Album Review: Isildurs Bane & Steve Hogarth, Colours Not Found in Nature

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.

IB features:

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
Additional Musicians:
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.

“We Come Together”: An excellent review of a Marillion Weekend

I came across this wonderful review of what attending a Marillion Weekend is like, when the band plays 3 nights in a row, each with a different setlist and theme.  It perfectly captures what it means to be a fan, and what a privilege it is to be at a Marillion live show (or three, if you’re lucky).  I wish I had written it myself.

Pre-order Marillion’s 18th Studio Album

The band that brought us crowdfunding has partnered with PledgeMusic to launch the pre-order campaign for their upcoming album, to be released in early 2016.  The campaign began today (September 1st) and fans can pre-order everything from an mp3 download to the “ultimate signed edition” (I managed to restrain myself and ordered something in the middle).  Fans who order before December 1st can have their names printed in the album credits.

Benji Rodgers, Pledgemusic’s President and Founder, cited Marillion as an influence in the formation of PledgeMusic in 2009:

“Partnering with Marillion in 2015 is an incredible honour for me personally and for the team at PledgeMusic. Their pioneering approach to direct-to-fan was both and inspiration and a guiding light for PledgeMusic from business plan to launch and beyond and we could not be more excited to have them as part of our story.”

Unfortunately, we don’t get any previews of new music quite yet, but fans who pre-order get an all-access pass to any teasers or videos the band posts as the album comes together.  Following the album’s release, Marillion plans to tour North and South America in 2016.

You can pre-order here at PledgeMusic and watch the band’s recent interview on their decision to return to the crowdfunding model.


Thank you, Marillion.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege (I don’t use that word lightly here) of attending Marillion Weekend in Montreal, Canada. For those who aren’t familiar with the weekend conventions, the band play three straight nights, each with a different setlist and theme.

Friday night featured the Anoraknophobia album in full, plus a few extras. There was a well-intentioned attempt to open the weekend with “Montreal,” a love letter to the city and its fans, but a blown fuse in the venue cut the performance short. (Not to worry, we eventually heard it during Sunday’s encores.) Unfazed, the band returned to the stage after a few minutes and launched into “Between You and Me.”

Marillion weekend joy

In my experience, Anoraknophobia is an album best enjoyed with headphones on a quiet evening, so it doesn’t exactly make for the best live album. Still, “Separated Out” and “If My Heart Were a Ball” were obvious standouts. The encore performance of “This Strange Engine” was one of the highlights of the weekend, as Steve Hogarth’s final lyrics – “is true, is true” – rang through the venue long after the lights came up.

On Saturday, the band performed the entirety of Marbles, probably the most beloved album from the Hogarth era. And unlike Anorak, nearly every song on the album lends itself perfectly to a live show. After the opening performance of “Invisible Man,” I looked around the venue and saw people literally holding their heads in disbelief, still in awe at a song they had likely heard hundreds of times. And it went this way for most of the night, from “Ocean Cloud” to “Neverland.”

It’s no exaggeration to say that everything – lights, sound, atmosphere – is in its rightful place at a Marillion concert, and the Marbles night showcased this perfectly. At the end of the show, I remarked to friends that the band’s lighting tech (whose name I embarrassingly can’t recall)* truly gets every song. The performances are as visually striking as they are transcendent.

On Sunday night, the band returned to fan favorites with a “charting the singles” theme that reached all the way back to 1982’s “Market Square Heroes.” I snuck a look at the setlist from the band’s earlier conventions in Holland and the UK, so I knew what songs were to come, but it was obvious from the reactions in the room that many other fans had waited to be surprised. As the band counted up the years from “Garden Party” and “Kayleigh,” they revisited a few rare tracks: “Sympathy,” “These Chains,” and the alternate, more hopeful version of “The Great Escape.”

The Sunday night show confirmed what I suspect those of us in attendance already knew: how deeply personal much of Marillion’s music remains to the fans, as long as 30 years after first release. As the crowd continued singing the last lines of “Easter” – “forgive, forget, say never again” – well after the song had ended, it was obvious that all of us in the room, band included, felt and appreciated the truth of those words.

Even weeks later, all I can think of is how grateful I am – grateful to Marillion for revealing elements of the human experience that are so often lost and obscured, and for helping us to remember that such experiences are still there to be had.

Edit: Marillion’s lighting designer is Yenz Nyholm, who deserves serious recognition for the lighting production. 

