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Monarch Trail - Sand CD (album) cover

SAND

Monarch Trail

 

Neo-Prog

3.98 | 147 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars Monarch Trail have followed up their 2014 debut release 'Skye' with a strong, dynamic Neo Prog Symphonic journey for 2017, 'Sand'. Ken Baird is the visionary keyboardist augmenting his solo career with this collaboration. Ken has been a prolific artist in his solo career; 'August' (1996), 'Fields' (1998), 'Orion' (2000),' 'Martin Road' (2003) and 'Further Out' (2009). 'He is played keyboardist for Jacob Moon and Art Griffin. He is joined by guitarist John Mamone, previously from Dragonfly and Volume Water. He and Kelly Kereliuk have formed Prismind and both play guitar on 'Sand'. Steve Cochrane is another guitarist that features on the title track and the rhythm is down to drummer Chris Lamont and bassist Dino Verginella, who has worked with artists such as Chantal Kreviazuk, Holly MacNarland and Jim Witter. They are a formidable group of musicians that have a chemistry that pays off on this latest release.

The masterful cover art by Annette Roche again depicts a wistful girl with a haunted gaze but this time she is on a Derelict spaceship. She may be Cassandra who is mentioned on the album. On the cover she stares out the window at the stars but on the beautiful inside cover we see her relaxing contentedly gazing at an Earth encapsulated in a globe. Is it a hologram or has she captured our planet? Her isolation is mirrored by the ethereal music that glistens and glows with every track. Mellotron sounds merge with Blade Runner style strings and those floating bass lines. The vocals are dreamily executed with lucid flow by Ken Baird. The sound is like IQ, Yes or Neal Morse.

There are many beautiful lyrics to savour but as a sample these from the epic Sand are thought provoking and resonate with me; 'Calmly waiting locked in place I check again before I say goodbye, Bright and clear there's every reason, Soon to be so many miles away, And all that I've learned could be forgotten, In a moment I'd still act and honour is intact, A picture appears in my mind it fears, All of this may come to dust, A flame to break all bonds, The hope of everyone, And soaring above, And suddenly, Staring up through floors of wires and glass, Metal constructs and the questions last, Variations, firing sequence set, In my pocket everyone I've met'. The epic track is over 24 minutes of Symphonic prog bliss. In a similar vein to the 20 minute epic in 'Skye', this is definitely worth the price of admission alone. It features glorious guitar solos and a soundscape of layered keyboards that have an ethereal quality. More on this later.

This is a spacey album with sheer beauty emanating from its heart. It opens with the synth soaked Station Theme, and then the majestic First Thoughts shines through. Back to the Start is a catchy tune but my favourite is Missing that opens with sparkling keyboards and builds to harmonies like The Byrds on Eight Miles High. There is a Rick Wakeman feel in the classical keyboard solos but the star of this for me are the sporadically timed drums, one of the key elements. Baird absolutely blazes on synth but it has to be said the ivory tinkling in this enhances the spacey atmosphere.

Charlie's Kitchen is a piano driven piece with some swirling synths and a classical baroque feel, similar to Wakeman's style. It is a meandering instrumental with some sweeping passages of keyboards and a driving rhythmic meter.

Another Silent World is a Ken Baird solo with a buzzing drone and retro synth that rises to a crescendo.

This short piece prepares the listener for the epic Sand. The lyrics as mentioned are provocative and they are accompanied by haunting musicianship. This is Monarch Trail at their best in full flight with guitar guests and a myriad of time switches and mood swings that capture my imagination. It is great to hear some electric guitar solos that soar along with the staccato synths. There are some fast fingering solos with a Dream Theater feel and the way this builds into a lengthy instrumental break is absolutely wonderful. The music swoops and dives like a bird in flight, then it builds into a wall of synths. At the 13 minute mark the sound transforms into acoustic vibrations and a flugelhorn sound with waves crashing. This atmosphere is penetrated with the introduction of a new time sig and a verse about the wind that almost throws the protagonist off side, 'Air fresh and burning sun, Waves to each other confide, Skirting across we run, Take the wheel, And pull around on my mark we're stopping here, And down we go, I wish I wish I were old enough to take a dive alone and give you all I'd find'.

The music breaks at 20 minutes with cathedral like keys and spacey textures of synths. The drums and bass join for one last verse with reverberated vocals echoing with good effect. The finale is a blast of lead guitar and synth over key pad strings and a steady rhythm. Sand is definitely a treasure on this album.

Overall this latest album is a stirring journey driven by layers of synth and exceptional guitar and rhythms. It is an innovative album that is well worth a listen. I look forward to more Monarch Trail in the near future.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |

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