I’m always a bit wary when a new band turns out a second album within a year of their debut. It can lead to the disastrous and infamous “sophomore slump” that I so dread. Thankfully, that doesn’t always happen. Damanek have proven that with their upcoming second album, called “In Flight”, which releases on October 5th. If anything, I believe the band has bested their debut.
The band hails from the UK officially, but the members are from different countries. In fact, this album utilizes the talents of a long list of guests to fulfill what I believe is a huge undertaking, as the composition of this album is quite demanding. The band includes: Guy Manning on vocals, keyboards, bouzouki, mandolins, acoustic guitars, bass, and percussion; Dan Mash on bass; Marek on saxes and SeaBoard; and Sean Timms on keyboards, backing vocals, and guitar. Guests include: Brody Thomas Green on drums; Luke Machin, Tzan Niko, and Antonio Vittozzi on electric guitars; Raf Azaria on violin; and various backing vocalists and choirs. All in all, there are many people at play here.
Damanek offers what I would call a “sheer wall” of melody and precise composition that will sweep you away instantly. While progressive rock is the name of the game here, the band seems to have added a bluesy or jazzy element to the music that really brings it to life. In fact, I would say that “soul” is what has been added to their sound since the debut, and it’s quite striking. The result is an album that feels fresh, classy, and vibrant.
The high class of the musicians on this album is one reason why the sophomore slump was not a possibility. Guy’s voice is smooth and a pleasure to hear, and the keys that he provides along with Sean are some of the best this year, offering everything from sweeping atmospheric keys to synthetic grit. Marek proves once again why he is one of my favorite musicians. His sax really makes this album special, as he offers everything from simply sax accents to gloriously emotional solos. I love the guitar work from the various guests, as well, with the steely edged licks being second only to the awesome solos that sometimes curve in suddenly.
The album is full of wonderful songs, but I want to discuss three individual songs, and then the suite at the end. “Ragusa” is a wonderful opener with plenty of foaming piano and this baseline groove that gets into your head. You get the sense that the band wants more soul, but it’s more of a subtle hint here than anything else. “Skyboat”, however, is a glorious creation that emanates light and freedom and adventure, all while being set to an off kilter, soulful groove that feels quite disco in some ways. I love the sax solo that transitions into synth so seamlessly. It gets a bit wild near the end, too. “The Crawler” is a juicy song with wonderful sax accents that is simply a pleasure to hear, feeling airy and peaceful.
The album takes a big and satisfying turn with the three track suite “Big Eastern”, which ends the record. While retaining some of the soul and blues from the rest of the album, the melodies turn their attention to Eastern influences, sounding huge and spacious. The first track has a massive Eastern-influenced melody that pervades the whole song. The second track is more burgeoning and low key, feeling big and bright near the middle, but transitioning into this wonderful and technical array of sax work and group vocals near the end. The last track feels distinctly Chinese, yet urban and synthetic, too. Overall, this suite is a resounding success, as is the whole album.
Damanek have broken the mold by offering a sophomore album that has even more ideas than their debut last year. “In Flight” feels very much like its name, as you will soar in wide open spaces and enjoy this overarching sense of freedom, will, and unity. I am absolutely astonished by some of the more magnificent moments on this album, and I feel like prog fans will share that wonder.