Retreat from Moscow return in 2023 with their second album ‘Dreams, Myths and Machines’, the album follows on from the January 2021 release of their superb debut album ‘The World As We Knew It’, a record that was 40 years in the making.
‘Dreams, Myths and Machines‘ was forged over the past three years by original band members John Harris (guitar, vocals, keyboards and flute), Andrew Raymond (keyboards), Tony Lewis (bass) and Greg Haver (drums and percussion) with special guests Robin Armstrong of Cosmograf, Andy Tillison of The Tangent, Pete Kirby of Skylines and American vocalist Jillian Slade.
The album draws on themes of Welsh and Greek mythology, dystopian futures, social anxiety and colonial whitewashing and had a complex gestation during 2021 and 2022, with Haver recording behind the closed borders of New Zealand. With co-producer Clint Murphy (Enter Shikari, Thunder, Two Year Break) at the helm, the album was created in a variety of recording environments, including the legendary Rockfield studios in Wales. The band and team have taken their time and embraced varying themes, while pushing the boundaries of their extended compositions, adding to their musical lexicon.
“Retreat From Moscow’s first album ‘The World As We Knew It’ was the band looking back to our early days at the turn of the 1980’s, retracing our youth and memories through the songs. ‘Dreams, Myths and Machines’ is the band embracing our present and the lives we’ve led”, says New Zealand based drummer Greg Haver. “The new album is an exciting blend of stories past and present framed within the RFM prog rock soundscape” explains the band’s vocalist and guitarist, John Harris.
There’s a definite feel of 80’s Marillion about this release along with hints of the classy, educated pop/rock of It Bites, a superb coalition of sounds that delivers the band’s own inimitable sound, if you’ve heard the band’s debut release then you will recognise this immediately. In John Harris they have a very distinctive vocalist, his voice is all soul and gravelly, whisky soaked vowels at times and I, for one, really like it.
When writing long songs, you really have to be skilled to make sure there are no lulls or pointless sections just to extend the length of the track and Retreat From Moscow are real masters of this. From the upbeat, lush tones of opener Saving California with its driving guitar and rhythm section and the swirling keyboards and high energy feel of Flowerbride, there’s an instant connection with this release. It harks back to the time when music was heard in analogue and you waited for the Top 40 on the radio (or Top Of The Pops if you were lucky enough to won a TV!) to hear the best music and, if you were old enough (or not, if the case may be!), you would actually venture out and hear music live! This album is the sound of nostalgia to me, maybe I’m showing my age but I love it.
As most of you know, I’m an avid runner so a song with the title of Running Man is going to appeal, even before I’ve heard it! This short and punchy song is dynamic and melodic in equal measure with superb keyboards and elegant guitar and the bass and rums of rhythm section Tony Lewis and Greg Haver are rock solid. Things get more intricate with the sombre I Can Hear You Calling, an emotive track where Jillian Slade shines as the foil to John’s ever impressive voice. It’s a song full of sentiment and barely held back sorrow but there’s beauty in even the darkest of subjects and this piece of music delivers like watching the rain fall while sat in front of a warming fire. Windchill sees the appearance of Robin Armstrong whose wonderfully fluid and intensely passionate guitar adds layers of warmth and sentiment to a gorgeously wistful and poignant song. As I get further into this superb release I am ever more impressed by the skill on show and the eloquent songwriting and it is completely evident on this exquisite track.
Time is really flying and yet we’re only half way into this immersive album, the laid back intro to Time Traveller almost leaving you in a musical vacuum as the soundscape touches your synapses before John’s edgy guitar kicks in along with harmonised vocals. It’s all very 80’s and done incredibly well. I’ve mentioned nostalgia before and the wistful feeling that this thoughtful music engenders really does take me back to a time where everything felt much simpler to deal with. It’s easy to just lose yourself in the music, especially the very Floyd-esque section half way through the song. The Machine Stops is, perhaps, my favourite track on the album (although I do keep changing my mind as they are all so good!), it’s soulful and inventive and features one of the most innovative keyboard players alive today in Andy Tillison and he delivers one of his trademark solos here, as well as organ embellishments. The song itself builds gradually, layer by layer, inviting you in to the creative process and enveloping you in its warm musical embrace. This insightful musical journey ebbs and flows and is never less than engaging, especially when it reaches a crescendo and goes firing off on all its metaphorical (keyboard infused) cylinders. When progressive music is as good as this, it really doesn’t get any better and I could listen to tracks like this all day.
Oh yes, we are going right back to the heyday of 80’s neo-prog with the highly enjoyable Assassin’s Cloak, a track that would have graced any album from the prog luminaries of that age but, more importantly, one that’s bang up to date in production qualities and delivery. To me, it’s one of the highlights of what is already a highly impressive release. With superb vocals, potent musicianship and energetic enthusiasm to spare, it really is a magnificent romp. The album closes with the electronic edge of DNA, a thoughtful, penetrating and astute homage to the discovery of the chains of human existence. With its measured, metronomic rhythm laid down perfectly by Tony and Greg, Andrew’s delightful keys and John’s stylish guitar and vocals, this is progressive rock at its most penetrating, add in the voice over from Drew Berry and we really have something very special here.
What was that saying about difficult second albums? Well, with ‘Dreams, Myths and Machines’, Retreat From Moscow have totally debunked that myth. Intelligent, insightful and thoughtful and sprinkled with progressive rock stardust, it is a wonderfully immersive listen. There you go, in this case, nostalgia definitely IS what it used to be!
Released 18th August, 2023.
Order the CD from Gravity Dream here: