Review – Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight – Deluxe Edition Re-Release

Today sees Leo Trimming helping Progradar ‘catching up’ with the most recent deluxe edition re-release before the imminent deluxe edition of ‘Script for a Jester’s Tear’ in April!

Marillion’s great series of re-releases in Deluxe editions continues with ‘Afraid of Sunlight’, first released in 1995. This was the last album Marillion made for EMI, but what a way to bow out as it’s one of the highlights of their career. Indeed with the previous album , the magnificent and chilling ‘Brave’, the mid 90’s could be regarded  as one of the greatest peaks in their whole career… and yet it was born in a difficult period  for the band .

To put this album in context Marillion had been with EMI records since 1982 and had achieved considerable commercial success in the mid – late 80’s with  Fish, including a string of hit singles and albums around the world. The transition to new singer Steve Hogarth was inevitably quite tricky. Their first Hogarth era album , ‘Season’s End’, had been high in quality, but it had not really resulted in quite the commercial success for which EMI was hoping. Follow up album ‘Holidays in Eden’ , perhaps under pressure from the label, had clearly been intended to sound a little more mainstream and ‘pop’. However, Marillion simply were not having the same sort of chart success that they had enjoyed in the 80’s, and the pressure was mounting. What did Marillion do then? Perhaps typically for this band they did what they felt was true to them and did exactly what they wanted to do, not what others wanted of them. They withdrew to a French chateau studio and spent many months creating one of the artistic highlights of their career in the long form fully segued concept album ‘Brave’… one can only imagine what EMI thought when hearing a concept album, which was late and over budget, focusing on a strange tale of abuse and suicide – ‘Lavender’ and ‘Kayleigh’ it ain’t! 

By 1995 relations with EMI were very strained. In the excellent booklet packaging which houses this 4 CD & 1 Blu-Ray release, packed with great artwork and interesting pieces about the album, Hogarth reveals that their manager told them:

EMI didn’t want another record after ‘Brave’, but he’d persuaded them to do one more if we could do it quickly and cheaply and that was ‘Sunlight’ and that’s why we even wrote, partly in jest, on the sleeve, this album was ‘knocked out’…  I think it’s a great record, but after that we were gone.”

For an album that was apparently ‘knocked out’ in 3 months (which is remarkably brief in the context of their recording history) there is no sense when hearing it that it’s substandard or feels ‘rushed’. It seems at that point in their career whether an album took 18 months or 3 months Marillion could produce the goods. So what makes this an album revisiting or investing in 25 years later? 

Original Album Artwork

There will be two sorts of punters considering this album – those that have bought it previously and are interested in the musical ‘extras’, the remastered sound, and the packaging. There will be others who may be discovering Marillion belatedly, perhaps after the great success of their most recent 2016 album  ‘F.E.A.R.’, who may know nothing about this album and wonder whether it’s worth buying? 

The short answer is ‘YES’ – this album is simply one of the best albums the band have ever released. However, such punters may need a little more  information to help decide whether to invest so we will try to go through the album for new listeners. 

‘Gazpacho’ opens with sound clips of an MC introducing a World Heavyweight Boxing championship bout, and then a quote seemingly from John Lennon (but may actually be actor Bernard Hill who voiced Lennon for a documentary) ‘… I would find myself seeing hallucinatory images of my face changing and becoming cosmic and complete’. This immediately sets the scene for an album which touches on the destructive nature of stardom with references through the album to figures such as ‘Raging Bull’ Jake La Motta, Mike Tyson and O.J Simpson. This also reflects the struggles Hogarth was having in dealing with the trappings of being plunged right into the limelight as the front man with a successful Rock  band – before being called to sing for Marillion he has shared he had seriously been contemplating giving up music and becoming a milkman – quite a contrast and change in his life.

The track ‘Gazpacho’ darkly refers to stains on a Versace scarf, which may have been blood stains or ‘were they really just Gazpacho’. In a period in which blood stains were central to the notorious OJ Simpson murder case the reference is clear. This is a song which rides along on a fat juicy bass line from Pete Trewavas and a rock solid beat from Ian Moseley. Rothery takes up a sprightly melody on guitar and Mark Kelly’s keyboards fill out a surging, almost joyful theme – a strange contrast to the dark subject matter. Halfway through the song a darker force takes hold as the volume recedes to a strumming guitar initially and more sinister tones reflects the fall and anguish of the main ‘hero’.

Hogarth’s voice here is in spectacular form, rising and rising with emotion, before the song returns briefly to the theme and feel of the opening section. The extended conclusion to the song becomes more impressionistic with chiming guitars, staccato drums and garbled phrasing from Hogarth. Backed by Kelly’s keys the song fades away behind the news footage of the famous televised ‘slow chase’ of O.J Simpson’s car on the freeway… and that’s just the first song! Don’t worry – we  won’t go into such detail on all the songs, but it was worth focusing on the subtlety and imagination of a band contrasting musical and lyrical themes, gradually descending from the ‘glam’ of the opening section into much darker, denser themes reflecting the fall of the protagonist.

Cannibal Surf Babe is pure acid Beach Boys powered by a fantastic bass line (Trewavas appears to have been on fire on this album) and thumping drums (taken from the first take and never bettered, according to Moseley). Kelly’s playful, quirky keyboards spray psychedelic sounds all over the song, and you can hear exactly why the working title was ‘X Ray Jangly’ . The weirdness of The Beach Boys’ genius Brian Wilson permeates the bizarre lyrics (partly contributed by John Helmer who helped write the lyrics for the majority of the album) which Hogarth sings with maniacal glee: 

‘I was born in nineteen sixty weird, I’m your nightmare surfer babe, Mr. Wilson where’s your sandbox and your beard…’

The piece trails away with a subtle synth line, which had been part of a song called ‘Icon’ that did not make the album), with a French woman dreamily saying the concluding lyrics of the song in French. This segues into Beautiful, the only single released from the album, reaching number 29 in the UK charts. The album booklet reveals that this song was their response to a request from EMI label boss for them to do their own spin on a song like ‘Cry me a River’ (!!) – whatever the inspiration, it’s a lush, rolling rock ballad with a band in perfect sync creating a suitably ‘Beautiful’ song with touching lyrics, and a gorgeous Hammond organ from Kelly in the conclusion.

‘Afraid of Sunrise’ literally shimmers in plaintively like some sort of mirage in an understated manner with Rothery’s acoustic guitar, subtle bass and very light drumming beneath a soft synth line. Hogarth sings with great delicacy but feeling over this lovely setting. It’s easy to hear why the working title for this song was ‘Joni Mitchell’. Surreal lyrics are open to interpretation but could refer to a journey and the feelings of a driver anticipating a downfall when the next day dawns. The ‘Day-Glo Jesus on the dash’ line led to a disagreement in the band about the original album artwork.

