The Saga continues...

The genre commonly labelled ‘progressive rock’ has certainly taken some stick over the years. The butt of many jokes, the so-called pretentious and overly-arty style has ended up something of a laughing stock, and an area many artists attempt to steer clear of. Prog rock defied its own title, by – in the end – completely failing to progress the rock genre in any way, shape or form.

However, recent years have seen bands take the genre in a new direction, merging it with other genres and experimenting wildly with sounds – The Mars Volta and A Perfect Circle being two noteworthy examples. After a lengthy break, prog rock pioneers SAGA have returned with a new drummer and, with his assistance, a new album. Have they refined their work and taken their genre to new heights?

Well, no, not really.

In fact, not at all. New LP 'Network' sounds pretty much the same as Saga’s earlier stuff, if a little more electronic at times. It’s still the epic-sounding combination of early heavy metal with ‘cutting-edge’ electronic ambience that gave them their name in the first place. The thing is, the early metal sounds weedy compared to some of today’s efforts, and the once groundbreaking synths just sound cringingly dated. In all, it could feasibly have been made 30 years ago.

Not that this is wholly a bad thing. Some of Ian Crichton’s guitar work is very impressive in its classic style; some of the choruses littered about the CD have a great uplifting and epic feel about them; the vocals, whilst not exactly contemporary in style these days, still have a certain charm about them – sounding suspiciously similar to Morrissey in the song 'Believe'. It’s certainly not a bad album technically.

The thing is, yet again, we have an example of the genre’s aim being completely ignored. What was moving the genre forward three decades ago can only be dragging it back today – and that can’t be a good thing. 'Network' is a respectable album, with some decent songs, but it’s just not anything special in the year 2004.