Pennies By The Pound walk some very fine lines on their latest album, the groovily titled Heat Death of The Universe. The Finnish three-piece have always been open about their progressive leanings, frontman Johannes Susitaival happy to admit a taste for the likes of Marillion and Rush in particular. But like those two bands, it is the addition of other musical elements that sets Pennies By The Pound apart from the more cliched and predictable makers of music which would fall into the same pigeon-hole.
Indeed, for every smart proggy move there is an equal amount of rock and roll swagger. For every piece of technical instrumentation, there is just as much pop melodicism and immediacy. For every piece of musical excess, there is an equal amount of musical accessibility. If bands such as Marillion, and then the likes of Muse after them, proved that it is possible to make ornate music that can also make its way into the charts, which sells in large amounts, moves beyond niche interest and is truly deserving of the label “popular,” then Pennies By The Pound continue successfully ploughing the same furrow.
We have already heard how Indigo Screams brings all of these elements together and as you journey through the album what you are faced with proves that this wasn’t just a happy accident. Strange Stars (Lies Closer To Truth Than Beauty) is certainly going to be a song that the progressive community will appreciate. They will warm to its ornate sonic swirls, busy drum patterns and epic nature for sure but the banks of vocal harmonies and inherent groove also means that the more discerning end of the mainstream rock market will also be all over it.
The Waters is a song full of beat and bravado, a mix of groove and grace, sitting between poised pop and a hard place, 139 is a slow-burning piece of chiming and ambient loveliness which gathers weight through additional shimmering textures as it moves towards its conclusion and Heat Death is a suitably sublime mix of chill and complexity with which they sign off.
Those old enough to remember, people like me that is, will be able to hear the echoes of the 80’s neo-prog revival coursing through this album’s musical veins, but why not, music is cyclical, the past informs the present and if a certain sound is worth returning to, to be explored by the next generation then that can only be a good thing. Right? Damn right!
Heat Death of The Universe is a good indication of where progressive rock, for want of a better word, is today. The excess baggage has been dropped, the damage done by the pretentiousness and egos of the past has been consigned to history and a new generation of musicians are making the genre fit for purpose once more. Of course, it appeals to those of us who still give the old Pendragon albums a spin, and probably to those still occasionally dusting off their King Crimson albums too. But if you are too young to remember those days, no matter, this album is the perfect place to join the musical ride.