, the formation was still young and trying to make out how some things would work as a group and as musicians. Nonetheless, the disc features a couple of other gems.
‘Wait’ is the obligatory ballad, but it succeeds in not being too cliché or predictable… just a bit. ‘Guide Our Hands’ bring in some very cool vocal harmonies during the verses – something the band is well-known for and does exquisitely well. ‘T.E.M.P’s’ is another magnificent and mellow piece, and depicts the loss of lives from the battle. It’s emotional and really well put together: the singer and solo guitarist really complement each other and bring life to the song.
The album ends with ‘Song of Survivors’, which is my favourite on record. It’s very different from all the others, but it represents accurately the scenery of the lyrics. The events happen after the war and is sung by its survivors with what they could get their hands on: simple percussions and a capella vocals of a group striving to get back up and rebuild. They are later joined by a 12-string guitar and wind instruments, too. The song is beautiful and shows the unity and moral strength of the characters. Even at the worse time, they look forward to the future and hope. Wonderful.
1974 & the Death of the Herald
Immediately when pressing play, we notice quite a gap in the quality of the production. There’s also much less misses with the songwriting. The band has evolved a lot in two years, and they know what they’re aiming at. ‘The Great Galactic War’ and ‘Phantoms’ are the songs that kickstart the second act of the Lazer trilogy, and they both are great melodic tunes with a slight progressive rock edge.
‘Herald of Life’ introduces vocal harmonies with their keyboard player, Angela Piccoli, which bring a well-appreciated diversity to the singing department. ‘Building an Empire’ is reminiscent of some progressive rock bands during the late 70’s and early 80’s, and even features a saxophone solo, which is unfortunately uncredited online. The middle of the album continues with encouraging anthems, like ‘Essential Arms’, the head-bobbing and funky ‘A New Beginning’ with a very powerful female-led chorus – this song is one of the highlights of this release -, the very Benataresque ‘Vera’, and the bluesy ‘Admiral Tackett’ with lap steel guitar and swing rhythm.
The last pane of The Death of the Herald starts with ‘The United Earthlands’ Assembly’, an almost instrumental piece that builds up with synth keyboards, solo guitar, and spoken word excerpts before crashing into a choir singing the only chorus of the song. Albeit simple, the formula is very effective. ‘A Dark Thought’ lowers the energy quite a bit into this melancholic movement. The lull is soon over with the prog ‘Abduction’. The verse is a mixture of 3:4 polyrhythm inside 7/4 measures, and helps the band earn their progressive denomination. ‘Ultimatum’ is trying to convey a sense of urgency, but doesn’t completely succeeds. Minor sixths and 7/8s would’ve been more efficient than the guitar bends.
Finally, ‘Death of the Herald’ starts with an almost sacred feel to it. A prayer to the herald who died and becomes somewhat of a divine figure, a martyr. The prog comes back right after with a 7/8-2/4 riff in dotted quarter notes. The three verses quickly pass and another instrumental section comes, at first technical and intricate before changing into a melodic passage fitting for the ending.
1974 & the Echoes of War
This brings us to the closing act of the Lazer trilogy. The Echoes of War just came out, on September 23, with a slight lineup change. Parker Hu indeed replaces Angela on keys and back vocals. The album starts with ‘Countdown’, a short quasi-instrumental designed to build up steam. Segueing into ‘The Dark Double’, we’re welcomed by a really neat 5/4 verse with a nasty riff. Besides that, the song is pretty featureless, but it does showcase the new orchestral samples, which are of much greater quality this time around!
This album doesn’t hit the nail as much as The Death of the Herald did: the songs are much less immediately memorable here, even though the quality of the recording has improved yet again. They are well-written and not bad by any means, but they are much less compelling. This slowly leads us to the end, the epilogue, the closure of the trilogy. While not being as grandiose as expected or deserved, The Echoes of War is a good album continuing 1974‘s classic-meets-progressive rock discography. I recommend this album to all of you prog fans with a little nostalgia for 70’s- and 80’s-era classic rock, and to those who like their prog with a focus on melody and storytelling.
The three albums are available for free on bandcamp!