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Nine Stones Close - Leaves CD (album) cover

LEAVES

Nine Stones Close

 

Neo-Prog

3.86 | 103 ratings

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marbles259
5 stars

Nine Stones Close

Leaves

Adrian Jones is not a man that likes to be pigeon-holed. His involvement with the spectacular The Path of Least Existence by Jet Black Sea (the duo of Jones and Michel Simons) brilliantly showcased his love of the experimental, soundscapes and instrumental workouts. With the latest album by Nine Stones Close, he has once again shown he is not afraid to push the boundaries.

Leaves, the fourth outing for the Anglo-Dutch outfit, shows such a change and development in sound, that some may wonder if it was recorded by the same band. That said, only two-fifths of the line-up that recorded 2012's ,One Eye On The Sunrise feature here. Adrian Jones (guitarist / driving force behind the band) and Pieter van Hoorn (drums) remain. The new recruits are Christiaan Bruin (keyboards), Peter Groen (bass) and most significantly Adrian (AiO) O' Shaughnessy (vocals).

Previous Nine Stones Close albums have always had a distinctive, atmospheric sound with nods to bands such as Pink Floyd, running through them. Amongst this, Jones has never been afraid to use introspective lyrics and with this album, Nine Stones Close has moved more deeply into that territory with their music too. Long-time fans of the band will no doubt find this surprising at first and there will certainly be some who will find O'Shaughnessy's vocals a little difficult to adjust to, such is his difference in style to Marc Atkinson. Therein lays the beauty of this album. It would have been easy to find a vocalist closer in range and technique to Atkinson and simply carry on. This album is heavier, darker and infinitely more brooding than any of its predecessors. With this in mind, the performance of O'Shaughnessy fits perfectly. In any case, Jones has never taken the easy route or the soft option. During the making of this album, over an hours' worth of material was shelved and the entire writing process re-started, such was his desire to make this album a real statement of intent.

And so to the songs themselves.

Opener, Complicated (on release for several weeks before the full album) clocks in at five minutes dead and is the shortest track on the album by another five. It is immediately apparent that this is a new Nine Stones Close and while Complicated isn't completely indicative of what's to come, it is enough of an appetiser to show that the band really is onto something different here. The lush keyboard introduction hails back to sounds of previous albums but the arrival of the driving bass and a staccato guitar riff, take us somewhere totally new. Within the first minute, the lyrics reveal just how dark this journey is going to be. "Another scar, another day, just want to close my eyes". Even by his standards, Jones' has really opened himself up on this album and the lyrical darkness is a constant throughout. Written well after the other tracks on the album, it must have been an easy decision to place Complicated first in the running order, as it makes a bold statement about the new line-up and new sound in a short space of time. Without being a throwaway track by any means, with Complicated placed here, it seems introductions are made and the serious business can truly begin.

The next four tracks, which comprise the dark heart of the album, are all at least ten minutes long and allow for deep exploration of the band's new direction. This album hasn't been designed to be an easy listen; it needs time to really get under the skin.

Second track Goldfish is a sprawling, inspiring and frankly superb thirteen minute epic warning against the hypnotic effect of 24 hour media. The track builds superbly, "I watch TV, I hit the key, desire on demand" sings O'Shaughnessy in the opening moments, pulling us into a dreamlike trance. Grunge influences are strong in this song but there is great diversity between the different sections. There are moments taking us back to Fugazi-era Marillion (particularly on the guitar solo during the final quarter) and there are several flashes that wouldn't be out of place on one of Steven Wilson's most recent solo outings. It may just be the best thing the band has ever produced.

Lie, just a few seconds short of ten minutes, is the closest we get to prog-metal on the album and stakes its claim as the heaviest and dirtiest track in the Nine Stones Close canon. The louder instrumental sections demonstrate just how well the rhythm duo has gelled; Peter Groen plays like he's been here all along. It also gives much credence to the view that Jones' approach to guitar on this album contributes fully to the band's engine room. As part of an album with intense, ominous lyrics it's hard to point to any moments of light. Lie continues this, "I'm obsolete and replete, I dance to your beat and sing your song". Jones writes lyrics which invite deeper analysis and Lie is no exception.

Up next is Spoils, the longest track on the album at sixteen-and-a-half minutes, which twists and turns like an espionage thriller. There's definitely an element of Led Zeppelin in the chemistry between the guitars and the keyboards in the first half and also in the chunky chords of the latter section. Spoils, like most of the album, has so many layers, haunting, echoing, distant vocals can be heard in the quieter sections, that much praise should be given to the mix and mastering of sound engineer Paul Van Zeeland. The sinister, sombre lyrical themes don't let up throughout. "Keep this up, cellophane lie, forget the world, forget people, forget love"

Rounding off the album is the fourteen minute title track. It is the most atmospheric, ethereal track on the album with a drone-like sound and a lyric that is forever searching for some kind of freedom; "Seems I only drink when I'm drowning, at least that's what I tell myself, yeah?I only drink when I'm drowning, guess I just don't swim too well." It's lengthy build up brings to mind, structurally if not musically, A Few Words For The Dead from Marillion's Radiation album. Leaves is a slow burning epic closer which builds an enigmatic theme with empyreal guitar and quiet but insistent cymbal, before exploding eight minutes in. Portentous bass and a questioning, anguished vocal, (Did I ever really live my life?), bringing the main part of the song to a close. That leaves us with the beautiful piano-based coda, based on a guitar part from earlier in the track. After an album of solemnity, perhaps this displays the hope that should never be fully driven from us or maybe its melancholic timbre validates the fact that in the end, we all "leave".

Leaves is an intense emotional journey and those looking for an album of background music or one that will click into place on first listen should look elsewhere. This album grows and claws at you with each play. The direction the band has taken shows not only courage but the unwillingness to stand still. The new line-up should rightfully be proud of such a work and they deserve this album to take them to the next level.

Where Nine Stones Close goes next will be of great interest but I can only hope that in this age of speed, instant information and "goldfish", listeners will give such a worthy opus the time it deserves.

marbles259 | 5/5 |

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