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Gandalf's Fist - The Clockwork Fable CD (album) cover

THE CLOCKWORK FABLE

Gandalf's Fist

 

Neo-Prog

4.08 | 187 ratings

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FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
5 stars A while back now, for my 100th review, I expressed my thoughts and impressions of Ayreon's "Human Equation" a double-disc concept narrative album, and one which I enjoyed thoroughly. Now I have reached my 200th review and I am very thrilled about reviewing yet another masterpiece of a concept narrative, the triple disc steampunk story "The Clockwork Fable" by Gandalf's Fist.

This is the band's sixth album but only the first to be welcomed into my music collection. The band had been on my radar for a while, and with the subsequent drop in the value of the British pound after the Brexit vote, I took advantage and ordered a bunch of CDs from the U.K. that were more expensive or even unavailable in Japan. Thus the pricy, three-CD, digipak became somewhat affordable for me.

The story takes place in the subterranean city of Cogtopolis, a refuge for humanity from some great catastrophe that befell the surface. Radiation, 20-year winters, and the disappearance of the sun suggest that there may have been a nuclear war. Cogtopolis has existed for well over 200 years, all its denizens being shadowborn and subject to religious indoctrination, though it is only the weak-minded who truly submit to the religious brainwashing of the Pastors. We begin with our encounter with the Lamplighter. Yes, "we" because we, "you the listener" play the role of The Traveller. We surprise the Lamplighter as he is making his rounds, lighting lamps, and at first he is startled and not very impressed with us. However, he soon softens as he gets over his surprise and he offers us a grand tour of Cogtopolis. Here then the first song begins and it sounds very much to me like an 80's prog metal inspired piece. The vocals are high in register and the guitars, though metal, are not produced heavy and loud, and so I feel it's a very 80's prog metal type of music. There's even a part that sounds very Iron Maiden.

We are back with the Lamplighter and we've reached the Great Cog, the Giant One, the "marvel of engineering" that is the heart of the city. The Lamplighter expounds poetically on its importance and wonder. We then move on to the first eight parts of the "Lamplighter" suite, an epic track with softer parts, solemn segments, beautiful passages and heavy moments. Two vocalists share duties here, one I believe to be Melissa Hollick, who provides the angelic singing voice for the character Eve, and a breathy masculine voice whose owner I can't confirm from the CD info alone.

The story begins to take shape now as we hear the conversation between The Tinker, a kind of incessantly cheerful madman of a scientist who loves "gizmos, doo-hickies, and thingamy-traptions" and Eve, a young girl who looks to The Tinker as a mentor. Eve is late because the city streets are packed with revelers on the Eve of Shadowmass, the single most important religious holiday of the underworld. Tinker reveals to Eve that his measurements show that the Great Cog is slowing down and that furthermore, in spite of the disaster a stagnating cog would portent, all remains functioning normally in the city, pressure gauges normal, "vending machine chicken soup inedible" as always. Then Tinker lets her know the great secret, that his gauges and measurements from the most upper regions of the huge underground cavern suggest that the sun has returned to the surface!

A song for the Giant One follows, led by a very cool bass line and drums with synthesizer showing up. It's a moody, haunting piece.

Now the plot of the story begins to unfold with several dialogues in succession, each separated by a churning, steam engine sound that could be a train or the Great Cog turning. The Nightkeeper Spy has been put in charge of finding "The Alpha and the Omega" though he has no idea where he should start looking. Then we meet the Primarch, the anointed chief protector of Cogtopolis as he meets privately with Pastor Simon. The Primarch fears the rumours of the sun returning and is worried that someone will try to open the Aperture, the passageway to the world above and the way that the founders of Cogtopolis came into the great cavern. Opening the Aperture will release deadly radiation from the surface into the cavern. The Pastor is more worried about heresy and blasphemy and wants to root out the spreaders of these rumours.

From here on it is tempting to write about every dialogue and every song because I enjoyed the story tremendously. Most concept narrative albums tell the story within the lyrics of the songs and at times, some more than others, use spoken dialogue and sound effects to add drama to the story in song. However, "The Clockwork Fable" makes great use of the voice actors, dialogues and sound effects to tell the story which comes across like a BBC radio play with a classic Doctor Who bent. Many of the spoken tracks are over three minutes long and as the story builds and we approach the climax, I found myself on the first listen almost disappointed when another 10- minute song wedged itself in between the captivating dialogues. And there is quite a cast of characters and an exciting story as Eve, The Tinker and a Steam Ranger they encounter in prison try to reach the aperture and hopefully acquire "the Alpha and the Omega" cogs that are necessary to open the Aperture, while the Primarch and the Pastor both try to stop them, each for their own differing reasons. From time to time, we and our guide, the Lamplighter, rove about Cogtopolis as he tells us about what's going on with Shadowmass and explains the wars that ultimately led to the rise of the current religion.

There is still a hefty dose of music too and after the second listen through it became easier to take the time to enjoy each song because I was no longer impatient to know what was going to happen next in the story. The music covers a fair range of styles and approaches, often within a single track. There's more early progressive metal and even a bit more Iron Maiden-influenced playing (note: former lead vocalist, Blaze Bailey sings the sung parts of the Primarch), some more neo-prog parts like Arena and IQ or Pallas from "XXV", gentle and beautiful piano parts with strings and Hollick's soul-soothing vocals, moody and brooding parts, Renaissance, folk and Celtic leanings and even a nod to Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall".

One interesting thought is all the allegory one can infer from the story. The concept of everyone being "shadowborn" and civilization having gone underground, living in darkness could be a metaphor for our "lost civilization" ruled by evil and corruption. Or the Shadow Church could be seen as the Catholic Church keeping everyone in the dark. When the Tinker calls out, "The Light shall prevail!" it seems an obvious message for humanity. And of course that the way out requires the ascension of a great ladder up to the aperture, which opens to the sun, also makes a great religious symbol. But even though there are messages that could be seen as religious messages (for or against), scientists get a barb in the side as well when the Tinker cries out, "I'm a scientist, Eve. I did it because I could!"

My final opinion, and I've truncated this review seriously, is that this is a very entertaining album with a captivating story, excellent voice actors, and some stellar music. That said, it is three discs with over 60 minutes per disc, thus making it quite a lot to listen through at once. I can get through half during my commute to work and the other half on the way home. For that reason, it is not an album I am likely to spin often. I love "The Human Equation", "The Wall" and IQ's "Subterranea" too but I don't play them often.

So, bravo to Gandalf's Fist for combining music, story-telling, and audio theater on one very impressive collection of sound. But I can see some people feeling it's a bit long and others, like me, loving it but not letting it play much because of the time required to hear the whole thing. Nevertheless, two big thumbs up!

FragileKings | 5/5 |

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