Diagonal – The Second Mechanism (2012)

The Second Mechanism is, for all intents and purposes, the tale of a band reborn. The band is Diagonal, a UK progressive rock outfit. The rebirth came about as the result of some major line-up shuffling and an awful lot of promise weighing overhead since their 2008 debut.

Diagonal was initially a septet upon their arrival years ago, but vocalist/keyboardist Alex Crispin and bassist Dan Pomlett flew the coop. The remainder of the band was stymied, maybe even gobsmacked. Luckily, they made a couple of adjustments and former guitarist Nicholas Richards switched to bass. As far as a vocalist, that problem sort of solved itself.

Featuring Luke Foster (drums, percussion, piano, backing vocals), Ross Hossack (synthesizers, harmonium, backing vocals), Nicholas Whitaker (alto saxophone, clarinet, backing vocals, lead vocals), Dave Wileman (electric guitar, backing vocals), and the aforementioned Richards (bass guitar, mellotron, synthesizer, backing vocals), the redesigned Diagonal is still an immense prog presence.

Whitaker, who handles the lead vocals, doesn’t arrive until the fourth track in (the album only has five) and, even then, he’s used economically. The band has almost become an instrumental outfit, plunging through roomy, jam-heavy tunes with a tremendous fusion of instruments and some really dexterous playing.

The jazz-meets-progressive rock mix isn’t new, but Diagonal works the concept nicely by infusing some whack and free jazz into its guitar-heavy soup. Pop a little Mellotron on board and some creative keyboards and you’ve got a Canterbury vibe just brimming with psychedelic energy. Notes of Frank Zappa and even Weather Report cruise through.

“Voyage/Paralysis” introduces the fun with hard snares and swirling riffs. Richards’ switch to bass seems to have paid off because his resolute tones drive this monster out of the box and into the headphones. Effects whirl and add layering, grounding this proggy highflier in a sort of Floyd-inspired universe.

The third cut, “Mitochondria,” is a groovy chunk of well-toned atmosphere and moody clarinet. The layering of sounds is tremendous, with little notches of Mellotron and synthesizer adding extra flavor. The piece pulls into a space rock passage and then splits into groove metal, never content to fester in one spot for too long. With “Hulks,” Whitaker debuts in the unpopular position of lead vocalist and it is a spectacular revelation after quite an extended period without singing. This song carries a pretty Floyd-inspired texture and the sea of backing vocals adds a nice touch.

Diagonal is the sort of band that seems to know its stuff. There are an awful lot of influences streaming around The Second Mechanism, but the band is adamant when it comes to carving their own niche. They are technically sound and service the songs well, although it’s hard to say if they are more than the sum of their parts and influences just yet.

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Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.