ISSUE 2015-524

Round Table Review
Steve Hackett - Wolflight
Steve Hackett - Wolflight
Country of Origin:
Format: CD
Record Label: Inside Out / Century Media
Catalogue #: B00TAJC8HU
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 55:33
Info: Steve Hackett
Samples: Steve Hackett website
Track List:
Out of the Body (2:29), Wolflight (8:00), Love Song to a Vampire (9:18), The Wheel's Turning (7:24), Corycian Fire (5:47), Earthshine (3:20), Loving Sea (3:23), Black Thunder (7:33), Dust and Dreams (5:33), Heart Song (2:51)
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
Wolflight is the latest in the mighty canon of work that Steve Hackett has released since his first solo album (Voyage of the acolyte) some 40 years ago in 1975, during that time Steve has dabbled in various forms and genres from rock to Brazilian drumming and everywhere in between.

So at the age of nearly 65 how does this latest one stack up against those early and even later classics is the question here. Well in my opinion I think it stands heads and shoulders next to those earlier albums, in fact I would dare to say that on this album Steve has managed to distil the essence of what makes his music so tantalizing and succinct into a mere 55 minutes, whilst still embracing all the music that he has ingested over the years, weaving a picture that shows the true versatility and creativity that runs deep within this fantastic musician.

Indeed it is Steve's willingness to embrace new music, to keep exploring and pushing the boundaries of what he does by embracing new sounds and textures and not merely making clone albums time after time.

Steve truly wishes to keep progressing and coming after his successful revisiting of Genesis material this is highly welcome, much as those classic tunes have been re-polished, now it is the time to move forwards once again, which in itself is commendable, many could take the safe route and live on former glories but Steve commented that "he does not want to be the curator in a museum of his own making" and quite rightly so.

To great effect Steve has woven in orchestral elements that bring something rather special to proceedings and making for some memorable pieces and settings but never overshadowing matters.

Several of the songs here stand the chance of becoming major staples in his live set and firm fan favourites, and in The Wheels turning Steve could have a radio crossover hit if it got to the right ears in radio,

Lyrically as always Steve pursues interesting subject matter blending the dark and macabre to great effect especially on Love song to a vampire

Black Thunder has a similar sound to current Joe Bonamassa material with its hybrid of Blues influences and Rock Musicianship and its Lyrics around civil rights and freedoms

Add in the odd sounding world music elements and you have an album that takes many chances and brings Steve almost into Peter Gabriel/Real World territory, and as we all know Genesis are never going to reform as we hoped but on the basis of this a Gabriel / Hackett project could sound very interesting indeed

To top it all is the lyrical and smooth guitar of Mr Hackett who knows when to restrain and when to cut free and on several tracks here Steve plays with a rare passion and also with superb feel and emotion and on others with a fury and wild abandon again to great effect.

The mix of styles and tracks is impressive with some wonder acoustic guitar and some delicate heartfelt songs in the mix

The band used has been the mainstay of his live show over the past few years, there are a few guests such as Chris Squire on Love Song but in the main Steve's own band nail it perfectly every time.

One of the criticisms of Steve's past work is his voice but here it works just fine, never the strongest singer he has worked within his range to good effect and it shows.

As I always seem to say, this is a grower, but for me personally this is simply magnificent and I would strongly urge you to give this a good listening too.

But as a statement of intent Wolflight clearly is the leader of the pack and I think the upcoming tour and live performances will only further enhance the greatness within these grooves.

Impressed – sure am and I think you will be too.
Martin Burns' Review
Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, Steve Hackett's last album of original material from 2011, was to my mind his strongest, most consistent release of his career. So his new album, Wolflight, has a lot to live up to.

Recorded with members from his Genesis Revisited II touring band with the addition of exotic musical instrumentation, such as the didgeridoo, an Azebaijan tar, an Arabian oud (they are both a kind of lute), an Armenian duduk (a woodwind instrument), harmonica and an orchestra.

Hackett mixes world music elements, folk and classical music, extended guitar lines and some surprisingly heavy riffin, (not that we're talking death-metal here): on top of which there are superb vocal harmonies, with Steve Hackett himself in particularly fine voice. All of this produces an album of some note.

After an introductory instrumental track: the title track opens with droning didgeridoo and plucked tar, producing an unsettling sound, before Hackett's voice and acoustic guitar start the song. It moves, pleasingly from this into heavy guitar sounds, orchestral and keyboard passages, making it swing between the soothing and the menacing. A great song of nomadic, tribal survival and a metaphor for the touring musician's life, perhaps?

Next is the best song on the album. Love Song to a Vampire is a medium-paced ballad, which explores the dark heart of being trapped in an abusive relationship. This uses an expertly arranged mix of Spanish guitar, electric guitars, orchestral colours and Chris Squire on bass. It engages and horrifies at the same time. It has a touch of The Alan Parsons Project's Tales of Mystery and Imagination about it.

