Kiama are a supergroup side-project comprising Magenta’s Rob Reed on bass and keys, Maschine’s Luke Machin on guitar, Shadow of the Sun’s Dylan Thompson on vocals, and Andy Edwards on drums. While some of the pre-release publicity encourages expectations of something in the spirit of the classic hard rock of Led Zeppelin and Rainbow, the finished album is something rather different.
“Sign of IV” starts strongly with the hard-edged rocker “Cold Black Heart” and the ballad “Tears” that builds in intensity towards a guitar-shredding climax. There’s something of the early days of The Reasoning about both songs. The following “Muzzled” is a lengthy ballad with a jazz-flavoured solo that sounds closer to Magenta at their most stripped-back.
After that strong start, the lengthy “Slime” isn’t quite as impressive; despite some strong moments the whole piece comes together as disjointed and half-formed. After that comes the album’s low point, “I Will Make It Up To You”, another ballad, let down by a weak chorus. “To The Edge” starts out as hard rocker before losing its way again in a disjointed mid-section. The last three tracks combine epic balladry that has a definite touch of late Marillion with some extended jazz-prog instrumental workouts.
The record does have some undoubted strengths. Dylan Thompson, underused as a vocalist in The Reasoning and Shadow of the Sun proves he’s got what it takes to be a band’s sole lead singer, and delivers some great soaring melodies. Luke Machin’s again demonstrates his skills as a guitarist showing spectacular virtuosity in places and tasteful restraint in others.
But ultimately it’s a bit of a curate’s egg of an album for which you often find yourself loving parts of songs rather than complete tracks. While it definitely has its moments, it falls frustratingly short of what perhaps could have been, given the amount of musical talent behind it. A somewhat flat production doesn’t help; it’s missing some of the colour and warmth found on Magenta’s albums, or the energy and dynamics of Maschine’s debut. It’s possible that a shorter, more focussed album that tightened up the arrangements and dropped one or two of the weakest numbers entirely might have resulted in something that rose to greater heights.