Here in the Netherlands we have a saying that weed does not perish. Well, for some bands you might say the same. A good example might be the British progressive rock band Glacier. They have already existed since 1979. Released their debut Monument in 2001 and managed to come up with a follow up album 14 years later, named Ashes For The Monarch. Most bands hardly release anything new after such a long time and kick the bucket. Not this band because they must be as strong as weed and making music as beautiful as a flower in bloom!
Yeah, beautiful is the right word for the music they present on Ashes For The Monarch. What John Youdale (guitars, vocals and FX), Dave Birdsall (vocals), Mike Winship (vocals), Dave Kidson (keyboards), Bob Mulvey (bass, bass pedals, FX and voices), Graeme Ash (drums) and guests Gemma Elysee (violin) and Dale Harbron (narrative) recorded between 2004 and 2012 is very much worth listening to. On their debut Monument the band already impressed me with their strong compositions. And they did it again with their latest release. Despite the fact they went through some difficult times they must have kept the faith to come out even stronger.
The band's sound can still, just like on their debut, be called neo progressive rock. Moving in the same musical direction as bands such as IQ, Pendragon, Pallas and early Marillion. However the band is not afraid to use elements from retro progressive rock acts such as Steve Hackett, Genesis, Yes and Rick Wakeman. Most of all the last mentioned name came to mind several times. Not only because of the strong keyboard parts of Kidson, but mainly by the use of some great lead singers. Wakeman had the wonderful singers Ashley Holt and Garry Pickford-Hopkins in his band in the seventies. Dave Birdsall and Mike Winship sing in a same kind of way and therefore enriches the music in the best possible way. I guess for the band Steve Hackett was one of the most important influences. Many times, together with the music from his former band Genesis, they come to the surface. Guitarist Youdale is an excellent player as you can hear throughout the entire album. However not only on the electric guitar. Just listen to the song Lightwing and you will discover his talents on the acoustic guitar as well.
All of the seven tracks on this album are of a very high level. Maybe they could have been recorded a little better but this doesn't mean I couldn't enjoy them any less. The almost one hour of music kept my attention all the way. Never a dull moment. They connect most of the tracks with narrative parts or sound fragments very tastefully. This way it is as if you are listening to a kind of concept album, but all of the compositions have strong story lines on their own. For example Hell And High Water has a strange link to the Ridley Scott film 'Bladerunner' that was inspired by the view from a window overlooking the industrial scene one clear and dark autumn night. The inspiration behind Garden Of Evil came from John Wyndham's'The Day Of The Triffids'. Finally I can tell you that the centrepiece of the album, the twenty three minute epic One Man Alone, tells the story of Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf Man as inspired by the 1941 film, starring Lon Chaney Jr. The same track is also a homage to the fantastic progressive rock music made in the seventies in which influences of ELP, Yes, Genesis, Camel, Focus, King Crimson were intentionally used according to the band. It is so well done that you can't say Glacier are just copy cats. Even if they named some parts Barkus (Tarkus from ELP), Epitaph For The Spirit ( Epitaph from King Crimson) and We Don't Need Any 'E.L.P. and YES, It's A Barkus Mad Mutation.
I can only be positive about Ashes For The Monarch. It's an amazing album that brought me only happy moments while listening to it. I am sure everybody else who is into neo progressive rock and loves the music made by the many progressive rock acts of the seventies will have as many happy moments as I had when I played this album. Thank God the band kept writing great music after they released Monument in 2001, otherwise we never could have enjoyed Ashes For The Monarch 14 years later.
**** Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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