Carl Glover had prepared the startling ‘Day-Glo Jesus’ image, which Hogarth wanted as the cover, but this was vetoed by the rest of the band, fearing it may present them as a Christian rock band. Well, it seems the band have finally seen the wisdom of Hogarth’s judgement and this re-release features the ‘Day-Glo Jesus’ in glorious technicolour as the cover image, replacing the peculiar ‘Angel Boy’ image hurriedly used for the original cover. Another curiosity about this song is that in essence it has the same musical roots as Afraid of Sunlight. The band had created both versions, and were considering cutting one. They had even considered trying to merge them together, but in the end they made the wise decision to retain them both separately as they have undoubted quality in either manifestation.

Ill-fated British water speed hero of the 1960’s, Donald Campbell, inspired one of the highlights of the album, the evocative ‘Out of this World.’ This song is deceptively complex with three distinct phases touching on this tragedy from the emotional perspective of Campbell’s wife watching on as her speed obsessed husband  killed himself pursuing his dream. Hogarth’s vague childhood memories of this famous accident are transformed from a straight narrative in to a piece revealing mixed emotions for the on looking wife. Reportedly Campbell and his wife were virtually estranged by the time of the accident such was the division caused by his obsession for speed.

The song seemingly slowly emerges from the deep with subtle guitar chimes and drums over a watery synth backing leading into Hogarth’s mournful vocals. The second phase of the piece comes after the lines ‘At such speeds, things fly’ as the song surfaces with a majestic airborne guitar solo from Rothery. ‘Out of this World’ settles its trajectory with plaintive lyrics filled with pain, Hogarth’s soulful vocals intoning ‘Only Love with Turn you Round’ repeatedly (inspired from a line in ‘Brave’ album song ‘Runaway’). This presages the third tragic phase with contemporary speech clips stating ‘Complete accident, I’m afraid…’  over a baleful synth wash acting as a stark canvas for Hogarth’s final pure elegiac vocals and there is a real sense of sinking into the depths.

It’s a remarkable and deceptively complex song showing Marillion’s ability to look at a subject from interesting and emotion filled angles – in the hands of lesser artists this would have been a straight narrative about a famous accident, but this piece transcends that story, imbued with pain and feeling. Somewhat amazingly it was hearing this song which inspired marine engineer Bill Smith to organize the project to raise the ‘Bluebird’ vessel from the depths of Coniston Water in 2001, and led to Hogarth singing the song at Donald Campbell’s funeral – peculiar what art can inspire sometimes.What can I say about ‘Afraid of Sunlight’? It’s undoubtedly one of the best songs the band have ever produced. It oozes with class and depth of feeling.

An eerie guitar line intros a haunting piano and a gentle drum pattern and soft bass… and then Steve Hogarth sings with such resonance and delicacy. It’s a truly heart breaking beginning. The meaning is obscure, but may be about the conflicted feelings of a couple unable to tell the truth to each other. They are together but in pain, perhaps lying in bed fearing what will happen in the morning – the possible implication that in the morning one of them drives away from the other… well, that’s one interpretation but great art can be interpreted in different and many different personal ways by the recipient.

The tempo and power rises magnificently with Trewavas’ bass line pulling it all together with the impactful, memorable chorus, before briefly receding again with a more reflective passage. The chorus returns and the song becomes darker and more bitter, Hogarth’s vocals reaching a great crescendo ‘It’s a matter of time’. Mark Kelly’s rising keyboards take on the melody fluidly, whilst underpinning it all along is Moseley’s rock solid rhythm.

Rothery unusually is not to the fore on this song largely but he then adds another emotional level with a subtle guitar line interweaving the emotional musical maelstrom… and then bereft the song falls to it’s knees with a coda that is drenched with feeling. Kelly’s delicate piano and synth perfectly framing Hogarth’s crystalline and ultimately falsetto vocal. I may not know exactly what it literally means but I can certainly feel so much hearing the highs and lows of this stunning song.

‘Beyond You’ is a song which showcases the significant impact producer Dave Meegan had on Marillion’s material as he recorded their sessions and jams, and helped the band build on those moments to form great songs. Meegan felt the song had a sort of Motown vibe so after the sonorous and restrained opening synth led section he suggested a Phil Spector type ‘Wall of Sound’ feel, which erupts in the refrain ‘If I was a child…’. Moseley’s echoing resonant drums swing and pizzicato keyboard strings take us right back to Detroit, before the song sinks back into Hogarth’s heartfelt tones.

The finale returns us to Spector territory featuring a fine slide guitar floating above the main melody before the whole thing fades away sadly. This is an intensely personal lyric for the singer reflecting turmoil in his own private life to the extent that he felt unable to sing it for years… it is also the song I struggled to get my head around for years with it’s juxtaposition between the clearly very emotional lyric and the almost jaunty refrains, until I realised the connection with Motown. We all know Motown artists were the masters at contrasting heartbreak with upbeat music so it fits.

This remarkable album concludes with the startling opening guitar and synth fanfare chords of the momentous ‘King’  before a melange of various voice clips about fallen heroes, particularly Elvis, Lennon and most notably Kurt Cobain who committed suicide in 1994. Marillion were the first band to play after his suicide on the Munich stage where Nirvana played their final show, which inspired the band to write this sonic and emotional powerhouse of a song. Rothery’s guitar sets up the melody supported by softly jangling percussion and understated keyboard, underpinned as ever with Trewavas finely judged bass.

Hogarth sensitively sings about the ruinous effects of fame: ‘To be cursed with your Dreams’. The song almost literally explodes with the whole band titanically pounding out the main rhythm and Kelly’s synth eerily writhes above the melee. After a brief respite the song descends in to a disturbing and dark spiral with a wildly discordant guitar from Rothery tortuously screaming out pain. The lynch pin keyboards of Kelly return gently under Hogarth’s fragile words leading into some weirdly distorted spidery guitar. The tension and power gradually rises as Hogarth bellows out the inner pain of the main protagonist. Kelly’s building keyboards leads a headlong crash for the whole band in a chaotic, deafening conclusion which sounds absolutely MASSIVE! Tragedy never sounded so powerful…

… hopefully that will help convince new listeners to ‘catch up’ with one of the finest rock albums of the 1990’s (and was named one of the ‘Recordings of the Year’ by ‘Q’ music magazine in 1995).

What about those that already have this album? Is it worth shelling out for it again?

Well, the short answer (again!) is YES!

The presentation of this album alone is worth getting it again, housed in an impressive book design with beautiful artwork images from graphic designer Carl Glover and fascinating insights in to the album and it’s creation in the accompanying various essays, including one from Bill Smith about his search for the ‘Bluebird’ inspired by ‘Out of this World.’  

Musically, the package includes the original 1995 Dave Meegan mix. Michael Hunter has remixed this deluxe edition version, but in all honesty I am hard pressed to identify any startling differences from Meegan’s original mix. This is testament to Meegan’s original fine production work, acting as ‘Marillion’s George Martin’ in pulling it all together and making it sound wonderful. ‘Out of this World’ is probably the song in which there is the most notable changes to the original – Hunter’s mix brings out different elements – it’s a fine mix, but ‘different’ rather than ‘better’. For an album recorded with decent 1990’s musical technology there is not quite the same scope for sonic improvements heard more clearly in modern remasters and remixes of earlier vintage 1970’s albums by other artists. Nevertheless, Hunter has done a fine job on the latest version.

