I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to review this.
The only album I possess by Devin Townsend is ‘Ghost’ which is, I’ve learned atypical of his output. ‘Ghost’ is a beautiful ambient collection that drifts and soothes the soul.
First listen to this indicates that it is closer to that vibe than the rest of his output. The opening tracks have a driving percussive attack that is more skiffle than anything else. One thing that made me smile – my son came down from his room to complain as the bass on the opening track was making his bed vibrate! Now I was not playing it loud, it was late at night after all, but that‘s the sonic palette used here – subwoofer friendly bass to the front.
The voices are multi tracked and muffled, this adds a ghostly feel to the songs, layering atmosphere on top of the beat. Lonnie Donegan on acid, but in a good way. Track 2 puts me in mind of a male fronted Cocteau Twins or a less cerebral Dead Can Dance.
So far, I’m enjoying this a lot, it’s very me.
If I try to relate it to a more Prog centred audience, imagine the narrative from Hawkwind’s “Warrior On The Edge Of Time” with all its twisting harmonies and dense soundscape, but without any reference to Sword or Sorcery. The feeling of claustrophobia stays, the voices buried beneath the mix, I’m sure the lyrics are deep and meaningful, but they are a layer of sound here, echoing around as the guitars are strummed and a droning wind storm of orchestral force swamps the mix.
It’s muddy and dense, whether this is the intention of Mr Townsend or not, all I can say is listening to it for the first time through headphones (out of deference to my son) is immersive, perhaps too immersive as the music is second place to the low frequencies.
I’m wondering if it’s also a by product of new headphones (blue tooth) and the format that the files came through in – MPEG-4 Audio , not a format I’m familiar with, being a top end MP3 or WAV man myself.
So far, the album has been a chilled mix of acoustic sounds behind this constant hum of bass and echo.
Hello, still with me?
Well, I’ve been a naughty boy, and for the purposes of this review, I’ve burned the files to disc. I know, home taping is killing music, but the difference between the 5.1 speakers of the PC, headphones and now a proper Hi Fi for playing this album through is marked.
Through the Hi Fi, it takes on new life, the drone of the bass is gone, the tracks are lighter, still ambient with a background of hum, but it’s now peaceful, much more in line with ‘Ghost’, the vocals from Devin Townsend remind me of a French artist, another favourite of mine, Kid Loco. They’re husky and breathy, but measured, like Lou Reed singing a lullaby.
The warm mix is very Kid Loco too, in fact you could mix ‘Kill Your Darlings’ tracks with the tracks on this and they would complement each other nicely.
Perhaps that’s the best way to review, write down the albums that you’d use to make a mix tape / CD/ Flash Drive with the one under discussion. Everyone would suggest different musical companions, as we all arrive here via different routes. I’d add a smatter of Turin Brakes to the mix too as the gentle strumming acoustic guitars evoke their sound.
Hello world. It’s me again. I have a confession to make. On the third listen, I could resist no more and ordered the deluxe 2CD and DVD version.
Why, you ask, when you have the review copy?
Well, the first reason is , this is fabulous stuff, earworms that burrow through the headspaces and leave little bomblets of melody and tunes that nag away until you give in and put the CD on . The second reason, and this is just my personal stand, is that if I like this enough to say go buy it, it would be doubly hypocritical not to follow my own lead.
No musicians suffered as a consequence of this review. Quite the contrary, as the purchase will generate income and that hopefully the relationship between artist and listener can continue by virtue of upholding the tradition of paying for the pleasure.
So, in conclusion, if you’re partial to a (quiet) blast of Brian Eno, are moved by Sigur Ros, like melody, prefer music with space between the notes and are ready to embrace the sonic nuances here, and then take a trip with us, we don’t know where we are going, but we have the perfect soundtrack.
‘Time’, it’s a strange thing. Undetectable without relying on specialist intervention – slow motion or time lapse cameras show us its effect, mirrors reflect the effect it has on us. Time is both measure and measured, we slice it up and record its passing, yet time is the single most important concept we have. Without it, there is no ‘now’ and no ‘future’ or ‘past’.
