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Monarch Trail - Wither Down CD (album) cover

WITHER DOWN

Monarch Trail

 

Neo-Prog

3.86 | 48 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Keyboardist Ken Baird's band project alter-ego Monarch Trail is a Canadian group enhanced by superior session players, with 2021's `Wither Down' being their third release to date. The trio, completed by bassist Dino Verginella and drummer Chris Lamont bridge the gaps between the defining symphonic prog masters of the Seventies, the sleekness of the Eighties acts that came to be aligned with the `Neo-Prog' tag and the modern retro revival. This means that at any time, they call to mind anything from classic period Genesis (just without the theatrical vocals), Pendragon, the earlier Glass Hammer discs and even the colours of the numerous Karfagen works.

Most of the pieces found on `Wither Down' are framed with vocal bookends that give way to lengthy and dramatic instrumental flights of power peppered with a gentle elegance. Ken has an earnest and wistful voice, whose lyrics are vague and cryptic yet rife with surreal imagery, but it's in the constant keyboard-dominated instrumental runs where the album sails to its greatest heights. Baird can turn atmospheres between light and dark so effortlessly, and the combined musicians here cram the disc with endless memorable and melodic themes.

The eleven-minute album titled opener offers lengthy instrumental passages of light prettiness with darker flourishes laced with unease, all carefully balanced despite unpredictable jumps in tempo back and forth. Ken's sparkling piano is a constantly joyful highlight throughout (almost channelling the grand pomp of Renaissance, both here and really throughout the entire disc), Dino's darkly murmuring bass purrs invitingly and Chris' drums stride purposefully. Pay close attention to the blissful sighing outro too!

The Jadis flavoured `Echo' delivers several fleeting heroic synth themes, darting between slowly unfolding drama and sprinting bursts of energy. `Canyon Song's vocal driven beginnings are introspective and softly melancholic, but the second instrumental half of dreamy keyboard soloing lifts the piece into glorious symphonic skies.

`Waves of Sound' reveals subtle drama and careful restraint with a fleeting New-Age gentleness (there's almost a fairytale- like quality in parts), as well as some of the most elegant and serene Mellotron caresses heard in years. While there's teases of folk and jazz touches sprinkled throughout the dreamy Moog runs of symphonic epic `Megalopolitana', it's Kelly Kereliuk's electric guitar soloing that ripples with tension and spectacle. Final instrumental `All Kinds of Futures' is then a classy closer, a Rick Wakeman-esque fanfare of fuzzy danger from looming organ and sparklingly pretty piano.

Careful listens reveal each piece on `Wither Down' to be so carefully jammed full of a dizzying variety of fancy instrumental touches from highly skilled musicians, and the constantly uplifting qualities that emerge from all the compositions are hugely appealing. The disc may be a little meek for some, but lovers of unashamedly romantic and symphonic progressive rock of the vintage variety will adore so much of this winning third release from Monarch Trail.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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