The Rogue needs to immediately correct a massive injustice, putting all pretenders for review on a temporary hold, before being unceremoniously hauled in front of the PROG chief justice and condemned to listen only to all the Magma releases for the rest of my hellish life! Especially in view of the fact that the proof of my sins is damning as I own and love all the ESP Project albums as well as the offshoot 22 Layers-Isotope effort but never had the intelligence to devote some words of praise for this enterprising progressive unit!
Tony Lowe is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist and producer, having worked with a long list of recognized names such as the Pet Shop Boys, Modern English, B-Movie, Visage, Bram Stoker, David Cross among many others. On Phenomena (2015), Tony hooks up with vocalist Peter Coyle, bassist Pete Clark and drumkit maestro Mark Brzezicki (Big Country, Midge Ure etc…) as well as pianist Richard Smith on one track. Get ready for exactly one hour of delirious exploration.
“God of Denial -The Code” is an eight-minute romp that sounds cleverly like Tears for Fears gone full on prog with lushly orchestrated keyboard structures, prosperous drums, wrapped in an unctuous melody with velvet smooth vocals. A plaintive middle section becomes dreamy with organ flourishes, pinging synths, dense mellotron sketches and a relentless percussive propellant, before a perfectly built neo-classical finale comes to the appropriate conclusion and brings down the curtain.
The modernist sheen of “Algorithm” and its repeated ‘21st century cyborg” lament is both a cry for salvation as well as a plea for some kind of simpler life, with Peter Coyle really pushing the envelope. A bulldozer drum pattern with monster truck wheels steer the arrangement with thumping precision as befits ‘the machine’, as overbearing keyboard windstorms the parade. The final drum percolations are stupendous.
The title track offers another fully developed melody with the sweetest tone, kept in check with that impeccable drumming that Mark is known for (a true student of the Bonham big sound), a meandering mid-section delves into a psychedelic astrophysical analysis of solar rays, explaining the title, before a rabidly growling organ leads the rhythm section cack to full throttle, cymbals splashing like dolphins at play. Epic, cinematographic and eclectic with a truly involved passion and impeccable delivery.
The drum locomotive kicks in with a solid jazz-rock groove on the e-piano, adding organ rushes and biting guitar, as well as bopping bass flirtations, all seeking to illuminate the rampaging “Ride Through Reality”. The choral voice further adds to the flickering sense of speed. Diverging into cosmic realms of psychedelic melancholia not far from the early Porcupine Tree musings, “Smiling Forever” is garnished with loads of whispered vocals, gargantuan mellotron phases and a scintillating guitar spiral that leaves one trembling in the dust. Piano provided by Richard Smith. This is a killer track as well.
Rekindly fond images of a Genesisian foundation, the mellotron drenched “Butterfly Suite” has that unmistakable flute patch that emits a floating surrealism, as if in a sonic bubble had urged the caterpillar to morph into a freedom-bound monarch. The keyboard, bass and guitar work are all off to charts, expertly extended into a long instrumental presentation, and not to mention again the remarkable drum work, straight out the Phil Collins textbook, circa Trick of the Tail. The dreamy “Sensual Earth” further propels the progression into a rousing chorus that seeks to ‘pierce the soul’, the pained yet silky voice utterly convincing and somehow comforting with a skin-deep connection between the body and the sun. Then comes a deliberate slowed down tempo as if to recalibrate the arrangement into a lingering sense of ecstasy, but hurriedly re-booted by a trilling synth solo that evolves into a majestic blow out. Speechless.
Flung back mercilessly into the future, the insistingly electronic wildness of “Gunshot Lips” offers a hurried urban hustle and bustle, Peter Coyle’s voice suitably hushed and the trembling guitars and overbearing keys teeming with energetic electricity. The mood is dark and hysteric, as expressed by a psychotic electric guitar burst and echoed vocals galore. Just like with lips, there is a second layer that revisits the nighttime fury and the gloomy paranoia, eventually spiralling into a completely controlled frenzy, a manic voice seemingly asking “Are you gun shy?”.
Finishing on a more positive note, perhaps even signalling relief of some kind, the swooning delicacy of “The Ballad of Broken Hearts” is eminently attractive after such a long run of melodic brilliance. The track serves to crown this masterful achievement with the correct amount of classy melodic significance, with just a hint of sorrow as the synthesizers whip up a torrent of emotions. The impeccable symphonics are really a highlight, continually elevating the density of the content, tossing in intelligent variations that strut along into ambient and murky sonic territories, only the steadfast beat keeping the course on target. Coyle’s vocals are extremely enjoyable throughout.
Needless to state, the production and sound are pristine, a worthy follow up to the wonderful debut Invisible Din that got me ‘hooked, lined and sinkered’ in the first place. I will review that one as well pretty soon.
5 Shining Sheets