Red Sand is one of (unfortunately) many “best kept secrets” in the Canadian Music scene.  When it comes to Progressive Rock, most of the newer bands are from the province of Quebec, a goldmine for wonderful and inventive music.  Sure, Canada has big bands, past and present, like “the Beeb”, Shania Twain, Alanis Morrisette, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, The Guess Who, BTO, etc. and many other artists that have been around for a long time.   But when it comes to the underground, which I think most Progressive Rock falls under these days, “more Indie than Indie”, you have to head to eastern Canada.

Red Sand has been around awhile, with Behind the Mask, the band’s fifth studio recording since 2004.  The albums are always well recorded and never sound like a homegrown project, which they are.  The mastermind behind Red Sand is guitarist, keyboardist, composer and artist (the album artwork) Simon Caron.  And what a guitarist he is.

His style falls into the same realm as David Gilmour (Comfortably Numb) and Steve Rothery (Marillion) in that slow burn, big tone sort of way.  Caron is edgier than either though; he brings a bit more danger to the notes.  His solos are quite emotional and always take off at the right places in the songs.  And he never overdoes things either – his compositions and lyrics are what matters.  And speaking of lyrics, he takes no prisoners when he has a bee in his bonnet.  Behind the Mask is no exception.

So don’t think you are going to sit comfortably numb through pastoral, symphonic Prog here; the music is emotional, angry and large – reading along is a treat and should be savored.  More on that in a bit.

The other members of the band are also up to his challenging compositions.  Stephane Dorval on vocals has a bit of a Roger Waters vibe;  Mathieu Gosselin is a major bass player and D. Robertson never rests with a simple drum roll – he is tense and always busy.  Both of these guys comprise an awesome rhythm section.  Also, Caron’s 14-year-old daughter, Pennsylia, provides piano and key solos – obviously musical genes run in the family (and, by the way, you wouldn’t know her age, she is that good).

So on to the music!  Red Sand mixes some different styles together, but definitely sound unique.  Fish-era Marillion is in there, as well as Pink Floyd and Van Der Graaf Generator and other bits and pieces that I will mention.  Most of the songs have that large, Pink Floyd “The Wall” sort of feel – starting with one pace, changing tempo, completing with another or back to the start.  Varied pieces often act as mini-suites with all the diversity that that implies.  Here’s what Simon says (pardon the pun) of this album in the liner notes:  ”The mask is for some, the easiest way to assert themselves.  For others, it is a way to entertain people and for some others, a way to hide the shame that exists in them.  But the fact remains, without it the world would not be the same”.

“Zero of War” starts off the album with a tense and heavy guitar-driven melody – think a harder-edged Marillion piece.  The drums are very tight, powerful and precise and the whole song rages on about the evil of wars past and present.  “Behind the Mask” has a Van Der Graaf Generator feel to it – again, the lyrics are really intense and describe the dark places where some people reside in drugs and homelessness and the insanity of these situations.  “Reflection” is an instrumental interlude with acoustic guitar, piano and keyboard strings that has a similarity to the theme of The Beatles’ “Blackbird”.  This becomes “Memory of Past”, with Rush-like riffs and a heavy onslaught from the band.  “Man of Liberty” follows with a driving beat that changes to a circus-like carousel theme then returns to a Marillion-like approach, especially kindred to Clutching at Straws.  “Veil of Insanity” bravely tackles the Middle East, terrorism and the connection with big corporate oil.  This piece is the most symphonic of the album and features dense piano runs and, surprisingly, a bit of a funky backbeat.

The seventh track is unnamed and runs right after the previous one, so perhaps it is just a second part.  In any case, it is uplifting with an Alan Parson Project kind of vibe – actually a welcome respite after over 40 minutes of intensity.

Red Sand will definitely appeal to listeners that want to experience music in the vein of Marillion, Pink Floyd and heavier, darker Progressive Rock.  With a lot of dynamic changes throughout, Red Sand have forged their own identity and make for interesting and involving music.  I highly recommend this recording, and would also recommend exploring their other albums as well.

Visit all things Red Sand at their official website.

Release Date: May 2012

–Bob Metcalf