Anabiose — Debout sous le ciel
The only promotional info that accompanies Anabiose's debut album Debout sous le ciel is a postcard (Olly On Canvas by Anneke Teijken for those interested) that reads "Groeten uit GOUDA" ("greetings from Gouda"), capitol city of the famous Dutch cheese. Could this be a new French-orientated progressive project from Holland? Well, it isn't, for as soon as I turn over the card in order to read its contents, I'm welcomed by perfectly flawless Dutch explaining that this is an album by Serge Cuenot, ex-guitarist of Ange.
This instantly throws my expectancy off-balance, also in light of the French connection to a progressive rock group I personally don't connect with. Slipping the CD into my player, I'm once again thrown out of equilibrium, for the welcoming music hardly reveals any traces of the musical style that that renowned band is known for; Instead it displays a more bluesy rock style, complemented by pop and occasional progressive elements.
With just a single reference of a telephone number, I turn to the internet to find out more and after spending quite some time Google-ing a vast variety of search terms I come up completely empty, apart from a mentioned Bandcamp existence. Not all is lost, for some evidence mentions the album is out there, holding a copy in my hands acknowledges this fact obviously, but the internet (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, you name it) is still a complete blank canvas waiting to be explored by every single musician involved in Anabiose.
So hereby a debt of gratitude to Anneke, who turns out to be the painter of the card by the way, for introducing Anabiose to the prog community! Otherwise, this fine effort might actually have passed by an entire audience, which would have been a shame as it's actually a very nice album.
Anaboise consists of Serge Cuenot (guitars, vocals), Jean-Claude Potin (drums) and Laurent Sigrist (bass), all having previously played together in Ange during the 80s (1982-1987). It was in early 2020 that the three finally met up again at a 50th anniversary event involving Ange, where Cuenot shared some of his musical wishes. A new band was rather quickly formed, and together with Serge's son Frédéric Cuenot (rhythm guitars) and Michaël de Potter (of Ska group '2 Tone club') on keyboards, recordings started on Debout sous le ciel.
Each of the eight compositions breaths a wonderful, relaxed atmosphere, enhanced by Cuenot's smooth and pleasant tone of voice which occasionally is mindful to that of a French "chansonnier". Not the Charles Aznavour kind of class, although some similar, elegant touches are revealed by Cuenot.
This pop music link is clearly identifiable in Anabiose's engaging compositions. If one imagines a mid-80s feel of Dire Straits and Eric Clapton (Behind The Sun era) alongside the prog-rock sophistication of JPL (Nemo) with occasional subtle dashes into classic rock, one is well and truly on their way.
Within this musical environment Cuenot's drop-dead gorgeous guitar-sound leaves a big mark on the music. He whips out some delicious solos too, especially in the rockier moments of the music.
How Cuenot pulls the strings excitingly in a Buck Dharma (Blue Öyster Cult) kind of way is demonstrated in 1 Pull 2 Packs, a short but ever so catchy rock song. Prissonier de mes rêves's ending simultaneously runs through several Wishbone Ash flavourings and infectious blues-rock melodies that are reinforced by touching organ escapades from de Potter.
As with every track, this song excitingly swings and grooves throughout, emitting some delicate sound likeness to Mark Knopfler, while his guitar gentle weeps in a Clapton manner. The well constructed Ienissei manages to imprint this, as well as lovely melody lines and fluent guitar work.
The nurtured build up of Dieu et moi, floating on tasty organ and manoeuvring its way graciously through a variety of dynamic atmospheric changes, is no different and this fine composition sees Cuenot's 'chansonnier' qualifications emerge beautifully.
The music's ever-present blues connection is rather appealing and the subdued generosity of Gitane is another fine demonstration. The detailed attention to arrangements in this song is well thought-out, although this can actually be stated for all songs, especially Chaos, which is nothing like it's title suggests.
As I've stated several times before in various French-themed reviews, my knowledge of this language is fairly basic, despite my more than average knowledge of fine wines, fabulous spirits, their aromatic yummy cheeses and Burgundy lifestyle. Because of this language barrier most of the lyrics deeper meaning pass me by in complete unawareness. This is why I'm slightly confused by Chaos as I rank this song to be one of the most organised compositions enclosed on the album. Opening with refrained blues and a warm organic sound, its perfectly-subdued build-up sees smooth rhythmic integration with tempting organ that slowly invades the heart of the naturally flowing music. The composition fades ever so smoothly into a tightly controlled comfortable rounded whole.
