This consistently first-rate Birmingham UK prog band is back again with a new 2023 release called Sanctuary, featuring drop-dead beautiful cover art, superb initial reviews (yes, Lazland) as well as a return to the roost for lead vocalist in Linda Odinsen, who was featured on the brilliant New World album, as Rosanna Lefebvre has departed after shining on both the Solitude and Aura albums. The core of the band has remained loyally intact with founders Adam Gough and Dave Curaton leading the crew of bassist Christian Nokes, drummer Tim Wilson and sax/flute maestro Luke Shingler. This is their seventh studio album, and since I have all of them, I can unhesitatingly state that this just might be their crowning achievement, with nine scintillating tracks to enjoy to the max.
The atmospheric premise on “Outside” is phenomenally displayed on the Youtube video, whereby the cover is rarely the book, as human nature often demands defensive postures when dealing with the vagaries of diverging characters, who may or may not be wolves in sheep clothing. This contrast between the outward confidence protected by an armoured suit, only to hide the inner angst and the frailty of one’s soul is what makes this album tick. The arrangement thus navigates the serenity of appearance with a plaintive Spanish guitar, peaceful percussive effects as Linda initially epitomizes frugality or prudence. Spurred on by the crunching guitars, a tyrannical bass line and some concussive drumming that safeguards the delicate core, the voice swerves into intuitive intensity. As befits the alternating balance of our destinies, the musical shift back and forth between the inside and the outside is expertly portrayed, until the ultimate capitulation of fate. Blistering opener.
Within the urban chaos of light and sound, “Running” is perhaps an apt description of our daily routine, as Linda gently expresses her disillusionment in the more serene moments, only to wail on right through the transition to the gruesome scourge of the tectonic drums, furious synth slivers and Dave’s wicked electric guitar forays. As Lazland stated “Extremely impressive stuff” indeed! The huff and puff video is cool as well.
As our ‘New World’ continues on its merciless path of waging futile war and hurling unspeakable tragedy upon innocent populations that also include children, “Sanctuary” will certainly come across as ‘a propos’, much to our collective chagrin. The focus is clearly crystallized on the tragic atmosphere emanating from Adam’s various modern keyboards excursions, while Dave’s vicious leads and lethal riffs display the fury of assault and destruction. Again, the video will highlight the sad reality.
The epic grandeur of the nearly 9 minute long “The Child” keeps the fatalistic and nightmarish theme rolling inexorably, a sonically wider platform for the instrumentalists to stretch their talent to even more overt progression. A majestic piano sets the tone, rivulets of ivory tinged notes upon a desolate stage where Linda’s scintillating voice glimmers in the cold, an acoustic guitar flurry expands on the solitude expressed, as the orchestral keyboard aura reveals the virulent guitar attack, revelling in the inherent sadness as the twirling violin vortexes into the unseen space above. The pizzicato strings amid the sound effects is just a precursor for taking a return plunge into the abyss, where the gargantuan orchestrations pack a hurricane force wallop. Fittingly, what better choice than a mournful cello outro to, sadly perhaps, become an adult. This is one hell of a fabulous track that deserves to be heard at infinitum.
As we all kneel, hoping for some respite, “Close By” appears as a soothing appeasement of the sense, a focus on the innocence of childhood in a garden of flowers, with a loving mother watching unwaveringly over her child. This is a crushingly ravishing theme sung to absolute perfection by Linda, guided along by an ornate grand piano accompaniment that is both stately and heroic. It may just bring one to tears.
Cinematographic soundscapes are to be found on “Airborne”, a fluttering piece infused with Dave’s aerial whisper, combining in duet form with Linda, floating along with a churning Floydian organ undertow. And true to the contrasting, even colliding, propensity to swerve from one sonic extreme to another, the rage is followed by contemplation and freedom replacing anger. When the buzzsaw guitar slashes across the arrangement, with its dive-bombing sirens screeching menacingly, the hunker downed heart begins to beat uncontrollably. What a, err…. Blast!
Another ostentatious epic on the whopping “Changes”, where an opening keyboard sets the tone, with violin, flute and acoustic guitar in tow elevating the inescapable upward swinging voice into celestial realms. Linda really showcases incredible mastery in her delivery, as the final vestige of the stormy turbulence is willed into disappearing forever more. The uncompromising bombast is favourably symphonic, as the reptilian bass slithers between the cannonading drum thuds and a most definite sense of a paroxysm is at last attained. I need a nap.
Now that I have woken up refreshed, “Sunshine” slips through the curtained windows, highlighting the conflicts between the glowing rays and the shadows hidden behind the blinds, as the see-saw riffing raises the thunder that still seeks to rule in the distant horizon. The instrumental section is mentally deranged, as each lead instrument takes a turn: the viper guitar rant and the rattlesnake violin express their venom while the cobra saxophone finds the antidote. A sensuous acoustic guitar embraces the piano chords with loving attention, as it leads the listener to the gloriously radiant promised land, stamped with a delectable guitar solo for the ages. Free at last!
The past is the past, the future will be what it is destined to be. In the meantime, today is today and the lesson learned would be that we “Won’t Be Afraid” any longer, because “whatever it takes, we will survive”. This is a fitting farewell, auspicious advice to be found in the graceful and hopeful lyrics, as “the darkness descends”. In this criminally judgement-laden world, apathy, fear, and depression should not be the rulers of our spirit. While it may sound corny for all the naysayers, love, respect, and harmony ARE what makes this blue planet orbit the sun, as it majestically spins along for eternity, showing us the way.
5 Planetary Refugees