Psychopomp is The John Irvine Band's fifth album, continuing the journey into more progressive rock tinged music seen in 2020's offering The Machinery Of The Heavens (see review). For this recording only, I am lead to believe the drum seat is occupied by Calum Macintyre, with another change due in that department for the next release (Scanning The Dark Horizon, due out early next year).
Edinburgh-based Irvine has an illustrious background as a classically trained guitarist and composer, working in academia and theatre before founding the eponymous band in 2011 to explore and build upon the music of the jazz-rock fusion musicians from whom he had drawn inspiration. While giving a hat tip to musicians such as Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Jan Garbarek and Weather Report he has most often drawn comparison to Allan Holdsworth, before deciding to introduce a more progressive rock element to his music.
What I'm endeavouring to get across here, is that we are not messing around. So when the album opens up with Changing Worlds, a big fat 10 minute slice of keyboard atmospherics, scorching themes and breathless spiralling melodies that literally smacks you straight between the eyes with a bolt of pure energy and jumps effortlessly between its multi-layered sections, don't say I didn't warn you. If there is a bit of everything in here - including some well judged 80s sounding synth sections, then this is only a foreshadowing of what is to come. The title track Psychopomp lays jazzy guitar melodies and angular spiky rock on top of a futuristic embroidery of electronic arrangements. I have to say that reviewing this album in something like a readable length is a bit like nailing jelly to a wall. Nothing really seems to do justice to the degree of texture within each track. Even a relatively short work out like The Devil's Work contains enough variety to surprise the unwary and catch any generalisation in an immediate lie. The central long track Esoteric Dimensions shifts restlessly between guitar and synthesiser parts, driving rock or dancing pop, in opposition and then joyously intertwined and united. The second half opens with Weight of the Heart, which is most closely suggestive of the jazz influences of the aforementioned guitar players in the ability to create huge landscapes of emotional space within a few chords. We even afford Calum Macintyre the rare accolade of a lead solo, and you have to say he deserves it for his performance on this record alone.
Despite the many references to classic prog and jazz-fusion, there is a futuristic feel throughout the album which keeps it fresh, even the title of the closing opus, Childhood Jetpack Delerium conveys a sense of invention and excitement which permeates every track. Every time I have listened to Psychopomp, and it's been a few since receiving this copy, I have been surprised to find myself sitting in silence at the end. Such is the quality, it's almost like a surprise that this could come to an end. If the aim is to keep the listener wanting more, then it's not a bad play, and testament to how engrossing it is, even at a subconscious level. More due next year? Definitely something to look forward to, and in the meantime Psychopomp is something to glory in.
***** Andrew Cottrell
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