The universal declaration of L'amours en 5 acts goes beyond any limiting translations, and at first gives a comforting hug of catchy rock. Slowly these highly seductive passages glide into atmospheric heaven as heart-warming bluesy endearments from Cuenot polish the gem-like melodies into a lovely shining Pink Floyd inspired diamond. A great finish to the album.
I've still to determine a preferred way of listening to Debout sous le ciel. So far it has giving beautiful satisfaction in every situation. This is due to its mature sound, solid executions and Cuenot's gift of always being on cue with that extra sparkle of guitar.
Hopefully a follow-up will see the light of day, although for the moment this remains uncertain for apparently Anabiose is supposed to be a one-time only project. I, for one, hope they will reconsider this, for Debout sous le ciel is a complete joy to listen to and worthy of further musical expansion. If this should happen, then hopefully the appeal of the music will be matched by its promotion. This album surely deserves it!
Belling The Tiger — Lost
From the outset, I must first comment on the outrageous cost the band have incurred to send me a CD for review. Due to some ridiculous but temporary issues with shipments from the USA to Australia not being accepted because of Covid risks, it has cost the band US$ 69.35 (A$ 96.07) in postage! If this was a nuclear shipment from North Korea, Syria, or Iran, there may be some legitimate reason for such a postage surcharge but from America for such a small package? This is seriously wrong, but I believe this criminal overcharge is a thing of the past as our borders have re-opened again to most fully vaccinated arrivals. It is also comforting to see the authorities have typically gone overboard and triple vaccinated the CD, as I can see a cotton swab on the cover with a little smear of blood at the injection site. I also hope the double cavity search at the border didn't hurt the CD too much as I know from first-hand experience, these damn things can hurt. Those border force dudes enjoy their job way too much, methinks!
However, on a more serious note, kudos to the band and Duane Harvey in particular, for expending so much money to hear my thoughts.
So what do we have here?
Belling The Tiger are a totally new band to me and probably most of our readers, as this is their debut album. The band consists of Danny Grimm (vocals), Duane Harvey (drums, electronic drums, percussion, backing vocals), Andrew Harvey (bass, backing vocals), Michael Johnstone (auxiliary guitar, keyboards), Michael Allen Moore (guitars, keyboards, mandolin, vocals), and Anişoara Bălălău (vocals on track 8).
Reading through much of the online promotional information, one acknowledges the fact that most members have considerable experience within the Detroit music scene in a variety of roles. This includes an involvement with the late 60s legendary rock band Frijid Pink, the 90s band House of Usher and current band Mob Opera. In addition, two members have served time at various universities to increase their musical knowledge and abilities.
With 11 tracks that include a five-part epic totalling over 18 minutes, the band have attempted to leave an indelible impression within a market that is always looking for new talent to appreciate. After a few spins, it will become apparent that Belling The Tiger should have no trouble adding their name to that list.
It is good to see that both Michaels exploit the use of keyboards, as that style of instrument, to me, is hard to ignore these days in a bands' list of equipment. Considering how versatile even a simple set-up can become, to me, it becomes mandatory for the inclusion of keyboards, especially for today's music. Adding mandolin (one of my numerous favourite instruments), just adds icing to the cake.
The band have a melodic but quite forceful approach to progressive rock, as they fuse elements from both camps to attain their desired sound. Their vocalist also has a pretty powerful voice that leaves one inspired when he attains those complex and higher notes. That becomes clearly evident during the closing passages of Lost (part 2), despite there being some earlier parts that sounded a little off-key. Lyrically, the band have also covered a lot of the pertinent issues that confront humanity these days, including commentary about people's indifference, ignorance and what I interpret as a somewhat cryptic analysis of our youth. I may be wrong here, as the messages within the lyrics can sometimes sound quite obscure and be subject to different interpretations.
Whether you want to hear soaring lead guitar, blistering keyboard passages, complex time signatures or vocal extravaganza, you'll find a veritable smorgasbord of those ingredients on most of these tracks.
Conceptually, I am hearing a variation of Sonus Umbra, Condition Red, Tr3nity or even fellow compatriots, Ad Infinitum sans the direct Genesis connection. The band definitely have their own identity, and as they play their hearts out, you can see that they are enjoying the journey. There are other possible candidates for comparison, including Cathedral, Illuvatar, and even Salem Hill. These are less definitive though.
