Looking for a fresh new discovery in the world of prog? Although “Helix” is their fourth album, chances are good that the vast majority of the prog community has not heard of Legacy Pilots before. Given the quality of this release, that will hopefully change. There’s some major star-power supporting this album, which is telling as to the quality herein. Get a load of this: the drums throughout this album are served up by Todd Sucherman and Marco Minnemann! Lead vocals by John Mitchell and Jake Livgren! Bass appearances from Pete Trewavas and a solo from Steven Rothery! What?! Who are these Legacy Pilots, anyway?
Piloted by Frank Us and a few key house musicians, the band has a very strong foundation in their own songwriting and performance. Still, they rely heavily on an A-list of guest stars throughout the album. Although that might come off as disingenuous, in this context it totally works. The core musicians are excellent, the writing is solid, and the guest artists take the proceedings to truly stellar heights.
We start off with none other than John Mitchell who co-writes and sings on the first two songs. “True Spirit” carries a catchy trademark Mitchell chorus but it’s nice to hear him singing a song not completely his own, as it steers the song away from some of his regular cliches. That is even more true of “The Even Chance”, an atmospheric ballad that is one of the album highlights and includes a Mitchell guitar solo as good measure. “A Sense of Hope” follows up with lead vocals offered by the phenomenal bassist Lars Slowak whose skilled playing fuels much of the album (except for Trewavas’ appearances). The complex social issues addressed by the lyrics are matched by the explosion of Us’ keyboards and the fury of drum hits from Sucherman who is a total beast on his kit. I didn’t really expect anyone to be able to match (or dare I say, surpass) Minnemann, but Sucherman is up for the challenge. Truly, the drumming on this album alone is worth the price of admission.
Jake Livgren takes over vocals for the next section of the album, impressing time and time again with his masterful skill, tone and range in vocal attack. “A Little Differently” stands up for love being expressed between humans regardless of their gender orientation. The music is a little more smooth AOR-styled than the rest of the album but it completely succeeds as such and would have sat comfortably alongside any major hits from the 70s or 80s by bands like Toto or Styx. Livgren’s voice is right up there with the giants from that era.
Next, Livgren gets to stretch out on the eight-part suite “re-sponse” which is the centerpiece of the album. Again, Sucherman wow’s the listener at every turn with his inventive drumming which he unbelievably laid down in one take. Part II “The Inner Battlefield” is the choicest moment in this epic, with a fantastic vocal from Livgren and a sublime solo from Steven Rothery. Again, worth the price of admission right there. With Us’ piano and keyboards driving several of the sections and Slowak’s bass offering compelling coloring and rhythm in its own right, there’s no lack of musical muscle to keep the listener engaged throughout this excellent 17 minute journey.
“Colors & Light” offers a palette cleanser after that lengthy epic, a mellow moment of reflection without any percussion. Main man Us takes on the lead vocals for this one, a revelation given that he carries a David Sylvian vibe in his tone and delivery. Seems a shame that he isn’t singing more on his own album but who can complain given that Mitchell and Livgren are on the mic? An instrumental foray follows, “So NICE To Be Here” with Minnemann and Trewavas laying down the monstrous groove over hypnotic scales played on keys & guitar by Us. A final mini-epic closes the album, the instrumental “Exploring My DNA” which is the closest Us strays to ELP territory, especially in the “3rd Impression” with his keyboards. Again Minnemann goes to town and who are we to argue?
If there’s any downside to the album it’s that the wide range of guests – especially vocalists – and musical styles prevent Legacy Pilots from establishing a clear identity. Still, each piece is so well executed that it’s hard to find fault. It’s much easier to conclude that this is an album packed with top tier performances, songwriting and production. What’s more, many of these guests – and others – have appeared on previous albums, establishing Legacy Pilots as a co-creative collective rather than a band in the traditional sense. Regardless, this is a classic album produced in a modern era. You can easily find them taking flight on Bandcamp. Don’t miss out.
Released By: Independent
Release Date: March 25th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Frank Us / keyboards, guitars, vocals, bass
- Todd Sucherman / drums (2,3,5)
- Marco Minnemann / drums (1,4,7,8)
- Pete Trewavas / bass (7,8)
- Lars Slowak / bass (3,5 III,VIII)
- John Mitchell / vocals (1,2)
- Jake Livgren / vocals (4,5 II,IV,V,VII)
- Finally George / vocals (5 I,III)
- Steven Rothery / guitar (5 II)
“Helix” track listing:
1. True Spirit (5:19)
2. The Even Chance (5:20)
3. A Sense of Hope (5:03)
4. A Little Differently (4:32)
5. Re·sponse (17:31) :
– Re·sponse (I) Prologue (3:16)
– Re·sponse (II) The Inner Battlefield (3:00)
– Re·sponse (III) Tactical Measures (1:00)
– Re·sponse (IV) Silent Eyes (1:47)
– Re·sponse (V) The Human Being (2:21)
– Re·sponse (VI) Return of the Molecules (1:41)
– Re·sponse (VII) Let the World Know (2:04)
– Re·sponse (VIII) Epilogue (2:23)
6. Colors & Light (2:45)
7. So Nice to Be Here (4:51)
8. Exploring My DNA (14:12) :
– First Impression (6:11)
– Second Impression (2:22)
– Third Impression (5:38)
Order “Helix” HERE.
An exciting co-creative gathering of like-minded musicians, Legacy Pilots have released one of the hidden gems of 2023. While their core inspirations come from the 70s and 80s, this is unquestionably modern prog of the 21st century, slickly produced and impeccably performed. Guests such as John Mitchell, Marco Minnemann and Todd Sucherman may earn them more attention but it is mastermind Frank Us who pilots the craft. Highly recommended.