Three years ago, the Dutch band Knight Area came out with a remarkable album called D-Day. It marked the 75th anniversary of that crucial action in WWII and was a tribute to the men and women who participated in it. The plan was to do a full tour for the album—and then Covid struck, canceling everything and forcing the band to consider alternatives. The one they chose: a sequel, one considering the personal aftermath of those brave souls who’d hit the beaches in June 1944.
Hence D-Day II: The Final Chapter.
But let’s be clear. The messages of this album are not limited to WWII. The themes of yearning, of psychic pain, of darkness combined with hope, could apply to veterans of any wars. It becomes even more relevant as we watch the fighting in Ukraine, where average folks are being called on to do extraordinary things (but with consequences for everyone).
The Enemy Within tells the tale of a veteran who has yet to come to grips with the experience of death and destruction and fear on a grand scale. This one is carried by Gerben Klazinga’s keyboards—especially an organ part reminiscent of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley. And there is something David Byron-ish about Jan Willem Ketelaers’ lead and background vocals. It’s all swirling and majestic and redolent of many albums’ closing cut (and its seven-minute length is a bit eye-opening, in a good sense). This is a powerful way to start things.
Peace of Mind is a great example of the album mood. A disquieting piano intro floats under Ketelaers’ vocals before the ensemble rises up to a loud and epic section—a dichotomy that continues throughout. A German veteran, looking back not just on the war but the period before it, yearns for a balm for his soul. The soldiers fought the war, politicians ended it, but for many the conflict continues.
Oh history is written, but not written by those who lost
I will have to try, to make it through, i will have to make the years go by and by
Every day, and every single night, I still see those burning ashes in front of me
I can still hear their silent cries, their helpless screams, deep inside of me
And as the days go by, in my mind the war goes on
Will I ever find the peace in me?
I Believe continues in the same vein, albeit the hopeful title. The character is trying to convince himself that all will turn out okay, both personally and between nations—but there are no guarantees, of course. It kicks off with a military orchestra coming through an old gramophone (Knight Area did this same thing on the original D-Day, setting the aural scene). It devolves into a frenzied rock ‘n’ roller that later flows into a hook-filled chorus before switching gears into piano and voice. This is prog, clocking in at 4:38, showing just what Knight Area can do even in a shorter space.
Whereas For Those Who Fell is akin to a military hymn, an instrumental, featuring the immense guitar talents of Mark Bogert. This is an elegy, a tribute to people who were willing to give the last full measure of devotion to aid their comrades and make victory possible. There is hope in this one, an unspoken pledge to carry on for those who can no longer do so.
The intensity returns in The Dream, a song of lost love—at least temporarily, as soldiers shipped out to serve overseas. But the hopes, the dreams, don’t die so easily. Ketelaers’ vocals—lead and background—soar, an ethereal presence hovering over life in a dreamlike state. Once again, Bogert has a chance to shine with a plaintive guitar solo that takes things to an even higher place, perhaps a place where the dream can someday be fulfilled. Or not…
The Journey Home is the personal story of British soldier Alan King, a tank radio operator during the invasion. When he returned home, he wanted to talk about the experience—but most people were looking ahead to rebuilding and didn’t want to revisit the horrors of the war. He saved the life of a little Dutch girl in 1944 and was reunited with her in 2016 and finally made peace with his experiences. King died last December at age 97. This is another song that builds, falls back, and then builds again and again. The dream takes on different musical forms in 6/8 time—constantly reaching upward for the brass ring of love but, apparently, never quite reaching it. This is another showcase for Ketelaers’ vocal gifts.
Crossroads is “Dedicated to all who risk their lives maintaining peace and security around the world.” This one has a true epic quality, with power chords that reach to the heavens. War is hell, but one can find life on the other side—especially after choosing which way to go at the crossroads.
And now I finally realize
Although the war changed me
It turned me into another man
I know all wounds won’t ever heal
But I would do it all again
The album wraps up with two bonus tracks. The first, Freedom for Everyone, is an acoustic version of the closing track from the predecessor album. It takes on a different feel in this setting, one in which the character longs for peace but is not so sure it is within sight. Ketelaers’ vocals are plaintive. Bogert’s guitar provides a nice rhythm, while Klazinga’s keyboards lay a foundation of beautiful colors.
The final cut is Orchestra Compilation, and this is all Klazinga, using keyboards to provide an orchestral collage of music from both D-Day albums. It is a soundtrack to an amazing time in history, by turns contemplative, urgent, moody, thoughtful and even a bit hopeful. It is a fitting coda to the proceedings.
Some quick notes on the musicians. Mark Bogert, the youngest band member, continues to impress. His guitar work is so…well, appropriate to the music. Where necessary, he shreds. But he doesn’t spin off wasted notes just for the heck of it. His is an economic approach, one that molds his parts to the piece, not vice versa. He has a wondrous tone and continues to improve with each album.
Keyboardist Gerben Klazinga—the founder of the Knight Area feast—is essential to the workings of the group. He and Bogert write the music and make the arrangements. He provides a strong underpinning for the songs, but to my ears he’s also much more out front on D-Day II. His organ playing really drives things, providing power and majesty. And his love of classical licks appears in various places here. This is a man at the height of his musical powers.
Jan Willem Ketelaers made his Knight Area debut with D-Day, both as a vocalist and lyricist. He sounds even more comfortable on D-Day II, and literally and figuratively he is the voice of the band and of the song characters he inhabits. His performance completes the words and music and pushes this album up in terms of its effectiveness and beauty.
We’d be remiss to not mention the rhythm section. Pieter Van Hoorn is a powerful drummer—but he doesn’t misuse that power by stealing the thunder of the other band members. His deft touch keeps things moving like a flowing river of sounds. And his own experiences in the Dutch military have helped inform the lyrical content of the two D-Day albums.
Then there’s Peter Vink, the old veteran of the rock wars. He’s been providing wonderful bass lines in various bands for some 60 years (!), but age has not eroded his talent or enthusiasm. It’s hard to contemplate a Knight Area without the contributions of the veritable Vink.
My suggestion: listen to the two D-Day albums back-to-back. There is a flow to that experience, one that gives us different perspectives on the before-during-and after of a huge military engagement. D-Day led to the liberation of Europe—yet many of its participants became trapped in a prison of spiritual pain, mental confusion, and dying hopes. That a rock band, even one as accomplished and perceptive as Knight Area, would undertake such a project is astounding. We are the beneficiaries. And so are the military personnel who were willing to sacrifice for others. May D-Day II: The Final Chapter shine a much-needed light on their lives.
Released By: Butler Records
Release Date: March 4, 2022
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Jan Willem Ketelaers / Vocals
- Mark Bogert / Guitars
- Gerben Klazinga / Keyboards
- Peter Vink / Bass
- Pieter van Hoorn / Drums
“D-Day II: The Final Chapter” Track-list:
The Enemy Within
- Peace of Mind
- I Believe
- For Those Who Fell
- The Dream
- The Journey Home
- Freedom For Everyone (Acoustic) (Bonus track)
- Orchestra Compilation (Bonus Track)
The eighth studio album by Knight Area is a sober, respectful yet powerful tribute to those who gave so much during the Second World War—but it’s also universal in revealing the plight of veterans. A stunning lead guitar is braced with virtuoso keyboards and conveyed with thoughtful lyrics carry this band and its works to new heights