The Rising is the third full-length release from The ESP Project, following on from 22 Layers Of Sunlight, released in 2018. Although the band started as a collection of prog-rock royalty in 2016, there is an undoubted fresh contemporary feel to the sound, with Tony Lowe's compositions, keyboard and guitar playing superbly complemented by Damien Child's vocals and lyrics - a formidable team indeed. Once more there are a few changes in the line up from the previous releases; as already alluded to Pete Coyle has stood down from vocals, while Greg Pringle (Pete Townshend, Bernie Marsden) brings his own energy to the drum chair. Pete Clark completes the lineup on bass.
Whether this represents a move towards settling the vision for the band, or another fleeting stage of creationary evolution, only Childs and Lowe can tell you. What I can say is that this is an extraordinarily accomplished album, symphonic in scale, while retaining a freshness and urgency. The two main protagonists complement each other perfectly, Childs' lyrics and theatrical vocals adapting to the character of each song as Lowe's keyboards and guitar act as a perfect counterpoise, a sinuous thread that soars and weaves its way through each piece. This is self-billed as an uplifting album and I couldn't disagree. From the urgent electronica of the title track to the cinematic orchestrations and driving guitar intro to A Million Heartbeats there is a sense of existential joy, as being 'dandelion seeds floating...through hydrogen skies' (The Rising). On Lunar Tides, the most ambitious piece in the collection is a glorious celebration of freedom and hope, living in each moment for 'One glorious life.' If Flowers In The Snow hints at the same ephemeral fragility, Stranger In My Skin celebrates the ecstasy of letting go, escaping the 'holographic memories of the bridges I have burned.' Child's professional dramatic background emerges in his characterisation of the New World Disorder clearly enjoying the part of the crazed protagonist.
It would be remiss to pass by without mentioning the contribution of a remarkable rhythm section whose sensitive yet complex contribution goes so far to make this collection the triumph it is and help to make this a complete whole and sounding as vital as it does. Personally I enjoyed the injection of a range of styles and beats, which certainly kept my ears sharpened. This is an album I have enjoyed listening to repeatedly, always unearthing new treasures, in the synthesis of form and content, inventive lyricism and imaginative arrangements while managing to avoid pretentiousness and not forgetting that there is nothing wrong with writing a bloody good hook in a song!
This is certainly a most accomplished offering from the ESP Project and one that demands urgent attention, not just from prog fans, but from anyone who appreciates thoughtful, well-constructed songwriting.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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