Issue 2009-009: Pendragon - Pure - Round Table Review
ROUND TABLE REVIEW
Tracklist: Indigo (13:43), Eraserhead (9:04), Comatose (17:36), [Comatose I. View From The Seashore (7:40), Comatose II. Space Cadet (4:01), Comatose III. Home And Dry (5:55)], The Freak Show (4:25), It's Only Me (8:15)
Gareth Long's Review
The history of progressive rock has, with the odd exception, shown us that bands normally deliver their strongest and most revered output in the early part of their careers. Fragile and Close To The Edge by Yes, Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis and In The Court Of The Crimson King and Red by King Crimson all being good examples of this trend. With new opus Pure veteran neo-progressive stalwarts Pendragon have bucked this trend in truly sensational style some thirty years after they formed. It is a career defining moment and will prove not only to be their most enduring work but also one that will find a place alongside the very finest neo-progressive albums of our time such as Ever by IQ, More Than Meets The Eye by Jadis and The Visitor by Arena.
For established fans of the band, Pure is likely to raise some eyebrows and does signal a change in musical emphasis. In a nutshell the album is by far the heaviest and darkest Nick Barrett and co have ever produced. However to these ears this has added the ingredient always missing from their sound. The wonderful melodies are still there, the great instrumentation is still there, the emotive guitar solo’s are still there but this time presented with a menacing rock punch.
Opening track Indigo, a dark sprawling epic played out in two distinct parts over 13 absorbing minutes is probably one of Pendragon’s finest ever songs. It is also a perfect introduction to the tougher edge now evident in the music. Starting from a gritty metallic opening guitar rift the song evolves into its main theme through a barrage of guitar sound and ferocious drumming. The initial verse / chorus section is superb and illustrates Nick Barrett ’s always present sense of good melody. Swathes of soaring guitar and synths keep things moving forward before the tempo is briefly muted via a subtle keyboard and acoustic guitar passage before returning to an even heavier refrain of the main theme. The second section of the song sees a nod back towards the Pendragon of old and is a delightfully laid back lament of dreamy atmospheres and vocals set against a superb Barrett guitar solo.
Next up is the up tempo Eraserhead that opens with a crunching guitar riff alongside a tight and purposeful bass and drum accompaniment. The main body of the song edgily shuffles between woozy laid back vocals over synth strings and more superb guitar led melodies. Again the energetic drumming of new man Scott Higham is impressive and his addition to the fold has definitely added a new dimension to the Pendragon sound especially within the heavier sections. Mid-song a more relaxed section evolves evoking memories of Fish-era Marillion with a very Rothery like guitar line fused with some clever use of vocal samples and synth textures. The song then builds again utilising further swathes of multi-layered guitar with some great bass work from Peter Gee. Things are concluded in impressive fashion with some excellent guitar and keyboard interplay and including a fast metal section with echoes of Dream Theater.
The three-part centrepiece Comatose sees the band at their most expansive and creative. Part 1 - View From The Seashore opens with a understated piano and vocal refrain before building into a signature swathe of gentle melancholic atmospheres. This mood is dramatically altered via a guitar riff assault that would have sat comfortably on the last Porcupine Tree opus. Indeed the track in its entirety is effective by using the contrasts of light and dark / quiet and loud. Again the quality of the melodies and playing is first rate although the sampled string section at the end doesn’t quite work in context to the piece as a whole. The opening to Part 2 – Space Cadet sees the band returning to more familiar territory show-casing the bouncy melodic signature sound they have made their own over the years. The second part of the song is much darker constructed around good use of mellotron and organ. Barrett ’s vocals are particularly menacing here. Part 3 – Home And Dry is a real slow burner progressing from a dreamy laid-back melody to a dark and brooding conclusion. Within its whole Barrett delivers a fabulous guitar solo that is a real highlight of the album.
Next up is the shortest track on the album The Freak Show which opens with a wall of multi-layered guitar before evolving into the kind of catchy and emotive guitar melody that reminds this listener why progressive rock at its best is simply irresistible! Of all the songs here it is without doubt the most straightforward but no less impressive. It is built around a fine melody and is driven by some great bass and drum interplay.
