Saga | Symmetry – New Studio Release Review

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1972

For a brief period 40 years ago, Canadian hard rock quintet Saga nearly became global music royalty. Their fourth album, Worlds Apart, would go Gold in the states, bolstered by the band’s lone Top 40 single — the (still) anthemic “On The Loose.”

Ironically, despite U.S. success eluding the group somewhat in the ensuing decades, the band stayed undeterred. Their musical formula never really changed — which is maybe why they remain viable to this day (i.e., being crowned kings in Germany in all but title). Their gimmick is simple: Tight synth and guitar-driven tunes coated in the majestic voice of frontman Michael Sadler. Even though the band was never shy about showcasing its apparent prog rock influences, their songs found the perfect balance of accessibility and storyline. One listen to their 16 “Chapters” is proof that Saga is no throwaway band, despite various lineup changes and a near scare of their “officially” calling it quits in 2017.

Still, there are elements to Saga you wouldn’t typically associate with the group — namely balladry and sentimentality. Yet diehard fans (myself included) know these concepts aren’t foreign to Saga’s makeup. If you can, grab hold of 1985’s underrated Behaviour and notice its shift to tenderness and softness (i.e., “You And The Night,” “Goodbye Once Upon A Time,” “Listen To Your Heart”).

It’s these same concepts that permeate Saga’s 2021 release Symmetry. Yet this album is innovative because band members also remove the sheen and clean production from their song catalog and rework standout tracks into intimate acoustic experiences. Trading arena bombast for strings and a living room listening effect, Saga’s efforts result is a quite calming affair. Anyone new to Saga gets the kind of 101 primer here that is sure to send them scattering to YouTube and Spotify in order to listen to the original versions. As for me, the diehard, I lament that such tracks perfect for this kind of interpretation are not included: “Don’t Be Late (Chapter 2),” “Ice Nice,” “Listen To Your Heart,” “Old Man,” “Cat Walk,” and on and on. One can only hope a sequel will be forthcoming.

That being said, Symmetry still makes for a good distraction from everyday woes spurred by the pandemic. Standout tracks include “Images (Chapter 1),” “The Pitchman,” “Wind Him Up” and “Tired World (Chapter 6).” I was also pleasantly surprised to hear the band go way back by merging “Time To Go” with “The Perfectionist” to create “The Perfect Time to Feel Better.” While guitarist Ian Crichton has had to cope with being one of rock’s most underrated guitar wizards, his virtuosity is more apparent by his ability to tune down; he doesn’t have to shred to make himself heard. Sadler’s voice has always been one of great range. He can sing to the rafters if he wants to or serenade in the softest keys possible. Either way, his is a gift that must sustain. Symmetry emphasizes just how well he keeps his instrument in shape.

Recording the album in band members’ home studios, Symmetry is clearly meant to serve as a snack until the band serves a larger meal of performing live again. Yet this album is affirmation the band not only has no plans to wrap things up anytime soon, but that they still thrive artistically. Even if their North American arena days are long gone, Symmetry proves Saga will always know how to rock, no matter which direction their musical sensibilities roll.

~ Ira Kantor

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