Steve Hackett — Seconds Out + More, GLC Live at 20 Monroe, Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 4, 2022
Once again, Bryan Morey has beaten me to the punch with a live review of Steve Hackett. (My excuse this time: he had ten days head start on me.) Like Bryan, I was impressed with the energy and delight Hackett and his merry band projected as he returned to my hometown venue for the third time. “The weekend starts here!” he crowed to the capacity crowd (quoting the classic BBC-TV pop show Ready Steady Go) and boy, did he make good on that pitch! Hopefully without repeating Bryan’s many excellent points, a few more comments follow . . .
While I was delighted when I heard that Seconds Out would be the focus of Hackett’s show, I wondered how well it would work in concert — because Genesis never played this exact setlist in 1977! The original live album is a construct, with the music re-sequenced for maximum impact over four sides of vinyl (that year’s encore, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway/The Musical Box” was moved forward to the end of side two), excerpted from onstage medleys (“Afterglow” immediately followed “In That Quiet Earth” back then, the way I heard Hackett perform it in 2013) and even flown in from the previous tour (“Cinema Show” had been recorded in 1976 and shelved).
But arguably, those interventions are part of why this album made such an impact on both Genesis fans and the broader public over the years; as it’s endured, it’s gained stature as a balanced, thorough survey of the band’s proggiest era, with an unhurried pace and flow that gradually gains in both momentum and excitement. Which explains why the whole thing did work live, this time as a multi-course banquet of Hackett’s finest hours in his defining group. And in that light, the whirlwind trawl of Hackett’s solo career that kicked things off, informed by both the poised classicism of 1979’s Spectral Mornings and the manic energy of two tracks from last fall’s Surrender to Silence, served as the perfect appetizer.
But all that’s conceptual; what about the execution? Briefly, this was the most free and most daring that Hackett and his supporting cast have been in the four times I’ve seen him. Rather than reverentially presenting the material as if fixed in stone, the players took this music by storm; throughout the night the band consistently pushed Hackett musically — and he consistently delivered.
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisted – Seconds Out + More – Saint Louis, Missouri, April 26, 2022 Set 1: Clocks – The Angel of Mons, Held in the Shadows, Every Day, The Devil’s Cathedral, Shadow of the Hierophant (instrumental version) Set 2: Squonk, Carpet Crawlers, Robbery, Assault & Battery, Afterglow, Firth of Fifth, I Know What I Like, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, The Musical Box (Closing Section), Supper’s Ready, Cinema Show, Aisle of Plenty Encore: Dance on a Volcano, Drum Solo, Los Endos Players: Steve Hackett, Nad Sylvan (vocals), Rob Townsend (all things blown), Roger King (keyboards), Jonas Reingold (bass, twelve string), Craig Blundell (drums)
I wasn’t planning on attending Steve Hackett’s show here in St. Louis at the River City Casino. For one I couldn’t really afford it, and two I didn’t want to buy tickets months ago since I wasn’t sure if I’d still be
living in St. Louis. But a friend from church is a big prog fan, and I knew he was going. Monday night he told me he had a spare ticket, and he offered it to me! Well I sure as heck couldn’t turn that down. Thanks, Eric!
I haven’t been to a live concert since October 2019 when I saw Steve Hackett in Grand Rapids on his Selling England By the Pound tour (check out my review of that show). This tour features the same talented lineup. I have all of Hackett’s live albums from the past decade or so, and while I’ve only seen him in person with this current lineup, I think it’s the best he has had in the last decade of Genesis Revisited shows. Everyone plays so well together, and it’s clear they’re having a blast. They play like a proper band rather than touring musicians supporting a big name musician.
The band’s vibe together was quickly established in the short first set, which featured some excellent selections from Hackett’s solo career. If I had to pick five songs from his solo career for them to play, I couldn’t have picked a better set. “Clocks” was a great instrumental opener followed by “Held in the Shadows,” one of the best songs off Hackett’s most recent solo album, Surrender of Silence. Hackett’s vocals were so effortlessly smooth. This was followed up by a rousing rendition of “Every Day,” another classic from Spectral Mornings.