Overall, Belling The Tiger have achieved, with their first offering, what many bands fail to achieve after many attempts. It is powerful yet refined; emotional yet evocative. It is also current and very relevant in today's world of struggle and uncertainty. There are plenty of crunchy sections, segments played with great finesse and some subtle guitar that evokes the Steve Howe-style in parts. The playing is very tight, the production very clear and precise, and the album's duration is just about perfect. The CD booklet with accompanying lyrics also assists in interpreting the messages conveyed within.
Although the music is very inspired, dynamic and emotional, I often feel the singer is stronger than the material itself. The depth of emotion and vocal delivery is quite incredible throughout most of the tracks but I sense one essential ingredient is in need of a small boost. As a seasoned progressive rock music fan since the late 60s I am however, always looking for a few more hooks that totally reel me in. I know this band can do that, as they have ably demonstrated on various tracks such as Bleak and Shine On. With a little more attention to writing more melodic and memorable material, I can see the band developing a considerably strong following.
There is plenty of latent capability from all members, so I imagine a more collaborative attempt to increase the replay-ability factor on their next album will help drive album sales further. Referencing that previous album by Ad Infinitum, playing the track, Waterline will give, for some listeners, a perfect example of a song with plenty of hooks and melody, despite its 11-minute duration.
I feel it is always encouraging to see new bands complete a project and to do it well. Despite the few slight issues with hooks and melody, I wish the band plenty of luck in the future and look forward to hearing any subsequent albums they produce. You guys should all feel proud of your achievements! Nice work!
Giant Sky — Giant Sky
Back in the seventies I taped an epic track from Radio Caroline from an unknown band. Because of the extremely unreliable reception, the sound quality was absolutely awful but that was more than compensated for by the mystical and exciting atmosphere of that pulsating track. After many, many years I learnt that it was Parents, a long track by Budgie, a band I'd never heard of before. Of course, I collected some of their records but apart from that one song I couldn't relate to the band. Too bad.
Yet that same track came back to my mind when I put the self-titled debut album by Giant Sky in my CD player. The opening epic The Further We Go, The Deeper It Gets (Parts 1-6) has that same mystical atmosphere as the aforementioned Budgie track, with airy vocals, soft pulsating keys and bass, fine guitar playing and a rather slow but very attractive melody. Vocalist Myrtoula Røe has a similar pleasant voice as the Budgie singer, making you wonder whether it's male or female. Meanwhile, the pulses of the keys, bass and drums take you everywhere during this cinematic track. This a very strong opener for the album.
Thus, my curiosity was awakened about the band that delivered this beautiful haunting song. Giant Sky is the brainchild of Erlend Viken who many may know as one of the founding members of Norwegian progressive outfit Soup. I'm completely unfamiliar with that band, so I judge this album in its own right. After listening to it, I can only conclude that I'm deeply impressed but not totally satisfied, the reason for which I'll come to at the end of this review.
Viken had asked quite a few musical friends to play on this record. He plays various instruments and also does some vocals. He uses no less than three drummers (Erlend Aastad, Espen Berge, Sverre Leraand), three female vocalists (Myrtoula Røe, Marina Skanche, Charlotte Stav) as well as Ivan Ushakov on flutes, Liv Brox on viola, Vegard Lien Bjerkan on church organ (a real one!), and Sturla Fagerli Larsen on various percussion and vocals.
In the information delivered with the album, Viken states that his inspiration lies, amongst others, with Nick Drake, Eno, Tame Impala and Ludwig von Beethoven. No wonder the music is tagged as being all kinds of things such as indie rock, ambient synth, shoegaze, folk (?) and soundtrack. I think the latter tag is the most accurate.
This album has five mid-length to epic tracks and two short ones. The latter serve mainly as connecting tracks between the longer ones, which works well.
The stunning opener is followed by the really beautiful and no less mystical Broken Stone. The attractive mellow vocal melody is sung beautifully by Sturla Fagerli Larsen. The pulsating synths lay down a beautiful musical carpet over which other synths, piano and some guitars play counter melodies. Towards the end, the pace rises to give room for a long coda in which several synths, piano, bass and drums each play their own melody over which the vocals are sung. Think of Genesis' Ripples mixed with Entangled for the first part of this song, and you'll be quite close. The second part is more Anathema meets Vangelis. Another splendid track in which Viken takes his time, which turns out to be a fantastic idea.
Interlude is a short classical instrumental with just flute and piano. I especially liked it, as it made me think strongly of John Hackett accompanied by Tony Banks because of its romantic mood.
