I love a good concept album, one where the creator takes an idea and runs with it, creating something quite remarkable in the process. I think you need to resonate with the concept yourself for it to work and, in This Winter Machine’s fourth album, ‘The Clockwork Man’, I have found a concept that really appeals to me.
“In a dystopian future mankind has perfected human cloning. From egg to adult it takes an accelerated 7 months incubation, with the clones then raised and socialised for another 2 years in huge dome covered cities, where the sun is projected onto the roof to give the illusion of outdoors, never seeing the outside world. By the time they leave they’re fully adult in appearance.
They’re bred sterile and have no rights to travel or vote or marry. There are no females. They are ‘born’ simply to take the jobs nobody wants or are condsidered dangerous (footsoldier, factory worker, mining etc). They are given pills (ostensibly to fight infection and keep them healthy but actually the pills are to keep them docile, skinny and unambitious).
Society has labelled them The Clockwork Men.“
Being a huge fan of science fiction literature since I was young, that kind of synopsis really appeals to me so we are already off to a good start. Vocalist and main man behind the band Al Winter was unsure how the band’s first proper concept album would go down with their fanbase but, after quite a few listens, I’m pretty certain they will love it. Al says that while there are eight distinct parts or tracks to the album, it should be consumed in one sitting, like you are watching a film, then you will get the most from this engrossing story. If you were lucky enough to get involved in the pre-order campaign then you also got a fantastic comic book to accompany the music.
“The protagonist (unnamed but we refer to him as TCM) has been away from his domed city for 6 months, earning a living as a street sweeper, and has a tiny bedsit above a shop in the outside ‘real’ city. He runs out of pills and rather than getting sick he finds himself becoming curious about the world outside. Restless.
A neon sign on the wall outside of his window illuminates the room while he cant sleep.
He looks at his bedside clock and its 3am. he decides to go for a walk.”
The opening part of the story is The River, a fast, urgent piece of music that introduces the concept with some rather fine guitar work from John Cook, a man who plays like symbiosis of David Gilmour and Steve Rothery. There’s a fine atmosphere created by Leigh Perkins’ keyboards which swirl around your mind. The dynamic rhythm section of Alan Wilson (drums) and Dave Close (bass) provide the glue that holds everything together and Al Winter’s vocals perfectly deliver the story at hand. I feel instantly involved in the story, the music draws you in and Al’s fine voice does the rest, there’s a section towards the end where Leigh plays a beautiful piano note over Al’s hushed tones that sends a shiver down your spine, it’s just sumptuous and when John’s guitar breaks in, oh my, it’s just brilliant. Just imagine where Marillion might have ended up if Fish had stayed and their sound had matured over the years with him as a lyricist, I’m getting those vibes from this album. Solitude, Silence And Steam opens with a pensive bassline, drums and keyboards with John’s strident guitar enforcing the mood. There’s a mysterious quality to this fine track as the keyboards envelop us in some sort of musical mist. things pick up a bit as Al’s searching vocals being and the guitar takes on a harder edge that brings to mind a touch of Gabriel era Genesis. There is a linear forcefulness to the song, like people marching in line and in time, subservient and under control, before the music takes on a calming tone and feel to it and Al’s vocal softens. The intricate songwriting and stellar musicianship is very impressive to listen to, especially John’s guitar work towards the end of the track that closes it out to perfection.
“After a short time walking in the rain, he begins to wonder how he can continue in a world that has so much but with none of it offered to him or his kind. He see’s a bar for clones thats open. Going inside he’s soon joined at his table by an older looking clone and a regular female.
The older clone tells him of a movement to gain more acceptance and fairness by force but TCM is more interested in the woman. At the end of the night they kiss and agree to meet again.”
Dave’s funky bass and John’s edgy guitar open Final Goodbye in style, this short, eloquent, piece carries on the story with Al’s vocal taking the protagonist through the next stage. It might only be a linking track but it’s aura of 80’s neo-prog is really rather good. There’s a rather funky guitar riff to open the almost Mission Impossible theme feel of the super cool intro to Change, especially the wonderful keys. The involvement of Andre Saint can be felt throughout the track but the highlight for me is the ever so impressive, and exceedingly catchy, chorus where Al gets to really open up with his vocals. Progressive rock meets funk-metal, it really grooves as it ebbs and flows and is possibly my favourite track on the album so far. A haunting, ethereal piano note takes flight in your mind as Reflections begins, the track then really takes off with a passionate guitar section and the drums and bass join in to give us an enterprising, intricate fast paced instrumental that really flows, imagine some 80’s Rush and you won’t be far away from the mark. Just sit back and let these impressive musicians take you on a marvellous musical journey. A delicately played guitar opens the ballad-esque beauty of Nothing Lasts Forever, a wistful, melancholy song where Al’s plaintive vocal plays a key part in engendering a feel of nostalgia and loss. Mention Neo-prog and you seem to get short shrift nowadays but when at its best, like it is here, it is quite fantastic and This Winter Machine seem to dip in and out of the genre at will and go full blown when Leigh’s brilliant keyboards and John’s fiery guitar take on the story. A really wonderful piece of music that touches your soul.
“A short while later they move into a small house together and at first its great and they’re happy.
After a few weeks and months he notices she’s being mocked in public for her relationship with him, and she loses her job. He also loses his. Insults are painted on their door in the night.
For her benefit, he waits til the middle of the night, packs a small bag and leaves her a note on the bedside table and leaves. He goes to join the march for better clone rights with the older guy they met at the bar.
She wakes in the morning and sees the note he left that has just 3 words – ‘Nothing lasts forever’ and in panic she runs to find him.”
The Light opens with more delicate piano and Al’s hushed vocal awash with some ethereal synth, like water gently flowing down a stream. A refined, short, song that induces a state of calm reflection and contemplation and leaves you relaxed and hopeful for the future.
“She sees him at the front of a march, standing side by side with the clone from the bar, heading towards the government buildings. The clones carrying signs and banners asking for freedom and equality. She calls out to him but he doesn’t hear or see her, and as she does the police descend on the crowd of Clockwork Men and she see’s him vanish under cloud of batons and shields. She screams. His fate unknown.”
Falling Through A Hole In The Sky,the final part of this enthralling story, begins with a gentle, flowing section where all these impressive musicians set the scene for what is to come. Al’s vocal becomes more passionate and stentorian and rises and falls with the tempo of the music as our Clockwork Man’s journey and fate reach their conclusion. John then hits us hard with a potent riff and the ever influential rhythm section of Alan and Dave ramps up the atmosphere, increasing the tension. Things really reach the heights with the stunning, lengthy guitar solo that closes out the track and this majestic and inspiring piece of work.
‘The Clockwork Man’ is modern, neo-tinged, progressive rock at its finest and most involving, perfectly created and performed by a band who have found their feet after three accomplished releases and have delivered their finest work yet. This Winter Machine now stand at the forefront of modern neo-progressive rock and can be rightly proud of a concept album that can stand the test of time with some of the best that have gone before.
Released 6th October, 2023.
Order from White Knight Records here: