Unlike their contemporaries Marillion, IQ have never moved their sound very far away from the 80s British neo-prog template of Gabriel-era Genesis crossed with mid-70s Pink Floyd. What makes them worth a listen is Peter Nicholls' distinctive melodies, and the fact that while what they do isn't terribly original, they do it very well indeed.
Dark Matter, the band's eighth studio album, doesn't really break any new ground, merely honing their sound to near perfection. On first listening, it has the feel of their early albums, a sound dominated by layers of swirling keyboards and guitar topped by Nicholl's vaguely menacing vocals and darkly obscure lyrics. What's improved from their early work is far better arrangements that leave some of their older material sounding vaguely half-formed by comparison.
Keyboardist Martin Orford shines on this album right from the very beginning, the synthesised orchestral intro that heralds the 11 minute opener "Sacred Sound", and the dramatic church organ in the middle section. If that wasn't enough it follows straight into swirling mellotron backing the guitar solo. Then there's the wonderful organ work on the ballad "Red Dust Shadow".
Meanwhile, the more aggressive "You Never Will" is Peter Nicholls at his darkest.
Now as the shadows fall on Allhallows Eve
We spin our tangled web, learn to deceive
I keep on hoping that you'll do something real
Give in to influence but you never will
"Born Brilliant" instrumentation recalls Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine", but the lyrics are something else. It's a matter of opinion who they're supposed to be about.
My catalogue of failures
Is etched upon my lips
The baggage that I carry
Would sink a thousand ships
My motives are uncertain
Intentions not altogether pure
So don't you want me beside you
Just like it was before
The album closes with the 24 minute epic "Harvest of Souls". Even though some of the instrumentation sounds just a little too like "Foxtrot" era Genesis for their own good, it's still is the standout song of the album, a perfectly structured six-part epic. Each section flows seamlessly into the next, and contains some of Nicholl's best melodies. There's one short instrumental passage that's is such a direct lift from the "Apocalypse 9/8" section of "Supper's Ready" I'm sure it's a deliberate quotation.
This is an album that gets better and better with each listen. After the first couple of listens it was clear that it was a vast improvement on its slightly disappointing predecessor "Seventh House". After a few more spins I'm beginning to think this might just be the best album IQ have ever made.