The Fat Turtles is an American symphonic prog rock band from Iowa. The leader of this project is Luke Johnston, a talented multi-instrumentalist who plays the acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass and vocal parts on their songs as well as being the writer of all the music and the lyrics – a real labour of passion. Any electric guitar parts are played by Noah Carrell, whilst drum parts are played by Seth Strahan. The project formed as a metal band, however it has gradually strayed away from this and entered prog territory with releases such as ‘Six of Hearts’ (2019) and most recently ‘Return of the Foggy Logger’ (2020), demonstrating a symphonic prog sound reminiscent of early Genesis.
As the sole writer of the band, Johnston encapsulates the 70’s prog scene with flying colours – almost literally! The album covers are full of bright colours, playful and abstract, a testament to the masterful and highly detailed artwork of Stephen “Gus” Walsh – the next Roger Dean perhaps. Moreover, the lyrical content of their most recent EP ranges from philosophical explorations, such as the concept of time in ‘Hourglass’, to more story like tales in which 70s prog fantasy is given a modern day twist, such as the story of the foggy logger’s pursuits to save the environment in the title track. And of course – the music itself in ‘Return of the Foggy Logger’ is a very convincing nod to 70s prog. The EP begins with the title track, a very exuberant, carnivalesque offering. The first noticeable thing is the awesome bass sound that introduces the song before frantically playing ascending and descending arpeggios, a disorientating imitation of a fairground perhaps. The voices and claps that can be heard in the background of the vocal sections help to emphasise the theatrical circus-like nature of this section of the piece. A change of mood takes place at the half-way point in which the music becomes more tranquil, the guitar lightly underscoring the bass which takes on a melodic role. One great thing about this band is the important role of the bass, often playing parts that would usually be given to a guitarist. In ‘Through the Hills of Highland’ from their previous EP ‘Six of Hearts’, for example, the bass plays the main riff in the verse sections instead of the guitar – a refreshing change. The next song, ‘Hourglass’, lowers the previous songs energetic dynamic, beginning with a lilting 12 string guitar part – you can really hear the influence of early Genesis here. The addition of a three part vocal harmony adds to the relaxing atmosphere of the piece. From gentle beginnings, the song gradually increases in intensity; the piano emphasises the first beat of every bar while the synths serve to add purposeful dissonance to muddy the tonality of the piece, creating a darker and conflicting soundscape. The final track, ‘The Knight in Red Armour’, rejuvenates the energy of the EP, showcasing a descending chord progression on the mellotron which has been likened to King Crimson’s ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’. The reliance on the toms in the drum part succeeds in building the tension of the piece, foreboding a crescendo later on. The quieter section changes in chord progression, featuring mainly the guitar and mellotron with some tasteful Squire-esque melodic lines high up on the bass. This then erupts back into the main chord progression which feels more powerful and direct now. The ending is sublime; the sustained vocal notes along with the bass part that drives the song towards its conclusion makes for a euphoric end to the EP.
Since the band’s move away from metal, they have really anchored their symphonic sound firmly. With such clarity already established in their musical direction, it is no surprise that they have already begun working on a new album that they expect to release at the end of the year: I await their next release in excited anticipation. I hear they are looking for a keyboard player so don’t hesitate to contact them – if only I played the keys!