District 97 are back with their fifth album, with exactly the same line-up as they had for 2019’s ‘Screens’, Leslie Hunt (vocals), Andrew Lawrence (keyboards), Jim Tashjian (guitars, vocals), Tim Seisser (bass), and Jonathan Schang (drums & percussion). That is the only other album I have heard from the band, and although I felt it was very clever, I just could not warm to it at all as I felt something was missing. I commented that their hearts must be in the right place, as Hunt is best known for being semi-finalist in the Top 20 of Season 6 of American Idol, and she joined the band very soon afterwards. No-one is in prog for money, so to move from commerciality to this genre shows a real desire for the music, and here she has the opportunity to show exactly what she can do with a band who appear to have moved strongly into prog metal with dynamic runs and blistering guitar.
Hunt is always in control, and it takes someone with serious chops to be the vocal focus when they are in this band as this is a significant release with a great deal going for it. The songs switch and move, and everything I felt was missing from the last album is here in spades with powering performances from everyone and songs which are consistently interesting and changing direction so one is never sure what is going to happen next as keyboards and guitar vie for dominance, yet there is also a lot of piano underneath. It is heavily layered, with a very rich palette indeed, yet never feels too bombastic or over the top. Drummer and percussionist Jonathan Schang said, “After 15 years of leading District 97, I’m thrilled that we continue to push ourselves to new heights in every realm of our music making. This is the strongest collection of songs we’ve ever assembled.” Compared with their last release I certainly see where he comes from with that statement, as while it is not a perfect album, the introduction to “Many New Things” being a fine example, there is a great deal here to enjoy. On this album Hunt certainly puts forward a case for being one of the finest female prog singers out there, and this is an album which will certainly intrigue many progheads, especially if they are interested in great interplay at speed combined with great vocals.