If someone in the future invents a time machine and travels back, we would know it, wouldn’t we? They’d stop wars, point humanity on the right path to prevent destruction of the planet, encourage us to support the exploration of outer space, reveal the evil of reality TV etc.
If there is such a machine and such people were taking requests, then I think Spock’s Beard need to borrow that time machine to go back and meet their earlier selves.
The one thing they need to communicate, without putting the future of the universe at risk with causality and paradox, is they should seriously think about changing their name. No matter how good they are as musicians, no matter how epic their epic tracks are, the name conjures up all the wrong associations. Geek chic it ain’t…
Twenty years of Spock’s Beard. To me, they are part of the “new wave” of Prog, post Genesis, and post Twelfth Night et al. They write long, epic tracks and started as they meant to go on with complex multi-part tracks that are polished and assembled on this chronological trip.
The first piece by them I’d heard, from a cover mount free CD was At the End ofThe Day and it wormed its way into my consciousness. I went on a voyage of discovery, picking up second hand copies of their albums, then deluxe first editions as they were released. I didn’t realise but SB and it’s off shoots, side projects and affiliates take up a large chunk of my modern Prog pile. The tentacles spread out, from Transatlantic to Roine Stolt’s Flower Kings to NealMorse’s solo work to some bunch of internet sprout wranglers; the Beard has links to it all.
Yet they are not mentioned in the same pages that eulogise Mr Wilson, fawn at the uttering’s of lesser talents with better haircuts. But they deserve their place in such company.
They write record and perform long, complex pieces; they can rock out with the best, with an instantly identifiable sound. It is a broad pallet of sound – vocal harmonies, kicking brass section, attacking keyboards, and guitars too, underpinned by some severe drumming talent.
In many ways, Spock’s Beard are the quintessential American Prog band. Musically adept, lyrically optimistic, almost slavish attention to detail. There is a lot going on in these tracks, almost too much at times: This “everything but the kitchen sink” approach is evident in the tracks that start this CD.
The younger version of SB, fronted by a scarily long haired version of Neal Morse, seemed to want to be taken seriously, very seriously. Every track is a constructed of multiple parts, instrumental breaks and moments of sublime beauty. The Guitar and keyboard coda of the track in question still makes me stop and hold my breath.
The cynical amongst us may deride SB as Genesis wannabe’s as there are striking similarities between the evolution of both bands.
Both bands produced complex, multi part tracks across their first albums.
Both bands “lost” their original vocalists and replaced them with the incumbent drummer stepping up to the front.
Both vocalists departed leaving, as their swansong, complex double concept albums in their wake.
Both bands then changed to a more direct, full on direction and reaped the benefit of commercial success.
But here our stories diverge, as SB then floundered with a mid career fallow patch ( to me, “Feel Euphoria” was a band in a holding pattern) .They then rediscovered their Prog Mojo with “ Octane” , the opening 7 part concept sees them at their best ,describing a car accident from the POV of the driver. The sheer beauty of his life unfurling is a testament to the collective ability of the ensemble in that it skates close to cloying sentimentality. But the combination of words and music convey the love of life and of hope in the face of adversity which reflects the lyrical obsessions of Mr Morse and the spiritual quest that pulled him away from the band.
One part of this epic, my favourite post Morse SB piece, is here in burnished re-mastered glory.
She Is Everything is one of Prog’s great love songs. A song that makes you want to share the joy of this experience, the lyrical content is crafted around a tune that comes straight out of the classic pop tunes book. It’s a love song that in a few short verses leaves you fully understanding the depth of feeling conveyed, but without getting caught up in sentimentality.
I mentioned earlier Neal Morse’s swansong, “Snow”, my favourite SB album.
It’s that most “Prog” thing, a concept album detailing the life of Snow, an albino loner with a psychic ability. He grows up in the Midwest, move to New York, undergoes an epiphany , uses his powers for good, falls in love with the wrong girl, ends up fulfilling his prophetic vision of his future ( see, time again! ) then gets saved by his friends.
