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Trollheart 12-03-2016 02:30 PM

Racing the Clouds Home: Trollheart's Prog Rock Journal
 
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Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a Prog Head. Progressive Rock was my first love, from the time I first heard Genesis and got their double live Seconds Out album. A quick glance at my History of Progressive Rock journal will show you that. But when I first opened my main journal I wanted it to be a little more varied. If I filled it with only prog rock it would not only be boring to most people but also show that I was somewhat one-dimensional in my music, or as Frownland likes to put it, close-minded. Some might say I still am, but over the years I like to think I have broadened my musical tastes a lot. But even back then I listened to a lot of different stuff, and decided to base my journal around not just prog but everything I listened to, as well as new stuff people here would introduce me to.

So there was and is a good mix: one entry might be about Black Sabbath, the next about Kylie. I might do a review of Gustav Holst's Planets suite and follow that up with Nanci Griffith or Houndmouth. I spent time exploring Boybandland and the music of David Soul, and delved deep into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Something, in other words, for everyone.

The problem with this is that over the years my journal has become a little bloated, and now it's hard to find entries. So much of the better prog rock reviews and articles I wrote are stuck in there somewhere between the virtual pages of this massive tome, in danger of never being read again.

Which leads me to the creation of this, and my other, new journal. This one will concentrate solo on progressive rock of all shapes, with reviews, articles, features, the usual sort of thing you've come to expect from me, but exclusively prog. Don't come here expecting anything else, because you won't find it. Or to paraphrase the late Prince: if you didn't come to prog, don't bother knocking on my door. I've a journal about metal, maybe you'll enjoy that more.

I'm not setting out here to convert anyone to prog. Chances are, those who already hate it will not be swayed by anything I write, and those who like it will find a kindred soul here. It would of course be great if someone did change their mind on the subject, but it's not my aim and so if you're thinking “Okay, TH: what are you going to do to change my mind about prog rock, which I hate?” the answer is simple: nothing. I'm not here to convince anyone that prog is for you, in the same way that nobody will likely ever demonstrate to me that hip-hop or punk is the sort of music I should be listening to. As far as I'm concerned, to each his own. If you don't like prog, don't read this journal. Lord knows, I have plenty of other ones, and you may find what you're looking for there.

If you are a prog fan, then hopefully this will be a good place for you. As ever, I'm open to comments and suggestions and lively debate, but please, if you're posting, try to make sure you know what you're posting about. Pithy comments such as “prog sucks” are all very funny and clever, Batty, but they don't add anything to any debate and are ultimately disruptive. (Cue Batty's first post: prog sucks!)

Initially, the articles here will be transfers from my main journal; I'm moving all prog related material here – from this, and any other journals I may have written in – while still leaving the articles where they are. So that way, anyone casually perusing my main journal may stumble across a prog review or article they like, but here they will be able to search for them, as I will be, learning from the past, posting a fully-linked table of contents in the first post or few posts.

Question: what about progressive metal? Will I be featuring it here? Answer: most of the time, probably not, as I feel prog metal belongs more on the metal than prog side of things, and so will more than likely end up in my Metal journal. There may be occasions when, at my sole discretion, I decide to feature an album or even artiste here, rather than in the Metal journal. I may even do both! It's a tricky line to tread: is a prog metal band a prog band that has metal elements or a metal band that has prog elements? I guess I'll treat each one on a case-by-case basis and we'll just play it by ear.

So in answer to your question, I don't know. We'll see.

For now, I'll leave it up to everyone's favourite Sith Lord to put into words my feelings..
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Hmm. Let's see what we can do about that...