This re-release also features the complete performance from the ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ tour show at the Ahoy in the Netherlands in 1995. Some of these songs have previously been released on their swansong EMI album, the live double album ‘Made Again’ released in 1996, which mixed songs from a few tours. It is great to hear this whole concert which features fine renditions of 5 of the 8 ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ songs, particularly an enormous sounding ‘King’, as well as the ‘Icon’ intro in to ‘Beautiful’. It is also interesting to hear Hogarth pulling off excellent interpretations of 7 songs from the ‘Fish era’. However, my personal highlights are the ever resplendent ‘Easter’, and the suite of songs drawn from the ‘Brave’ album, especially Kelly’s stunning organ work on ‘Hard as Love’ with the whole band locked and loaded, thundering along magnificently – let’s face it, you cannot go wrong with Marillion live!

The Blu-ray with this package features  beautifully produced surround sound 5.1 versions, which displays Hunter’s skill as a producer but underlies the imagination and skill of a band who can so perfectly combine delicate emotion with passages of great drama and power. If you have the technology the 5.1 version alone is also worth getting this edition.

Additionally this disc has bonus tracks originally available on the 1999 remaster. Whilst the main album is one of the band’s highlights it has to be said that these bonus tracks are somewhat lacking in quality, and include 2 earlier versions of ‘Beautiful’ with other titles. ‘Mirage’ has some interest and the acoustic demo of ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ is rather a gem, but on the whole these extra tracks are hardly essential. Similarly, the ‘Jams and Early Versions’ are curiosities which lay bare the creative processes as the band jams new ideas for Dave Meegan to capture. They are raw pieces and are interesting to hear, but it is doubtful that anyone apart from ‘Uber Fans’ will ever listen to these tracks more than a couple of times at most… but as we know Marillion are not short of ‘Uber Fans’!! 

Conversely, what is of far more interest on the Blu-ray is the 45 minute documentary film which features all the band members with fascinating insights in to how the band felt at the time when recording this album. What is clear is the unshakeable faith Marillion had in themselves as artists, even if their label were losing faith in them. History has shown that Marillion were right to retain that faith as they survived some dark days in the later 90’s to virtually create the crowd funding model and thrive. More crucially they continued to make high class albums borne out of their innate self-confidence, musical imagination and artistic integrity. The mid-90’s period produced  two of their finest ever albums… and this special set presents ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ perfectly.

TRACK LISTING:

CD One – Afraid of Sunlight  (2019 Michael Hunter Re-Mix)

  1. Gazpacho
  2. Cannibal Surf Babe
  3. Beautiful
  4. Afraid of Sunrise
  5. Out of this World
  6. Afraid of Sunlight
  7. Beyond You
  8. King

CD Two – Afraid of Sunlight  (Dave Meegan Original Mix 1995 Mix)

(Same Track Listing as CD One)

CD Three – Live at the Ahoy, Rotterdam  (29th September 1995) (Part 1)

  1. Intro  (Skater’s Waltz
  2. Incommunicado
  3. Hooks in You
  4. Gazpacho
  5. Icon
  6. Beautiful
  7. Hotel Hobbies
  8. White Russian
  9. Easter
  10. Mad
  11. The Opium Den
  12. Hard as Love
  13. The Hollow Man

CD Four – Live at the Ahoy, Rotterdam  (29th September 1995) (Part 2)

  1. Kayleigh
  2. Lavender
  3. Afraid of Sunlight
  4. Cannibal Surf Babe
  5. Cover My Eyes
  6. Slainte Mhath
  7. King
  8. Splintering Heart
  9. No-One Can
  10. The Great Escape
  11. Uninvited Guest
  12. Garden Party

Blu-Ray Disc

 Afraid of Sunlight (2019 Michael Hunter Remix) – 5.1 Audio Version:

  • Same Track listing as CD 

Afraid of Sunlight  (Jams & Early Versions):

  • Ascending Synth Groove
  • Velvet Lawn
  • Building Guitar
  • Band of Gold
  • Gazpacho  (Early Version)
  • Surfer Bass
  • Cannibal Surf  (Early Version)
  • Beautiful  (Early Version)
  • KD Lang
  • Out of this World (Early Version)
  • Afraid of Sunlight (Early Version)
  • Beyond You  (Early Version)
  • Crunchy Guitar Idea
  • Deep Purple Vibe
  • Watery Guitar
  • King (Early Version)
  • Happy Accidents

Documentary Film – Afraid of Sunlight  (Approv 45 Mins)

Promo Film – Beautiful

1999 Remaster Bonus Tracks

  • Icon
  • Live Forever
  • Second Chance
  • Beyond You  (Demo)
  • Cannibal Surf Babe
  • Out of this World
  • Bass Frenzy
  • Mirages  (Demo)
  • Afraid of Sunlight  (Acoustic Demo)

MUSICIANS:

Steve Rothery  –  Guitars 

Pete Trewavas  –  Bass 

Steve Hogarth – Voice

Mark Kelly  –  Keyboards

Ian Moseley  –  Drums & Percussion 

With:

Hannah Stobart  –  Backing Vocals on ‘Beautiful’

Wendy Paige & Barbara Lezmy  –  Backing Vocals on ‘Cannibal Surf Babe’

THANKS

Progradar would like to thank Fraser Marshall of the website: 

‘Marillion – Explanations of Song Elements’  for his permission to refer to his blog about some of the background to the songs. 

Other information is available at:

http://marillionations.blogspot.com/

Review – Siljan – Collapsology – by John Wenlock-Smith

Well, there is an interesting development happening here, Progressive Rock has started to become more cerebral! In recent months we have been invited on a grand tour of the renaissance period by Big Big Train, we will shortly be appreciating the literary friendship between JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis thanks to the Bardic Depths and now we can explore the relatively new scientific concept of ‘Collapsology’.  It addresses the prospect of the impending fall of the Industrial Age, resulting in famine and disease, together with the ever continuing over population and the diminishing of the Earth’s natural resources.

This whole scenario is elegantly presented to us through this, the second album from French proggers Siljan hailing from Marseille. I must confess that this group were unknown to me before hearing this album but, nonetheless, the music certainly is impressive. This educational trend within progressive music is certainly one that I wholly welcome.  It is a good thing to have important and possibly challenging topics in lyrics. We prog folks should value debate; we should be prepared to discuss, ponder and address weighty issues, if we wanted simple or sexist lyrics, we’d listen to Whitesnake’s schoolboy innuendo surely?

Another pleasing or appealing element to this band is that they are a four piece, one of whom is a cellist, which adds another layer of depth and colour to proceedings. The cello can be clearly heard adding its own dynamics to the music but never in an overbearing manner, rather this is subtly handled while certainly adding some punch to the album.

The album opens wit the track Wisdom which has a soundbite from scientists from MIT discussing the future of the planet. It’s a shorter track but one that shows the harder edge that the band offer, riffs are quite brutal, although often offset with quieter, more melodious sections before reverting to the harder edge sound again.

