Ben Craven — Monsters From The Id
It has been six years since Australian progger Ben Craven last released an album of new material, the excellent Last Chance To Hear, so the arrival of Monsters From The Id was met with some anticipation.
The album, his fifth studio release (notwithstanding an album of single edits and an EP which, for some reason, is omitted from his Bandcamp site) is a full-on prog epic. It features just two songs, both of 19+ minutes in duration, both of which are exceptionally conceived, written, played and recorded. It is replete with delights.
But what is most impressive about the album is that it is entirely the work of Craven, who has (with the exception of the artwork) written, arranged, performed and produced every note by himself. A quick aside about the artwork, the typography is instantly recognisable as being the work of the infamous Roger Dean but the main artwork is by his daughter Freyja Dean who has clearly inherited her father's exceptional artistic skills that are employed in a style that is distinctly her own.
The album starts on a grand scale with Sleeping Spectre, the opening part of Die Before You Wake, sounding like the beginning of Holst's The Planet Suite on speed. A thumping drum beat and a distant sound of a heavenly choir leads into the brief instrumental Ancient Majesty before arriving at the meat of the song, the first vocal part which takes the overall song's title. Beautifully melodic with some fine singing and interesting lyrics, it has a hook that sticks in the brain long after the song is over.
Warming Glow is more atmospheric, with the initial keyboard riff being replaced by a achingly-smooth guitar. Wicked Delights cleverly reprises elements of Ancient Majesty with a bigger and heavier arrangement before heading into the second vocal section which is as delightful the second time around as it was the first time. The closing section, Endless Night has a distinct Floydian feel to it, with a stylish lead guitar showing that it is not how many notes you play that matter, as long as the ones you do play are played with feeling. Concluding with a faux Mellotron choir, this is an exceptional opening track to the album.
Even though it is 19+ minutes long, it seems to fly by in a blink. The different sections fit together perfectly, resulting in a seamless flow. Craven has somehow managed to create this flow and yet maintain an individual identity to each section, which is of considerable benefit when it comes to the 'bonus' single edit pieces that are also included on the release. However, we are only halfway through the album, so let us continue with Amnis Flows Aeternum.
The title is a couple of obscurish Latin-derived words which basically means the river flows eternally (although at the risk of being called pedantic and at an even bigger risk of being wrong, I think Amnis Flows In Aeternum would be a more correct title). Following the style of Die Before You Wake, this piece is divided into sections; this time eleven of then. Nine of these are instrumental and two, which take the name of the overall piece, being vocal.
Although eleven distinct sections may seen excessive, there is no fear that this is a mass of different musical ideas all crammed together to artificially created an extended playing time. In reality there are essentially only six sections and several reprises, but such information simply detracts from the overall glory of the piece.
Again, Craven has masterly created a piece that just glides. It doesn't really need the subsections to be labelled and named, as it is one complete piece of music. Although it does help with reviewing and, as mentioned previously, in the single edits.
The track incorporates a bit of everything, some themes that would not be out of place in a classic (i.e. old) James Bond film (Guiding Voice), a playful dalliance on a sitar guitar (Sound And Light), the possibly unique playing of some prog glockenspiel (Royal Rewards), dramatic builds (Blessed Stream), a section which has nods to Floyd, although this time more in the direction of Rick Wright than David Gilmour (Earthly Dues) and once again memorable vocal sections (although it should be pointed out that Amnis Flows Aeternum Part 3 includes a lengthy instrumental section with an excellent guitar performance).
The four single edits and sections have been excised from the main pieces as bite-sized chunks. However, they have actually been mixed, so are not exactly as they appear in the main pieces; as you can tell if you observe the running times closely. These pieces are probably best consumed via the accompanying DVD where they are synced to some immensely enjoyable old film and animation extracts of a natural disaster/ancient tribe/giant monster film (Die Before You Wake), the "delights" of oil research (Wicked Delights), nuclear fission (Guiding Voice) and economic cycles (Amnis Flows Aeternum).