Trollheart 12-03-2016 02:59 PM

Table of Contents/Index

Trollheart 12-03-2016 02:59 PM

Table of Contents/Index (Continued)

Trollheart 12-03-2016 05:29 PM

If you know me, you have my sympathy. I wish I didn't know me. But if you do, then you'll be completely unsurprised at where this journal is going to go first. And how could it not? The band who showed me that there was prog life after the seventies, the debut album from whom became one of the
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Maybe it's an overstatement, a simplification or a claim that can't really be supported, but I really do believe that there have been albums down through my life which have, if not actually changed that life, certainly provided important cornerstones and turning points along the path of development for me, both musically and personally. It's that point where, as a youth, you realised that there was more to music than what came out of “Top of the Pops”, or what they played on the radio. You began to see that the fact that certain music may not have been widely popular was not necessarily an indication that it was not worth listening to; in fact, as your awareness of the huge diversity of often unrecognised music out there grew, you began to understand that sometimes it's the music that isn't generally accepted, that wasn't played on the radio, that didn't get on the telly, that was more worth listening to than the lastest chart-topper.

For me, as I would say maybe a lot of people, though this is a personal account so I can only speak for myself, this realisation and diversification into certain genres or sub-genres of music around my late teens informed my later choices in music, and set me on a road towards appreciating, and for a long time, concentrating only on one genre. Well, two really: for several years I would listen to nothing else than heavy metal and progressive rock, even though before I encountered this album I was not even aware of what prog rock was. I was into Maiden, Saxon, Motorhead, Sabbath: anything loud and anything that was outside the accepted norms. I scoffed at my brother's interest in Madness, The Specials, Spandau Ballet, and my sister's often slavish devotion to the charts. I could not understand how my best friend, may he rest in peace, could be into artistes like ABBA and Barry Manilow! Ah, with age comes wisdom, eh?

But among the first albums I owned were most of the Genesis catalogue; the very first introduction I had to what I would later realise was characterised as progressive rock was their “Seconds out” live album, and though it certainly blew my mind and had me quickly collecting the rest of their albums, I have reviewed this before, in fact it was the very first album ever reviewed in this journal by me, and I think I said all I need to say about it there. But up until this album came along, and I began to read a little publication called “Kerrang!”, I thought the music Genesis made was in the past, great as it was. I believed I was listening to music that would in all likelihood never again be made --- Genesis had by now already shattered my illusions of them by releasing the dreadfully pop “Abacab” --- and had no idea that there was a whole new revival of British progressive rock about to be born.
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Originally published May 1 2012
Script For a Jester's Tear - Marillion - 1983 (EMI)
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Preface: I have to be extremely careful reviewing this album. It may seem silly to some people, but this is quite literally the album that changed my life, musically. I never, ever heard a better debut. It was hyped to the hilt and by god it lived up to that hype! It set me on a road to appreciation of progressive rock and more structured, epic and intricate songs, gave me an appreciation for melody and instrumentation that I had been lacking, and showed me how even the vocal chords could be an impressive and effective instrument in their own right. This was more than just someone singing the equivalent of “baby I love you” against guitars and keys or whatever: this was serious, deep music that meant something! These lyrics were to be read, listened to, discussed and if possible understood, and they were the delicate brushstrokes that completed the canvas masterpiece the music painted on my mind, heart and soul.

So it will be a gushing review, but that's not entirely because I don't want to recognise or admit any shortcomings on the album: it's because I truly believe it has none. Though it's short in terms of tracks, every single one is a gem; nothing is out of place, nothing is too long or too short, every song tells a story and every story paints a picture, mostly bitter and regretful as per the title of the album. I can't praise this album highly enough. It started a lifelong love affair with the work and music of Marillion, and pushed me towards other great prog rock bands like Pendragon, Jadis, Arena, Rush, Pink Floyd, Mostly Autumn, Twelfth Night and many others, and opened up whole new vistas of musical appreciation for me.

I therefore want to do the very best job I can, and so the review will also be probably longer than usual. As there are only six tracks to get through that should not really be the case, but I want to spend the proper amount of time on each that they deserve, give them the respect they have earned, and pay back a little to this wonderful album which quite literally, changed my life, almost thirty years ago.


This groundbreaking album starts off so innocuously, so low-key it's incredible: a hushed voice declares ”So here I am once more/ In the playground of the broken hearts” while one note is sounded on the piano, a few more following it and then a short run, almost a fugue, before it stops and flute (on the synth, presumably) takes over, then bass makes its entrance before drums and guitar pound into the song, setting it finally on its way. We're now one and a half minutes into a song that runs for eight and a half, and will go through many changes before it comes to its end.

The voice, that of lead singer and frontman Derek Dick, otherwise known as Fish, gets more animated and angry now, as Mick Pointer's drums pound out the rhythm and Steve Rothery lets loose on the guitar, the whole thing charging along in a great solo until Fish comes back in and another solo, with the keyboards of Mark Kelley, who was the first musician to be heard on the album, bar Fish's almost sotto voce tones, adding to the melody and keeping everything together.

At the four minute mark, half way through, everything drops away to gentle acoustic guitar, flute and Fish's agonised vocal, bass coming in with just the barest hints of percussion and some whispering as Fish declares ”I never did write that love song/ The words just never seemed to flow”, drums thundering in as he shouts ”Promised wedding/ Now a wake!” The song then goes into what would be seen as the third part, with keys taking over the main melody, Rothery's guitar taking a little of a backseat, the faster tempo now slowing down to a dirge-like march, the guitar crying along with Fish as he sighs ”I'll hold my peace forever/ As you wear your bridal gown”, and the song drifts along sadly to its end as he asks, without any hope, ”Can you still say you love me?”

After this magnum opus, the phenomenon of Marillion well and truly launched onto my consciousness, and that of thousands of other record-buyers at the time, things get sharper and harder with “He knows you know”, opening on jangly guitar from Rothery, swirling keys from Kelley then punchy drums from Pointer as Fish lets go, giving his voice its full rein as he sings about drug addiction: ”You've got venom in your stomach/ You've got poison in your head!” Very much driven on Rothery's guitar, this song is both the antithesis of the opener and title, and could indeed be seen as a direct result or follow-on from it, as the heartbroken man turns to drugs to dull the pain.

“He knows you know” contains one of Steve Rothery's most powerful solos, as well as amazing work from Mark Kelley, and absolutely showcases in no uncertain style the often vicious, cutting, angry vocal work of Fish, as well as giving full pride of place to his incredible lyrical talent, he being the writer of all the songs, lyrics at least. It was chosen as a single, probably because it's the shortest track on the album --- just under five and a half minutes --- but though it made a decent showing in the charts it was never going to be a big hit, with its lyrical theme and its harsh vocal style. Couldn't see the sheep buying this! But then, Marillion were never about chart success, but about creating the very best music they could, for themselves and for their fans, and remaining true to their musical vision.

Nowhere is this shown better than in “The Web”, which runs for almost nine minutes, and starts powerfully, with blasting guitar chords, then settles into a sort of introspective passage, as the protagonist hides in her apartment, trying to figure out what has gone wrong with her life, afraid to move on. ”Faded photos exposing pain/ Celluloid leeches bleeding my mind” --- such lyrical genius was something I had seldom encountered before, and even then, in bands who had been doing this for years, maybe decades. Here was a band only starting out, and already showing such tremendous promise. With a clear and almost unique understanding of the human condition in one so young, Fish painted nightmare dreamscapes and lurid pictures of addiction, isolation, fear, panic and despair that just cut right to the heart, his bitter claim ”I only laughed away your tears/ But even jesters cry!” a nod back to the title track, and indeed the figure of the jester was one that would characterise Marillion for years, appearing on the cover of their first three albums.

Another powerful section where keys and guitar join to great effect, then Rothery is off on another solo, and as the song reaches its six minute mark, the character realises things must change, and after a brief laidback guitar piece as Fish declares ”Now I leave you/ The past has had its say” there's a huge upsurge and a big instrumental piece as the tempo jumps, and for the next nearly two minutes we get a keyboard solo from Mark Kelley that is a delight to the ears. Then, just when you think it's going to fade out on the keys, Fish blasts back in with a final coda and the song ends powerfully on hard guitar and swooping keys.