After that they played “The Devil’s Cathedral,” my favorite song off Surrender of Silence. Nad Sylvan was stellar on vocals, as he was the entire night. This song displays what this band can do when they make music together. I would love to hear an entire album of new music from this band, perhaps with Nad and Steve sharing lead vocals. The instrumental version of “Shadow of the Hierophant” followed – the greatest solo Hackett song that should’ve been a Genesis track. Genesis lost a lot when Hackett left. Sure they may have become the most popular pop rock band in the world, but they lost their soul.
After the intermission, the audience (which seemed to be pretty inebriated by this point – especially the four talkative blokes in front of me) was treated to the entirety of the Seconds Out setlist. Every song was brilliant. This band plays so well, and they do justice to the music. They take a few artistic liberties as they’ve done for several years now, but I think it adds to the sound. For instance some of the keyboard parts are either replaced or layered with Rob Townsend’s saxophone, and his saxophone replaces the flute in “Firth of Fifth.” He also plays Irish whistles on parts of “Supper’s Ready” instead of flute. In some ways these changes add to the music.
Nad Sylvan really stole the show on “Carpet Crawlers.” Vocals dominate that track, with the music taking a bit of a back seat, and Nad rose to the occasion with a phenomenal rendition. Nad sang effortlessly on every song, hitting all the high notes with ease. He sounds a little more natural singing the Peter Gabriel songs, although he sounded great on everything. “Robbery, Assault & Battery” must be a very difficult song to sing, but he did a great job. The song shows the playful storytelling side of Genesis, which still remained after Gabriel left the band. I don’t think Hackett’s band has played that song live before, or at least not in the last decade, so fans who see him every tour will get to hear some “new” material.
Since they played all of Seconds Out, there was a fair bit of overlap with the music played at the last tour, which is fine by me since I love Selling England By the Pound. “Firth of Fifth” was exquisite as always. So good that I even pulled out my earplugs. I think that guitar solo is just about the best ever, and Hackett does such a great job with it in a live setting. No one can play it like he does. Roger King is an expert with the piano intro too, something Tony Banks gave up a long time ago.
And since I mentioned the earplugs, I’ll make a quick comment about that. I always bring earplugs to concerts since I never know how loud it’s going to be. Both Hackett shows I’ve been to have been fairly well mixed with reasonable sound levels and minimal distortion, which is good since this music deserves full dynamic range instead of distorted rock crunch. With that said, it was still a bit too loud for much of the concert for my comfort, so I was taking them in and out all night. That didn’t really bother me. I probably could have left them out without permanent damage, but I’d rather be safe than sorry when it comes to my hearing. My eyesight is bad enough – I don’t need to lose my hearing too.
Like on the original live Genesis album, Hackett’s band played the ending section of “The Musical Box,” which Nad nailed on vocals. The epic “Supper’s Ready” followed that, and I’m so happy that I got to see that played live. The band performed flawlessly. The music and lyrics carried me away, as all good music should. Sadly I was drawn out of it a little bit by the perpetual yapping from one particular inebriated bloke in front of me, but I found that the earplugs actually helped drown him out, which helped me focus on the music. It’s a shame to be drawn out of those special musical moments where you really feel a connection with the band.
It’s no wonder Seconds Out is such a legendary live album. What a setlist! “Cinema Show” right after “Supper’s Ready” – it doesn’t get much better than that. The band deviated from that original setlist by adding “Aisle of Plenty” at the end of “Cinema Show.” The songs flow together, so it’s only natural to include “Aisle of Plenty,” which serves much the same purpose on Selling England as “Afterglow” does on Wind and Wuthering. It’s a cool down after an intense musical and lyrical journey.
Following that the band took their bows and left the stage to a standing ovation and thunderous roar. They were cheered for a couple minutes by the loudest encore cheer I think I’ve ever heard at a live show. It reminded me of some of the cheers I’ve heard on live prog albums recorded in Europe. It was great to hear that from an American audience in a relatively small venue. The band came back out and blew us away with “Dance on a Volcano” and “Los Endos.”