Corycian Fire, along with Dust and Dreams, have a delicious middle-Eastern world music vibe to them. The percussion and choral ending to Corycian Fire is a particular highlight, that makes you wish it lasted longer. Dust and Dreams has one of Nick Beggs' funkiest bass grooves, joined by Hackett's languid electric guitar, before he layers on the power chords. If you were making Laurence of Arabia now, you would use this on the soundtrack. Terrific.

Black Thunder, is a song about slaves fighting for freedom. It cleverly mixes blues tones (the blues having its origins in the slave trade) to prog structures. Using a call and response, quiet-loud dynamic between Hackett's vocal and the guitar refrain, it moves along like a long, rolling train (possibly referencing the Underground Railroad that helped slaves who had escaped their masters). Add in Hackett's harmonica and Rob Townsend's sax which gives the song an even more distinctive edge.

The overall tone of the album is disrupted by the acoustic, classical guitar interlude of Earthshine, which seems to only function as a lovely, but slight, introduction to Loving Sea; a beautiful, but not particularly prog, 70s Laurel Canyon-esque sunshine drenched, harmony master class. The closing Heart Song, similarly, is a touching, pop ballad.

The main issue I have on the album is with The Wheel's Turning. A paean to the travelling fairgrounds that brightened up, the rationing-era drabness, of post-World War Two London. In trying to reflect the neon dazzle and head spinning rides, the track flits between musical descriptions of the fairground's attractions and scares. The bright shining melodies Hackett uses I found hard to love. Repeat plays has not really made this one better for me.

Wolflight, is then, in the main, a successful album, if a little uneven in tone. Somewhat like shuffling through Hackett's back catalogue on an mp3 player. So it does not quite live up to Hackett's previous original material release as it lacks the consistency and constancy of purpose, but there are more than enough highlights for this album to be recommended.
Andrew Halley's Review
This is Steve Hackett's first "proper" solo album since 2011's Beyond the Shrouded Horizon. Sonically it's very similar being comprised of many layers of complexity. So here's my first beef: who ever sends out files to be reviewed (record company executives?) send something that is of a higher quality than MP3 192kbs!! I'm not being nerdy, but it turns Baked Alaska into a creamy puddle.

Love song to a Vampire has Chris Squire playing his bass, but it might as well be Robbie Rumble at this compression rate even though the lower notes of that piece are dominated by what sounds like a full orchestra.

There is to be "Special Edition CD+BluRay Mediabook, Standard CD Jewelcase, Gatefold black 2LP+CD, Gatefold white 2LP+CD, Gatefold clear 2LP+CD, Gatefold transp. blue 2LP+CD, Digital album" Brilliant! Grrrrrr!...

Deep breath, and relax...

My last enjoyable purchase which had prog stalwart Steve Hackett playing on, was the fantastic Eminent Victorians by Nick Magnus. Can't stop playing that, with vocalist Pete Hicks. He used to sing with the Steve Hackett band and guest vocalists were something that was always a part of his albums. Here we have Steve's lead vocal throughout, albeit with many harmonies with himself and Amanda Lehmann and it has a very folky, mellifluous tone. In many ways this dilutes the "rockiness" of this album. There is, however, much to enjoy with the orchestral layering combined with the usual superb musicianship from his loyal band of minstrels, Out of the Body setting the scene with it's Wolf baying and orchestral swagger.

The usual light and shade is evident with a geography lesson of unusual noises including tars, ouds, and a duduk battling with that distinctive lead guitar.

Corycian Fire sums up this album with every element required replete with a beautiful choral section. The classical commercial break is provided by Earthshine before more world influenced music hammers home it's message. Anti Slavery songBlack Thunder' has a great harmonica solo and ends like a Russian Spy movie whilst ode to affection Heart Song finishes the album.

Personally, I still crave for another
Camino Royale or a Spectral Mornings , because that uplifting side of Steve Hackett's music still brings a warm feeling inside, but then again so did the Genesis Revisited concerts.

Wolflight (for me) completes a trilogy started with Out of the Tunnels's Mouth and continues his "progression" from his earlier albums. Being able to make instant A/B comparisons on my computer (via a very posh Digital to Analogue converter mind!), I'm still heavily drawn back to Voyage of the Acolyte and Please Don't Touch_ because I just prefer that part of his output - and being a fan, with his first four remastered CD's signed by the man himself, ripped at "Apple Lossless", they just sound better... Well they would, wouldn't they?
Alan Weston's Review
They say you can't keep a good man down and this is certainly the case with Steve Hackett (SH). A sexagenarian who continues to plough the fertile grounds of progressive music and constantly reaps a satisfactory harvest for all his efforts. It's forty years since he released his first solo album Voyage of the Acolyte and who would have known then that his musical oeuvre would, to date, span five decades? A remarkable output for a man who continues to be an inspirational figure to many musicians who queue up to work with him. SH is worthy of a prog god knighthood for his contribution to progressive rock music.