The next song is Antwork, again a pretty dramatic piece, mixing some heavy, almost harsh, riffs with quieter more restrained passages. This is a pattern that is repeated throughout the album but is always an effective counterpoint to proceedings with the cello adding dynamics to these sections. Guitarist/vocalist Guillaume Arnaud is certainly very strong in both his singing and guitar work, which is excellent throughout, as he fires off riff after riff and plays some sweetly structured solos in these songs.

This album has a good flow and at no time does the attention wander for me, the cello playing keeps me interested in what is unfolding musically as it is constantly changing and makes for a good listening experience.

The sound lies somewhere between prog and prog metal in that it has the intensity of metal but is somehow not quite that harsh. This makes for a highly listenable album and thankfully there are no growling vocals to contend with, rather being a very atmospheric and enjoyable album with some nice delicate parts.

I have really enjoyed this album and I feel it has lots to interest many Prog fans if they give it a chance. I certainly feel this is a significant album and one that will provoke a lot of thought and possibly discussion in the days to come, it makes you feel hope for the world when you listen to it. While it may not offer a solution to the problems the world faces, at least it makes you aware of them and from that platform you can then decide what actions, if any, we should take.

I also feel the cello is an inspired choice of instrument as used on this album because it adds depth, dynamics and colour to the music. For me at least, the cello really lifts this album into the upper realms by being different, bringing something very special to the entire album. This is an album that you will want to return to again and again and it shows this group to have a bright future awaiting them.

Released 27th June 2019

Order from bandcamp here:

https://siljan.bandcamp.com/album/collapsology

Single Review – Victor Lee -Harbor City

Victor Lee was born in South Korea where he spent his childhood there. He moved to the US in his late teens and has been living there since.
He started on classical piano and has always had a piano at home since he was too small to crawl up the chair, Victor then started playing guitar when he was 14.

This talented musician wrote his first ever original composition back in 2013, called “Absence”, to comfort a friend who had lost her dog at the time. Even though he felt the quality itself wasn’t quite there, Victor quickly fell in love with the process and the purpose that songs bring as it allowed him to express things that he couldn’t with words.

There followed his first official track “Second Chance” on Dec 6, 2016 with a very talented Norwegian drummer named Andreas Sjøen who then played on several more tracks on Victor’s debut album “Strangely Familiar” released in 2018.

On Sep 17, 2019 he released a single “Letter” which was a partnership with a renowned Instagram Music community called “Pickup Music” as a part of their educational program “Songsquad”

Victor Lee’s new single “Harbor City”, featuring Henrik Linder on bass and Andreas Sjøen on drums was released on January 10th, 2020. Victor plays electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and produced and mixed the song which was mastered by Jeremy Krull.

A marvelously upbeat track of prog/rock/jazz fusion, this song is seriously uplifting with fantastic keyboard runs and some mind blowing guitar solos. It flies along at a serious rate of notes but the musicianship is tight as a drum.

For five minutes you can forget real life and all its trials and tribulations and just immerse yourself in this inspiring musical concoction.

https://victor-lee.bandcamp.com/releases

Review – My Arrival – Satur9 & Indigo

“Life starts when the end is near”

My Arrival began life when three souls wandered into a single room with the intention to write music from a different perspective than they had done so before: shorter and accessible songs, without losing any of their intended intensity and progressive roots.

Their new album “Satur9 & Indigo” is intricate but elegant in sound. The music is made possible by the gentle weave of synths and guitars atop steady bass and drums, with vocals telling us the melancholic story of a man with a bleeding heart on a dying planet, desperate to find a new home.”

I do love a good press release and this one is no exception. Being a big fan of Sylvium, when Ben van Gastel (guitars & key) contacted me about this new project, I was very interested to hear what they had come up with.

Ben formed My Arrival along with Richard de Geest (vocals) and Fred Boks (bass, drums, keys), the music is closely related to Sylvium but with more relaxed, shorter tracks and is a bit more oriented to Art Rock, instead of prog.

Musically inspired by a changing world, the music was written with the intention to tell the story of a departure and a search for a new home.

Ben van Gastel: “All over the world people are looking for a safe home, not only because of war or climate change. Loved ones are left behind, hoping they will meet again soon, when they have found their new home. Richard de Geest has the gift of a singer songwriter.

He wrote the lyrics like a true poet! He takes you on this search for a new home with his voice, leaving no one untouched. Fred Boks is well known from Sylvium’s first EP release “Purified”. This time he has surpassed himself.

Being responsible for the mix and mastering, every sound is carefully balanced by Fred, sometimes twice or more! It was this finishing touch to take the music to another dimension.”

There is almost a melancholy feel to the album but it is overlaid by lush musical passages and a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. The musicianship is outstanding and the quality of songwriting draws the listener into this immersive and deeply engaging musical experience.

There is substance to the music, a real primal, deliberate and thoughtful feel and Richard’s warm and substantive vocal delivery underpins and overlays everything like calming influence.

The album is bookended by a sci-fi feeling intro and outro and then the music flows through some mightily impressive songs, Gone with it’s highly emotive touch and the Pop/Prog of the enchanting Pale White Dot accompany you gently into the rest of this impressive album.

Things get more meaningful with the dignified and languid brilliance of Strange Machine and the sombre, forlorn feeling Saturn & Indigo. There’s an eruption of intensity on the powerful Null Echo which fades into the stark beauty of Come Undone, these superb musicians just keep on delivering sublime song after song.

You want a rather well crafted instrumental that ramps up the tension a jot? Well here’s Failure of a Grand Design to give you exactly that with its haunting and apprehensive atmosphere. Full Dark no Stars is a compelling three minutes of emotive vocals and stirring music and Close Your Eyes is as wistful a piece of music you could ever hope for but one that leaves a plaintive and reflective feeling in the pit of your stomach.

The album will be released on the band’s own label, Mey Productions, giving them further opportunity to learn, to grow and to be inspired, thanks to their audience. That’s all that My Arrival want to do – bring musicians together, make music with them, inspire their audience and let them discover their world and, with ‘Satur9 & Indigo’, they have made a hugely impressive and influential start.

Released February 27th 2020.

Order from bandcamp here:

https://myarrival.bandcamp.com/album/satur9-indigo-pre-order

Review – John Holden – Rise and Fall – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Holden’s ‘Rise and Fall’ has been in my possession for a while now and I was very gratified to be given access to this remarkable album some three months prior to its official release. I was also very pleased that I had been thanked  in the album credits, that having been an ambition of mine for quite some time.

‘Rise and Fall’ is the second album from John Holden and features substantial input and assistance from several core musicians including Joe Payne, Oliver Day and Oliver Wakeman, Sally Minnear, Jean Pageau and Michel St Pere from Mystery, not forgetting the always remarkably impressive Peter Jones. If, like me, you enjoyed John’s debut release ‘Capture Light’ (still available from John via Bandcamp) then I’m sure you will love this one too.

The album consists of just seven pieces, they are, however, lengthy and well written. It is also expertly recorded and produced by John himself while the whole album was mastered by Robin Armstrong of Cosmograf fame.