No Cancelling This is a more rocky affair with heavenly drumming by Sverre Leraand over the synth pulses in the middle section of the song. The start and the coda are very quiet, with pulsating synths and some subtle flute, piano and strings in the background.
As if the romantic mysticism hadn't been erected enough in the former songs, we get even more mystical sounds in the haunting Out Of Swords. Roe and Fagerli Larsen share the vocal duties here, and their vocals blend together very well. The very subtle synth sounds over a droning background make you feel as if you are in a misty and potentially dangerous environment, yet with a contrasting feeling of being totally at home. A fantastic piece of music that can serve perfectly as a soundtrack for a David Lynch movie.
But as I stated earlier I'm not totally satisfied with this album and the reasons for this are the last two songs. Part 7 of the long epic turns out to be a non-entity of a synth instrumental that adds absolutely nothing to the former parts. Maybe this piece would have worked as an integral part of the epic itself but as a stand-alone track it is to my ears totally unnecessary.
That can most certainly not be said of the last track Breaking Patterns. This starts off with another beautiful droning theme and another very fine vocal melody, this time sung by Viken himself and Charlotte Stav. The haunting mysticism fits the total mood of the album. The full band outburst after two minutes, over which the flute plays a heavenly solo, is great and seems to lead to a very fine synth and flute coda with dynamic bass and drums that would have been a very fitting end to this great album.
Alas things change dramatically for the worse at the 6:30 mark. There Viken decided to do some very false acoustic guitar strumming, thus creating an appalling out-of-tune end. The reasons for this very unfortunate choice (Arty? A statement? Doing something unexpected?) go far beyond my comprehension. I found it awful and a real disgrace to the album which made me feel unsatisfied in the end.
In spite of this flaw, this is a very fine album by an accomplished musician that will appeal to many, especially those who like the more mellow side of prog as offered by bands like Airbag, Gazpacho, Pink Floyd during their Atom Heart Mother-period and, on certain moments, Magna Carta. Because of this very nice album I'll definitely give Soup a serious listen!
Glacier — Island in the Sky
When I was a teenager and starting to listen to progressive rock, I loved it all. But it eventually became clear that I loved different bands in different ways; later still, I came to put most bands into one of two groups.
Group One was the “Yes” group. It included, of course, Yes but also such bands as King Crimson and UK. These were bands I marvelled at, mostly because of their technical virtuosity. I don't mean that I didn't genuinely love the music (I did and still do) but only that their music was almost impossibly complicated, and I had to pay attention very carefully to appreciate what was on offer. (Let's face it: Crimson's Fracture isn't background music.)
Group Two was the “Genesis” group, including that great band and Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull, among many others. This was hardly background music either, but it was on the whole less technically-dazzling and more melodic than music made by bands in the “Yes” group. I suppose if I had to make a call, I'd admit to a slight preference for the “Genesis” group.
All this is prologue to my review of Glacier's excellent third album, Island In The Sky. Although I somehow missed their second album, I had been and remain a fan of their debut album, 2001's Monument. But when I first played Island In The Sky, my decades-old system of classification sprang to mind, and it may be useful to begin my comments on the album by saying that Glacier is solidly in the “Genesis” group.
This is technically-accomplished progressive rock that never loses sight of the importance of melody. Get a copy of the album and start with Our Children if you need proof of this band's attention to a good melody amongst the virtuoso playing.
There are many things to like about this album. The first being that it has been carefully planned as a coherent, carefully sequenced album. Sure, you can enjoy individual songs, and of course a few stand out over the others, but you will enjoy Island In The Sky most if you play it all the way through. That way you will appreciate the musicianship and variety apparent in each song and their care in the correct placement of those songs.
Another thing that will impress you (some more than others, I suppose) is that the album has an overall concept (The Human Condition) and each song is meant to highlight one or two facets of the human condition.
For example, The Isle Of Glass is supposed to illustrate “Faith & Belief”. Our Children has as its theme “Malice & Destruction” and so forth. How do I know? I know these facts from the three pages of explanation provided with the CD as I received it for review. Although the handsomely produced gatefold CD includes a lyric booklet, one would have to work hard, I'd say, to derive those themes even if one were to listen carefully to both music and lyrics. Perhaps it's enough that the band knows. (I ought to add that the information is also available on the band's website, so it's not as if they're trying to be coy.)
