“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
― Gustav Mahler
“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”
― W. Somerset Maugham
I like using quotes in my reviews, they can give some instant idea of what I am trying to get across in a pithy and memorable way.
Maybe you would say the phrase ‘Taditional Progressive Rock’ is an oxymoron (a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory), how can something seem to progress if it’s traditional and, by definition, resistant to change?
Well, look at it from another angle and maybe the artists in question are not blindly following or copying what they admire but are being influenced by it to take their music to a different level. As W. Somerset Maugham said above, they are using it as a guide to produce something quite unique in its own way.
And to further Mr Mahler’s statement, they are preserving what is loved and respected by taking it further and, yes, progressing what has gone before.
Drifting Sun are a UK-based Progressive Rock studio project which dates back to the early 90’s when Keyboardist/Composer Pat Sanders left his native France for England with Bass Player Manu Sibona. Their music has been described as dramatic, theatrical, & atmospheric, in the true style of prog rock giants such as Dream Theater, Queensryche, Genesis and Jethro Tull, to name but a few of the bands that influenced their sound.
Drifting Sun’s eponymous debut CD was released in December 1996 to positive reviews from across the globe. Following line-up changes, ‘On The Rebound’, the band’s second CD was released in the autumn of 1998. After taking a long break from the music business during which time he pursued other interests, Pat decided to revamp his project, and, armed with a brand new line up, released their third opus ‘Trip The Life Fantastic’ in January 2015.
Now Drifting Sun return with their most ambitious project yet. The current line-up of Pat, Manu, Peter Falconer (vocals), Dan Storey (guitars) and Will Jones (drums) recorded the new album ‘Safe Asylum’ and it was released on the 21st May 2016.
Opener King Of Hearts starts with some dramatic keyboards giving a feeling of apprehension as the track builds before the vocals begin, Peter Falconer has a rather special voice, melodic and very pleasing on the ears. A rising keyboard wail introduces a staccato riff and drum beat that gives the song more impetus. The guitar almost becomes lyrical as it backs the more insistent vocal on the verse. Everything then begins to flow nicely in a song that has more than a hint of the medieval to it. Excellent guitar runs and precise backing form the rhythm section deliver a really progressive feel. This track ebbs and flows nicely between the low key and laid back sections, that are sung in a sort of minstrel style, and the harder edged, more metallic interludes of stylistic prog. Music telling a tale in a jaunty fashion, it holds your attention throughout and the delightful guitar runs and intricate soloing that punctuate the song towards the end are really rather good. An excellent opener to the album.
The Hidden Truth begins with an offbeat keyboard and drum combo that gives it a slightly jazzed up feel. Peter’s vocal then joins in, quite sublime in its delivery. He really does have a voice full of warmth and compassion and it is the true focal point of this track. The music acts as a wonderful canvas on which the vocals can be painted. The delicate guitar and precise harmonies give a feel of a laid back Moon Safari to the song and the graceful solo adds some serious panache. This song draws you into its wistful, gossamery embrace before a burning guitar solo breaks out to add some fierce passion to the fine-grained aura of the rest of the track.
Let’s turn up the tension a notch and move into firmer neo-prog territory with next track Intruder. This was the first song that Pat let me hear from the album and the one which hooked me in immediately. A repeated synth note opens proceedings before a calming bass line and drum beat underpin a swirling guitar and the vocals begin, adding a sense of momentum. Hold for a chugging riff and we are off on a heavier musical trip. The powerful crescendo of the chorus is quite addictive and, as Peter’s voice starts to hit the high notes, the transformation is complete. Heavy and precise riffs join stylish keyboard runs and everything is held together by the glue of the superb rhythm section. It comes in at over ten minutes long but never feels like it is outstaying its welcome. Properly progressive and yet quite dynamic and compelling, the repeated ‘I’m The Intruder’ line sticks in your mind long after the song has finished. Intricate keyboard wizardry is joined by some sophisticated guitar playing to lift this above the ordinary and into the arena of the distinctive and, as it comes to a close, replete with chugging riff and repeated chant, I find myself silently nodding in rapt appreciation.
That medieval bard-like feel returns with the ethereal and winsome delights of Alice. A calm and collected acoustic guitar and tender piano begin the song before Peter’s bewitching vocal joins in. The addition of the pleasing flute and string arrangement adds even more gravitas to this charming song under which there runs a slightly melancholic tone. There is an aura of nostalgic sombreness running throughout, a longing for something lost and never to be found perhaps? I can feel a lump forming in my throat and I must have something in my eye! The superlative strings and flute add an almost otherworldly feel to this beauteous piece of music and, when it comes to a close, you feel ever so slightly lost for words.
Wonderland opens with a keyboard introduction, backed by acoustic guitar before the storytelling continues in a superior vein. All echoing harmonies and precise instrumentation, it is captivating and quite wonderful. It is progressive rock but with a theatrical edge, in fact, when the pace picks up and the guitar riff breaks out, I am reminded of early Queen, Peter does have a touch of the Freddy Mercurys in his vocal delivery at times and the guitar has a magical voice all of its own. With the titles Alice and Wonderland you don’t need to guess the subject matter of these two tracks (and album) which weave their own little conceptual ideas around your brain. The dynamic section in the middle of the song just knocks you back with its energy and dynamism and the guitar work that follows is pure genius, Dan is seriously channeling his inner Bryan May here with a solo of technical wizardry and yet one that is full of emotion. These are some seriously clever and extremely competent musicians that are on a real high with this album and it shows on this ever impressive track.
That theatric and showy feel returns with the melodramatic Gods. This is not just a collection of songs, it is also a collection of stories and tales and one that you could just about imagine watching in the West End of London as some sort of Rock-Opera. Again that showy feel, reminiscent of Queen, is present in large quanitities, Peter’s vocal brilliance and the virtuoso playing of Dan give it tongue-in-cheek pomposity. The keyboards swirl and envelop everything with this musical sheen and the drums and bass sit there supremely confident in the background, the rock on which everything else is founded.
The next two tracks are so entwined you could see them as one. The yin and yang of Desolation and Retribution. Two sides of the same coin, the dark and the light. Desolation has a feel of the darkness of Opeth mixed with the subtleties of Mystery. Almost mantra like vocals, subdued and solemn, give an occult feel and the music plays out as if it is a Greek Tragedy, the nebulous solo a case in point. It is quite ominous in tone and atmosphere, leaving you crestfallen and subdued. The segue into Retribution is some edgy and jazzy drums followed by a riffing guitar and Peter hitting the highest of high notes, the blue touch paper is lit and we are off! Fast paced and upbeat, this track is a stellar opposite to Desolation with its great harmonies and irrepressible riffs that are delivered in a symphonic prog hue. Overblown and unapologetic it fires off into the distance strutting its stuff. The solo is forceful and in your face and the whole song just rides over anything that gets in its way like an irresistible force.
There are two instrumental bonus tracks on the version I received and, in the interests of completeness, I must mention them.
Emphasis (For Sienna Joy) is a lovely little piece just over one minute long that just dances lightly over your aural synapses to leave a very satisfied feeling in your heart and soul and Vagabond is a more potent and charismatic piece that focuses on the guitar to give a feel of a Joe Satriani song. The excellent interchanges between guitar and keyboards give it some added zest. These two tracks, while not exactly necessary, just give the album something extra and I really enjoyed them.
Drifting Sun have delivered quite a work of art, one that touches on the past for influences but, also, has its own, confident vision of the future. Consume it in one listen to get the full effect of this great album, it is one that will live in the memory for a long time.
Released 21st May 2016