The guest list of collaborators is impressive with each bringing their own skills to bear. Especially worthy of note are the keyboard skills and musical arrangements of Vikram Shankar, a musician who is not very widely known yet. The album is a great place to discover him for yourself, he certainly looks to be a musician with a bright future awaiting him.

As a side note, the packaging on this release is again impeccable, as are the extensive sleeve notes in the booklet which give a deeper insight into each of these tracks.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right on in then shall we…

The opening track, Leap of Faith, features Peter Jones on vocals, recorder and whistles, in fact Peter bookends the album with a further performance on the last track Ancestors and Satellites with both tracks sharing a recurrent musical passage, albeit it in a different key.  

Leap of Faith concerns itself with the antics of Eilmer, A Benedictine monk who lived at Malmesbury Abbey in the 11th century and one who was fascinated by the flight of the birds and bats that lived around the priory He had it in his mind to fly like they did so attempted (like Daedalus, the Father of Icarus of Greek mythology fame) to fly using wings he had made attached to his back and arms. You can read the story in the song lyrics but I can say that gravity prevailed! This piece is very moving and very atmospheric with Peter Jones really bringing the tale to life in his own inimitable way.

This is a fantastic opener that sets you up for all that follows, which, in this instance, is the superb Rise and Fall voiced by Jean Pageau of Mystery. This talented vocalist gives a very emotionally raw vocal delivery that makes you feel his anguish as he sings of the relationship that one has with both their addictions and the person they care about, who also suffers the brunt of this addiction. This is a very honest song and another classy piece of work.

The next track, The Golden Thread, I consider a truly beautiful song, one that has extra depths to it as it is a requiem written by John’s wife Elizabeth who is a cancer survivor. She wrote this to express her deep love for John and also so that, if she were not around, the song and her memory would live on as a musical legacy of her life and struggle. This piece of music is very gentle with an almost classical tone to it and is sung by the remarkable talents of John Payne and Lauren Nolan as a duet, not being written as such initially but Lauren’s voice worked so well with Joe’s that adaptations were made to make it work in this way. The sentiments that this song espouses and expresses are both very warm, loving and deeply profound indeed with Oliver Wakeman and Vikram Shankar playing on the song to magnificent effect.

The music reaches a crescendo before fading away to the harder edged Dark Arts on which Billy Sherwood provides a bass part in the style of the late great Chris Squire, playing the sort of bass runs the great man would have done whilst alive. The track also features a spoken excerpt of Francis Urquhart of House of Cards fame, setting the tone for a politically charged song about the abuse of power by those in charge. Once again Joe Payne vocalises with real passion and power to deliver a truly remarkable track along with more fine keyboards from Oliver Wakeman. I heard this song in an unmixed state six months ago and was suitably impressed then, and still am, by its magnificent, powerful delivery and content that is right on point.

The next track is Heretic which speaks of how ISIS destroyed lots of priceless artefacts in Palmyra in Iraq after killing the 82 year old custodian Khaled Al-Assad at the site and smashing 3000 year old plus pieces in a show of cultural terrorism. He was beheaded in front of his family and his body was then hung in the central square. Again, whilst a dark song, there is hope that the displaced peoples will one day return and, as John says, “Empires rise and fall, ideologies are replaced but still the healing power of love endures.” Sally Minnear’s vocals are excellent on this too as she sings in tandem with Joe Payne.

After the Storm is about a journey one woman takes and utilises the weather outside as a metaphor for storms in her life and the ultimate realisation that, eventually, the storms both outside and inside her will pass leaving a calmer and clearer path ahead. This is mostly an acoustic piece and that adds a good contrast for the album with some fine playing from Oliver Day.

The final song, Ancestors and Satellites, returns to the opening section of Leap of Faith as Eilmer saw Haley’s comet twice in his lifetime with John using this comet theme again to show how little we’ve learnt in the days gone past. This song has vocal contributions from Peter Jones, Joe Payne, Sally Minnear and Lauren Nolan but mainly its Peter who sings this so delicately and with real warmth and all set to suitably atmospheric keyboards from John, and Vikram Shankar.

The song talks about cave paintings over 40,000 years ago and also of the Apollo mission that landed on the moon in July 1969 and of the footprints they left there for ever. There follows an ensemble of synthesizers playing a multi tracked passage to great effect and the massed vocals singing the chorus once again before the comet melody returns once again to bring the song towards its impressive finale. Another thing of note is the fantastic and powerful drum work from Nick D’Virgilio. On this track and throughout most of the album Nick adds his magic and his drive to power these pieces along in a most delightful and satisfying manner.

The vocals are impassioned and strong and Michael St Pere’s epic guitar line is heard, along with a bank of synths, sounding very epic and majestic to bring this fantastic album to a fine conclusion.

To think that this is only the work of John, Elizabeth and a few select friends funded from the sales of his earlier album and without and label support is remarkable. It shows John Holden to be a man with both vision and a purpose. I for one applaud him hugely for his fine efforts on this most excellent album. This is going to be one of the albums of the year for those who take notice.

Released 22nd February 2020

Order from John Holden here:

Review – Different Light – Binary Suns (Part 1)

What do you get if you cross progressive rock artists Mystery and The Neal Morse Band with 80’s American rock legends REO Speedwagon ? It’s not as daft a question as it sounds, honest, just stay with me here…

Formed in Malta in the 1990’s by Trevor Tabone and now hailing from Prague after disbanding in 1999 before being reformed in 2008, Different Light follow up the exceeding well received album, 2016’s ‘The Burden of Paradise’ with the first part of a two part concept, ‘Binary Suns (Part 1)’ in early 2020.

It’s evident from the first notes of Amphibians that we have something special on our hands here, a superbly crafted track with a wonderful introduction of keyboards, guitar and drums that ramps up the anticipation smoothly in that well recognised overture style. It does remind me of Transatlantic and The Neal Morse Band but when Trevor Tabone’s vocals take over centre stage I cannot help but be drawn to a comparison with Kevin Cronin and his lead vocals for the REO Speedwagon track Keep On Loving You, it is powerful and distinctive and, along with the great vocal harmonies, really adds to what is already a superb song. Faith picks up where the previous track finishes and add a more soft rock feel to the music with those harmonious vocals and the excellent keyboard work giving it a seriously uplifting feel. Once again, the fantastic vocal harmonies give real gloss and class and a pure 80’s edge, joyful and inspiring.

Prog epics are ten a penny nowadays but when done well they are still music to my ears and the twenty-one minute plus intrigue of Spectres And Permanent Apparitions certainly fits in the latter category. A mighty length it may be but it breezes by and never outstays its welcome, the musicianship and elegant vocal echoing Canadian proggers Mystery at their finest to my ears. The way the instruments work perfectly together and allow those expressive vocals to be out front and centre is a lesson to anyone. Musical stroytelling of a high calibre is on show here and you find yourself totally immersed and drawn along on this expansive journey, very clever songwriting indeed!

There’s a darker edge to The Answer, a feeling of foreboding delivered by the more direct vocals and superb guitar riff. A song that has a hints or Americana and pure theatre running throughout. Magnificent and theatrical, Two Faces marches into view, part ballad and part rock opera but utterly bewitching and demanding in equal measure. It’s that piano driving things along that combines with the superb vocals to give that feel of almost a Queen and REO Speedwagon collaboration and I just love it.

