Review – Cold Flame – A Circus In Paradise

Cold Flame are a respected original blues rock/ folk rock band who are also widely regarded as the premier Jethro Tull tribute band in the UK. They were formed in 1984 by singer songwriter Pat Rowbottom who remains the band’s driving force together with a stable and experienced line up that has been together for well over a decade.

In 2023 Cold Flame celebrate their thirty ninth anniversary as an active band with the release of their sixteenth album entitled ‘A Circus in Paradise’, released worldwide by West Yorkshire based independent record company Starring Records. This new studio album sees the band moving away temporarily from the blues to present the listening public instead with a progressive rock concept album of original music. 

I’m always open to new music so when I got an email from Pat inviting me to check out this new studio release from the band I delved straight in to see what it had in store for me…

Let me say that it is immediate from the first few songs on ‘A Circus In Paradise’ that this band is a very impressive and tight unit and you can tell they have been together for all of their thirty-nine years, honing and improving their musical skills. This is a fine collection of progressive rock with more than little infusion of whiskey soaked blues and hard rock and it is a combination that goes together very, very well!

Passport To Oblivion gets things off to a very auspicious, mysterious start with a superb flute and keyboards accompanied by some fine guitar playing. It reminds me of some of Steve Hackett’s recent solo work and has more than a hint of eastern promise. The premise of this track was to convey a sense of change, however, as the theme and the album concept developed over time, it came to highlight the significance and the dangers of global warming and climate change on mankind. A Brexit related song championing one of the oldest professions in the country, The Deep Blue carries on the mystique before a very Tull-like flute and guitar combo breaks cover and we are led into the world of 70’s progressive rock. There’s a wistful instrumental section of flute, acoustic guitar and piano that holds your attention and you find yourself drawn deeper and deeper into the music. The distinctive vocals then take the lead and we are off on a very fine musical ride that never outlasts its welcome, despite being over fourteen minutes long. For lovers of classic rock and classic prog, this is a very promising opening to the album and I’m totally invested, especially with the elegant guitar that adds even more class. Title track A Circus In Paradise paints a dark picture. Mankind appears intent on destroying itself. The blur between truth and non-truth is almost nonexistent. Greed and self interest hold sway. The level of corruption in all corridors of life is quite staggering. The song opens with classic circus pomp before an edgy riff and urgent vocals take over to give a raw, punk rock vibe to the song. It’s rawness takes a back seat with the funky, ska-like brass-led section, a superb interlude in what is an angry and passionate piece of music. Recent years have seen many examples of the power and devastation caused by severe weather fronts. Eye Of The Storm takes this clear and undeniable connection between such weather fronts and global warming and delivers a soulful, elegant song that opens with some wonderfully stirring sax playing before a calmly dignified flute takes up the story. This tranquil opening is broken by the sound of waves crashing and then the storm arrives with an urgent guitar and impassioned vocals. You can hear the Tull influence running through this song and that’s no bad thing at all, it’s a superb piece of music and one of the highlights of the album, I especially love the expressive guitar that features throughout. Lost Or Found is a short, poignant piece about the the horrors of war escalating in Ukraine. As with all wars, it is always the innocents that suffer most and the images seen and stories reported on a daily basis in Ukraine by the invading Russian Army challenge and question the existence of humanity to the core. The song is pared back and simplistic but that only leads to an even more lasting impression.

Not that long ago most people doubted the possibility of global warming however, year on year, the Earth is heating up and Man is the architect of these changes. Last Flight is a fast paced number, heavy with that 70’s Tull-like sound, the dancing flute and guitar perfect backing to the on point vocals. In fact, there’s a proper 70’s progressive rock vibe running throughout this album which is only emphasised more intently by superb tracks like this. The lyrical content of Manifesto reflects that major increase in daily political input inevitably raising more questions than answers. This incendiary track has a more 80’s harder edged progressive feel, it’s more in your face and reflects the haphazard policy changes and the general mistrust that the public had for our politicians during the COVID and lockdown periods. The 11th Hour is a reflection on the determination that many of our political leaders, financiers and the privileged rich appear to have in ensuring that we ‘hurtle over the cliff’ come what may. Another lengthy track at over twelve minutes, it opens with a Floyd-like ambient section with a nostalgic and wistful feel before an addictive riff kicks in and gets things moving. You get that headlong, heedless journey into oblivion that the band are trying to get over. Once again, the musicianship is exemplary with the drums, bass and whirling keyboards driving this dramatic song along. There’s a superb jazzy piano interlude that just makes me smile before everything gets serious again showcasing the excellent songwriting, another track that really gets you thinking. The lyrics to Tomorrow Was Another Day are observations/thoughts expressed by many in trying to understand and rationalise the Covid pandemic experience endured by all during 2020 in particular and the ongoing nightmare which remains lurking still today. An oriental feeling intro segues into an elegantly strummed guitar and tinkling piano that back the earnest vocals perfectly. Once again, the concise songwriting and superb musicianship stand out on this measured finale to what has been a thoughtful and impressive album and just check out that ardent guitar solo that, along with the vibrant flute, leaves the hairs standing up on the back of your neck!

With subject matter that covers climate change, political upheaval and the Covid pandemic you’d think that ‘A Circus In Paradise’ could be a difficult listen but you’d be wrong. With a rational and contemplative outlook Cold Flame have delivered an intelligent and deliberate collection of songs that leave you wanting more, it’s a very impressive release indeed.

Released 1st February, 2023.

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Cold Flame