Mixing Christian myth, Robert Heinlein’s ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ and taking the good from every concept album ever written, bits of ‘Tommy’, ‘The Lamb’, ‘The Wall’ & Bowie and Roeg’s ‘The Man who fell to Earth’ all are thrown into the pot. There are bits that Yes would be proud of, Marillion would recognise and ELP would tap their feet to. In short, it is the quintessential Prog Rock concept album.
But if that all sounds clichéd, it succeeds on the strength of the music. It ebbs and flows beautifully, from a gentle acoustic representation of Snow’s innocent childhood to the depravity of the cess pit of New York to the pain of unrequited love through the depths of despondency and out on the wings of hope and love.
The tune selected for here, The Wind At My Back is the centre of the piece, appearing twice at the climax of both discs. Its harmonies and themes run all through the album and serves as a fitting memorial to Mr Morse’s tenure as vocalist.
If this Collection has done nothing else, it’s made me dig out my SB CD’s, and go looking to fill the gaps in my collection.
X, represented by The Jaws of Heaven seems a return to the more Prog rock version of SB than the previous albums, with this track highlighting the keyboard strengths of the band. There’s a whole raft of sounds – Mellotron, piano, strings, brass all flowing together and complimenting Nick D’Virgilio’s fine vocals.
Over the two discs of this compilation we have witnesses the young Prog overachievers throw everything into the mix, then slow down, give us vocal harmonies, fine melodies and songs, become increasingly adventurous with their lyrical subjects which culminated in an epic modern fable. Then the singer quits and their drummer takes over.
The band move onto new terrain, ploughing a rockier landscaper, but still sowing the seeds of Prog, they start to really find their musical point in the cosmos with a trio of albums…
And then they lose another front man! NDV jumps tracks and we all know which train he’s hitched his wagon to!
It’s starting to read like a Prog Spinal Tap here, without the gardening joke, but nothing is going to slow the progress of the Beard. If you’ve lost a front man, not a problem: steal (or borrow, though do you have to give him back?) one from another band.
Enter Ted Leonard from US Prog metal band, Enchant. Now I had a couple of Enchant CD’s once. They didn’t survive the great CD purge. They were nice, inoffensive formulaic Prog Metal. Too twiddly for me to be honest, the downfall of Dream Theater in my humble opinion. I go for the Miles Davis approach. Play one note instead of ten as long as it’s the right note.
Jump to 2013 and the release of “Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep”. And it sounds like the old SB, back to their proggy best. The track chosen here, Waiting for Me features the SB “sound”, vocal harmonies and glorious melody, a superb production as we have come to expect. This track shows how far the band has travelled but they’ve still retained their core spirit. They use keyboards to complement the guitar as did Deep Purple before the departure of Mr Blackmore. Drums are high in the mix, but unlike Metallica , SB have a world class percussionist who drives the songs forward rather than running alongside trying to grab the steering wheel.
The penultimate track is the first track on their most recent album. Criticisms have been levelled at the band for moving away from their sound, but, on the evidence of this track, the 2015 SB is rolling on nicely, with some great guitar and keyboard touches. The Deep Purple comparison is very evident with the Hammond being prominent, but to me, this is a good move as that classic sound of guitar, Hammond, bass and drums drives the song onward.
And so, gentle reader, we reach the track that most Beard heads will be forking out for. A track that promises all 3 front men together (well appearing on the same song). And we start with gentle piano and strings, then a very Early Yes like rhythm and sound.
It’s Very Yes like. The Proper Yes. Roger Dean Artwork Yes.
There’s a nice instrumental section, with all working together to create a melange of melody. Guitars are edgy and the metal influences are there, but the big Prog chords and drums keep them firmly in their place.
The music swells and slows, we are anticipating vocals as the rhythm changes and we get acoustic guitar a drum then a voice.
More voices, it’s no longer a song of parts as the song moves through a very folksy part with at least 2 different voices singing parts, then we switch moods again and a third, much more rock voice appears.
I’m enjoying the interplay of instruments and voices on this first listen, I’m not too focused on the lyrics as they flow with the tune and I’m more interested in the structure first, lyrics second.
