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Former Air Raid man's latest progressive journey

Flag is the latest project driven by the vocal/keyboard/guitar skills of Arthur Offen, formerly of Air Raid, and represents something of a renaissance for the long-time progressive trouper. From the artwork and 'A Fall From Grace', you'd assume this was going to be an integalactic synth-rock journey, but it actually turns more into a country-styled singer-songwriter's forum with some very accomplished background music.

If the rest of the album even remained pointed in the original direction, it may have been more appealing. Title track 'Perihelion' is one of the best, and Offen's voice is something of a grounding force when compared to the synth-driven intricacies of the music. 'A Runaway Train' is a passable heavy-rock effort, but lacks real drive or energy. Those were the high points of the album, as we become mired in the overblown 'O Centurion', and end up almost missing the relaxed AOR of 'Beyond This Mountain' and the explosive but dire 'When Storm Clouds Gather'. I think Offen aimed at anthemic all the way through, and it doesn't keep the momentum up.

'Stephanie' is far and away my least favourite song. It's miserable, it drags, and as clever as the piano twiddling is, it doesn't drive the song anywhere. By 'Low Country Rider 1776' we've moved away from traditional progressive music and more into the territory of a countrified Meatloaf. It's at that point you realise you've missed what's meant to be the meat of the album and will have to listen again to remember what it was about. Not that it's bad, the musicianship is excellent if a little stuck in an eighties AOR-tinged timewarp and that makes the whole thing sound dated. 'A Winter's Tale' is incredibly earnest, and the dual vocals do nothing to bring dynamics to a very formulaic effort. The best thing about it is the guitar work, which reminds me of Brian May's early 90s sound.

I'm never sure what to make of albums like this, where the musicianship is brilliant, it's creative and really unique... yet I can't work up any fondness for it, which is a shame. There's no connection to the music, and about midway through it fades into the background. It's a very definite style, but somehow mixing traditional synth-prog and countrified AOR doesn't do anything for me. Whatever it is, it failed to set off that spark of urgency that demands it to be replayed until the disc wears out. It's not going to earn them any new fans.