These Scottish veteran musicians released “The Source” in 2017, an excellent debut album that set the foundation for a huge upgrade on their sophomore 2023 work “Once Around the Sun” , a thoroughly engaging set of songs that did the rounds in the progressive circles, with both radio and critical praise. The arrival of Martin Haggerty on that second album certainly elevated the overall sound and this July 5th release should put the band over the top with well deserved recognition. With guitarist Renaldo McKim, keyboardist Mike Baxter, David McLachlan and Alex Smith on the drum kit, this quintet will impress the often fickle prog collective. Thank you, Anne-Claire Rallo of Bad Dog Promotions, for the heads-up copy!
Proof lies in that quintessential bold step of kicking off a new recording with a nice juicy epic “Fight the Hand That Bleeds You” , a brave 10 minute plus concoction that sets the ground rules for the next hour of sonic entertainment. The unmistakable throttle of the Hammond boosts the pulsating acceleration as Martin bemoans the current political plague of ineptitude in both the UK and the EU, elitist leaders who have little regard for common sense. McKim and Baxter fill out the aural canvas with colourful add-ons without resorting to ostentatious technical pirouettes, as exemplified in the sombre mid-section dripping with pathos and despair, profound melancholia and tired frustration. The bass takes a little romp around the neighbourhood, deepening the sorrowful atmosphere. When will peaceful coexistence prevail? Ad nauseam, we all hope for some kind of resolution! The right is never right and the left veered into the same silliness, they are sadly now undistinguishable.
“Morpheus ” offers a gentler lilt, ringing guitars, piano twinkling and a heroic vocal, with generous doses of backing voices, and Martin displaying a charming tone that is most appealing, with a slight hint of Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), filled out by a fluttering jazzy guitar that swirls with aplomb. A superb piece of melancholic beauty. That overall feel of sadness continues on the piano-led innocence of ” Life” , a ‘seeking solace’kind of tune, with clever lyrics and straightforward instrumental accompaniment, the focus clearly on the melody and the passionate vocal expression. As the arrangement progresses, the tempo expands into a higher level of urgency, the piano expressing the theme with majestic insistence, driving the emotion deep into the soul.
Titanic swaths of raunchy guitar, pushed with a thumping beat and a lurking bass undertone, “Sand” ratchets up the crackle with a rocking display, bombastic and overpoweringly epic, with a sense of ‘too late to slow the hands of time’, as everything seems to be spiralling out of control, an ovine cell-phone centric humanity that relies on depression and insomnia to get by each and every day, a constant struggle.
The massive “Shadows” is a well planned 11-minute pivotal behemoth, not as a countermeasure to the preceding folly, but rather a reminder how relationships continue to fail under all the constant pressure. A sad song, with reflective memories at the forefront, with poignant lyrics such as ‘even though the fire burns low, the embers of our love still glow’ . Gulp! Bass flutter not withstanding, the candles shiver in the wind. This has an almost classic the Strawbs feel, particularly when the symphonics kick in, the electric guitars glitter like gilded dust and the voice exalts in utter manifestation. Absolutely genius!
This segues nicely into “The Arc (Life part 2)”, a timeless lament on ‘where have the years gone’, a blink of an eye and all has passed, a wholeheartedly sung chorus with tingling guitar and a woozy synth motif, a little hint of vintage China Crisis (I know, this 80s focus is alarming but quite true nevertheless).
The brooding, doom-laden “Moscow” is a devastating condemnation of the ongoing folly of one man’s unacceptable desire to rebuild an empire that he witnessed collapsing in Dresden in 1989, a year when rejoicing in freedom was the common currency for those tearing the metal curtain apart. The music is assuredly dense and threatening, synthesized missiles and riff artillery pummeling their ‘own’ people into fiery submission. Young Russians and Ukrainians shoved fanatically into the meat grinding war machine, ‘a world in flames, torched in your name’. Immediate cease fire, please.
“Empty Shore(Life part 3)” certainly espouses a sense of finality, not just for this album’s run but also for the current state of global affairs with the human condition in peril. The lyrical content mirrors the fatigued vocals. Aren’t we better than this? Can we not learn to live together respectfully? Must we compete constantly with aggressive ignorance? Is apathy and endless opinion mongering the new religion? Love once prevailed, it can do so again!
The repetitive melodic message is there for us to follow. We all need and deserve to live an ordinary life. Easily among the very top albums of 2024 up to now!
5 persistent grounds.