This is possibly a result of continued exposure to bands singing in languages I’m not conversant in ( i.e. everything except English) but as I get older and the reading of lyrics stops being feasible due to CD sized fonts and ole eyes, I find it easier to concentrate on the whole thing.
Well, it’s a Spock’s Beard epic track. Lots of glorious vocal harmony. Glasses full of guitar and keyboards. There are fine performances from all 3 singers.
As you would expect, their voices complement each other, the sound is one that SB have perfected. It’s a compliment to them that time flies by as you listen. The track allows them to do what they do best.
Listening again (the third time) this track reminded me of another band. It opens as if it’s from those dextrous players on a cosmic adventure, Utopia, circa 1973 when Todd Rundgren was in full cosmic flow, expanding his (and our) consciousnesses.
The more I listen, the more the track strikes me as a statement of where American Prog is today. Think of a line drawn from Utopia, through Kansas, up across the Boston Guitar Mountains to the Glass Hammer lakes, there you will find a dam built by these eager beavers of Prog. All that music is held back and they tap it off into these epics.
There’s even a drum solo hidden in there and leads us on to an extended instrumental piece that ties all the different SB threads together. Guitars weave as the tempo increases, the keyboards are fighting for their place in the sun, the interplay between them and the drums is pure SB and all the more welcome for that. I can see this going down a storm live, with the big solo closing piece giving the lighting designer a chance to stun the watchers as the closing lyric wafts over the rapturous audience.
If you’ve never dabbled in the world of Spock’s Beard, then this compilation is a fine way to start. Chronological and logical, it gives a true flavour of the band. Personally, I’ would have included live tracks as that’s when the interplay between them as musicians really comes into play.
Also, I’d have chosen different tracks. I would have included Devil’s Got MyThroat from “Snow” which is as noisy and rocking as the title suggests. I’d feature more from “Day for Night” and “V”, but then they were the first SB CD’s I owed.
At the price this is floating around for, it’s a great summary of a great American Prog band.
They will never be out there on the edge, pushing the envelope of Prog, but if you want songs, actual tunes you can hum or even sing along to, then dip you toes in the Beard’s world. It’s a rather fine place to spend an evening or two with a glass of good wine.
This time, Gary Morley ventures across to the darker side…..
‘Mr Wallet Emptier’ has thrown me a curve ball, as our colonial cousins allegedly say. He wants me to review something contemporary. Of my choice.
I tend to buy things on gut instinct. I will follow my nose and purchase something that sounds interesting, direct from the band – I recently purchased 3 Paul Garner Band CD’s from him via a link from another FB friend who’s CD’s grace my shelves (Thanks Robert Fleming from Crowd Company for that).
So if you like good funky blues from a guitar / Hammond /drum trio, then I recommend Paul , he will exceed your expectations, several times over. You can purchase his fine CD’s from his website:
But this is not the artist I’ve chosen to write about.
Blue Oyster Cult: Imaginative, thought provoking lyrics combined with a Prog / Pop/ Heavy Rock base coupled with instrumental dexterity, were one of the bands that sound tracked my life.
I first heard Don’t Fear the Reaper whilst in the Sixth Form. The album ‘Fire Of Unknown Origin’ was a college favourite. ‘Imaginos’ was the noisiest, most “Heavy” album I possessed…
Time has taken me down a road away from their bombast and we now wave at each other as we travel. Earlier this year I heard a track Cirice from a band called Ghost. It was hook ridden, a real earworm. It starts with a simple guitar motif, then cymbals and a piano…
Then the bombastic riffing a la Cult…
The inner teenager was playing air guitar along with it. The vocals are not your typical metal screamer, but a baritone voice that was questioning , pleading with us to share their experiences. The dynamics and song structure –pure BOC, all that made them what they were, has been absorbed by this bunch of Scandinavian mystery men.
They have written a proper song, with a chorus, middle eight, simple, elegant guitar solo and a big, big drum sound. My musical interest was engaged. Time to utilise a tool my teenage self could only dream about – the internet. Several clicks and a bit of research later, I find that the band are a bit of a “cult”…
They have surrounded themselves in a cloak of mystery in as much as no musicians are credited on the album, the band members are only referred to as the “faceless ones” and all wear masks on stage, except the singer, known as Papa Emeritus, of which there have already been 3. His image is that of a zombie cardinal, calling his followers to worship.
