Review – Lifesigns – Altitude – by John Wenlock-Smith

Here it is then, after a long wait from 2018’s ‘Cardington’ comes this masterpiece, for there is no other word that can capture the magnificence of ‘Altitude’, Lifesigns’ third album, replete with another 8 pieces of sublime brilliance. Still entirely and fiercely independent, this recording has been realised by the faithful supporters of the band who have purchased this album en masse, before a note was even recorded.

That such a thing happens is well known with the crowd funding models set out and utilised by the likes of Marillion and many others. This album really is something incredibly special indeed, for Lifesigns have realised their potential with a recording that will elevate them and their standing in the progressive rock world to hitherto unknown heights and, hopefully, making them a far bigger draw than they have previously experienced.

‘Altitude’ is an album of top quality songs and fantastic musicianship from artists who, working together, have given us a bone fide classic to take us beyond the world of lockdown, into a whole new dimension and experience. Yes I know I am raving about this, however it is with good reason. Let’s  walk through the tracks and I’ll tell you just why these are such exceptionally fine songs.

We will start with the opener and title track of the album Altitude which this is the longest track at 15:17. All these minutes are used fully to craft and create a setting for the music to flex, progress and soar throughout the whole song. It contains some exceptionally fine soloing from both John Young on keyboards and Dave Bainbridge’s soulful guitar, both are exceptional on this song and, indeed, throughout the whole album. The song opens with airy keyboards, piano and bubbling sequencer type sounds before John’s vocals begin, “As far as the eye can see, clear as Daylight, spreads all in front of me now”, yearning for wide open spaces and for the open sky. This is followed by some fierce guitar chords that ripple across the soundscape giving rise to a faster paced section with a synth solo that takes the song rising up in the thermals before Dave lets rip with a fiery guitar break. As a statement of intent this opening salvo is highly effective and certainly captures the attention before we return, via John’s synth, to a slower pace and more cultured vocals accompanied by the glorious violin of Peter Knight. This then leads us back to the main vocals, combined with doubled synth and guitar lines, before Dave heads out on his own. Next we have some massed choir voices that are highly effective and lead to some great guitar lines from Dave, mention must also be made of Zoltán Csörsz whose powerful drums maintain a steady and distinct beat. Another brief solo follows from Dave that gives way to a final synth flourish from John and some cello from Juliet Woolf that bring this song to an atmospheric close. As an opener this is simply magnificent on every level and is very impressive stuff indeed.

Gregarious is a shorter, but equally as dynamic, song with a great backing and is very effective indeed. It contains a fine synth solo and some interesting syncopation between Zoltan and Jon Poole’s ever stylish bass. We are treated to another very fine solo from Dave who, it must be said, is really on form on this entire album. In my opinion, Lifesigns finally have a guitarist who can do their music justice and has brought something a little extra to the equation.

Third track Ivory Tower is a love song of sorts, very wistful and with some fabulous acoustic touches from Dave. It has a fabulous vocal from John as he sings of the perils of relationships, how he falls and wants to redeem himself and this is backed by some great little guitar fills from Dave. This is a fabulous song and a potential Lifesigns’ future classic. It is actually another old John Young song that has been reworked for this album and rightly so, as it is very fine.

Shoreline opens with lots of syncopated drums along with keyboard flourishes and makes it an impressive track before a word is sung. “Save me…” is the refrain as John is seeking salvation from emotions that are overwhelming him. This is another fabulous song with lots of moody sounds and effects that create a feeling of emptiness and sparseness.  Again, we have massed vocals in the background from Lynsey Ward whose voice is highly effective here, as are Dave’s soaring guitar lines combined with another fine synth solo from John and even more classy guitar breaks.

Fortitude is another Epic track that opens with keyboards, a steady drum backbeat from Zoltan, some decidedly strong bass lines from Jon and wonderfully fluid guitar from Dave, all floating over the velvety synths that John is laying down. This song has lots of space in it that allows each members contributions to be clearly heard and appreciated. Once again Lynsey’s backing vocals are essential to the whole sound of the song. I have to say the sound of this album is simply fabulous and is a real treat for the ears and there is so much more to listen to that is revealed the more you delve into it. We have a further sinuous synth solo and textures and more urgent bass from Jon before the sound opens out into a widescreen vista with some searing guitar lines offset against the excellent keys. A delightful guitar/ synth dynamic then plays out as the song fades, utterly magical!

I really think that Lifesigns have taken a massive step forward with this album, good as ‘Cardington’ was, this release is so very much better in my opinion.

A short and stylish keyboard and synth section called Arkhangelsk is then the precursor to another song that John has performed in an earlier incarnation (Quango) called Last One Home and in this track you can hear echoes of his former colleague John Wetton. Dave really makes his mark with a beautiful solo that just weeps with emotion and feeling. It is really impressive and will certainly be a favourite when performed live, hopefully soon! There are more impressive and impassioned vocals from John as he sings about the sea and the current therein.

The album finishes with a brief return to the title track Altitude in a reprise that re-emphasises just how good the opening track is.

Overall, I would say without any hesitation that this is an album you must hear and is really something very special indeed. It will be in my top 10 of the year and probably above the Transatlantic album that I loved. I am sure that ‘Altitude’ will be somewhere near the very top of my list even though it is only March and we have a long way to go yet.

Get it however you can but, preferably, purchase the album from the band themselves as you get a download of the album to enjoy right away. Simply fantastic, what more can I say, except get it for yourself right now!   

Released 8th March 2021 (CD), July 2021 (vinyl)

Order the album direct from the artist here:

Lifesigns – Lifesigns Merch (lifesignsmusic.co.uk)

One thought on “Review – Lifesigns – Altitude – by John Wenlock-Smith”

  1. Superb review which really captures the inherent beauty in this wonderful album. Last One Home is simply magnificent and is easily my favourite prog track so far this year. Thank you for highlighting this amazing release by Lifesigns. An absolute must for Prog fans everywhere.

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