by: Asia

After reuniting for 2008's Phoenix, the original four members of prog-pop supergroup Asia (bassist/vocalist John Wetton, keyboardist Geoff Downes, guitarist Steve Howe, and drummer Carl Palmer) stayed together for three more albums including 2012's XXX. However, after touring in support of that album, Howe amicably parted ways with the band to pursue other projects, and once again Asia were in search of a guitarist. Enter 27-year-old Sam Coulson, who replaces Howe for Asia's 2014 effort, Gravitas. A technical wizard on the guitar, Coulson has all the requisite abilities to fill Howe's role as resident flamethrower for Asia. Ironically, the aptly titled Gravitas is one of Asia's more reserved albums and Coulson, who acquits himself nicely throughout, isn't called upon to throw much fire for most of Gravitas' running time. This isn't to say there aren't fireworks to be had. Despite the elegiac, classical tone of the album, there are moments of bright, burning rock intensity, even if they are framed by extended orchestral synth arrangements, as on the three-part suite "Heaven Help Me Now." Longtime Asia fans get a treat as the band reworks a long abandoned 1987 demo, "I Would Die for You," that certainly brings to mind the band's golden "Heat of the Moment" period. Elsewhere, they draw upon Norse mythology for the lyrical "Valkyrie," and conjure Queen's layered majestic harmonies as they wish their fans the best on "Till We Meet Again." Ultimately, if Asia have always moved back and forth between their radio-friendly pop side and more classical-influenced progressive side, then Gravitas bends more toward the latter, showcasing Downes and Wetton's longstanding partnership as thoughtful songwriters and technically proficient arrangers. ~ Matt Collar

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