Progressive rockers Dukes of the Orient, which is spearheaded by the talented John Payne (ex-Asia) and Erik Norlander (Last in Line), released a fabulous and eclectic record a couple of years ago that was as thrilling as it is was memorable, and the great news is that this 2020 opus of theirs is even better than its predecessor and comes across as a more varied and captivating opus all around.  

Although we are talking progressive rock, the compositions never lose the plot or turn into a convoluted, meandering mess; “Freakshow” is concise, focused, and a thoroughly enjoyable listen. It incorporates various influences and ideas from the best of 70s and 80s prog rock (and AOR), but there is a strong emphasis on catchy, infectious melodies and the art of crafting tunes that immediately peak one’s interest the first time one listens to them. In some respects, it is not altogether that different from what Asia were doing at one point, but to these ears there is a much more depth, substance, and emotional weight to Dukes of the Orient are their song material. The gloriously uplifting “The Ice is Thin” and “A Quest for Knowledge” are superbly arranged and just what we need in times like these. On the other hand, “Man of Machine” and “The Last Time Traveller” are subtly melancholic and thought-provoking pieces. The latter includes some fantastic bass lines and a clever use of synthesizers. Also, there is the anthemic “The Monitors” that simply soars and boasts a marvelous chorus that will linger in your head for days to come. The album closer entitled “Until Then” is almost Queen-esque. The only track that pales ever so slightly compared to the others is “When Ravens Cry”.  

The record is balanced and colorful in terms of what it covers, both musically and lyrically. Another thing that sets “Freakshow” apart from the debut LP is that it sounds like more of a band effort, which is another way of saying that it contains dynamics aplenty, and the production is vibrant and warm.

“Freakshow” is one of the year’s highlights for your truly and unarguably one of the most compelling Frontiers releases yet. Any fan of prog rock and AOR ought to obtain a copy of this beautiful thing asap.