A few weeks ago, Marillion’s Steve Hogarth announced his latest project, a collaboration with Swedish chamber-rock band Isildurs Bane (IB)* titled Colours Not Found in Nature. He confessed that the last year had been a busy one. He had written the lyrics and recorded the vocals in hotel rooms around the world while on tour with Marillion. He also announced that Marillion’s Racket Records would be selling 1000 signed copies, which sold out within hours of their release. Even here at Progarchy, it took us about a week to track down a copy to review.
If the album’s immediate popularity reveals one thing, it’s the deep, unwavering affection Marillion fans have for Hogarth. I count myself in this camp, and I’m not sure I could actually dislike any musical effort that included him. Marillion fans already know what makes Hogarth so special, much of which he displays in the lyrics and vocals of this latest album.
But what this album showed me, what I assume it showed many of us who found it through Racket Records, is the detailed, intricate, classical-progressive sound of Isildurs Bane. IB formed in 1976 as an experimental rock band. Through many years and many line-ups, they’ve become a mini-orchestra, led by songwriter and keyboard Mats Johansson. Johansson met Hogarth in 2013 through their mutual friend and collaborator Richard Barbieri, and Johansson wrote the music for this latest album with Hogarth in mind, hoping the singer would join the project when he had some time.
This is an interesting, near-perfect collaboration. Hogarth brings all of the charm and passion he has with Marillion to this album, but with the music of IB, he also becomes a different artist. The instrumentation allows him to be more introspective, personal, and even playful than he has been on Marillion’s latest releases. In the upbeat opener “Ice Pop,” he laments “too cold, too sweet” as guitar, keyboard, and even trumpets carry the song. “The Random Fires” is equally lively and bright, before transitioning to the more relaxed ballad “Peripheral Vision,” which opens with voice and strings.
“The Love and the Affair” is an example of what Hogarth the lyricist does so well, using the mundane to show us the transcendent (reminiscent of Marillion’s “The Sky Above the Rain”). And in this, IB’s classical-contemporary sound fits him perfectly. The string arrangements at the beginning of “Diamonds of Amnesia” are haunting, and the album concludes with the energetic, urgent “Incandescent,” where you can hear the full range of IB’s ensemble.
I’ve been listening to the album non-stop for days, and between Hogarth’s lyrics and IB’s rich instrumentation, there is always something new to find. My only complaint is that, at 41 minutes, I wish there more.
Katrine Amsler – Keyboards, Electronics
Klas Assarsson – Vibraphone, Marimba, Percussion
Luca Calabrese – Trumpet
Axel Crone – Bass, Clarinets, Saxophones, Flute, String Arrangements
Samuel Hällkvist – Guitars
Mats Johansson – Keyboards
Christian Saggese – Classical Guitar
Kjell Severinsson – Drums
Liesbeth Lambrecht – Violin & Viola
Pieter Lenaerts – Double Bass
Xerxes Andren – Drums
John Anderberg – Choir Vocals (on The Love and the Affair)
Anneli Nilsson – Backing Vocals (on Peripheral Vision)
*Yes, I know this should be a possessive, but the band says otherwise.