What of the music? Imagine a smidgen of Lindisfarne, a dollop of Genesis, a bit of Soft Machine here and there. Well, that's not a terribly accurate set of analogies as I don't know of another progressive-rock band that sounds quite like Glacier. Perhaps their greatest strength (apart from the excellent instrumental work) is the group vocals courtesy of lead vocalist Dave Birdsall and five of the band's seven members, along with guest vocalist Linzi Hunter. Combined with the virtuoso musicianship, the group vocals add almost a “folksy” element to many of the songs.
The group is such a tight ensemble that I'm reluctant to single out individual musicians, but I guarantee that you will be taken with the frequent, lovely flute playing of multi-instrumentalist Chris Wing. Also praiseworthy is the fluid guitar work of John Youdale (is that a Slow Gear pedal, so beloved of Steve Howe, that I hear on a song or two?) and the tasteful and tuneful piano work of Dave Kidson over the deft, pleasing, melodic playing of bassist Bob Mulvey.
Most importantly, all seven musicians recognise that the song is king. So, although solos abound, they always serve each song's purpose and aren't there simply as virtuoso pieces.
This is one of the relatively few albums I've received for review that I consider a “keeper”. I think you'll agree and will be hooked from the first listening, but you'll be ready to listen again immediately and often. This is a fine piece of modern progressive rock that is rooted in the classics of the seventies but has a sound all its own.
David Minasian — Random Dreams - The Very Best Of David Minasian Vol 1.
For those who have not yet heard of David Minasian, he is a multi-instrumentalist from the USA who released a solo album in 1984 but then took a new path of discovery which would see his own projects shelved for some time. David is co-credited with an obscure album from 1996 entitled It's Not Too Late. This was recorded with William Drews on vocals along with other session musicians to add drums, guitar and bass. After a temporary hiatus, David released the brilliant Random Acts Of Beauty in 2010. This was followed by The Sound Of Dreams in 2020. Both albums have been positively reviewed despite not being very well known in the mainstream arena.
David really cut his teeth a few decades ago as a budding film producer and is currently credited with having directed and produced nine videos for legendary band, Camel. He has also been involved with producing for Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues). These engagements obviously took up a lot of his time, and accordingly kept him away from the recording studio until his own musical aspirations finally took over.
This wonderful album contains seven tracks: three from his 2010 release and four from his most recent. It contains three epic tracks, all over 10 minutes long and four medium length gems. The album drips with very emotive and soaring lead breaks, along with achingly beautiful melodies that are simply not heard enough these days. Being principally a keyboard player, his playing on this collection is simply stunning and would satisfy anyone wondering what Tony Banks had been doing lately. His very talented son, Justin, is also credited with providing some excellent guitar accompaniment, worthy of a veteran twice his age.
Additionally, the guest musicians helping David include many well known luminaries from within the industry, so you are in great company here. Justin Hayward (vocals, guitars, keyboards - 1), Steve Hackett (guitars - 4, 6), Annie Haslam (vocals - 4, 12), Billy Sherwood (bass - 4, 5, 6, 12), PJ Olsson (vocals - 11) and Julie Ragins (vocals - 8) all contribute magnificently.
Opening proceedings is the stunning track Masquerade, which if you thought sounded like Camel, you'd be right. Andy Latimer adds his tell-tale evocative guitar magic, which helps punch this masterpiece right through the stratosphere. Additional embellishments from cor anglais also add to its charm. Storming The Castle is another excellent track. It begins with a beautifully serene melody but then opens up with some fine interplay with gutsy guitar and more synth.
Summer's End begins with plaintiff piano, softly-sung lyrics followed by Mellotron and keys, to then embrace Justin's stunning guitar which rivals any of the best. Think a melding of Steve Hackett, Andy Latimer, Janos Varga, Lanvall, Edenbridge, and Kayak, and you'd be in the ballpark.
The acoustic beginning to The Wind Of Heaven introduces another masterpiece that could have been lifted from any of the excellent albums by The Moody Blues. Justin Hayward adds his lovely voice to this wonderfully composed gem which makes you realise what a talented man he is. The Sound Of Dreams continues this pattern, while Room With Dark Corners allows female vocals to take centre stage accompanied by more excellent synth. The album finally closes with Twin Flames At Midnight, which at 13:42 minutes in length is the perfect epic to complete the odyssey.
There are some inspiring multi-instrumentalists whose body of work never seems to be fully appreciated, as too many music fans just buy what they're told to by the corporate world. What a tragedy to think how much brilliant music never rises above the Plimsoll Line. While the rest of the world greedily laps up so much 5th tier commercial drivel from people who should not be allowed out in public, let alone be allowed inside a recording studio, gems such as this go sadly unnoticed. If only we could change that ridiculous level of ignorance.