The real treat was Craig Blundell’s blistering drum solo between those two songs. Absolutely phenomenal. Drum solos can often be kind of boring, but Blundell’s solos are very… musical, if that makes sense. He grabs your attention and holds it. The speed at which he played was impressive, but he also adds in brilliant chops. It was one of my favorite parts of the evening. Even Jonas Reingold came back out on stage near the edge to watch his bandmate play. The bit of jazz-infused “Los Endos” made for an excellent final encore to a memorable musical night.
Much was made of Genesis’ final (supposedly) tour, especially their final show, which both Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett attended. I’m sure that attention was deserved, but I watched some clips on YouTube from those shows, and I’ll take Steve Hackett’s shows over the latest iteration of Genesis any day. There’s more energy, better musicians, and better vocals. The songs sound like the albums, and Hackett’s guitar is virtually unrepeatable. His tone is so unique, and his style of playing is unmatched.
Another plus is Hackett’s band is a who’s who of current prog names. I may never get to see the Flower Kings or the Tangent (Jonas Reingold), Frost* (Craig Blundell), or Nad Sylvan play his solo stuff, but I get to see them play legendary music with my favorite guitarist. It’s hard to beat that. The band also clearly enjoys what they are doing. Hackett was obviously having fun, and I saw Jonas playing air drums at one point in the show when he wasn’t playing for several seconds.
If you’ve been following Hackett’s live shows over the last decade, there may not be many surprises in this current setlist, but there doesn’t need to be. The music is phenomenal, and I’ll leave it at that. If he’s coming near you on this tour or the upcoming Foxtrot at 50 shows, definitely grab a ticket. Last night was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
The album cover just sort of grabs you, doesn’t it?
A belated Happy New Year to my fellow Progarchists and to all of our dedicated followers! I figured it would be appropriate to continue my series in this new year by reviewing a band that apparently hails from my home state (Connecticut). Holding Pattern released this album – their first – in 1981. An instrumental clocking in at just under thirty minutes, it may strike one at first glance as being too short to qualify as prog – after all, many individual prog songs are longer. But this album packs a symphonic punch in the vein of Happy the Man and Steve Hackett that is worth a listen. So without further ado:
The opening number, “Another Point of View,” has an upbeat feel to it: a great piece to enjoy whilst relaxing on a summer’s eve. Driven by Tony Spada’s guitar (reminiscent of Hackett’s early solo work) and Mark Tannenbaum’s keys, this piece hearkens back to the classic era of symphonic prog and is sure to delight any listener.
“Honor Before Glory” opens with the classic and beautiful sound of the mellotron before Spada again unleashes on guitar. Spada’s sound – no cheap imitation of Hackett’s – is complemented on this piece by Tannenbaum’s virtuosity on the keys.
“Jigsaw Dream” opens with a flourish of synths before transitioning to a funky cadence that is sure to appeal to fusion fans. Bassist Jerry Lalancette and drummer Robert Hutchinson, who provide a superb rhythm section throughout the album, anchor this piece with a groovy beat that makes “Jigsaw Dream” the most dynamic track on the album.
The closing piece, “Out of the Tunnels,” is the edgiest and “darkest” track on the album: the band, while remaining true to their symphonic and fusion roots, explores territory that was best exemplified by King Crimson during their Larks’ and Red era.
Like so many under-appreciated prog albums, this one deserves another chance. Lovers of classic symphonic prog who don’t mind a touch of fusion will appreciate this fine work, but this is an album that can find a place in almost anyone’s collection.
We’ve come to the end of another year, and what a horrible year it has been. Really the only positive thing I can think of from this year is the music. In addition to all the non-music nonsense that has gone on this year, we lost from legends in the prog world, none hurting more than the tragic and completely unexpected death of David Longdon. That one will hurt for a long time.