There's little joyful about this album, in terms of lyrical content --- though it's a true joy to listen to it --- with themes from broken love affairs, loneliness and addiction to war and suicide, but if there's a light-hearted song on it, it's “Garden party”, where Fish pokes not-so-gentle fun at the glitterati, the high society, those who live for rubbing shoulders with the rich, the famous, and the royal. Starting with a hard guitar and swirling keys intro, Fish gleefully describes the scene as ”Champagne corks are firing at the sun again/ Swooping swallows chased by violin again” and those who believe themselves the cream of society “have a really jolly time”.

“Garden party” rocks along on a really upbeat, happy melody, which mirrors the insincerity of these people who declare ”Punting on the “cam” is jolly fun!” and live their lives in a constant state of vying for position and prestige among their fellows, always trying to prove themselves better than everyone else. Great keyboard solo from Mark Kelley, and a hilarious change of lyric from Fish, where he originally grins ”I'm wining, reclining/ I'm rucking, I'm ****ing” but the word had to be changed when this too was released as a single. Great fun, and Fish's savage satire comes across really well.

Bringing everything back to earth then with a jolt is the dour, bitter “Chelsea Monday”, which tells the tale of a young girl desperate to be an actress but who is afraid to take the steps she needs to make her dream come true. Carried on a beautiful bassline from Peter Trewavas, the song conjures up images of dark, grey streets, rain-lashed bus-stops and yellowed windows, smoke from factories curling up into the ash-choked sky. Rothery's guitar whines in the background as Fish relates the tale of the ”Catalogue princess, apprentice seductress/ Hiding in her cellophane world in glittertown” who waits for fame to find her. The first part of the song is carried on Trewavas' silky bass rhythm, with splashes of colour thrown in by Kelley on the keys, and Fish's keening voice presiding over all like a dark storyteller who knows how this will end.

This is also a long song (as most of the six tracks on the album are), over eight minutes, and at the two minute mark Steve Rothery pulls off a beautiful and agonising solo which takes us really into what would again be categorised as part two of the song. This is carried on a more restrained guitar part, sparkling keys and Fish tells of how the girl would ”Perform to scattered shadows/ On the shattered cobbled aisles”, Pointer's drums pealing out like the march of Fate. Another powerful solo by Rothery takes the song to its climax, as the parent promises ”Patience my tinsel angel/ Patience my perfumed child/ One day they'll really love you/ You'll charm them with your smile/ But for now/ It's just another Chelsea Monday.”

As the song comes to its end, Fish speaks as if to a mate, not singing, talking about the tragedy of the young girl's death at such a young age. ”What a waste!” he sighs. And Rothery's guitar takes the song to its sad conclusion, cutting off suddenly as we hit the closer, and indeed standout of the album.

Fast, powerful, savagely satirical, angry, brilliant, “Forgotten sons” must surely go down as one of the best anti-war songs to have come out in the last few decades. Expressly addressing the conflict in Northern Ireland (”He'll maim you, he'll wound you/ He'll kill you for a long-forgotten cause/ On not-so-foreign shores”) it became one of Marillion's best-known and loved songs, with its acid rejection of war and hatred, its graphic depiction of life on the streets of Belfast and other Northern Irish cities, and humanising the conflict through the eyes of those who suffered through it.

Mostly carried on Kelley's deceptively upbeat keyboard melody, it's peppered throughout with stabs of sharp and angry guitar from Rothery, and a great solo about a third of the way through, where his guitar seems to be crying with the massed voices of all those who have lost loved ones over the thirty-odd years of "The Troubles". Then, everything drops away to leave only Trewavas' lonely, insistent bass, standing like a sentry on duty, for a few seconds as the tension builds. Then Rothery and Pointer hammer the point home as Fish spits out his modified Lord's Prayer, which really needs to be reproduced in full. And here it is:

”Minister, minister, care for your children!/ Order them not into damnation/ To eliminate those who / Would trespass against you/ For whose is the kingdom, the power, the glory/ For ever and ever amen!” Just to underline the point, all instrumentation stops then, and we hear a voice cry shakily ”Halt! Who goes there?” to which the creepy, hissing reply comes, ”Death!” and the soldier then breathes ”Approach, friend.” Hard-hitting is not the word. But that's nothing compared to the litany Fish unleashes as Rothery and Pointer smash back in, the song reaching its powerful climax with Kelly's organ blasting out like the accusing voices of the dead, and Fish sings ”From the dole queue to the regiment/ A profession in a flash/ But remember Monday signings/ When from door to door you dash!”

