October 3, 2019 Flying Colors – Third Degree (Album Review)
The concept behind forming Flying Colors began as early as 2008. It ultimately consisted of Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic) on drum and lead/backing vocals, Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band) on bass, Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev) on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and keyboards, Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic) on keyboards, and lead/backing vocals, along with Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band, Deep Purple) on lead guitar. A mass of big names in the Progressive Rock world, in 2012 the American supergroup released its first, self-titled album, which was then followed up by 2014’s Second Nature, and now the powerful quintet is set to unleash its new offering.
Scheduled to come out on Friday, October 4, 2019, via Mascot Label Group, Flying Colors’ third full-length, Third Degree, consists of 9 shiny new tracks. Opening with the four-on-the-floor Hard Rock stomper “The Loss Inside,” it channels the Alternative Rock/Grunge aura of Alice in Chains (“Man in a Box”), Soundgarden (“Outshined”), and Pearl Jam (“Even Flow”). This is then followed by the doomy, ominous, and angular “More” in the same sonic predisposition, in which McPherson’s raw and steady voice comes off even stronger. The ensuing “Cadence” is where the group’s Progressive Rock sensibilities emerge proudly—grand, orchestrated, syncopated, yet still rocking.
A change of mood and sound, “Guardian” is smooth, jazzy, and pristine; LaRue’s basslines take center stage initially as it cascade amidst the laidback support of the rest of the instrumentation, only to give way to the anthemic guitar ad-lib and surprising Psychedelic Folk–inspired mid-song interlude. After this treat of complexity, Flying Colors then explores its Glam Metal influences with the slowly ticking power ballad “Last Train Home.” Yet another change of style, “Geronimo” relaxes the atmosphere for a bit with its funky, bluesy, and rustic Classic Rock mooning.
Another Glam Metal–stylized track, “You Are Not Alone” is simpler and more minimalist, dominated by practically only the piano and the acoustic guitar—the beauty in simplicity inbetween concoctions of complexity. And then there is the ’70s Pop Rock–reminiscent “Love Letter,” whose highlight is its Doo-Wop-inspired vocal harmonies, along with its Rock-n-Roll-styled song structure; it will remind the initiated of similar post–Van Halen solo adventures of David Lee Roth (“Just like Paradise”).
Finally, Flying Colors finishes off Third Degree aptly with the Classical/Progressive Rock “Crawl,” in which Portnoy’s pounding prowess shines through, along with Steve Morse’s extraordinary guitar playing, Neal Morse’s complementary keyboard melodies, and LaRue’s bubbling basslines; for his part, McPherson proves that his voice is indeed wide-ranging, able to growl like the Grunge icons but could also easily sing softly in velvet textures and in high keys like Steve Perry (“Foolish Heart”) and former Skid Row Vocalist Sebastian Bach (“In a Darkened Room”).
Considering the individually impressive lineage of each of its members, Flying Colors is able to conglomerate all the influences of all of the five artists and translate these into well-woven and majestically molded pieces of music. Third Degree is simply a natural progression from its predecessors. It bears the same trademark but is still distinctive on its own. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Third Degree 4 out of 5 stars.