I usually write my best of lists in no particular order, with my top pick(s) at the end. So without further ado…
Robby Steinhardt – Not In Kansas Anymore
Robby Steinhardt was another prog legend we lost unexpectedly earlier this year. He hadn’t been active in music for quite some time, but that was about to change as he was finishing up his first solo album and had plans for a tour. Sadly the latter was not to be, but we did end up getting his solo album in the fall. It’s a great record, and it shows what a key player he was in Kansas. His vocals are stellar, and his violin playing is second to none. This record has a bit of the magic that I think Kansas lacks without Steinhardt. There are more musical influences at work than just Kansas on this record. It’s not a solid 10/10 throughout, but it is a very good record. Check out my review and my tribute to Robby.
Devin Townsend – Devolution Series #2 – Galactic Quarantine
Devin Townsend has been a busy bee this year. In addition to working on three new records this year, he released two minor releases of live material. The first is an acoustic album (see my glowing review) from a show he did in Leeds in 2019. It’s a raw and emotional take on his music. The Galactic Quarantine album is one of his live-streamed albums from 2020 with the musicians playing live on green screens across the world. The music is blisteringly great, with a surprising amount of Strapping Young Lad material played. Devin humorously engages with his virtual audience, which makes the music come to life a bit more. This has been one I’ve returned to quite a bit this year. Perhaps an unorthodox release, but it would make a really good entrance point for the uninitiated to the heavier side of Devin’s music. Check out my review.
Soen – Imperial
It turns out we never reviewed Soen’s latest album, which was released in January. The Swedish prog-metal supergroup can do no wrong. Their songs are catchy, memorable, and thoughtful. They can be both heavy and contemplative, and in my book they rank in the upper echelon of progressive metal. This record has been on repeat all year.
Atravan – The Grey Line
Sticking with the progressive metal theme, Atravan was a pleasant surprise at the beginning of the year. This is the first Iranian band we’ve ever reviewed here at Progarchy, and they’re fantastic. I’m so glad the band reached out to us. They make metal in the vein of Riverside – heavy, spacey, wall of sound. Definitely a band that deserves recognition, although I worry what too much recognition could do for them with the repressive Iranian regime. Check out my review.
Glass Hammer, Skallagrim – Into the Breach: Fred Schendel, Steve Babb and company return with the second installment of their multi-part “sword and sorcery” epic, begun on 2020’s Dreaming City. The music rocks hard and heavy, evoking everyone from Deep Purple to Mastodon (and yes, a fair amount of Rush), with just enough moody, ambient keyboard work to cleanse your aural palate before the next round of crunchy power chords. All this marvelously matches the grimdark vibe of the titular hero’s melodramatic quest for his lost love. (And a surprise lyrical callback to an earlier GH album sets up tantalizing possibilities regarding just who that lost love is.) To top it all off, new vocalist Hannah Pryor proves a major discovery, surfing Schendel and Babb’s gargantuan riffs with zest, grace and power to spare. Every bit as involving as Dreaming City, this fine album is a blast in every sense of the term. Order signed CDs, downloads and merch direct from Glass Hammer’s webstore.
Steve Hackett, Surrender of Silence: enter one legendary guitarist, shredding! Hackett lets himself off the leash here, laying down both his wildest compositions and his most hardcore playing in quite some time. The tunes can actually be a bit undercooked, their influences not always fully assimilated (‘Hmm, Prokofiev . . . wait, Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk”!?! . . . good grief, is that lick really “Theme from Exodus”???’). Nonetheless, Hackett’s swashbuckling solos atop Roger King’s widescreen orchestrations are irresistible as always; he and wife Jo serve up fresh sonic travelogues such as “Wingbeats” and “Shanghai to Samarkand”; and full-on burners like “Relaxation Music for Sharks” and “The Devil’s Cathedral” (featuring Hackett’s full band, including Nad Sylvan on vocals) never fail to thrill. Perhaps it’s not up to the towering heights ofAt the Edge of Light and Under A Mediterranean Sky, but Hackett’s latest is well worth your while. Order signed albums (CD, CD+BluRay combo, LP or LP+CD combo) direct from his webstore.