Having been so impressed with the lead single (which isn't on this album) “Market square heroes”, I was eager to see if the album could live up to its promise. I remember having listened to it the first time, and I was so gobsmacked, my breath was literally robbed from me and I lay on my bed, just completely dumbfounded, unable to speak or breathe, just static in time. I was frozen like an insect in amber, and it actually took me several long minutes before I could move or do anything. What I ended up doing was flipping the record over, putting the needle down and playing the whole album through again, the entire thing. And then a third time. I have never done that with any album, before or since.

It might seem facetious to be saying this now, in a world where such opuses are perhaps a little commonplace, where people can record their own music in their bedrooms today and be on YouTube tomorrow, perhaps seeing a successful music career in a very short time. But back then, and even now, I think such genius --- and yes, it was genius, and nothing less --- was and is in short supply. There are of course great prog rock bands now, new and old, but I still believe no one album has ever truly affected me the way “Script for a jester's tear” did, that day in March 1983, when I realised for the first time that there was the pop chart stuff I had been listening to mostly up to then, and then there was real music.

There's no way I could ever deny that this album changed my life, in ways I could never even have begun to imagine. If it wasn't for Marillion and the discovery through them of progressive rock and other genres outside that, I might never have developed the true love for music that I have to this day, and I truly believe I would be a very different person in many ways. I owe those five guys a huge debt of gratitude, one which I will never be properly ever able to repay. I hope that in some way, this review will go a little of the way towards giving them back what they gave to me, the priceless gift of appreciation of true music.

TRACK LISTING AND RATINGS

1. Script for a jester's tear
2. He knows you know
3. The Web
4. Garden party
5. Chelsea Monday

6. Forgotten sons

Mondo Bungle 12-03-2016 08:51 PM

Are you familiar with the Italian prog rock of the 70s

Trollheart 12-04-2016 05:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mondo Bungle (Post 1777725)
Are you familiar with the Italian prog rock of the 70s

Some of it, yes, and will be getting moreso when I get into that era in my History of Prog journal, but if you have any suggestions...?

grindy 12-04-2016 05:52 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Trollheart (Post 1777789)
Some of it, yes, and will be getting moreso when I get into that era in my History of Prog journal, but if you have any suggestions...?

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso - Darwin!

Mondo Bungle 12-04-2016 01:52 PM

I was gonna ask if you were familiar with Jacula/Antonius Rex, but if not I didn't wanna suggest it because it's kinda hard to get into and relatively unexciting. I'd be almost positive you wouldn't be a fan but I dunno, some really dark/occult/gothic kinda crawling atmo-prog with evil organs for days.

I have things I'd rather suggest though that you probably would like, just gotta take my mind for a jog. Some Greek ****

Trollheart 12-05-2016 08:13 AM

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Originally published in "Bitesize", October 19 2013
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The Dream Harbour - Willowglass - 2013 (Self-Released)

The first word that will come instantly to your brain when you hear the opening track from this album is Genesis: there's just no getting away from the comparisons with that wibbly, uptempo, bouncy keyboard, which takes you right back to 1973 and the very best of Tony Banks. But Willowglass has only been around since 2005, though its driving force, composer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Marshall, has been playing in bands since the early eighties. And when I say multi I mean multi: here he plays guitars (electric, acoustic, Classical and twelve-string), keyboards and bass! He's ably assisted by Hans Schmitz on drums and Steve Unruh helps out by adding flute, violin and more guitar.

It's all instrumental, so might be a little hard for anyone to get into who isn't a prog rock fan (but we love this sort of thing, don't we?) and the likes of mellotron, flute and woodwinds are prevalent all through the album. The opener is almost twenty-one minutes long too, so that will certainly do away with anyone who's not into prog. But if you take the time to sit back and listen you will hear a wealth of musical talent and gorgeous soundscapes here. Unruh's beautiful violin passages in A house of cards part 1 alone are worth the price of the album, and there's so much more than that on offer. Marshall's skill on the various guitars is virtually unparalleled in the sphere of current prog rock.