His latest opus is entitled Wolflight and SH considers this to be one of his best. A cultural music journey that will enthral the die-hard SH fans and pique the interest of progsters who are not yet familiar with his work. Many sonic surprises along the way with the use of world musicians and ancient instruments, adding to the albums underlying primeval tones cemented to an overall progressive rock layer of traditional rock instruments that results in an incredible sound and captivating album. If getting up the hour before dawn (known as wolflight) results in this kind of music, let's pray that SH does not suffer from narcolepsy anytime in the future. As SH says himself:- "insomnia, it can be quite constructive!"

The first track, Out of the Body, segues into the title track Wolflight which effectively gives an epic ten minute masterpiece. A wonderful tapestry of cultural hints from the sound of wolves, Arabic/Slavic orchestration, ancient instruments (Azerbaijan tar and Australian didgeridoo), pounding jungle drums, soaring vocal harmonies, classical guitar moments, obligatory guitar riffs and solos that results in a stunning and complex piece of music.

The nine minute Love Song to a Vampire is another cracking track and has all the hallmarks of a classic SH composition; a story of love that begins with promise but turns into a nightmare. The song is book-ended with classical guitar pieces that provides the base on which the rest of the song is constructed. It has a beautiful melody that soon explodes into tingling angelic harmonies, pounding drums, stabbing keyboards to give a wall of sound that will definitely be a highlight for any live performances. Great bass work from Chris Squire and some of the best guitar solos and riffs I've heard from SH in recent albums. A stunning piece of music.

The Wheel's Turing is very much a personal, nostalgic trip back to the fifties when SH worked at the Battersea funfair dressed in his brown overall providing change for users of the slot-machines. Certainly has a lighter, more 'poppier' groove in places compared to other tracks on the album but it certainly does have its spookier Mechanical Bride moments! Also some great harmonica work from SH and once again some spine-tingling guitar solos. This song on first listening doesn't quite grab but after a few listens it turns out to be yet another great track.

Then we get to my favourite track Corycian Fire. From the early moments of the sublime Armenian duduk and string drone you're reminded of some of Peter Gabriel's work. The song is about the Greek Corycian cave that the Greeks considered the entry to the underworld. The melody has a haunting vibe supported by some great percussion and strings. The brilliant ending of Corycian Fire (with pounding drums and mesmerising percussion) makes great use of a choir sound to produce a sense of evil that frightens and is reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's Ave Satani from the film The Omen. Only complaint is the track is too short! I think the Omen type ending could have been further developed but once again this track for me is the highlight of the album.

The song Black Thunder is about slave rebellion in the deep south of the United States of America. A blue-grass style intro quickly becomes a stomping guitar riff with a heavy beat (when the vocals first enter I'm reminded of something off Roger Waters' Amused to Death). Once again some great guitar work from SH but the song doesn't quite hit the mark like the earlier songs do. I think it this is a song that could be lifted by using a another vocalist, say someone like Ray Wilson.

Dust and Dreams is heralded by the Arabian oud. The song makes great use of strings and has a hypnotic pulse and groove that it's impossible not to be tapping ones toes. It's an instrumental that has some sizzling, magical guitar work from SH throughout. The whole piece conjures up an image of an ever ending landscape of desert. It ends with a heavy guitar riff and accompanying solo before morphing into Heart Song. Another great track.

The album has its shorter tracks in the latter half of Wolflight from the now essential (has to be his trademark!) classical guitar piece, in this case Earthshine which does not disappoint, a lovely Crosby, Stills & Nash acoustic style piece called Loving Sea and a nice love ballad called Heart Song that's dedicated to his wife Jo that has a certain Floydian groove to it including soaring guitar work. All three songs probably don't push any boundaries but they certainly fit within the overall sound and textures of the album. Three good songs.

One criticism I do have of the album is that given all the cultural sign-posts within the music he didn't make use (to even a small degree) of indigenous guest vocals from regions referenced on Wolflight. In my mind it would have complemented the use of such ancient instruments as the Azerbaijan tar, the Australian didgeridoo and the Armenian duduk. Maybe next time!

When interviewed, SH emits such a musical exuberance that it's hard to see when this man will lay down his guitars and sit out on the veranda with a pink gin, basking in his past musical glories. Already he has started on his next project and hopefully we will see his development of rock music, blended with world music and instruments, that he'll even give Peter Gabriel a good run for his money. As to the old DPRP prog-ometer, I rate this album a 9.
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 9 out of 10
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10
Andrew Halley: 7 out of 10
Alan Weston: 9 out of 10

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Published Thursday 2 April 2015

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