Gary Morley gives us his own inimitable take on IO Earth’s latest release ‘New World’.
This is the new age of ‘samizdat’ reviews. I get asked if I’m interested in writing a review, I express an interest, get “signed up” and bravely or foolishly agree to prise open, and expose, its core, rotten or golden as the case may be?
Martin “Wallet Emptier” H has suggested I review this album. It will be “blind” as I’ve not heard anything by them so it’s all new to me. Also, just to make it even more of a challenge, I have only mp3 files to go with. No album art, no track listing. No help!In the great spirit of British Olympic values, I won’t use Google, Wikipedia or any on line assistance. I’m going to listen to it and write as I go.
So after receiving the link, downloading the files and converting to a Jet Audio friendly format, we were ready to go…….
We start with rain? A storm blowing and a solitary female voice struggling against the storm. Haunting, operatic, pure, the voice gets stronger as the storm fades to be replaced with piano and then cello, a gentle lament concerning finding a new world.
The next track slams you awake, forces you ears to open as metal guitars crash through the pastoral construct of the opener. Big crunchy riffs counterpoint a sliding lead, undercut by a constant throbbing bass. Then the voice, this time riding on the strings above the riffing.
Buoyant, we are gathered onto a flying carpet, eastern classical orchestra and undulating voice. The mental picture I have now is one of us soaring above Desert Mountains, the storm battered hove left far behind as the guitar flurry lifts us higher.
There is a feeling of power here, restrained, muted even as the strings attack and a double bass drum flourish indicates that we have arrived at the fortress , our destination revealed through the clouds. In the space between the instruments, the voice reappears, chanting now, with a massed choir of Gregorian style voices unfurling, allowing more guitars to clear the way for the voice, now full bore and strident. Eastern images pervade as an oboe (or is it a synth?) takes on the voice, echoing and reflecting it.
Then it all stops… silence then acoustic guitar and piano with layered sound behind them. Sound effects under the mix lead us to a gentle keyboard melody over a drum pattern that is militaristic and menacing. Deep in the mix, TV voices refer to US events (9/11?).
I found the off kilter drumming disconcerting and the beauty of the string and vocal arrangement were bludgeoned by the percussion. The rhythm is almost that of drum and bass increasing in intensity then dropping. We are back with the female voice now, along with the piano and the big sound of a rock band and orchestra.
I’m not an expert in this genre, but it seems to verge onto the formulaic in places. Big drums, big sweeping orchestral arrangements and a female voice, I should like it but, it’s not quite clicked with me yet. The track has the feel of Iona or Nightwish, with a Celtic undercurrent to the arrangement and I prefer this to the full on Sturm und Drang of the previous track.
I’ve not said much about the lyrics, which are in English, but they flow over you with the musical tides. I’m sure that if (or when) I listen again the concepts and themes will manifest themselves, the album so far has been predominantly instrumental, the voice being, to my ears, another instrument.
Well, I’ve survived the journey so far, and now we are back in the semi-orchestral mountains, this time with percussion and cello working to generate an eerie aural scene. Then it’s all ripped apart by the guitar, drum and string attack that slams the door open and bursts in, we have a standoff, eerie vs. full on instrumentation. The power of the music is less constrained now, with the separate parts combining, and then…
Silence, close mike, guitar and piano, ethereal female voices ( plural) leading the orchestral army, one voice now buried in the mix, singing of things lost, longing and regret ( or I think so). We then have a variation in instrumentation with a saxophone bustling in, before it’s chased off by the guitar , fully charged and slicing through the mix a la mode de Gilmour.
This song, Fade to Grey has been the highpoint of the album so far, building to a high point of a recognisable chorus, which the vocalist lets rip on, no more restraint, a full throated exclamation of the title bringing it to an end that isn’t. That’s because it cross fades to the next track, all menacing minor chords and cello again, creating atmosphere and mood quickly. Tubular bells are there, before the arrival of big guitars and big drums.
A big riff that opens out into lush symphonic orchestration, that choir evangelic rising and falling along the rolling melody then a martial drumbeat takes the music, turns it around and up. We are in a big music place now, an entire orchestra thrumming with throttled back energy, waiting for the signal to charge. A horn section adds a further layer to the tapestry. It sounds ready to explode as the layers are added one by one, but we have a coda of guitar and synthesiser leading to the next level…
Chanting voices, bass chords echoing about as keyboards lead us into another epic piece… slow; solemnly they announce the arrival of the vocals. Again, hidden in the mix, the drum almost hiding them.
