DISTRICT 97 – In Vaults (The Laser’s Edge)DISTRICT 97 – In Vaults (The Laser’s Edge)

“The most musically adventurous rock band in the world to feature an American Idol Top 10 Female Finalist” is how District 97 describe themselves, and to be fair to the band they do have a point. Coming at things from a decidedly progressive rock angle – a recent live CD of King Crimson covers featuring John Wetton shows pretty much where they hang their hats – the Chicago five-piece are not afraid to meet a challenge head-on, and ‘In Vaults’ is a huge body of work, it’s sixty-minute running time seemingly scarcely doing justice to the complexity of the songs and the mastery of the artists’ musicianship.

Formed in 2006 by drummer Jonathan Schang, keyboard player Rob Clearfield, bassist Patrick Mulcahy and guitarist Sam Krahn – replaced a couple of years later by Jim Tashjian – the band cut their teeth on technical instrumentals until deciding that they really needed a vocalist. Enter 2007 American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt, exit the Liquid Tension Experiment-style noodling; the new band unveiled their new approach on 2010’s debut album ‘Hybrid Child’ and the critically acclaimed 2012 release ‘Trouble With Machines’ boosted their profile no end. ‘In Vaults’ builds upon the foundations laid by its predecessors but widens the band’s scope, pushing at boundaries and engaging its audience on a number of levels. Hunt, Tashjian, Clearfield, Mulcahy and Schang have crafted a clutch of diverse and wide-ranging songs that are still heavy enough for fans who see themselves as more progressive metal while still having the intricacies and translucency from the progressive rock side of the fence. With all members of the band submitting songs to the album there’s a rich multiplicity of material on offer, although ‘Takeover’ (a superb showcase for Hunt’s voice) is probably the closest on offer to a straight-ahead song: otherwise, hang on as the District 97 rollercoaster takes you on an album that twists and turns and rarely lets up.

Great songs, superb musicianship, and the whole package is wrapped up in some sumptuous artwork. What’s not to like?

© John Tucker July 2015