Novus Rex – Plowshares into Swords

The literal translation of “Novus Rex” is “New King”. I think this name is pretty fitting.

I’m always on the lookout for new prog bands releasing new albums, so I was quite pleased when Mr. J.R. Fernandez of Novus Rex asked me to do a review of their recently released debut album Plowshares into Swords. I was even happier when I started listening and found out that I loved the album. This opus is not without its flaws, however. I’ll go more into detail on the music itself in a little bit, but first, some history.

Novus Rex is a band/project formed by the father/son duo J.R. and A.I. Fernandez. J.R. handles most of the keyboards, A.I. handles most of the guitars, bases and drums. Vocal duties seem to be split between them. J.R, the main composer, lists a wide variety of influences, from Pink Floyd to Chick Corea, to Genesis, to Mahavishnu Orchestra, to Gentle Giant. I would argue the symphonic prog connection is the strongest on this work, but there are smatterings of other styles as well.

In places the keyboards sound similar to the playing of Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon, in the way he plays very low-tuned Hammond organ. I get a distinct “metal keyboard” feel from this throughout the album, though this is certainly not a metal album. There are also some jazzy moments, where the Corea and Jan Hammer influences become apparent, but I feel like I’ve only started to notice those after listening to the album about ten times.

In short, the keyboards are the most important thing here, which is absolutely wonderful in my opinion. I absolutely adore keyboard-driven prog rock. It helps that J.R. happens to be an excellent keyboardist. There’s a lot of keyboards here, from the low-tuned hammonds (as described before), to regular-sounding hammonds, to spacy synths, to blistering  synths, to piano, etc. The rest of the instruments are excellent as well, I just feel like the keyboards deserve special mention because of how well they’re done. Also, I’m a bit biased because I have a special fondness for Hammond organs.

Novus Rex

I mentioned flaws before, so I’ll detail them a bit here. Let me start by saying that these flaws are not very damaging to the album, it is quite excellent despite them. I should also point out that this sort of thing is by no means universal, and I’m sure most people will disagree with me completely. The flaw is this: the vocals. The vocals are done by both J.R. and A.I. from what I understand, as well as a guest who is apparently a friend of the band, who seems to have sadly passed away recently. With time I’ve gotten used to them, but it’s not like my relationship with Peter Hammill’s voice. That voice I grew to love, this voice I’ve grown to tolerate. I recommend any listeners who feel the same way I do about the vocals to do their best to not let them get in the way of the excellent music. I also hope most people do, in fact, enjoy the vocals, so that they only add to the excellent music!

Now for a quick rundown of each of the six tracks:

(Track lengths are listed on the bottom)

Look! It’s Coming – This track starts off slow but builds up a bit in time. This is the spaciest track on the album, and in my opinion, the most boring. Still pretty good, but it’s made worse (for me) because it contains some pretty annoyingly repetitive vocal work.

Old World News – Much better. This track is energetic, with plenty of excellent keyboard work. This song seems to be the “typical” style of the band, in my opinion, if only because the next song as well as the title track are similar to it. I mentioned it is a song, not an instrumental. Yes, there are vocals, but I don’t find them bad like in the first song. Perhaps a little dull, but not annoying and repetitive. The lyrics are pretty good, and I’ll discuss that a bit more later.

Truth Seeker – As I said, this track is similar to the last, which is a good thing. Excellent music, good lyrics, dull vocals. I suppose you can’t have everything, but “most” is pretty damn good.

Belteshazzar’s Dream – I’m not sure who Belteshazzar is, but this sounds like a pretty cool dream to have. This is by far my favorite track on the album. Why? It’s an instrumental! This doesn’t really have to do with the vocals on this particular album, I just happen to love music more than lyrics in general, it gives J.R. and A.I. more room to show us what they can do, and they seem to be happy to do so.

Plowshares Into Swords – Ah, the title track. I always insist upon a good title track, it looks good to have one lead the album aesthetically. I’m not really sure what that means, I guess I’m turning into one of those annoying art critics everyone hate so much. Anyway, this is my second favorite track on the album. Stylistically it’s similar t Old World News and Truth Seeker, but the playing seems to be a bit more intense and powerful. It’s difficult to describe, but I enjoy it quite a bit.

Locust Swarm – Thankfully it doesn’t SOUND like a swarm of locusts. Or, to keep up with current events, vuvuzelas. Less memorable than Belteshazzar’s Dream, but still quite good. I suppose since it’s also half the length that makes sense. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent closer to an excellent album.

One last mention, this time about the lyrics again. The album is a loose concept, which is not difficult to figure out if you read the lyrics – which are written in the band’s press packet, easy to find on their website. Or you can just find the spot on the site where J.R. describes what it’s about. In fact, that might be in the press packet too, I forget.

Basically, buy this record immediately if you like keyboard-driven symphonic-ish prog rock. Most people seem to, what with all the Yes and Genesis circle-jerking one sees on ProgArchives. You can buy it from the band’s website for eight USD. For eight bucks you’re getting 50 minutes of great music, and you’re supporting an up-and-coming prog band that I’m sure will release something even better in the future.

Tracklist:

1. Look! Its Coming – 7:44

2. Old World News – 8:21

3. Truth Seeker – 9:47

4. Belteshazzer’s Dream – 8:09

5. Plowshares into Swords – 10:14

6. Locust Swarm – 4:36

Line-up:

* J.R. Fernandez – keyboards (synthesizers, piano, programming), Roland V drums, electric guitars, acoustic guitars and vocals

* A.I. Fernandez - electric guitars, six and twelve string acoustic guitars, bass and vocals

Links:

Novus Rex official website

Novus Rex @ MySpace

Novus Rex @ Facebook

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