In line with previous Pendragon releases final track Its Only Me is a ballad and is a slow and sad lament that ends with a spellbinding extended Barrett guitar solo. In fact it is one of his finest.
Put simply Pure is superb. Pendragon have managed to redefine their sound without losing their creative heart and deliver a set of memorable songs that as a collective outweigh anything they have done in the past. It is well written, well played and well produced. It brims with great ideas, is full of surprises and sees the band at the very top of their game. And 30 years into a career that is all the more remarkable.
Dries Dokter's Review
From the first note it is clear that with Pure, Pendragon wants to sound like a different band. Nick Barrett's voice is different, the guitars are different, and the keyboards are different. One might think that Pendragon has given into the criticism that their last album did sound all too familiar. I did not agree with that anyway, it's hard to deal with such critics: where does copying yourself begin and having a distinctive own sound end? I think this album does have a distinctive Pendragon sound, however, it is not easily recognized as a Pendragon album but one still feels sure that this is a Pendragon album (does that make any sense?). Of course all these things are of no importance and no concern, what is important is: how good is this album? It is good! This "new direction" is quite a good thing: it is as if some of the sweetness so characteristic to Pendragon albums was taken out and some roughness was used to replace it. The songs are more complex not only in composition but also in the extra sounds and decorations that are used.
Just take Indigo for an example, it starts of with a rock guitar, dogs barking in the background and a weeping guitar with a rough edge. After this intro a heavier (but in no way metal!!) guitar sets in. It is up tempo but not cheery, kind of threatening, and it is a rock kind of prog rock. It is an impressive song and certainly a great one to start the album with. The rasp Nick Barrett has in his voice is more prominently present because all the vocals seem to be in a lower key and it does serve the song well. Eraserhead is no less a surprise than the first track. It has a very raw and again rocky sound but this time it is the keyboard, with maybe some influences from Arena but again very raw and even kind of aggressive. The lyrics: "I hate your country - I hate this new religion" don't really sound like your normal Pendragon lyrics do they? But boy is this an energetic song!
Comatose is a song split up in three parts. Part one View From The Seashore starts off like a more conventional Pendragon album, but again with a kind of desolate sad feeling. And than at about three minutes the song explodes into heavy guitars (sounding a bit like Porcupine Tree) and again keys and soundscapes. So hard to describe but parts of it are so Pendragon (in a good way) and so not Pendragon (in an even better way). Vaguely it reminds of Pendragon at around the time they recorded The Jewel (the first time). The transition into Part Two Space Cadet is brilliant: haunting strings taken over by a simple guitar loop immediately supported by soundscapes by Mr Nolan again. Part Three Home And Dry starts of with a jazzy guitar accompanied by again some weird soundscapes. After that the songs takes a more "traditional Pendragon" course, if it were not for the screeching guitar sounds.
The Freak Show again starts of as true rock song that then gets picked up by a weeping guitar, that fades to the background when the rocky guitars take over again. The lyrics, again, are not cheery but they do sound very intimate and real. The last track on the album It's Only Me reminds of the last track of the previous album, because of the atmosphere and the lyrical content. It is an emotional ballad.
It is hard to understand how Pendragon created this album. Because a band just can't sit down and decide to change their musical direction. It might be something that happens while ideas start flowing but "sounding different" should not be a purpose in itself. Still Nick Barrett announced up front that the next album would be quite different. And this album is, it really is. And yet they remained true to themselves and still sound like Pendragon but a really Pure form of Pendragon. Therefore it must not be a coincidence that this is the album's title.
I only hope that the lyrics on this album do not reflect how Nick Barrett is feeling nowadays because they all share a gloomy world view. Not a happy or hopeful one. In fact that is the whole feel you get off the album, but it is what makes this a very good album.
The limited edition comes with a very good looking sleeve/booklet very good artwork (and also a break with tradition) and there is also a handy cam progumentary on the extra DVD. A very nice and informative DVD. Don't expect a a 5.1 mix or crisp images but it is nice and it does show the enthusiasm of especially Nick Barrett about this album. It also shows that he is still a very positive man.
