In a strange and beautiful coincidence, Days Between Stations was working on an album about birth, life and death with Peter Banks in the time just before Yes’ co-founding guitarist passed. But the truth is, In Extremis would have been a triumph, anyway — and a curt rebuke to those who say the best days of progressive rock are behind it.
Working primarily again in an instrumental format, keyboardist Oscar Fuentes and guitarist Sepand Samzadeh (who founded Days Between Stations in 2003) paint a stirring, deeply impactful narrative, using broad musical strokes that connect across prog, ambient and orchestral traditions. The results are, at times, memorably beautiful, at others unbearably sad — like a life lived fully.
The difference between In Extremis (to be available for pre-order beginning on April 23, 2013) and Days Between Stations’ well-received 2007 debut is a greater focus on lyrical content, courtesy of a writing and vocal assist from guest Billy Sherwood. That serves to ground the emotional In Extremis within the tangible world of love and loss. A member of Yes in the 1990s, Sherwood makes a dramatic first appearance, after the album’s lengthy instrumental introduction, with “Visionary” — which also features a layered, virtuoso performance on the stick by Tony Levin, the do-anything performer who has worked with Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, King Crimson and John Lennon, among countless others.
Days Between Stations, named after Steve Erickson’s cult novel, expands to include Sherwood’s fellow Yes alumni Rick Wakeman and Banks, on “Eggshell Man” — a song whose brilliantly twilit chorus of “so alone, so alone” is offset by a sweetly plangent lute. Meanwhile, former XTC stalwart Colin Moulding is featured on the hooky “The Man Who Died Two Times,” an utterly addictive pop-prog moment that rivals anything issued by Genesis, the Moody Blues or Yes in their 1980s hitmaking period.
The album’s heart-breaking emotional centerpoint, though, is its multi-suite title track, which expands to more than 21 minutes behind some of the final musical statements from Banks, a deeply underrated early progressive-rock architect. He recaptures, across this stirring track, everything promised on Days Between Station’s thrillingly old-school cover — created by Paul Whitehead, who earlier handled the artwork for Genesis’ Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot projects.
In keeping, “In Extremis,” like the album it’s named after, evolves into an elaborate musical set piece of the first order, a throwback in the very best of ways, a fitting example of Banks’ still-resonant craft — and the perfect ending to a project that aspires to a level of inspirational wonder that was once thought lost.