This impressive album closes with the powerful rhythm of On The Borderline and what a closer it is, drums, bass, keyboards and guitar all work in perfect unison to give an exhilarating opening to this ten minutes of progressive rock brilliance. A compelling song replete with dynamism, charisma and intelligence. Here Trevor’s vocal takes on a thoughtful and measured tone, delivering the lyrics in a way that mesmerises the listener and draws them in even more and leaves you humming the refrain long after the track and album have come to a close.

I know we are only in February but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still playing this beast of an album and waxing lyrical about it at the end of the year. A musical creation that is utterly fulfilling in so many ways and one that satisfies, captivates and entertains on so many levels. I cannot recommend this highly enough for music fans of any genre, it will leave the biggest and longest lasting smile on your face that you have ever, ever had, it truly is that good!

Released 17th January 2020 (digital), 8th February 2020 (CD).

Order from bandcamp here:

https://progressivegears.bandcamp.com/album/binary-suns-part-1

Review – Moonshot – Worlds of Yesterday – A Moonshot Retrospective

Though Moonshot may not have reached the commercial and creative peaks of celebrated Progressive peers such as GenesisPink FloydYes and King Crimson, they were arguably one of the best of the chasing pack and fully deserve to be named alongside the likes of Gentle GiantCamelGreensladeThe Yorkshire Parkin ExperimentBJHGryphon, PFMPrawnAnge and others ‘Worlds Of Yesterday‘ is a fine testament to a fine band.

From the Crimson-esque grandeur of The Sweetest Bitter Pill to the straightforward beauty of Before That Before, via the warped creativity of Lost In The Ghost Light and the engaging Pop of Stupid Things That Mean The World, this new compilation contains the band’s strongest work from 1971-1992.

I’ll let Tim Bowness give you his personal perspective on legendary Warrington Proggers Moonshot:

“My 2017 release Lost In The Ghost Light was a homage to the classic Rock album era. The album revolved around my interpretation of the contemporary musings of Moonshot leader Jeff Harrison, though the events in the songs took place between 1967 and 2017. During this period, Rock music had gone from a revolutionary force that defined the zeitgeist to the exact opposite (a safe and nostalgic reminder of a better time). Jeff’s career was of interest to me because he came from my home town and was born on the same date as me in exactly the same place (Victoria Park Maternity Home in Warrington as I’m sure you’re eager to know). It was 16 years earlier, but how could I not be curious?

In the 1970s and 1980s, there were no local musicians of note from the area, so (in both a good and a bad way) Jeff became something of a home town legend regularly played by DJs such as The Longford Lover.

On a personal level, I was interested in how Jeff and Moonshot had been passionately principled for its first 10 years, but seemed a little exhausted and compromised from that point on. Where did the inspiration / drive go? How was all relevance and credibility lost? Why did Jeff make the career choices he did?

Although some critics still rate the band’s early albums (as do I), it’s fair to say that Moonshot’s reputation was sullied by years of playing ‘golden oldies’ to diminishing audiences. Jeff’s 1980s penchant for wearing leopard skin outfits (a la Rod) and his dismissive remarks about contemporary music (post Punk) also had an impact on his critical standing.

In recent years, Jeff’s vocal aversion to downloading and streaming came across as bitter rather than insightful (he sometimes made a good point, but there was no moderation in the way he expressed his views). His latter-day obsessions with President Putin t-shirts and the falling standards of rice pudding production were a little (endearingly?) odd by any standards.”

I confess to having never heard of Moonshot until bass player David K. Jones got in touch about me reviewing this second compilation of material and I’m glad he did, their idiosyncratic music really piqued my interest and I confess to now becoming something of a fan.

The brilliant album opener Moonshot Manchild with it’s edgy, almost reggae rhythm and swirling keyboards is a wonderful piece of music, the vocals driving the storytelling along at a fair lick. The modern and up-to-date feel continues with Stupid Things That Mean The World with a powerful and stripped back bass line giving strong impetus and more of the excellent keyboards acting like the conductor to the vocals that have more than a hint of a certain Phil Collins to them and, let’s face it, that’s not a bad thing is it?.

This band may have their roots in the late 1960’s but the music is definitely of this century. The dreamlike and dramatic wonder of Worlds of Yesterday is an absolute delight to behold with it’s cultured vocal and intricate keyboards, an absolutely wonderful piece of music that shimmers and glows giving joy to the heart and soul. Lost in the Ghostlight is all mystery and cloak and dagger, an edgy and dark song that leaves you on edge as it befuddles your senses in an arbitrary manner.

This contorted originality continues with the slow burning brilliance of Nowhere Good to Go as it builds the tension to almost unbearable levels, the brooding keyboards intensifying in the background adding a hard edge to the vocals, a really clever piece of music. Moonshot show their storytelling originality once again on the utterly mesmerising The Great Electric Teenage Dream, eight minutes of spellbinding musical excellence. A hushed opening and atmospheric vocals play over lush keyboards. There’s a wonderful sparsity that proves beyond doubt that less is very often more. the wistful tone to the voice and the elegant piano add a nostalgic, melancholy tone and the delicately strummed guitar adds contemplation to create something sublime.

A thoughtful and beautiful addition to this compilation, Before That Before is a delight that touches you with its simple grace and heartbreaking mournfulness that leads up to the classic splendour and unashamed pomp of The Sweetest Bitter Pill. Complex and grandiose in scope, this is intelligently crafted music that accompanies the listener on this fascinatingly baroque journey, transfixed and transformed as it comes to a close.

The final track on the album is the towering and imposing Distant Summers, a wall of dynamic sound that washes over you with its unrelenting and almost primeval urge, a towering close to a great compilation of fantastic songs…

…did I say final? If you get the CD then you, lucky listener, get two bonus tracks. The first bonus Track is an enchanting Moonshot version of the Tim Bowness track You’ll Be The Silence and the second, Shadows, is a staggeringly good instrumental that includes themes from the songs on the album along with a new piano theme. To quote David K. Jones:

“We were thinking of Los Endos by Genesis!!!”

So, how to sum up this rather stunning compilation? ‘Worlds of Yesterday’ is, to me, like one of those great lost albums that resurfaces after decades in someone’s attic. I’d never heard of Moonshot before this but, boy, do I wish I had! Brilliantly crafted and delivered songs that feel bang up-to-date and resonate on every level. Believe me, this album should be on everybody’s wish list, it really is that good!

Released 17th January 2020 on Plane Groovy Records.

Order both the vinyl and CD version from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/index.php?route=product/search&filter_name=Moonshot&filter_sub_category=true

If you order the vinyl then you will receive a download that includes the 2 bonus tracks.

Review – Blind Ego – Preaching To The Choir

Following the successful studio album ‘Liquid’ and the magical live CD/DVD at Loreley recorded in the pouring rain, Blind Ego are back with a new album. And boy is there a new storm headed your way.