Isildur’s Bane& Peter Hammill, In Disequilbrium: Mats Johansen’s expandable international ensemble (including King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto on drums this time) reconnects with Van der Graaf Generator visionary Hammill; two sprawling multi-movement suites result. The three-part title piece careens between hard-driving rock, off-kilter electronica, spastic percussion interludes and haunting chamber textures, as Hammill decries a post-pandemic world that was already primed for chaos. (“There’s no choreography, dance the Tarantella./In disequilibrium round and round forever we’ll go.”) In the four-part “Gently (Step by Step)”, Hammill supplies winningly vulnerable encouragement to face whatever the future holds; the band drapes his incantatory vocals in dizzying sonic collages that somehow always sound forlorn, no matter the timbre or tempo at a particular moment. This one definitely requires multiple plays to unfold its secrets, but it’s well worth the effort; the way IB’s devastatingly precise, multilayered processes track with the unpredictable contours of Hammill’s apocalyptic meditations must be heard to be believed. Order CDs and LPs (plus previous collaborations with Hammill and Marillion’s Steve Hogarth)at Burning Shed’s Isildur’s Bane store.
Tillison Reingold Tiranti, Allium – Una Storia: Perhaps Andy Tillison’s most light-hearted effort ever. Back in 1976, a teenage Tillison encountered (and sat in with) the obscure Albanian prog group of the album’s title at an Italian holiday camp — and it changed his life for the better. This lockdown-inspired “homage to a band whose day never came” easily goes beyond a mere tribute to Seventies Europrog, capturing the sheer joy and the heady freedom both Allium and the fledgling Tillison must have felt in those moments. Collaborating with Jonas Reingold (bass and guitars), Roberto Tiranti (vocals) and Antonio DeSarno (Italian lyrics), Tillison contributes some of his best, boldest keyboard work ever on three long, appealingly involved, frequently funky tracks — and plays all the drums! And you get both Tillison’s “Original Mix” (effortlessly conjuring up the period — I was roughly his age at the time) and Reingold’s “Respectful Remix” (which, bourgeois Philistine that I now am, I actually prefer). If you’re interesting in hearing the Tangent’s mainman just having fun, this is your ticket. Order CDs from Reingold Records.
Yes, The Quest: I’d argue that Yes, in any formation, hasn’t made an essential album since 90125. I’d also argue that, when Geoff Downes’ keys and Steve Howe’s sublime guitar really lock together, as on the opening “The Ice Bridge”, the results sound more like upper-mid-level Asia than the band they’re supposed to be in here. But if Yes fans can get past these discontents (as well as the numerous others they’ve accumulated over the decades), they may enjoy The Quest’s estimable (though not overwhelming) charms. Singer Jon Davison brings the requisite lyrical themes of self-actualization and environmental issues to the party; Billy Sherwood does his manful best to channel the spirit of Chris Squire on bass and vocals; and in the studio Alan White can still summon his classic drive, if not the power he had in his prime. The FAMES Orchestra add a dash of Time and A Word/Symphonic Tour luxury to the proceedings as well. While everything’s downshifted multiple gears from Yes’ most rambunctious, energetic — and it has to be said, creative — years this is an unquestionable step up from the appallingly bland Heaven and Earth, with its own modest appeal. I can see a track or two from this fitting nicely into the setlist when Yes finally can bring their long-promised Relayer tour to the Western Hemisphere. Order the album (in CDs, red LPs + CDs, CDs + BluRay combo, and CDs+LPs+BluRay deluxe boxset formats) from Burning Shed.
What new music and archival finds are heading our way in the next couple of months? Check out the representative sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below. (Box sets based on reissues will follow in a separate article!) Pre-order links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.
Amanda Lehmann, Innocence and Illusion:“a fusion of prog, rock, ballads, and elements of jazz-blues” from the British guitarist/vocalist best known as Steve Hackett’s recurring sidekick. Available direct from Lehmann’s webstore as CD or digital download.