There's some nice Supertramp-style piano work going on in A short intermission then Arabic influences on A house of cards pt 2 with some really great guitar and violin and a very classical influenced approach, the tone getting a little darker. The album's over before you realise it, and it's been a hell of a journey.

Track Listing and Ratings

1. A house of cards pt 1
2. A short intermission
3. A house of cards pt 2
4. Interlude no. 2
5. The dream harbour
6. Helleborine
7. The face of Eurydice

Trollheart 12-06-2016 09:16 AM

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A few years back I attempted something pretty ambitious, and in the end impossible really. I looked at ProgArchives' top albums for that year and decided I would review them all, in order. It lasted up into the eighties I think (counting down from 100) before I had to admit defeat. This time I'm doing something a lot more realistic: picking albums at random from the list and reviewing those. Obviously, this year I'm doing 2016, so let's see what comes up.

They have only listed a total of 68 (I guess they're waiting for the year to end before finalising the list) so out of those I roll 21. That gives me this one:
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Evership – Evership – 2016

I'm always just a little wary of bands using the word “ever” in their name. There are so many – Evertale, Everfriend, Evergrey, Everon, Everwood, Everflame .. the list goes on. It seems to be one of the most popular prefixes for prog and power metal bands, conjuring up images of sword-and-sorcery, mythology and fantastic creatures. Reading up on this one however, there seems to be a pretty lavish history behind it, with composer and multi-instrumentalist Shane Atkinson having made music mostly his life during the eighties and nineties, then dropped it to concentrate on software production, at which he found himself extremely talented. The music in his head however, he says, haunted him during his success and he knew he had to get it out to the world. So making some major lifestyle changes and building his own recording studio, and indeed creating a company to finance his debut album, the Evership project was born. Ten years and more in the making, it's a little odd that the article on ProgArchives speaks of his hope that the album might be released in 2017, and yet here it is on their list, so I can only assume it made it ahead of time. Oh, I see they're talking about the vinyl album; the digital release has already hit.

In typical prog fashion, this debut album only has six tracks, with three of them broken up into suites. Even so, that's still just short of one hour of music altogether. We open on “Silver light”, with a rising guitar and orchestral sound, almost, but not quite, like an orchestra tuning up, and this stretches on for almost a minute before what I think may be theremin comes into the mix (though with the amount of instruments played here, including something that's called “experimental guitar” I could very well be wrong!) and then the vocal comes in. This really grabs your attention, a high, powerful mix of Benoit David and Justin Hayward as Beau West takes control of the song, which begins to rock under the powerful guitar riffs and insistent percussion. Apart from Atkinson and his brother, the latter of whom plays most of the guitars, there are two other guitarists here, and a full choir, so it's quite the wall of sound with yet a kind of progressive metal feel.

The opener itself is over nine minutes long, but never seems to drag, and is full of clever musical ideas, as you would probably expect from someone who has composed for film and TV for most of his life, some very seventies-sounding melodies which recall the best of Genesis and Yes, with lovely violin from Nicelle Preibe adding to the overall sonic mosaic being woven here. The next track is one of those multi-part suites, but as there are no timings shown it may be hard to know where one part ends and the next begins. The overall thing is called “A slow descent into reality”, and opens on quite Jonathan Cainesque piano, certainly more what I would call AOR than prog, but then Atkinson doesn't claim to play prog necessarily, just music he likes. After what I take to be the sound of a car crashing (Spock's Beard on Octane?) we get a more ripply piano more or less solo with the vocal, then some a good thick synth line as the vocal continues in a slightly softer vein before the keys run off on their own.