A solo project of RPWL guitarist Kalle Wallner, I was very impressed with the first album where Kalle let his harder side loose on some classy hard and melodic rock tracks. This new album turns the knob up to the mythical eleven in style.

The album’s title ‘Preaching to the Choir’ has different meanings, on different levels. When applied to the band Kalle Wallner says, “It’s about blind understanding. When you get the right people on board, there is no need for lengthy explanations. You just hit the recording button. And when you then give the right musicians the right music … that’s when they help you take it to the next level.” He goes on to say, “No need to convince anybody, no discussions. And no compromises are necessary. You just pump it out.”

When it comes to writing the music for Blind Ego ‘Preaching to the Choir’ takes on a different meaning. “A lot of bands stick to their comfort zone, giving their fans exactly what they’ve come to expect. The album’s title is a reminder to explore and trust my own development and not be afraid to challenge the fans.”

With Kalle’s thunderous and yet expressive guitars the core of every track, the album opens with some gusto on Massive and the fantastic title track. A plethora of hard-edged riffs combine with the powerhouse drumming of Michael Christoph to give a monumental and elemental sound, a real hit to the solar plexus and the funky chorus just grabs you from the get-go making Preaching To The Choir one of the best hard rock tracks I’ve heard in quite a while!

Burning Alive gives a more melodic bent to proceedings and brings the excellent rock vocals of Scott Balaban to the fore. A pulsating and driving song with another killer chorus, I’m really getting into this finely crafted release. Things take a darker, funkier course on the mesmeric Line In The Sand with it’s grungy riff and harsher vocals. There’s real variety on show here and very impressive musical and songwriting ability on every track.

Dark Paradise, with its sense of melancholy and contemplation, takes the rock ballad and elevates it to a higher plane with some elegant guitar work and delicate bass and subdued drums which erupt, along with Scott’s powerful vocal, on the wonderful chorus. Polished hard rock returns with the invigorating and fast paced In Exile, a lesson in how to do an accessible rock track that doesn’t have to be obviously commercial.

Blind Ego are a rock band with all guns blazing, yet grown-up enough to take their finger off the trigger at just the right moments. There is no loud without silent, no hard without soft and this is all evident on the excellent Heading For The Stars with its combination of the subdued and the outspoken, one of my favourite tracks on the album. The anthemic, in your face and chest pounding Broken Land invokes The Scorpions to me. A straightforward, no-nonsense hard rock track that wears its heart on its sleeve and does so with pride.

A slow burning, thoughtful opening sees album closer The Pulse almost creep up on you but it is an intense, powerful and profound song that becomes almost all-encompassing and engrossing through its eight minutes plus running time. The music and lyrics ebb and flow with riveting skill, the piercing guitar solo a particular highlight.

‘Preaching To The Choir’ is a powerful statement of intent from this stellar musician and is a wonderfully crafted release. Hard rock of the highest calibre performed by musicians at the height of their game and working in perfect union. The bar just got raised even higher…

Released 14th February 2020

Review – Hibernal – Beyond

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”

J.K.Rowling

Hibernal is a sci-fi post-rock project created by Brisbane native and author Mark R. Healy where, along with long term musical partner in crime Rowan Salt, Mark interweaves sci-fi stories with instrumental music to tell a compelling storyline that unfolds throughout the course of the album. The aim is to take the listener on an atmospheric, immersive and thought-provoking journey with every production.

I have become an avid fan of Mark’s work and it is always an occasion filled with great anticipation when a new Hibernal album is announced.

‘Beyond’ is the fifth release from this accomplished musician and storyteller and, in my opinion, is his best release yet.

“It was meant to be a routine mission. A crew of two sent to investigate an anomaly in the Rigel system at the foot of Orion.”

Using the excellent voice talents of long time collaborators Scott Gentle and Faleena Hopkins, we are told a twisting tale of two people who pass through a void in space and find a sinister and mind blowing world on the other side.

I am not going to spoil the story by writing an in depth review of the album but, suffice to say, it is one of Mark’s most engrossing and spine-tingling tales yet..

“As I watch, a pale blue star seems to throb and grow larger. With each pulse, shafts of azure light illuminate around it like the strands of a spider’s web. I can’t decide if it’s beautiful or terrifying. Then the moment passes, and the murk drifts overhead, obscuring my view.”

Hibernal albums are amazing cinematic soundscapes that have you on the edge of your seat, you feel invested in the characters and your heart is in your mouth waiting to hear what is going to happen next, the music adding an incredibly detailed and suspenseful accompaniment to the absorbing and compelling narrative.

I’d liken Mark’s work to an audiobook with musical backing, these are works that need to be listened to in one sitting, from beginning to end. I played ‘Beyond’ in full for the first time on one of my daily runs and soon found myself totally immersed in the story and itching to find out what was going to happen with Blake and Aven next, with music like this it truly doesn’t get much better than that.

“You can’t leave me. We’re in this together, Blake. Right to the end.”

‘Beyond’ is another tour de force from the undoubted master of cinematic storytelling. It is an enthralling and utterly gripping piece of work that holds your attention from its fascinating start, through its intriguing plot and right until the chilling end.

Mark R. Healy, my friend, you have done it again and this time it is your very best release yet!

Released 20th January 2020.

Order ‘Beyond’ from bandcamp here:

https://hibernal.bandcamp.com/album/beyond

Archive Review – Abel Ganz – Abel Ganz from 2014

We have spoken a lot recently about great albums from the last decade and I announced that Progradar’s choice was Big Big Train’s English Electric – Full Power but there was also an album that was a very, very close runner up and I still love it to this day.

I have a very close emotional connection to the album through the band and they have become great friends of mine. So here is my review of Able Ganz’s incredible self-titled release from 2014, kindly reproduced with the permission of Lady Obscure Music Magazine where it was first published.

When I first started to formulate this review my intention was to base it around the announcement of the so called ‘new’ Pink Floyd album and how we should really be encouraging new music and not collections of old material left metaphorically laying around on the studio floor, given a new coat of looking at and then released to the expectant public, no matter how honourable the intentions.

Instead I am going to concentrate on the music on this new album and how it has totally enraptured me and reinvigorated my sometimes jaded view of the music industry in these modern times. I have often talked about how music has made my more complete, how it has helped me through difficult situations and, sometimes, how it can just be so damn good and life affirming.

You should all know by know how I view mainstream chart music with more than a modicum of displeasure. Corporate crap to appease the masses and increase the bank balances of the music executives with no creativity or soul in any way, shape or form. Then, occasionally unexpectedly, an absolute gem of an album that contains the artist’s heart and soul will come along, one that will have taken a long time to come to fruition.

Music like this is what gets me out of bed in a morning, music that I have to wax lyrical about and spread the word to as many people as possible. To this reviewer, the music industry, at the sharp end, has lost its soul and its understanding that it is there for people to enjoy and to make these people’s lives a better place to be. Now it is just a vast, money making machine, bloated and pointless. It is these smaller, independent artists and labels that hold the true meaning and the future of the music industry.

I have been aware of the Scottish band Abel Ganz for quite a while and heard the odd track that has quite impressed me. However, it is this latest release, self-titled, that has really caught my attention.