The Neal Morse Band, Innocence and Danger: another double album from Neal, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette. No overarching concept this time — just everything and the kitchen sink, ranging from a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to brand-new half-hour epics. Available from Inside Out as 2CD, 2CD/DVD or 3 LPs/2 CDs
Trifecta, Fragments: what happens when Steven Wilson’s rhythm section turns his pre-show sound checks into “jazz club”? Short, sharp tracks that mix the undeniable chops and musicality of Adam Holzman on keys, Nick Beggs on Stick and Craig Blundell on drums with droll unpredictability and loopy titles like “Clean Up on Aisle Five” and “Pavlov’s Dog Killed Schrodinger’s Cat”. Available from Burning Shed as CD or LP (black or neon orange).
As life in these United States opens up, my life finally seems to be settling down — at least for the summer. Which means it’s time to make up for the backlog of excellent albums (new and old) that I’ve heard since January, but haven’t written about here! Links to listen (to complete albums or samples) are included whenever possible.
New Albums:The Art of Losing (The Anchoress’ rich meditation on endurance) and the multi-versionadrenalin rush of Transatlantic’sThe Absolute Universenotwithstanding, most of the new albums I’ve loved so far have migrated towards jazz and classical — frequently with pianists at their center. Vijay Iyer’s Uneasy, made with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, is a state of the art piano trio effort; blues and abstraction suspended in perfect balance and caught in an intimate, tactile recording. Canadian Bach and Mozart specialist Angela Hewitt shows off her range with Love Songs, a gorgeous confection of orchestral and art song transcriptions assembled in lockdown and performed with undeniable panache. The same goes for Danny Driver’s phenomenal rendition of Gyorgy Ligeti’s hypermodern 18 Etudes — virtuoso pieces whose serene surfaces turn out to be rooted in super-knotty counterpoint and off-kilter rhythmic cells. My favorite new album of 2021 to date? Promises by electronica artist Floating Points, spiritual jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and The London Symphony Orchestra, which manages to bring all of the above (well, except for the piano!) together in one glorious, 40-minute ambient epic.
Reissues: Big Big Train’s double-disc update of The Underfall Yardhas definitely had its share of listening time, between Rob Aubrey’s rich remix/remaster and the welcome bonus disc (featuring fresh recordings of the title track and “Victorian Brickwork” by the full band and brass quintet). With My Bloody Valentine’s catalog back in print, their masterpiece Loveless sounds as incredible as ever; crushing distortion and lush romanticism collide to channel the sublime. And Pete Townshend has masterminded a comprehensive Super Deluxe edition of The Who Sell Out, the band’s pre-Tommy high point. But my favorite reissues thus far have been It Bites’ The Tall Ships (especially the title track — what a power ballad!) and Map of the Past (a favorite of mine since its original release). With the then-unknown John Mitchell taking over from Francis Dunnery, IB sailed into the 21st century with their 1980s pomp intact, killer hooks, head-spinning riffs and all.
There has been a lot of music to wade through thus far in 2021. Most good. Some not so much, depending on who you ask. Despite the title of this post, I don’t think my four favorite albums of the year thus far represent each month, but who cares. Let’s go!
