An article in which I revisit old reviews written for other publications, a pointless exercise perhaps, but one which might point people in the direction of a hidden gem of a record. First Up is Diagonal, a seven-strong Prog collective that clearly wish they were around a long time ago! I stand by most of what I wrote, but this record has aged quite well and still gets a fair few spins. They’re signed to the ever excellent Rise Above Records and I’m hoping they have another album in the works, though there’s no forthcoming news from band or label. Still Diagonal are a must for any self respecting Prog fan
DIAGONAL – ‘Diagonal’ (Rise Above Records)
One look at the accompanying press shot for Diagonal’s debut full-length tells you all you need to know about this Brighton-based septet. They clearly wish they were around at least three decades ago, perhaps more, in the company of luminaries such as King Crimson.
Indeed, much of this record owes a great debt to Crimson, particularly their ‘Red’ period as Diagonal concern themselves with fusing Jazz, Prog, Acid-Rock and Moody Blues-style psychedelic whimsy and dragging it kicking and screaming into this century. They pull it off too. Well almost….
Opener “Semi-Permeable Man-Brain” displays not so much a fondness, but an unhealthy obsession, for psychotic prog and over the course of its near 11-minute lifespan Diagonal make for a convincing listen. They dive headfirst, straight into a big vat of acid (rock) collecting mellotron, bass, drum and guitar and concocting the grooviest of prog stomps. “Pact” impresses similarly and the scope of this 14-minute closer is extremely pleasing. A real tale of two halves, the first concerned with furious acid-prog, underpinned by a deeply melodic vocalist croon, while the second deals in pure, dreamy Enochian bliss.
The three tracks sandwiched between also have their moments too, though it’s fair to say they’re far more cumbersome with Diagonal preferring to meander under the weight of instrumentation. Each of these pieces are notable for the players showing off their considerable technical prowess instead of concentrating on the structure of the song. King Crimson, surely a benchmark for these lads, managed both with ease. Diagonal, at the moment, are not at this standard.
A case in point is “Cannon Misfire”, which initially hits its target (pun intended) with a blast of driving bass, sturdy percussion, acid guitar licks and shrieking sax, only for the band to become bogged down with instrumentation, before returning to form with a delicious, rousing outro. Conversely, “Child of the Thunder Cloud” has a poor kick-off, with an ill-advised marriage of piano and sappy woodwind. Diagonal hit their stride eventually though, by boosting into Psych Rock territories – a place that suits them exceptionally well. “Deathwatch”, meanwhile, is decent fare with its poignant, space-like aura, but could do with shaving of a few minutes of the instrumental stuff.
While their goals are clear, Diagonal are some way off hitting the heights of their heroes. Perhaps they suffer from trying to cram too much into such a short time. Though I do suspect when this band realises they can have their own identity they may well do something particularly life-affirming. This record? Well, it’s a start and a bloody good one at that. The vocals are impressive, the guitars are of a good standard, the percussion is inventive, the woodwind and brass segments are reasonably unique and there’s a tonne of ideas throughout the 45 minute running time. All the ingredients are there and when they arrive at their own, true sound the Diagonal experience will be something quite special indeed.