One can find associations between the films and the edit titles if one thinks about it but the videos themselves, particularly the last three animated videos, which are obviously American-produced pieces from the 1950s, are simply very amusing in their own right. The DVD also provides a variety of different audio options (5.1 DTS 96/24, 5.1 Dolby Digital, Stereo PCM 24-bit 48 kHz) for the videos, and the two complete songs (audio only).
It may have been six years since Ben Craven's last full album but it has certainly been worth the wait. Monsters From The Id is a rare delight from a singular, in every sense of the word, talent and should be on every discerning prog fan's list of essential albums. It is fabulous from start to end.
Australian cinematic progressive rocker Ben Craven has been making music for some time now but for some reason he has managed to not appear on my radar. After listening to some samples from his new album Monsters From The Id, this one ended up on my review list and I am for sure glad it did.
Ben Craven is a multi-instrumentalists and he plays all the instruments himself and does all the other managing parts by himself. He calls his music cinematic progressive rock and I can hear influences by Pink Floyd, Nolan/Wakeman, Marillion and Steve Hackett. With those bands as influences, it sure can be called progressive rock. Monsters From The Id contains two lengthy songs, each of almost twenty minutes. with several parts, much melodic soloing and atmospheric sounds. Progressive rock - the way it was invented.
The rest of the tracks on the album are edited fragments from the two lengthy songs. The two songs are split up in different parts and the names of these parts are used for the single edit songs.
Die Before You Wake starts with a part called Sleeping Spectre. A threatening-sounding theatrical piece with bombastic drums. Ancient Majesty reminds of the Nolan/Wakeman music; cinematic music with a melodic guitar solo. After the guitar solo a part with lyrics start with Die Before You Wake Part 1. This part reminds me a lot of Marillion and Arena. Warning Glow is an ambient instrumental piece which reminds me a lot of Pink Floyd, with its gently-flowing keyboard melodies transitioning into a guitar solo. Wicked Delight is a bombastic part with many strange sounds and changing themes. Then it is back to the lyrics with a reprise in Die Before You Wake Part 2. The instrumental ending of the song Endless Night is another piece influenced by Pink Floyd. The seven smaller parts are all nicely glued together. You can go back and forth between the different parts but as a whole, the song definitely still stands.
The next large song is cut up into even smaller pieces, with 13 different parts and also several reprise sections common to progressive rock songs/albums. Amnis Flows Aeternum starts with Amnis Flows Aeternum Part 1, an intro with acoustic guitar. Guiding Voice Part 1 is a slow, threatening-sounding melody with a dark, deep sound. Considering the word 'Voice' is in the title I would have expected lyrics but it is an instrumental part. In this part the dark melody is the voice telling you to watch out.
In between Guiding Voice Part 1 and Guiding Voice Part 2 is Sound And Light. It appears to be a small piece of hope and comfort in-between, because the Guiding Voice Part 2 is again a musical warning sign. Royal Rewards Part 1 is a busy piece of music; an in-your-face theatrical piece.
Many parts are about one minute, also the atmospheric Blessed Stream Part 1 which is an intro to the three-minute part Amnis Flows Aeternum Part 2. The Amnis Flows Aeternum are the parts with lyrics and a bit longer than the other instrumental parts. Part 2 and 3 is split up by another Pink Floyd-like instrumental part called Earthy Dues. On Amnis Flows Aeternum Part 3 the theatrical music in the likes of Nolan/Wakeman is back, starting with lyrics but ending with a lengthy guitar solo that flows into Blessed Stream Part 2.
The song ends with the Royal Rewards Part 2 and again the instrumental warning tunes of Guiding Voice Part 3 . Just like the first song, it is nice to listen to the parts, but as one big piece it still nicely fits.
The single edit songs are the above-mentioned parts, sometimes the whole part and sometimes separate parts glued together. In my opinion the first two songs can be regarded as the album; the rest is extra.
Monsters From The Id is a very good album. A lot of things are happening on this album, with many elements that are nicely composed to become a coherent piece of music. This album has surely surprised me and I think it will be on my list of top albums at the end of the year.