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Epignosis - Still The Waters CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.32 | 61 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars The Sea Refuses No River

Let's leave our excess baggage at customs for this one shall we? Rock music with a Christian orientation has always been placed in the overhead locker in the Lemming aisle. However it doesn't require a leap of faith to deduce that the spiritual preoccupations of many a wealthy prog poet might just reveal less than a full cavity body search of that suspiciously muted budgie wearing a turban in seat 666 ever would. That said, there is more candour and sincerity on offer here than in the summed narcotic haul of those sniffer dogs Jon Anderson and Pete Sinfield. Epignosis has something to say (I don't agree with it) but Messrs Anderson and Sinfield will forever be short of a message to populate their obvious command of the medium.(Both have the luxury of being able to express two bit ideas in 24 bit hi-fidelity sensurround stereo)

A Pearl in a Field - Starts in foreboding fashion with a couple of eerie filtered choral chords underpinned by a brooding NIN rock beat before transitioning into a very effective bridge utilising some clean six string timbres. An impressive and judiciously paced opening to be sure as I have heard such hikes in meter, key and tempo handled with far less nous by those enshrined in Rock's Hall of Fame. Could be said to carry an echo of Kansas in the instrumentation employed and cinematic scope of the ambitious arrangement. The much maligned production on Still the Waters is a tad exaggerated as although it reeks of a semi-pro establishment, it is nowhere near as bad as the sort of 'bedsit Acoustic Ladyland demos' I have heard it compared to. A tad 'thin' sounding in places but nothing that should have audiophiles reaching for the earplugs. Robert is clearly a highly talented and versatile guitarist on both acoustic and electric with this area of his creativity possibly representing the peak of his endeavours. The keyboard parts are also skilfully arranged but the timbres employed betray the tell-tale droppings of the Softsynth Preset Beastie on occasions. Exempt from these misgivings are the 'Tron and piano sounds which exude an organic analogue 'presence' and appear more authentically three dimensional in comparison. The choral chords return in a nice symmetrical touch to the track's conclusion with a fine guttural guitar solo to the fade. Not too shabby at all.

The most polarizing aspect of this album will probably be the singing. It's a given that the quality of mercy is not strained but Robert also betrays some inaccuracies of pitch from time to time. On many other genres this would not be the handicap it is here e.g. Lou Reed, Tom Verlaine, Alex Harvey, Neil Young and Bob Dylan could be said to have very 'unmusical' voices but such is the material it is employed on, the lack of formal accuracy does not undermine the music. Symphonic Prog is a much more demanding taskmaster, and any such flaws in the Tonsilry Dept are bound to irk connoisseurs of the style.

An Everlasting Kingdom - Word to the wise Bob, don't play into the hands of your most virulent critics here as they are not deserving of their victims shelling out for the ammo to be used. Beautiful acoustic playing on the intro together with a sumptuous fondant fuzz vibrato on the emerging lead. Robert's diction on this number is vaguely redolent of Neil Young and despite the rather flat and self consciously inhibited nature of singing, (Is there a Neil Young preset on a vocoder ?) the melodic ideas and arrangement are actually bloody top notch ! Like so much of this album, it can be frustrating when you recognise great musical ideas not being given the chance to do themselves justice. I particularly like the quieter arpeggio section which carries a tenuous whiff of Cinema Show era Genesis with the volume pot 'weeping violin' a la Hackett. A much more urgent section beckons with yet more very lyrical and plaintive guitar soloing and judicious use of quiet/loud dynamics. Nice sweepy raspy synth thingy but sabotaged by a rather anodyne imitation of a visceral Hammond. We reach some lovely unadorned piano chords announcing a moment of immutable calm (is this a real joanna matey?) If it were not transparent by now, I really like the disciplined guitar playing on Still the Waters. Like all of the six string statements contained herein, there is no fretboard auto-eroticism here and if Robert's musical career stalls he can always offer on-line instruction to the likes of Steve Howe (to illustrate that one well chosen note can communicate more than 200 badly chosen ones) Even though it clocks up at over 10 minutes, An Everlasting Kingdom is mercifully temporal as things never drag throughout and this is testimony to the resilience of the thematic ideas employed and Robert's skills as an arranger.

Move - Very strong melody over an attractive chorused arpeggiated guitar and for once the compass of the verse tune does not overreach the abilities of the vocalist. What sounds like a Joe Meek modded stylophone or 60's beachparty organ peeks its way from out of the back of the mix and given the very highly developed sense of humour I know Epignosis has, there was bound to be an outlet for this side of his personality at some point. The middle of the song starts to ramble dangerously alas before we reach the sanctuary of a robust synth stated melody with the patch dialled up here being one of the most effective and appropriate on the record. In spite of the ending boasting an attractive eastern inflected guitar solo, it cannot disguise the paucity of the overarching arrangement. Bit of a curate's egg this critter (parts of it are truly excellent)

Trivia Fans: If you crank the volume up sufficiently at the end of this track you will be able to hear the distant fortissimo holler of the artist's son Simon in the background. What he is saying I cannot tell but rest assured it ain't satanic messages. (Unless he has his father's wicked sense of humour of course)

No Shadow of Turning - Spooky swathes of magisterial 'Tron and an implied oriental dialect on a truly impressive intro which segues into a more staccato and bombastic main theme.Thereafter the toppy overdriven bass and episodic style of the ensemble writing is reminiscent of a considerably more diffident 'Yes'. (That's gotta be a good thing, for those who require clarification) Serenity is restored with some more hauntingly poignant piano which builds towards the album's one sure-fire 24 carat hook:

Voices are beautiful

(I may have misheard the lyrics here?) Whatever, these sections are very moving and the first 12 minutes of this 'monster with the fuller figure' is top drawer. The crunch meter goes well into the red at the cusp hereabouts with some sludgy riffing that seems to benefit from the prevalent lo-fi surroundings.The singing on the second half, despite the ethereal support of some female really casts the underlying beauty of the melodic ideas in an unflattering light. Similarly, there are large arid patches where solitary synth motifs are stated but seldom seem to be developed or concluded satisfactorily. I am sure Robert is bound to flame me for suggesting such, but said ambiences remind me of the 'roomier' portions of Tales from Topographic Oceans.

Still the Waters - Probably the most assured vocal performance on offer here but sadly relegated to one of the dullest tracks. An enticing intro lulls us into an expectant mood but the resultant strum-a-long core of the song is pleasant enough, but distinctly lacking any memorable hooks. Why Epignosis should have earmarked this docile critter as the title track is probably best known only to himself.

As he is a valued contributor to PA of long standing, I am sure Epignosis is heartily sick of reading the welter of well intentioned but spurious advice offered to him on these very pages since the album was released.

Do this, don't do that, do less of this, use more of that blah yakkity ditto etc

Suffice it to say that this is a whole lot better than I imagined and such is the strength of many of the musical ideas on Still the Waters, it would pass muster as an excellent album if the singing matched the melodies and the production was beefed up in a professional recording studio. Even an ignorant atheist such as myself, can easily identify the Biblical parables that Epignosis draws upon as inspiration for his work. It strikes my sensibilities that such moral fables would be better expressed and carry far greater endorsement by the wider rock fraternity, if they were couched in a more secular manner e.g. ditch the casting of the scriptures and populate the stories with real dudes/dudettes in the real world.

Like its author, Still the Waters is never pious, sanctimonious or judgemental and for that alone, anyone who enters the murky depths of 'rawk' clutching a moral mandate to their tremulous chest, must have an armour and balls the size of a Minotaurasaurus.

Kudos to you Robert.

ExittheLemming | 2/5 |


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