DUKES OF THE ORIENT – Dukes Of The Orient

First it was called Architect Of Time. Then, we got the name Americana handed to us. What was called that, one might ask. Well, when bass player and lead vocalist John Payne ended his stint as a member of Asia, a position he had when he replaced John Wetton in 1991 until the original Asia line-up reunited in 2006, he was permitted by drummer Carl Palmer, keyboardist Geoff Downs and Wetton that he could still continue as Asia Featuring John Payne with his new band. I waited for that album. I longed for it to show up. As an Asia fan, I dug both the Wetton fronted band and the Payne fronted version and I couldn’t wait for that album the show up already. It never showed. After a while I lost interest in waiting and for the last few years I have been totally clueless of Payne’s whereabouts, but it have come to my knowledge that he’s been touring quite frequently with his Asia featuring John Payne band.

However, the Architect Of Time is released albeit under a whole new name and constellation – and it turns out that I have actually heard it. The album is out under the Windows To The Soul name under the GPS (Govan Payne Schellen) banner and it was released back in 2006. A good album, it was. The album Americana was about to be released a year ago under the Asia feat. John Payne flag but since Wetton succumbed to cancer at that time, they decided it would be disrespectful to release the album then. And here it goes, the Americana album is actually what we have here – more or less, at least. The Asia moniker has been replaced by the Dukes Of The Orient and the title itself has disappeared completely. The album is the work between Payne and keyboard player Erik Norlander who are backed by a pretty impressive gang – drummer Jay Schellen (Hurricane, Unruly Child, GPS) and guitarists Guthrie Govan (GPS, Asia, Steven Wilson), Bruce Bouillet (Racer X, The Scream), Jeff Kollman (Glenn Hughes, Mogg/Way, Chad Smith) and Moni Scaria. Could this be the album I have been waiting for, then?

The album couldn’t have opened better than with “Brother In Arms”, a song apparently about his Asia partner Geoff Downes. It’s a dramatic, pumping, big sounding pop-rocker with progressive touches that comes in a mid pace. The song reminds me not so little of Asia around Aria (1994), much because of Norlander’s huge keyboard sound. It’s a memorable tune all over that will make any Asia fan shoot through the roof in pure happiness. First single “Strange Days” is more upbeat but starts off with a softer intro. The tune holds clearer touches of AOR-rock but it’s not a rocking tune at all, more a softer kind of Pop-prog ala Asia. Another really good one. “Amor Vincit Omnia” shows us how to make an AOR-laden power ballad progressive. It takes a symphonic route, grand in its arrangements and a really grandiose and strong main melody. It sports some big Pop vibes but it’s not for commercial radio by any means – brilliant!

“Time Waits For No One” must have been written with Asia in mind because this is Asia all the way. It’s more of a pure Pop song that contains very strong melodies and a refrain that sure feels like a future single. However, the big sound scape makes sure the tune is as far away from Muzak as it gets. “A Sorrow’s Crown” is the heaviest and roughest track so far. It’s a mid paced prog-pop-rocker with a big groove. Big guitars and punchy drums together with the more organ laden keyboard sound makes the tune rock and the catchy melody with lots of brilliantly arranged vocal  harmonies makes me think of Sweet and Queen. A real killer and my favorite track so far. “Fourth Of July” is total pomp-rock that also reminds me of Asia’s debut that was released almost 10 years before Payne joined the band. It’s an eight minute quite epic tune but the catchy AOR melodies and Pop arrangements marries brilliantly with the more progressive turns and makes the eight minutes feel like four. Good tune!

Second single “Seasons Will Change” is Pop, AOR and Melodic Rock with an early 80’s Prog vibe. It’s pretty much a straight forward rocker with a very strong main melody and a very catchy refrain. I’m not the least surprised that it’s released as a single, a pretty obvious choice. They close with the most epic track of the album, “Give Another Reason”. In 10 minutes they fill the song with Prog, Pop, Rock and AOR. It starts out with acoustic guitars, very soft and calm. Then a groovy bass line joins in and with a darker touch, Payne talk-sings the verse that ends up with an Asia-like refrain that’s impossible to remove from the brain once it’s there. After a mid-paced and calmer middle-break and a hot bass-groove the tune continues like it started. It’s slow and somewhat soft but also heavy and atmospheric with lots of dynamics. Again, the ten minutes passes by fast, almost too fast and the tune is a total winner and a perfect closer on an album like this.

Was this the album I had been waiting for then? I would say so, yes. To me, this sounds like the natural follow-up to Payne’s last album with Asia, Silent Nation (2004) and had it been released under the Asia banner it would have been somewhere at the top of Payne-fronted Asia albums. That Payne and Norlander have had the sound of Asia in the back of their minds when they wrote and recorded this album goes without saying – even the band’s name is a nod to Payne’s old band. Nothing wrong with that though, quite the contrary – this album must be pure Christmas for the Payne-fronted Asia diehards. But even if you’re not that familiar with Asia, this album is a very pleasant experience. If you have a soft spot for progressive Pop-Rock with twists of AOR, Melodic Rock and even Hard Rock that comes with a symphonic and pompous sound, lots of keyboards and a big sound scape then it’s not that much to think about – this album’s for you. Thumbs up!

8/10

Tracklist:

1. Brother In Arms
2. Strange Days
3. Amor Vincit Omnia
4. Time Waits For No One
5. A Sorrow’s Crown
6. Fourth Of July
7. Seasons Will Change
8. Give Another Reason

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