Back in 2017, a snowblower cleared off the dense white powder from the Neo-Prog highway and introduced a modern twist to the genre with a clever debut album “The Man Who Never Was”, fronted by a talented lead vocalist in Al Winter. Incorporating all the traditional IQ/Marillion characteristics with a sharper edged instrumental attack, all well blended within smartly created songs, it was certainly a most welcome surprise. The 2019 follow-up “A Tower of Clocks” was equally a terrific offering, though it did reveal a penchant for retooling of personnel which continued with “Kites” (in 2021). It seems that every 2 years, TWM needs to redefine its components with new innovations, much like a Formula One racing team constantly searching for a higher level of performance. Having retained the rhythm section of Dave Close and Alan Wilson surely settled all the suspension issues once and for all, as the only alterations this time was the incorporation of guitarist John Cook (tires) and keyboardist Leigh Perkins (chassis), assuredly resulting in better road adherence and improved aerodynamics. The 2023 season introduces the shiny new prototype “The Clockwork Man” and it’s a chequered flag, definitely podium, anthems and champagne baths galore!

As the green light flickers to launch the race, the revert to an epic ignition (just like on that debut album) is a welcome evidence that this turbocharged engine is ‘cooking’ on all cylinders with the highly symphonic roar of “the River”, a nearly 12 minute masterpiece that sets the thrill factor, as the razor sharp guitar slices through the fog of impending sizzle, the sonic acceleration determined and focused, whirlwind keyboard fluttering menacingly, until the mid-section where Leigh presents a melancholic piano etude, as Al hushes with a silent lucidity , the two combining to elevate a glorious melody to heavenly heights. Guest guitarist Ade Fisher (Stuckfish) decorates further the anthemic outcome.  Great opener. Without changing gear, around the bend comes another extended piece, “Solitude, Silence and Steam”, once again showcasing the Cook and Perkins teamwork, as their commonly woven theme is relentlessly pursued, on the verge of hypnotic. This sense of floating mystery is best expressed by Al’s melancholy tone, burst by a needle-sharp axe solo, needless to say to the point! The short companion piece, “Final Goodbye” has a bass lead that adds a rabid quality to the perpetually honed guitar riff, a perfect change of pace.

Speaking of “Change”, featuring guest voice Andre Saint, the mood has now unquestionably shifted to an altogether heavier octane, overheating carburetors ablaze, shuffling gears galore, as Perkins introduces some heavy mellotron gales, slivers of whistling synths not withstanding into the bombastic mix. Intense, fiery and at times, sombre, the exalted thrill is there. The chorus is simple and darn effective as its sticks to the nodes like ill tempered oil.   Glittering piano tones resonate with finesse on the electric instrumental “Reflections”, rising in tandem with the raunchy guitar to provide a dual energy of power and melody, proving how this duo is clearly in touch with each other as well as with the expected mood. John Cook caresses his fretboard with unreal skill, both highly technical as well as deeply emotive.

A restless pant opens “Nothing Lasts Forever”, leaving the microphone in the hands of band leader Winter, whose balladeer talent is clear, singing a simple and genuine song, with a pastoral flute acting as a pied piper leading the flock into a synthesizer sound garden, obligatory axe solo weaving around the massive mellotron orchestrations, voyaging from a tune to an anthem and back to a song.

Shining a bright voice on “The Light”, a shimmering piano in tow, Winter shows off his vocal abilities in a convincing fashion, weaving an honest story. Celestial orchestration suffice. The curtain comes down on the pleading “Falling Through a Hole in the Sky”, a fitting finale lush with fatality and a certain despondence that stamps this latest venture with undeniable entertaining credentials. Expertly crafted to gradually raise the depth, tempo, and pace to a vortex, where dramatic interplay has created a crest of sound and melody that verges on explosive, all instrumentalists pitching in to raise the fever even higher. A blitzing guitar solo for the ages, kills off this tremendous track with a sonic dagger through the heart.

BTW, there is a concept theme involved here, based on a comic book by Andrew Richmond, about a dystopian society, a common theme lately in the arts, perhaps only a few weeks away from reality, by all accounts. Also Al (is for Albert and not artificial Intelligence) and Winter is a human being, if you are wondering.

4.5 frosty robots