In conclusion Pendragon's Pure is a superb album and is without a doubt the best so far, however, it most certainly is not "yet another Pendragon album". This album is proof of the fact that Pendragon is still one of the top progressive rock bands and with this album they are not just standing ground they are gaining new. To put it in two simple but heart-felt words: DPRP recommended!
Edwin Roosjen's Review
A new Pendragon album always stirs up the world of progressive rock - will it be as good, will the sound be the same? For Believe Nick Barrett promised that the sound of Pendragon would change, but did not deliver completely. A good album and a start was made, but on Pure this change has been completed without losing the Pendragon identity. The release of the artwork was an indication that this album would surely indicate a shift in sound. And one change was known beforehand; the new album features a new man behind the drums, his name is Scott Higham. He is a much more powerful drummer and this will show in the style of the music on Pure.
Indigo is the opener and a very long one and not really a lot shorter than the split-up Comatose. With the opening solo about one minute long, this is very short for Pendragon, then continuing in a style that reminds me of the album Pepper's Ghost from Arena. Nick's singing is good although on this album he doesn't take many risks. The first part of this song is very accessible and a pleasant ride. In the middle of the song a heavy guitar riff spices up the sound, the spacey keyboard sounds make this a very nice part. The last part features old fashion lengthy guitar solo's and this will be familiar to many Pendragon fans. On the whole this is a very good composition, balanced out and for me this is another classic Pendragon song.
Eraserhead is a song about the influence of political correctness on the children growing up. The start of the song sounds again a bit like Arena, which to me is not a bad thing. The song alternates heavy parts and slower instrumental parts in a very pleasant style. The instrumental parts prevent this song from becoming a standard rock song and the heavy parts prevent it from becoming a too lengthy epic. It is a powerful Pendragon song that will do well live.
Comatose is the lengthy epic Pendragon song cut into three pieces. Similar perhaps to The Wishing Well on Believe which could be approached as four separate songs glued together, but this is not the case with Comatose. View From The Seashore starts as a fragile ballad with beautiful violin. Whoever thinks that this will go on and on is very wrong. Pendragon has become heavier and this song suddenly takes a U-turn. A very heavy riff opens the song for a more powerful second part. Typical Nick Barrett guitar solos are featured and the song ends with some frantic orchestral part. The clap-a-long drum beat carries this song into the middle part Space Cadet. This piece is old school Pendragon, the first part of the album where I thought I have heard it before. A spoken statement by Nick is followed by an ambient start of Home And Dry. This section continues the so familiar Pendragon style and will appeal to all the die-hard fans. Whether or not this epic will evolve into a Pendragon classic - only time will tell, however it can easily be placed next to The Wishing Well.
The Freakshow must be one of the shortest complete songs of Pendragon. It starts very heavy, although still it has that Pendragon feel to it, but this song really shows the band has evolved. A very good song that will be at it's best when performed live. Some things do not change, so for the last song, Nick has, as before, written a very beautiful ballad. On first spin It's Only Me did not do a lot for me, but after while this songs opens up. The harmonica bit at the start is certainly a first timer and I hope it won't be a last timer. Pendragon closes the album in style showing they truly are "A Band Of Brothers".
I was a bit sceptical about this album as Believe had showed a change and proved to be a very good album, but stayed in the safe line of the previous Pendragon releases. But now we have this new album, Pure and it really blew me away. It shows a reborn Pendragon but in the heart of it it all they stayed the same. The classic lengthy guitar solos from Nick Barrett are still there and so are the typical keyboard parts from Clive Nolan. The compositions and lyrics are of high quality and this album shows that Nick Barrett is truly a big composer in all history of progressive rock. I don't know if drummer Scott Higham alone brought the power to Pendragon, but he sure played a big part in it. Pure is a very good album and stepped up to be my new favourite Pendragon album, I never thought that this would happen. Of course this album is highly recommended.
GARETH LONG : 9.5 out of 10
DRIES DOKTER : 9 out of 10
EDWIN ROOSJEN : 9.5 out of 10