I definitely get flavours of Sean Filkins' solo album here, especially in the female backing vocals and the narrative of the song. About halfway through now and a big meaty synth line takes over before acoustic guitar joins in and the vocal returns; very Yes this, I feel. Powerful stuff. The choir adds its voice now as we head into the eighth minute and then a kind of Rushesque (circa 2112 or Hemispheres) guitar instrumental section followed by a real workout on the organ. Everything stops completely at just over the tenth minute mark as West screams ”There must be something beyond!” introducing another extended instrumental, which really allows Shane Atkinson to show what he can do on the drumkit. And so we move into the denouement of the piece, and it all fades away, after all that, very quietly and simply.

“Evermore” reminds me of nothing more than the very best of Tony Banks, especially on his solo album A Curious Feeling, and is another long track, just over ten minutes but this time only broken into two. It begins with an extended instrumental which breaks down into a single piano line as West comes in with the vocal, Josh Groban-like, very gentle but strong at the same time. Nice backing vocals too, possibly the choir although I don't think so somehow. Around the fourth minute it kicks up a gear, hard electric guitar coming in and rocking the whole thing, joined by keyboards. Sounds like my favourite, mandolin, in the seventh minute, though in general I would have to say I'm not as impressed with this as I was with the first two tracks. It's good, but somehow it just isn't quite grabbing me in the same way the other two did. “Utima thule” is also ten minutes plus, and it opens with a nice acoustic guitar with some ambient sounds, the vocal gentle and relaxed behind a peaceful piano line. Quite pastoral, and definitely the closest this album has so far come to a ballad, though with a length of ten minutes I guess it could easily change. And it looks like it's about to, as hammering percussion pulls in electric guitar and the pace is picked up.

Here's where the choir really shines, laying down a sumptuous vocal backdrop against which Atkinson plays some serious keyboard flurries before it all settles down again and Ncelle's violin takes us to the conclusion, and into the last, and longest, track we go. It's another multi-part suite, which goes under the umbrella title of “Flying machine”, and runs for just shy of fourteen minutes. A nice rippling guitar and keyboard line get us started, with angelic vocal harmonies coming in to supplement Beau West's singing, slight touches of folk about the melody. More serene violin and what sounds like uileann pipes (though none are credited; could it be the theremin?) then things begin to get more intense as we move into the fourth minute, the choir blasting out before we head into I guess the second of the three parts of the suite, opening with birdsong and muted voices and effects, distant violin and then louder, darker voices. A rising guitar pulls us in and then it's a building instrumental section up to the seventh minute, when it briefly explodes as West asks ”Are you sure it won't fall down?”, immediately followed by a soft guitar line and then expanding on the sung line and developing the theme on electric guitar with a rocky feel to it. We're now in the eighth minute.

Things slow down now on a kind of melancholy line, a certain sense of The Alan Parsons Project detectable in the melody, at least to me, and then it takes off again like the machine in the title, soaring and swooping through various instrumental passages as it heads towards its eventual conclusion. That leaves us with by far the shortest track on the album to close with, less than two minutes of the oddly-named “Approach”. Surely such a track would have been better at the beginning of the album rather than the end? As it happens, it's noting more than a sound effect really, synth or guitar feedback setting up the impression of something, well, approaching. A little disappointing to say the least.

TRACK LISTING AND RATINGS

1. Silver light
2. A slow descent into reality
(i) Everyman
(ii) A slow descent
(iii) Wisdom of the ages
(iv) Honest with me
(v) The battle within
(vi) Anyman

3. Evermore
(i) Eros
(ii) Agape

4. Ultima Thule
5. Flying machine
(i) Dreamcarriers
(ii) Dream sequence
(iii) Lift

6. Approach

I suppose I had expected, given all I've read about this guy, to be more impressed than I have been. It's a decent album and there are some really good ideas in it, and for a debut it is pretty good. I just didn't find myself blown away by it. Perhaps it's the old first-time-listen syndrome, and it will grow on me with repeated listens. If I decided to repeat the experience.

Still, a very competent album and on the strength of what's here, and given what Atkinson has sacrificed to be where he is today, I'd say it deserves its place just outside the top twenty. Definitely worth a listen. More than that? I really can't say at this time.


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