The path ahead is troubled. Hard rock masters Aunt Mary scream on “Hopelessly Lost” over the initial guitar solo that opens the track. “working hard just to get a little bit. I’m looking for any way out, anything at all that won’t bring me down.” The band even squeezes in a mini-vocal hook, a part of the chorus, before erupting the rest of the band to the task. The guitar screams, in and out, throughout this insanely heavy and assumingly dark prog-rock mini-epic. The song floats the hook, “desperately hopeless, hopelessly lost,” right up to the end. Perhaps the oddest thing of all- the song sounds like fun. The guitar is thrilled to be back in motion, and the band rides every note right into the sea.
What can we make of this bizarre tonal Frankenstein? Context helps. The history of Aunt Mary has been fraught with tragedy. Others have written on the details of this Norwegian band, so only the broad strokes will be provided. It involves the death of one founding member and the group’s acclaimed lead singer in just the last three years. It also involves a nearly three-decade hiatus. It also involves the elephant in the room- few people have heard of Aunt Mary.
The aforementioned lyrics seem deceptively simple, and yet they are riddled with truth and experience. Aunt Mary has gone through quite a lot. The band could have easily followed the path of Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, or King Crimson. These groups may not be household names (arguably, Deep Purple), but they have artistic authority and credibility. When anyone thinks of the hard rock and metal pioneers, these gentlemen rise to the surface. Yet, Aunt Mary was right there. The late 70’s saw Aunt Mary recording prog-roc epics while Iron butterfly seismically shifted the (then) modern rock landscape. When Ian Anderson jammed along to Aqualung on stage, breaking sales records and making history for a whole new sound, Aunt Mary was quietly indulging in the success of their self-titled debut- their own prog-rock epic that was just as wonderfully mastered and densely composed.
Let’s make this clear. Aqualung was 1971. Aunt Mary came on the scene a year later. Some of the bands considered prog-rock pioneers didn’t even exist.
So Aunt Mary beat a few and came after a few others, but does it matter? Aunt Mary was right in the midst of a cultural revolution, and their current sound on 2016’s New Dawn” marks a modicum of a sonic shift from the sound the band has helped define over thirty years ago. New Dawn has the jams. “G Flat Road” is oddly restrained in everything but that crazy guitar. “Blind Date” turns heads with a huge guitar line that bulls through the song. “I Was Born to Ride on the Wrong Side” makes good use of Thin Lizzy’s gimmick.
The record is a big return for a prog-rock band that few have heard of- and that is unfair. New Dawn has all the echoes of a veteran band doing what they know. Interestingly, most will see it as a new band releasing a throwback to 60’s hard rock. The irony is strong. At the least, it holds credence to the legacy of its founding and passed members.