First, a quick catch up.

 After a very lengthy hiatus Abel Ganz re-emerged in 2006 with the release ‘Back from the Zone’ – a compilation of 1980s material plus two, new recordings. Original members Hew Montgomery and Hugh Carter were joined on this release by long-time collaborator and drummer Denis Smith.

A brand new album ‘Shooting Albatross’quickly followed in 2008 on the band’s own, newly created record label and was very well received internationally. New, full time members Davie Mitchell (lead guitar), Mick Macfarlane (lead vocals, guitar), and Stevie Donnelly (bass) came on board to complete this album and flesh out the band’s reinvigorated line up with Denis Smith taking on major recording and production duties for the band as well as filling the drum stool.

After two years of gigging and promoting ‘Shooting Albatross’the band began making preparations to record their next album. Shortly after work began, Hew Montgomery made the decision that the time had come for him to pursue solo interests and so bowed out. He was replaced by virtuoso Jack Webb (keyboards) who had contributed to ‘Shooting Albatross’as a session musician. Nine months later as recording had only just begun in earnest Hugh Carter also retired from the band for geographical reasons.

With work on new album freshly started the decision was made to carry on write and record new album with the blessing and encouragement of Montgomery and Carter. With all parts of the album virtually completed and mixing sessions begun the role of keyboards player changed hands once again with new full time member Stephen Lightbody joining the band.

Entitled simply ‘Abel Ganz’ the new album makes a deliberate effort to take in new influences and mix them with the old. A genuine attempt has been made to try new things and explore potential new directions. In short – to try and ‘progress’.

Many guest musicians appear on the new album but the band are particularly proud and excited to have worked with the legendary Jerry Donahue and Malcolm Jones [of Scottish folk-rock band Runrig] on the track ‘Thank you’.

Delusions of Grandeur is a delightful introductory piece to the album with oboe, violins and violas accompanying the piano to almost freshen your musical palate ready for the main event. What follows next, the five-part Obsolescence is as good a piece of music as I’ve heard all year. Starting with Part i Sunrise, which is truly captivating, it has an ethereal mix of acoustic guitar, piano, recorder and effortlessly harmonised vocals, almost religious in its delivery. It gently segues into Pt ii Evening which increases the tempo but retains the innocent wonderment of what has gone before. There is a gentle folk edge to the song and it just fills me with an effortless flow of good feeling, truly enchanting, the steel guitar being a touch of genius. A feeling of urgency pervades all as Pt iii Close Your Eyes begins. This part of the piece has more of a mainstream progressive style to it, bass heavy with clever drumbeats. The delectable swathes and swirling drops of Hammond organ are an added nod to the seventies prog stalwarts. What is becoming increasingly clear is the quality of Macfarlane’s vocals. He truly has an impressive voice. The different time changes and signatures lead you on a musical journey that entertains at every turn. A flute that flitters around like a dancing bird is the entrancing introduction to Pt iv The Dream. It has a slow and measured rhythm that entices you into its musical web and holds you transfixed. You are treated to an aural cornucopia of flutes, guitars, tubular bells, double bass and church organ that builds up to an almighty conclusion to this amazing musical delight, Pt v Dawn. This instrumental finale has a depth of feeling that strikes into your psychological core to an emotional extent. The soaring guitar bleeds empathy as it reaches heights of feeling and fervour, a solo full of passion and ecstasy.

Take a moment to get your breath back after that musical extravaganza and then let the graceful and divine calm of Spring wash over you in a cathartic fashion. On this track Macfarlane shows his prowess with the acoustic guitar. The low hum of crickets calling is accompanied by a mellow acoustic guitar and a great brass section on Recuerdos. A soft vocal full of emotion adds a serious note to this amiable song. It is as you get this far into the album you realise the number of differing musical styles that the band can intertwine with aplomb. It doesn’t detract from any enjoyment of the album. In fact it just adds another layer of delight to it. Heartland begins with the muted sound of children playing before a very oriental sounding note emanates from the keyboard. Vocals on this song are provided by Joy Dunlop and the band takes another ninety degree musical turn as keyboards and programmed percussion deliver a sound not unlike an ambient dance track. It is tranquil, calming and subdued despite coming straight out of left field. There is a smidgeon of Celtic folk song to it but you are never quite able to grasp it fully as it lies just out of earshot. It is different and intriguing, yet very good.

End of Rain is another instrumental track that is like a tropical storm envisioned musically. It is full of highs and lows, powerful yet, sometimes, a calming influence. It is due to the bands undeniable skill that it stops short of just being an ambient background track yet, for this listener at least, it is the weakest track on the album. Maybe an experiment with a different musical direction that wasn’t entirely required. Just to prove they really do know how to mix several unlikely musical styles and make them work Abel Ganz deliver Country with aplomb on Thank You. I think this is a brilliant song and I don’t even like Country! It delivers its heart warming message in several different languages yet never loses focus or direction. The vocals are full of feeling and affection and the accordion and steel guitar add a layer of gloss to the whole track. It is captivating, full of charm and leaves a feeling of wellbeing and content wherever it goes.  Mick Macfarlane takes the lead with the acoustic guitar once more on the instrumental A Portion of Noodles. Another dip into the well of folk influenced music, it dances across your aural receptors with a featherlight footprint. Ghostlike and almost intangible, it is beguiling and mesmerising.

Fourteen minutes of musical delectation now follows in the form of Unconditional. Initially sounding as if it comes from the American heartland and the pen of Springsteen or the combined talents of The Eagles, it delves deeper into our collective musical knowledge to deliver on all counts. You don’t have to wait too long before some free form jazz is let off the leash. Muted trumpet played with alacrity and a lilting piano note take the lead and you soon feel you are in a smoky jazz lounge in New Orleans drinking bourbon and feeling at one with the music. The slightly discordant note of the keyboards that follows takes you down a more experimental route whilst keeping that jazz/fusion edge. The whole song encourages you to sit down and unwind, let the sounds wash over you and take you away from the stress of everyday life. Throw in some flashes of scorching guitar that Joe Satriani would be proud of and things are just about perfect. Hints of blues, jazz and progressive rock infuse to create something quite exceptional on this song, it is another musical delight that deserves wider recognition. The song comes around full circle to smoothly meet up again with the classy feel of the introduction and you know you’ve just heard something special. To close out the album you are treated to The Drowning. A luscious brass arrangement lends added gravitas to Macfarlane’s husky and soulful vocal. It has a wistful, if not downright melancholic feel to it but is extremely charming in its own way. The flugelhorn solo is a thing of dignity and style and adds to the aura of longing and loss.

I have just listened to a musical composition that goes further than just pleasing the senses. It is full of beauty and grace and manages to combine musical styles that are quite disparate and deliver a musical release that beguiles, bewitches and enthrals. This is music that will stand the test of time and could become a legacy for this superb band. Abel Ganz has delivered what is bound to become a highlight of this already impressive musical year, I implore you to go henceforth and purchase this musical marvel!

Released July 8th, 2014.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

https://abelganz.bandcamp.com/album/abel-ganz