London’s The Gift have created a true masterpiece with their second album, “Land of Shadows.” In fact, I believe this is my favorite prog album of the year thus far, and there have been a lot of fantastic albums released this year. Their sophomore release comes eight years after their first album, “Awake and Dreaming.” Due to various circumstances, The Gift were never able to tour after their first album, and the project as a whole was set aside for several years until founder Mike Morton decided to breathe life into the band again.
So who are The Gift? On vocals and flute: Mike Morton. Guitars: David Lloyd. Bass: Kirk Watson. Keyboards: Howard Boder. Drums: Joseph Morton (Mike’s son).
Their music is self-described as symphonic prog, but I find that it ranges anywhere from that to prog metal to Gabriel-era Genesis prog back to symphonic prog. It’s really quite a joy to listen to. The technical skill of the musicians is certainly excellent, with the guitar work standing out as being exceptional. There are echoes of 70s “golden age” guitar along with hints of more modern metal guitar. Mike Morton’s vocals are fantastic and unlike anything I have heard in progressive rock. Interestingly enough, his voice instantly reminded me of Christian singer Steve Green, which is indeed a very good thing, as Steve Green has one of the most remarkable voices I have ever heard. The interplay between the instruments and Mike’s voice is simply beautiful.
“Land of Shadows” starts off with a short, spoken word piece entitled, “I Sing of Change.” It aptly sets the stage for the whole album. The second song, “The Willows,” seems to move through several sub genres of prog throughout its 12 minutes of awesome. It starts off quiet and slow, with soothing piano, drums, acoustic guitar and Mike Morton’s haunting vocals and lyrics. At about the 3 1/2 minute mark, the song quickly delves into The Gift’s version of progressive metal. Later, it circles back around to symphonic prog and a greater focus on the lyrics. By the end of the song, it almost feels like you are listening to Pink Floyd. But, to be sure, The Gift never copy the work of other bands. Instead, they blaze their own trail in this third wave of prog.
Each track on this album is fantastic, but I particularly enjoy “The Willows,” “Walk Into the Water,” and “The Comforting Cold.” Coming in as the fourth track, “Walk Into the Water” is a song of hope. I can’t help but hear references to baptism throughout the song, both in spiritual rebirth, and physical baptism. Specifically, I believe the song references the journey one takes as they prepare to die:
Walk into the water / Throw away your fear, wash away the pain / Walk into the water / You’ve nothing left to lose, mystery to gain… Take a quick look behind at your footprints in the sand / As you wade in blind it’s time to leave dry land / And walk, walk into the water…
The contemplation of death and rebirth in “Walk Into the Water” ties in perfectly with the seventh track on the album, the nearly 20 minute long “The Comforting Cold.” This song takes the Biblical story of Lazarus and places it in the modern day. In it, a tired worker dies of a heart attack on a train, and is brought back to life by paramedics, only to wish he could have remained in eternity. The song questions whether or not someone who had just died would really want to return to life, but it also reminds us that our time on earth is not guaranteed. We aren’t promised another day, and we must be ready for the reality of death. While this sounds depressing in a Pink Floyd “Animals” sort of way, it really isn’t. Actually, it is quite the opposite, offering hope where there should be despair.
The Gift have created something uniquely special with “Land of Shadows.” This is an album that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the past several months. The hope that this album offers the listener is refreshing. Of all the albums released in 2014, I think that “Land of Shadows” is one of the best pieces of art I have heard this year. Listening to this album is like looking at a fine painting. You can listen to this album over and over again and still hear something new and interesting in it, just like you can always find something new in a good painting. From the technical musical skill, to the soaring vocals, to the haunting lyrics, “Land of Shadows” is a must-have from 2014.