I always find it baffling when some prog musicians out there seem to have found an endless well of inspiration and dish out first-rate albums as if some prog bakery (Premiata Forneria Marconi was a rather famous one!) that just keeps on giving. Between the Samurai of Prog, The Guildmaster and various other offshoots, the core members (bakers) provide a constant supply of fresh material that boggles the mind. Enter Spanish guitar maestro Rafal Pacha and drummer Kimmo Porsti from Finland as they present their sophomore album, right on the heels of last year’s intriguing “Views from the Inner World”. I like to call them ‘Northeast by Southwest’ in reference to an Alfred Hitchcock cinema classic! The hyperactive duo handle pretty much all of the instrumentation, leaving room for some excellent guest performances from past contributors, such as the incredibly talented Alessandro di Benedetti (Red Crayon and Inner Prospekt) on piano, Marek Arnold who sessions a great deal in Progland with his sultry sax, Olli Jaakkola on a variety of wind instruments, Laura and Paula Porsti as well as Alejandro Suarez on vocal work and Jan-Olof Strandberg on bass. Beautiful album cover, supreme sound and an hour of mostly instrumental magic is on the menu.

Not be confused with the King Crimson classic “Sailor’s Tale” , it is nevertheless an inspiring and beautifully evocative piece , that highlights a remarkable trio of sound partners : incredible female choir interventions, sleek flute fluttering and acoustic guitar as a springboard to a second section that adds adventure to the attitude, a musical vessel deftly navigating the waves with roiling organ runs churning up the waves, propeller drums steering the rudder out of the gale and delicate piano when the seas are calm again, sweet flute joyously in agreement. Rafal’s majestic electric guitar slices through the powerful choirs like a schooner among the whitecaps. A marvellously moving opener.

The medieval oboe opens the “Diving into Infinity”, a highly melodic folk piece that features a fragile yet seductive vocal by Laura, elegantly reinforced by some dense mellotron and piano. Then a parping synth solo dazzles by its utter simplicity and attention to the main melody, passing off the baton to Rafal’s swirling electric lead. Back and forth they go, together and apart, building up quite the vortex of sound, mostly due to the drum beast behind the kit. The opening feudal theme returns for a final curtsy.

A merry ‘dance in the sand’ piece that is “Tara’s Joy in the Beach” raises the enjoyment factor as it blends in the contrasts between frolic and reflection, terrific keyboard work on piano and synths, flutes galore, stunning acoustic guitar picking worthy of the greatest masters and a fresh disposition that can only make on smile. “The Island of Lotus Eaters” suggests a basic female vocal courtesy of Laura Porsti this time, emanating from a very British folk tradition as per the uncomplicated arrangement, though the instrumental section does sound like a veteran Genesis romp, with Rafal not emulating the Hackett or Phillips tone, preferring his own style. “Charybdis” is where my good friend Alessandro gets to shine on the piano, a sensitive rendition of the colossal sea monster from Greek mythology, here given the whirlpool interpretation and not the de facto beast. The sweeping axe solo is a heart stopping example of poignancy. The enthralling title track remains an overtly aquatic rendition of nature’s overwhelming capacity of showing both power and serenity. The reflective saxophone takes over the spotlight and brightly so, as Arnold is a true master of the brass instrument.

The obligatory epic is found in the 9 minute + “Fascination” , a full vocal from the robust Alejandro Suarez setting the stage for a panoramic romp through various stages, as the instrumental sections properly decorate the lyrics and the overall mood, raising the power as need be and then , kneeling at the altar of contemplation, (the Lake of Tears section), the exquisiteness of both the charming guitars, the honestly delivered passion of the agonizing vocals and the ecstatic sax outro are a true earful to behold.

Rafal Pacha has a song for Cadiz in “Lead, Silver and Gold”, a tribute to an ancient town that proudly maintains its rich heritage, so it is not surprising to perceive a palpable Andalusian influence, from the lilting piano motifs amid the flamenco-like handclaps. The understated drums play a huge role on giving the piece momentum that permits the sensational Pacha guitar to soar into the sun-drenched horizon.

A maritime tale without a “Shipwreck”?  Of course, that cannot happen!  This miniature epic once again underlines the numerous twists and turns that befall any adventure, on land and especially at sea. At times, quiet waves of apparent calm underscore the fickle nature of the sea, where woodwinds emulate the gentle breezes to perfection, and then suddenly, ominous disturbances confound the peace with gusts of gale forces, here portrayed by the electric guitar/drum onslaught, as the pace becomes very grey and blustery, insistent, and overpowering in almost King Crimsonian terms (coincidently, sounding like the heavier parts of Islands).

This thrilling album comes to port with the pier in sight thanks to the sublime “House of the Light”, a surely most iconic image of that beacon of succor amid the vast eternity that dominates our blue planet. Sensitively sung with one of the most gorgeous melodies heard this year, adorned with a variety of detailed sonic ornamentation, superb playing by all concerned and expertly arranged in guiding the way to the ultimate finality.

This is one of those albums that come really across as a mesmerizing book in melodic form, you cannot and should not satisfy yourself to listen to only one chapter! You might find yourself floating in the coldest water without a life vest and no flare gun. A titanic mistake.

5 marine reflections