This is where the Progressive factor hits.
The band’s image is straight out of a horror fan’s psyche. The lyrics, to me are tongue in cheek, dark and ambiguous. They sing about their “Master”, and the underlying suggestion is that they are indeed talking about a fallen angel, a contrasting polar opposite to Neal Morse’s evangelical position.
Out of deference to those that take these things far more personally than me, the lyrical subject may not be to everyone’s tastes, but then “Hard Christian” rhetoric alienates as many as it delights, so approach with an open mind, this is a well crafted tuneful and accomplished collection of tunes. Yes, Tunes. That’s the thing. Beneath the imagery, the stage shows and the media baiting, it s the tunes that enable this to stand on its own merits.
Yes, their Hammer House of Horrors imagery paints a dark picture, but musically they are full of joy, bringing a guilty thrill as you listen in. Are they serious? Well, the old cliché about the Devil having all the best tunes could be wheeled out to explain the whole of this album. It’s no more likely to get me dancing around a wooded glade under a full moon than the film ‘An American Werewolf in London’ did when I was a student. It’s not scary, it’s not unpleasant, it’s just hook ridden, lyrically ambiguous rock music.
The album is chock full of songs that could have graced AOR radio in the late 70’s. There are soaring choirs layered on a rock back beat, skilful dual guitar harmony playing that reminds me of Wishbone Ash or Thin Lizzy.
Listening again, as I write this, it’s the hooks that get me, the juxtaposition of “angelic voices” as the coda of Deus In Absentia, the final track is pure Jim Steinman era Sisters of Mercy bombast.
Listen or watch the video for Circice, check them out on You Tube etc, but don’t reject them out of hand. Especially with Halloween just around the corner!
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?
Another guest reviewer to add his two penneth, Mr Gary Morley has taken the writer’s seat for this album, let’s see what he thinks…
The initial brief was to listen to the one “typical “track on sound cloud…
I accepted the mission.
The track starts with the creaking of ice and an insistent double drum kick beat, then a glacial slab of guitar…
Voices then appear from out of the mix…
Is this an audiobook? Or a play?
Neither, it would seem that this is a cross between ‘War of the Worlds’ and Public Service Broadcast style infotainment, but without the charm of the latter or the tunes of the former. The dialogue is overblown, overacted and overpowers the musical accompaniment.
Talking of which, they are going for power and majesty, and although the guitar growls ominously, the sub metal drums and the unintentional humour of the accents and hammy acting detract from what should be an intense, gripping story. The guitar carries on, regardless of any notion of progression. Is this a metaphor for the ill-fated expedition?
Even the narrative declaration of “set the sails, full steam ahead “is more “Carry on Sailor” than “True Grit”. Sorry to say that this left me cold, and not in an involved in the narrative way. I’m sure that the whole thing is more cohesive and immersive, but this failed to take me on any sort of journey apart from the one that detoured around the repeat play button…
I Felt bad being so negative when I discovered that the creator is only 19 and I’m sure that the whole thing is better than the sample, but worried that this track was chosen as representative of the whole work. So Mr Editor in chief, Martin Hutchinson sent me a file containing the whole album. I sat down, burned it to disc, placed disc in the big Hi Fi, adjusted headphones and pressed play…
This is not an audiobook; it’s not a concept album either. As far as I can tell, it’s more of a stage show soundtrack, complete with dialogue and incidental music.
The subject is one that should hook the listener and take them to the depths of the Antarctic, but it sounds as if “Pirates of the Caribbean” played a big part in shaping the vocal performances as the South Atlantic whalers sound like pirates, overacting pirates too.
The crewman that “narrates” the story confused me with his opening salutation of “Boss…”, as I’m not sure that is exactly how a crew member would address a superior officer. As the story unfolds, it seems that the crew are trapped inside the bass bins of an Iron Maiden tribute band as they rehearse.