David Minasian sits comfortably amongst his contemporaries such as Rick Miller, Steve Unruh, Guy Manning, Alan Reed, Robert Reed, Ken Baird, Antony Kalugin, Dave Bainbridge, David Arkenstone, early Gordon Giltrap, Janos Varga, Kevin Peek, (Sky), Larry Benigno, (Sonic Music), Martin Orford (IQ), Mike Oldfield, Nick Magnus, Steve Thorne and so many others.
I've extracted from David's website his favourite and most inspirational albums which include the following and which ironically match my own with a few exceptions: 1. Blue Jays by Justin Hayward and John Lodge 2. Seventh Sojourn by The Moody Blues 3. Trick Of The Tail by Genesis 4. Blondel by Amazing Blondel 5. Ever Sense The Dawn by Providence 6. A Nod And A Wink by Camel 7. Gone To Earth by Barclay James Harvest 8. Song For All Seasons by Renaissance 9. Going For The One by Yes 10. Songs From The Wood by Jethro Tull
From this list of music, you can easily appreciate the huge influence that these essential albums have had on David's own music. It possesses all the excellent qualities of those aforementioned bands but allows David to add his own DNA. If you have been missing some new output from these favourites, now is the time to change that.
Obviously, David sounds best during his smooth, comfortable and melodic compositions, so if any of the previously mentioned bands or artists are on your favourites list, then this excellent album deserves a place in your collection as well. Recommendations don't come highly enough for this brilliant man's brilliant music. It's simple really. Get your shoes on, grab your keys and wallet and buy this gem that you know you deserve. Off you go now!
Alan Simon — Excalibur V - Move, Cry, Act, Clash!
This is the fifth instalment of Alan Simon's mini-epic, celtic-rock opera which features more guest performers than appear in the phone book. There is even a Wikipedia page on this project.
Joining Alan Simon, (composer, producer, acoustic guitar, backing vocals, Jew's harp, harmonica), we have a well known string of minstrels adding their weight to the project. These include John Anthony Halliwell (saxophones on 7, 9, 11), Martin Barre (guitars and mandolin on 1, 6), Michael Sadler (lead vocals on 3, 11), Bernie Shaw (lead vocals on 1, 4, 5, 7), Roberto Tiranti (lead vocals on 1, 6, 8), Steve Hackett (guitars on 11), Mick Fleetwood (drums), Richard Palmer-James (guitars, Jerry Goodman (violin on 1,2,3), Jesse Siebenberg (vocals on 9,1 1), Shira Golan and Miriam Toukan (vocals on 11), and John Wetton (voice on 12).
For starters, it should be noted that there is little reference to progressive rock to be found within the songs, despite the attendance of many stalwarts from within the prog rock industry. The songs have an agreeable level of accessibility and don't offend in any way but just don't expect any ground-breaking type of proggish material. Seeing this is the fifth iteration of this concept, it would be expected that some degree of duplication is evident, and to a degree that is correct. Certainly, episodes 1 through 4 of this ongoing saga all rate higher than the latest platter, so perhaps this project may have run its course.
There are certainly no surprises here, and it's not as if you'd be treated to some bombastic keyboard mayhem as you might expect from a new project by Ayreon. This is very much a play it safe, play it by the numbers affair and while the execution is fine, it may not ignite the senses the way Arjen Lucassen or even Erik Norlander might. Ironically, it's the final song, The Vision, that will probably appeal the most, as it will remind one of Toto's excellent hit called Africa. It has a very catchy hook and will have you singing along in no time. The other tracks may take more time to penetrate into the hippocampus. (And no, that's not where large African animals congregate around university).
The use of so many diverse guest musicians does work well however, as we are treated to a degree of diversification. Vocally, the album is quite strong, particularly on Messaline and if I'm not wrong, the song is nicely enhanced with the use of a chanter.
Bernie Shaw has never sounded so good, despite being in his mid 60s. On the handful of tracks where he sings, you really appreciate the clarity, depth and penetrative ability of his voice. It really is great to see veteran singers like Bernie still having a clean set of pipes that don't need de-rusting. (Note to self: revisit mid 90s Uriah Heep albums). The rest of the album contains a decent bevy of pretty catchy and memorable songs but they're not overly adventurous. The few celtic flourishes are certainly present, but they don't overwhelm.
Being what it is, I would not relegate this to the swaps pile, but give it time to sink in for the odd spin here or there. A decent effort but I prefer some earlier chapters.