The choir returns, it’s very Carmina Burana now, with a build up to a pause and the return of the mournful saxophonist, playing over a montage of city sounds and prayers before regrouping for the epic chorus, “Insomnia” being the motif and refrain.
Duelling guitars spiral and twist as the song builds to an explosion of fretwork dexterity and frantic drumming. This is a big number. Every track is a big number… The guitar solo fades back to a soundscape, suggesting that the protagonist was in fact on a train and possibly dreaming.
We are now back with percussion and the voice warning of some impending event. Then guitars slice through the mix, flanged, leading the orchestra on to the eye of the storm , where we have a fine homage to Gilmour . The whole piece continues with a second, more “shredding” guitar and ends with a sound collage and a voiceover that does relate to the tragic events of September 11th.
A much more spacious sound now: less is more, just guitar(s), bass, drums and keyboards. We are out there in Camel land now, the orchestral score underpinning the melody rather than dragging it out and trampling all over it.
I must confess that his is more like it, melodic and flowing. The first “proper” proggy style piece or one I can relate to as it’s a mix of Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd and Camel styles, but put together beautifully. The Rising is it’s name and it’s my favourite so far.
That was then, this is now…
I decided that listening through my PC 5.1 speakers was possibly doing this album a disservice. So I (looks left and right) burnt the album to disc .Worry not, it’s a CD-R or 2, so I can erase upon request.
This act provided several discoveries:
1 The tracks I had listened to were in fact all of CD1 and part of CD2, for it is a double CD set!
2 They sound much more “whole” through the in house HiFi!
Anyway. As I had worked through CD 1 , scribbling away, I decided a different approach was needed for the second disc. So I sat down, and let it play.
Then played it again.
The harshness of the drums had gone. More instrumental details came to the front of the mix. New technology pah! The second disc seemed less angsty, more considered , with flashes of light and shade, a male voice appearing , driving track 6 on to a full on metal assault.
Maybe it was because I’d just listened to Ghost live at Reading and Leeds Festival, but there was a distinct BOC / Ghost vibe to this track. Without the orchestra , the band sound as if they were unshackled, free to rock it up, the sound painting was in full colour, and my ears appreciated the dynamics and harmonies of it.
Track 7 roles up, keen and eager like a puppy wanting to play. A variation on the sound, this is much more me. A simple drum pattern, a voice that reminds me of Love and Rockets or Kid Loco ( go check out them and you get a feel for where my head is at when happy ). There’s a lovely brass solo ( trumpet I believe) ,the restraint shown here is in marked contrast to the rest of the album. In fact this track could be a David Sylvian tribute as it has much of his jazz/ ambient pop feel to it.
If the rest was like this, I would have ordered a copy already.
The lead in to track 8 promises a climactic finish, with hushed voices behind a guitar motif and echoes of voice samples floating around it. A bit Floydian in the ambience, then a “Welcome to the New World” voice over and an explosion of sound… still the guitar motif , but on steroids..
The female voice struts in, welcoming us to this new world, which seems a brighter place as the menacing backing has been replaced by heavenly choirs and power chords…
The hooks have me, from disinterest to reappraisal, all in the space of 2 tracks. This is the beauty and magic of music. You listen, it washes over you, then a hook strikes…
I’m now going to listen to it from start to finish. I did, it’s a strange beast to be sure. The second half is much more to my liking, more varied and musically eclectic.
In conclusion, I didn’t know anything about the band, still have only heard this one album, but it is a rich and complex piece that slowly unfurls. It’s a throwback to albums of days gone by, where you sat there, reading along with the lyrics, fathoming out who plays what and where. This is not small town Prog / Metal, this is full on global rock music, deserving to be played loud .
The genre it fits into is a European one, that huge, semi –classical sound personified by Nightwish , who I am learning to like slowly, album by album . If you like them, are fond of a celestial voiced female fronted rock band , Touchstone or Panic Room for example, then you will be ready to give this shelf space and ear time.
Oh bugger, I’m going to have to buy a copy now aren’t I?
Released 20th May 2015