District 97: In Vaults

Fusion of heavy prog with big-haired rock ballads.

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A Chicago prog-metal quartet fronted by former American Idol contender Leslie Hunt, District 97 are a duck-billed platypus-level rarity on the evolutionary margins of modern heavy music.

Their third album offers an incongruous but often thrilling blend of virtuosic jazzoid skronk with Eurovision-style power balladry, where intense guitar shredding meets windswept vocals on Death By A Thousand Cuts, and where Radiohead-style avant-rock reveries like Learn From Danny sit alongside shape-shifting symphonic epics like Blind Visions.

Flirting with pure jazz fusion in places, In Vaults is promiscuous in its influences. It makes perfect sense that these young neo-proggers recently recorded a selection of live King Crimson covers with Bill Bruford.

District 97 follow their maximalist muse down a few blind alleys in their commendably insane ambition to build a huge ornate bridge between Miles Davis, Metallica and Celine Dion. But the overall richness of the banquet makes up for a few overcooked dishes./o:p