Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a rather transcendent piece of progressive rock music. Entitled The Savior, it is an eclectic collection of 18 songs composed and performed by A Bad Think’s creator, Michael Marquart. Rarely has such a sublime collage of instrumentation and lyrics been as well suited to the immersive mix within which it is delivered. There should be a law prohibiting prog rock from being distributed in any format other than immersive (5.1, 7.1, 9.1, ATMOS, and so on).
At the time of this writing, I have listened to the FLAC 5.1 tracks exclusively on both a DATASAT RS20i processor for experiencing the immersive quality of the soundscape and a pair of Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 Wireless headphones to determine the quality of the compositions. The media players used for these sessions were JRiver and VLC.
While both listening sessions proved to be very impressive, I understand that the album was released on Blu Ray, a format that on average is 5 times the bitrate and will undoubtedly provide an even more amazing listening experience.
Without getting too technical, let’s compare some of the fundamental audio metrics which influence immersive sound quality.
As seen above, the table compares two recently acclaimed immersive releases, including last year’s Grammy award winner for Best Immersive Audio Album and The Savior in its distributed FLAC 5.1 format. For most consumers, especially those without the high-end hardware, it is an effective trade-off: a much smaller file size for less audiophile excess. Numerically expressed, one sixth the Bitrate for one thirty fifth of the file size.
The music industry loves to categorize music, which is more often than not a very difficult exercise and one that in my opinion is highly subjective. The Savior has been classified as prog rock, and I would say there is a lot more “prog” on this album than “rock.” With the exception of “Feel Me” and perhaps a portion of “Now You Know” – both of which contain many of the traditional elements of a rock song - the remainder of the tracks, while beautifully arranged, seem more like laments that identify more closely with classic folk rock. In fact, “Going West,” one of the highlights of the entire album, sounds like it might have belonged on any of the Blackmore’s Night offerings of the past decade. The song opens with a lovely female vocal track accompanied by acoustic guitar and a strong melody. Honorable mention to “All Eyes on Him,” a track very reminiscent of The Beatles’ middle period circa Rubber Soul and Revolver. Wonderful Lennon/McCartney-esque harmonies on top of a very George Harrison-like spatial sounding guitar.
While the musicianship on this album is generally good, there is nothing that really jumps out and says “I’m a really bad-ass bassist or drummer.” The guitar parts, while very tasteful and in some areas extremely creative, the rhythm sections were a bit lacking, providing only a very simplistic backdrop to an excellent front-end soundscape. Overall, Michael Marquart’s vocals seem a bit forced, which may very well be by design to purposely inflict a certain sense of longing in his songs. A longing for a better time, a more peaceful time perhaps. This would make perfect sense given the context of the recurring lyrical theme heard throughout the album. While it remains optimistic, it never seems to be quite satisfied.
If you are a fan of immersive music and big expansive surround sound, this album is for you. Kudos to Dave Way and Bob Clearmountain for a meritorious production!