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Jethro Tull - Stormwatch CD (album) cover

STORMWATCH

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.46 | 484 ratings

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SouthSideoftheSky
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
5 stars A forgotten masterpiece from the dark ages of progressive Rock

I'm probably in a minority here, but for me Stormwatch is the best Jethro Tull album since the otherworldly Thick As A Brick that was released some seven years earlier and a masterpiece album in its own right. Given how restrictive I am with handing out five star ratings, I feel that I have some explaining to do on this account. Admittedly, I used to rate this with "only" four stars, but after many listens over a long period of time I now must raise this to the highest available rating; this album blows me away!

As most Jethro Tull fans would agree Songs From The Wood was a return to form for the band and that album is usually considered to be the first of a trio of interconnected albums that continued with Heavy Horses and then with the present album. Like many others I think that this is one of the best and most consistent periods in Jehtro Tull history, but unlike many I think that Stormwatch was the culmination of this excellent era in the band's long career. I strongly disagree with those who claim that Stormwatch offered just "more of the same" as I think that the material on this album is very different in nature from that of the previous two, even if there are some similarities too. I can understand that in 1979 people were perhaps growing tired of the sound of Jethro Tull due to the sheer amount of albums they had put out since the late 60's and also due to changing musical trends, but an album should be judged on its own merits and not only in relation to its "surroundings".

One thing that ought to strike any listener immediately is that Stormwatch is a much darker album both in sound and subject matter compared to most other Jethro Tull albums. There are no more whimsical "kitchen prose and garden rhymes" here, but quite serious social and political commentary. Also, the sound of Stormwatch is much more hard edged and Martin Barre is on fire on this album with his guitar sound being quite "metallic" (which I love!). The sound here is very full and rich due to the strong presence of string arrangements in addition to the usual guitar/bass/drums/flute/keyboards/vocal attack. We also get some mandolin on some songs, which I simply love! I think that Jethro Tull achieved the perfect balance here between (Celtic) Folk Rock, Hard Rock (even close to Metal occasionally) and Symphonic Rock with plenty of progressive aspects, features and structures. You might even say that while this album is almost as folky as the previous two, it is also the heaviest and most symphonic of the band's many albums; it's Prog Folk, Heavy Prog and Symphonic Prog all at the same time!

The most important part of any music is for me the quality of the actual material and Stormwatch offers some really strong compositions that are up to par with those on Aqualung and Heavy Horses. North Sea Oil and Orion have strong and memorable melodies that grab a hold of you from the start. Apart from being darker in their lyrical content and quite heavy and hard edged, these two are quite typical high quality Jethro Tull songs. Home, on the other hand, is a very symphonic and somewhat bombastic ballad that is very uncharacteristic of Jethro Tull. It contributes to making this album more varied and diverse than many other Jethro Tull albums. The diversity is indeed one of Stormwatch's strongest features.

Dark Ages is the longest track of the album with its marching rhythm and interesting tempo changes throughout. It takes a couple of listens to understand this number, but it sure grew on me a lot. Warm Sporran is another track that is very uncharacteristic for the band. It is an instrumental with male choirs, marching drums, flute and bagpipes (or something that sounds a bit like bagpipes). It sounds like something that could have been on a Mike Oldfield album! - a great interlude that further adds to the diversity of this album and lets you catch your breath a bit before the rest of the songs.

Something's On The Move is the grittiest of the songs here and is a hard rocker in typical Jethro Tull-style with organ, flute and Hard Rock guitar play, as such it is the least great of the songs on the album, but it is still great! Old Ghosts and Flying Dutchman are both slower and more symphonic songs with strings, piano, flute and strong vocals. The latter have a very folky flute and mandolin instrumental break. These songs also might require several listens before you get them, but that is typical of really great progressive music!

Dun Ringill is another of my favourite songs from this underrated album. It is a short acoustic song with a captivating atmosphere. I first heard it on the Slipstream video which comes as a bonus DVD disc with the A album and I liked it instantly. The album ends with another instrumental in Elegy. Its melody reminds of Home and thus ties the album together perfectly. The style of the piece reminds a bit of the band Focus.

Stormwatch has become a personal favourite of mine and I now think it's one of the very best Tull albums of all time. I should admit right away that I have a special thing for its dark and hard edged sound and also its diversity due in part to the inclusion of a couple of instrumentals. I can understand that someone would prefer the more cheerful and whimsical Songs From The Wood or the more strongly Folk-oriented Heavy Horses, but for me Stormwatch is even more appealing. Though I consider this album very underrated, you should not be led to think that I rate it very highly just to compensate for other's lower ratings - I never do that! In my opinion, this album deserves the highest rating on its own merits and it will grow on you if you give it some further chances. It sure did on me, anyway! It is hard for me to find anything to complain about here!

Very highly recommended!

SouthSideoftheSky | 5/5 |

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