Atravan – The Grey Line
This album was the biggest surprise of the year, so far. Out of the blue back in January, Shayan Dinati of Iranian prog-metal band Atravan contacted us about a review of their album. I gave it a listen and immediately discovered this was worth spending a lot of time with. They dwell in the area of prog metal perfected by Riverside – atmospheric and brooding with thoughtful lyrics. Sure, they’ve got room for improvement to reach the heights of Riverside, but this is a great album in its own right. I was hooked right away, and I highly recommend the album. The Dutch Progressive Rock Page had similar praise for Atravan: https://www.dprp.net/reviews/2021-032
Steve Hackett – Under A Mediterranean Sky
When I heard last year that Mr. Hackett was working on an acoustic album, I was very excited. I’ve really enjoyed his recent solo output. His last three rock albums are some of the best from his entire solo career. But I also really like his acoustic moments, and he doesn’t disappoint on Under A Mediterranean Sky. He takes us on a grand instrumental tour of the Mediterranean, something sorely needed in an age of travel restrictions. The combination of his stunning guitar work, Roger King’s masterfully arranged symphonic notes, and various world instrumentation make this a beautiful and contemplative album. It isn’t rock, but it’s gorgeous. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2021/02/02/steve-hackett-under-a-mediterranean-sky/
Nad Sylvan – Spiritus Mundi
Nad Sylvan’s latest solo album is a slight departure from his last three albums, but it’s just as good an album, if not better. Putting the poetry of William Butler Yeats to music may not be a new idea, but Nad has done a wonderful job with it. The album has its rock moments, but it also has pastoral tones that haven’t been as prevalent in his work. His voice is top notch with a versatility that shows he is so much more than a Gabriel or Collins sound-alike. Check out Rick Krueger’s recent interview with Nad, and check out my review.
And now for my favorite album of the first four months of 2021…
Soen – Imperial
Swedish prog metal supergroup Soen can do no wrong, it seems. I first became cognitively aware of Soen a couple years ago through one of the editors at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page, who frequently sang their praises in reviews and best-of lists. I quickly became a fan of their last couple of albums, and I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across their new release back in January. I was listening to their 2019 album, Lotus, one Friday evening when I wondered if they had any new music coming out soon. It just so happened that they released Imperial that very day, so I dowloaded it and have been happily enjoying it ever since. It’s heavy when it needs to be, but it can recede to quieter moments when necessary.
Joel Ekelöf has one of the best voices in metal, and he really sets Soen apart. They have a heavy guitar crunch that’s more typical of mainstream metal and hard rock bands, but the music is distinctly progressive. Their melodies and lyrics are catchy yet intelligent. My only complaint with the album is that it isn’t longer. It’s 43 minutes, but I could easily listen to much more. Great stuff.
Nad Sylvan’s latest solo album, Spiritus Mundi, is one of the finest records released thus far in 2021, and I expect it to be one of the top albums of the year come December. Sylvan brought his vampirate trilogy to a close with 2019’s The Regal Bastard. Spiritus Mundi, which is Latin for “spirit of the world,” departs from the more classic prog sound on his previous three albums, but it hasn’t quite set sail for new genres. Rather it explores different musical territories, including classical, folk, acoustic, and rock, all befitting the beautiful poetry of William Butler Yeats which serve as the lyrics. The musical elements from his previous albums are all here, but they are interpreted in a different way. In an interview with Progarchy’s very own Rick Krueger, Nad expands upon the development of the record and his collaboration with Vermont-based musician Andrew Laitres, so I’ll direct you to that for more info about how the album came to be.
As it should be, Nad’s voice is the centerpiece on the record. All of the musical elements serve to frame his voice and the lyrics, bringing the poems to life through varying sounds. The baroque elements found on Nad’s vampirate trilogy pop up now and again, such as on “Cap and Bells” and “The Realists,” which I think adds a flavor that is uniquely Sylvan. Laitres also provides some lead and backing vocals, which adds some variety.
Musically the album is more open and relaxed than Sylvan’s previous records. It doesn’t have the heavier rock moments that those albums had, but the lyrics don’t call for it. Nad plays most of the keyboards, as well as some of the acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, and the orchestration. Jonas Reingold and Tony Levin also appear on bass, along with Steve Hackett on the 12 string. The Flower Kings’ Mirkko De Maio appears on drums. There are a few other guests too, but this should give you a sample of what to expect. It seems fitting that Nad, who’s become well-known for his work with Steve Hackett’s touring band, releases this sort of more acoustic and classically inspired record soon after Hackett released a beautiful acoustic album, Under a Mediterranean Sky.