I know people argue about what is “Prog” and what isn’t, but this is not what I call Progressive. It’s a shame as the story is one that would benefit from a more versatile musical palette. The voice acting compounds the misery as the stilted speech and cheesy dialogue take away from the tragedy it describes.
The voices are not distinct, and I ended up unsure as to who was narrating, if it was even a narration or diary readings. The balance between the music and the speech is not wide enough. So the dramatic tension is lost under power chords and intrusive drumming. Shackleton’s plight, along with his crew is sympathetically portrayed but not the bleak cold beauty of their surroundings.
The best mental picture I painted as I listened was Blackadder and his companions trapped in the trenches whilst being bombarded by enemy artillery… Bombarded is how I felt. Every crewman starts his speech with a querulous “Boss this” and “Boss that”, You’d think that a little variation could have been injected.
That’s the problem I have with this work, it’s all one pace and one dimensional. By the time Shackleton decides to try to travel to South Georgia by boat, I have been pummelled into a state of benign indifference. The constant fury of the open chording and the drumming did give me a feeling of how much the sailors were suffering, intentional or otherwise.
The narration is harrowing in its content, but I was unmoved by the acting and accents. Sadly, once you start looking for them, the issues become more glaring. At the height of the drama, the sailor declares something or other and in the course of his speech, his accent crosses the Atlantic and back again. If this was a normal concept album that would be cause of raised eyebrows, but to my ears, this is not such a beast and this emphasises the distance between intention and execution that I detect.
The climax of the album, the survivor’s desperate journey is portrayed with more guitars riffing and a sound effect that I think is supposed to be the skies, but the tension is ruined by the cheesy dialogue:-
Sailor #1 “how long have we been marching for?”
Sailor #2 “About 22 hours “
Sailor ~1 “can we take a break for a little bit”
Sailor #2 (sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger) “Yes, but only for a little while”
They sound as if the hardship was a minor inconvenience rather than the appalling march to survive. The narrator tells of how they slept in shifts, as if they all slept at once, they’d probably never wake.
The improbable continues with a discourse about a whistle that may or may not have been heard. I’m not surprised they couldn’t hear it – those bloody guitars drown everything out! The musical ebb and flow that I was expecting to enhance the story is sadly lacking
The final speech about Shackleton finding relief descends into cliché as he asks whether the war is over and the rescuer tells him that the world’s gone mad but he can borrow a ship…
The final episode when he returns to collect his crew stranded on Elephant Island should be emotional and uplifting, but the sailor insisting on addressing him as boss makes it sound like they’d merely missed the works bus.
The end piece talks about Shackleton’s legacy, his life after the rescue and sad death at an early age. All very inspirational but ultimately sterile as I failed to connect with the story, there is no feeling of closure here as the narrative seems to just peter out and the guitars continue for a few minutes then they too admit defeat and call it a day.
According to the website, the architect of all this is only 19, and in that respect then this is quite an achievement. However, although I could not have approached such a project and achieve anything like this, the end product is caught between worlds.
It doesn’t work (to me) as a piece of music as it lacks variety of both pace and invention. Equally, due to the cheesy dialogue and voice acting, it doesn’t work as a dramatic piece either.
It may be that I’m the wrong person to review this as I’m not that familiar with audio books or musical theatre which is what this seems to be a synthesis of. I’ll stick to reading books and listening to music, as this attempt to combine the two fell on deaf ears and blinkered eyes.
Trained Engineer, former Wrecka store manager, former dj, ex retail manager , early love of music garnished via Stratton longheads taking him to see Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1979. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen hundreds of bands from Acoustic Folk duos in pubs to multi platinum selling mega stars.
Best gig ever – Prince and Third Eye Girl at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Feb 2014.
Best musical experience – Attending a recording of a radio 4 program about the Waterboys, 80 fans sat feet away from Mike Scott, us on front row, then , as it was a 50th birthday treat for wifey, the whole room being led in a redition of “Happy Birthday” by her idol, Mr Scott. You can’t get better than that.
Claim to fame ( infamy more like) – Working for NJF/ Marquee at the “Six of The Best ” Milton Keynes gig and having to convince fevered Italian Genesis fans that I was not Mike Rutherford!