Marillion Christmas Album

Every year, Marillion release a Christmas song exclusively to fan club members.  Some are goofy (see last year’s Carol of the Bells video), but it’s always a treat to get the latest Christmas release.  This year, the band compiled several of these songs in A Collection of Recycled Gifts, available for purchase at  I’ve always loved their take on “Gabriel’s Message”:

You can get the album here. £1.00 from each CD sold will go to The Teenage Cancer Trust.

Discovering Vanden Plas

A progarchy confession: I’m not a big fan of progressive metal. I think bands like Dream Theater and Opeth are downright impressive musically, but their albums aren’t ones I often return to. I rarely find myself “brought home” by prog metal, the way that the best (more recent) offerings of Anathema seem to place everything around (and within) me in perfect balance. Give me the sonic and soulful perfection that is Marillion’s Brave over the collected virtuosity of Dream Theater any day.


But as I’m quickly discovering, exposure to excellent bands and new prog genres is one of the great benefits of citizenship in the Republic of Progarchy. So far, I’ve fallen for The Reasoning, a band that rightly gets a lot of love on these pages. And more recently, Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld (Path 1) by the underrated German prog metal band Vanden Plas, a concept album where the virtuosity of Dream Theater meets the storytelling of Marillion — compelling, personal, and one of the best prog offerings of the past year.




Vanden Plas features Stephan Lill (guitars), Torsten Reichert (bass), Andy Kuntz (vocals), Andreas Lill (drums), and Gunter Werno (keyboards), a lineup unchanged since 1986. For Chronicles, the band teamed up with German author Wolfgang Hohlbein (a self proclaimed fan) to interpret his Netherworld novels for the stage. The concept is perfect for prog: a mortal protagonist caught in the apocalyptic battle between heaven and hell, each track revealing one of his “visions.” Its themes are at once cosmic and human, haunting and hopeful. The perennial themes of darkness versus light, good versus evil never seem tired. They get reimagined track after track, complimented and heightened by dynamic musicianship. Between heavy guitar riffs, spoken word, and stunning vocals, the album perfectly balances the intensity of prog metal and moments of deliberate – and startling – restraint. Everything in its rightful place. Listening to this album, you can’t help but feel that Vanden Plas has focused more on revealing, uncovering something true than creating anew.


Dissecting Chronicles track-by-track seems all wrong; this is truly a narrative album. Chronicles displays the unique power of prog music to pull the listener into its own horizon. By the album’s end, we stand on the precipice between blinding beauty and darkness, grateful to Vanden Plas for bringing us there.

Marillion: A Sunday Night Above the Rain – Review

When I think of Marillion, the first image that comes to mind is sincerity. It was the band’s sincerity that grabbed me the first time I heard “Afraid of Sunlight,” a nearly 7-minute story of celebrity and self-destruction that nonetheless ends with an invocation to hope, and again when I stood in the audience at the band’s weekend convention in Montreal last year. Lead singer Steve Hogarth likes to introduce the autobiographical “This Strange Engine” with the claim that the song is “perfectly true” – a sentiment that in fact captures all of what Marillion does and is. 

ImageThis is where the band’s latest live release, A Sunday Night Above The Rain, succeeds – it reveals the sincerity that has come to define Marillion. The live release is the band’s third installment from the 2013 “Weekends” in Holland, England, and Canada, and features Sunday night performances recorded at both Montreal’s Theatre L’Olympia and Centre Parcs, Port Zelande. The band performs their 2012 studio album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, in its entirety, interspersing the more recent tracks with other songs from their 30+ year catalog. From the opening 17-minute prog epic, “Gaza” it’s clear that the audience is in for something special. When Hogarth cries “it just ain’t right” for the children of Gaza, you believe him. As the band moves into “Montreal,” you can’t help but note their admiration and appreciation for the city and its fans. And when they reach “Neverland,” a highlight of every Marillion show, the mood in the room borders on transcendent.  

The setlist showcases the band’s unique reimagining of prog music, weaving narratives and odd time signatures with contemporary rock elements in “Power,” Beatles-esque riffs in “Lucky Man,” and soaring, melodic guitar solos in “The Sky Above the Rain.” The lights and screen projections succeed in creating an atmosphere and story appropriate to each song, but also to the whole of the experience, elevating fans “above the clouds” if only for a few hours. When the camera pans to the audience, expressions range from joyful to dumbstruck. And the band themselves, having seen this in one form or another for more than 30 years, nonetheless seem genuinely surprised by it all. Every time.  

A Sunday Night Above The Rain brings those 30 years into a pitch-perfect two and a half hour distillation. From the abject power of “Gaza” to the tongue-in-cheek-I-forgot-the-lyrics-again “Garden Party,” any fool can see the bond that has grown between the band and its fans. And watching the show unfold, it is easy to see why.