I’ll readily admit I’m frequently skeptical when an artist says they’re going in a new direction on their next album. While I didn’t have particular reservations about this album going into it, I was admittedly curious about what that different sound might be. I didn’t expect him to move into some sort of techno-pop trash like Steven Wilson, and thankfully he didn’t. Instead he leaned more heavily into the folk and classical elements that already existed in his music. At times the music is reminiscent of Big Big Train, and at other times I hear bits that remind me of Jethro Tull. The rock is still there though, with a fantastic bass line and slide guitar on “The Fisherman.”
Spiritus Mundi is a well-rounded album that offers a breath of fresh air in a very dark time in our world. Perhaps that is fitting since many of Yeats’ poems offered a similar freshness to the broken and hurting world of the early twentieth century. Nad Sylvan may have taken an unusual path to rock stardom in his 50s and early 60s, but that seems to have brought a maturity to the music he makes. This album is well-crafted, and it is both a fitting tribute to Yeats’ poetry and a wonderful introduction of that poetry to new audiences a century after it was written.
Sylvan is one of the most creative people working under the broad umbrella of progressive rock today. He seems to get better with each passing record. I only hope he gets the chance to tour his own music someday. Check out Spiritus Mundi along with his other solo albums. You won’t be disappointed.
Give Steve Hackett credit for grace under pressure. With the 2020 leg of his Genesis Revisited tour stopped in its tracks by COVID-19, Hackett retreated to his London home, pulled out the acoustic guitar ideas he had been accumulating since 2008’s Tribute album, and huddled with wife Jo and keyboardist/musical director Roger King. Under A Mediterranean Sky is the sultry, stirring result, a first-rate blend of the world musics Hackett explored on recent electric albums The Night Siren and At the Edge of Light with the lush orchestral settings of his vintage classical efforts A Midsummer Night’s Dream andMetamorpheus. If you’re currently cooped up inside (whether due to the pandemic, winter in the Northern Hemisphere or both), this welcoming sonic travelogue will transport you to a brighter, better place.
Under A Mediterranean Sky grabs the listener right from the start with “Mdina (The Walled City). King’s opening orchestrations (a rich blend of acoustic instruments and synths throughout) seethe and sprawl, giving way to Hackett’s virtuosic solo work on nylon-string guitar; at the end, it’s a headlong dash to a sprightly finish, the guitar bursting forward as the symphonic storm gives way to sunshine on the coast of Malta. As a mission statement for the album, it could hardly be bettered.
Organically structured to circle the Mediterranean coast, Hackett’s musical portraits are drawn with ever-present grace and appealing variety. The delectable arpeggiated melody of “Adriatic Blue”, the pensive lines that link up with galloping Middle Eastern percussion on “Sirocco”, the folky, almost downhome French vibe of “Joie de Vivre” and the haunting, romantic Grecian portrait “The Memory of Myth” each tantalize in their own unique way. At the heart of the album comes Hackett’s only solo piece, a sonata by Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) that features both breathtaking technique and a profound feel for melodic line, harmonic depth and rhythmic panache. It’s drop dead gorgeous, a true testimony to his heartfelt love for the classical guitar tradition.
The latter half of the program broadens the musical palette as the voyage continues, with stellar guest turns by brother John Hackett and regular band member Rob Townsend on flutes (a lush duet on “Casa del Fauno”), Azerbaijan tar virtuoso Malik Mansurov and Armenian duduk master Arsen Petrosyan (the dizzying, atmospheric “The Dervish and the Djin”), and oboist Frank Avril and violinist/violist Christine Townsend on “Andalusian Heart” (which also spotlights stunning extended flamenco work by Hackett). The poignant, rhapsodic finale “The Call of the Sea” is the perfect capstone to the album, winding down the journey to leave the listener at peace in heart and spirit.
Under A Mediterranean Sky is not just a welcome detour from Steve Hackett’s familiar sonic paths; it’s also a culmination to his lifetime pursuit of musical excellence. Hackett’s compositions and performances here are filled to the brim with both the fire of the young at heart and the canny craft of the mature, seasoned performer. Making this album obviously refreshed him during a difficult time; if my experience is any indication, hearing it — in fact, returning to it again and again — will refresh you as well.