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Nine Stones Close - Traces CD (album) cover

TRACES

Nine Stones Close

 

Neo-Prog

3.94 | 124 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars A reflective melancholy journey tinged with the darkness of loss and the light of hope. 'Traces' has been an enjoyable experience on each listen, and ironically I have somehow had it playing during some unusual circumstances; a lonely long car trip and a long walk up a mountain side. I believe music can have a soothing effect on the nerves, especially when one is experiencing trials or extreme circumstances. Music is the key to unlocking certain feelings that are imprisoned within. It can be a very moving experience, uplifting at times and then in other places a void in which we can soak our broken spirits and reflect on what was. The beauty of the opening track on 'Reality Check' (4:59) was a perfect start as I climbed up the mountain. It was a very steep climb and my legs were already shaking, but that wonderful soft guitar was edging me forward. The way that the acoustics were playing with such passion and feeling was emotionally stirring. It is a beautiful instrumental to start the album and I was immediately drawn in by the tranquillity. The album artwork is beautifully realised by Ed Unitsky with ghostly images of an Edwardian staircase and statues, and the key image of a man with his head in his hands, the image of despair, seated by a railroad track; you can fill in the pieces, open to interpretation depending on your experiences.

The track that follows is 'Threads' (10:43) that is tinged with a sorrowful vocal, softly sung by Marc Atkinson, who reflects a broken spirit. There is a darkness to the atmosphere with the crashing of waves in the intro, a feeling of isolation is evoked. There are echoing guitar phrases of sheer beauty in the desolation of the fractured words, embellished by a mournful chorus; 'here on the edge it's hard pulling threads of my soul, picking at my coat I take back my thought forever wrought, but never meant the music in my soul.' The electric guitar solo by Adrian Jones soars and wails as if the cold environment has found a voice to pour out it's pain. The chilling words in the verses reflect a shattered life, a man at the brink who questions 'what's it like to be dead?' and this 'shell on the shore washed by the sea' finally comes to the realisation that 'the sea is me'. The haunting poetic words cease and we hear waves on a beach and seagulls, the isolation of walking on a lonely beach immediately emerge in the mind's eye. In a word this song is soul-stirring.

Jones' soft acoustics begin 'Falling To Pieces' (6:15) and echoes the same sentiments as previous; Atkinson's melancholy voice sings tenderly echoed by a wonderful lead guitar break. The music ebbs and flows with some subtle bass by Neil Quarrell and the steady drums, like footsteps moving onward to unknown destinations. I love the lyrics on this piece. A soft start with very gentle vocals by Atkinson begins the track, but it builds on the chorus and an odd time signature, with some unusual patterns that reflect the mood perfectly. The keyboards of Brendan Eyre are present to embellish the soundscape. It remains a sombre reflective mood with Atkinson's lyrics about a man in a 'fragile state' who feels the angst of losing someone dear to them, asking the question 'if you're here today then gone away where would all our moments go? Would they disappear inside the tears? Or live forever inside a slide show'. Lyrics like this can only come from a dark trial and most of us can relate to losing a loved one, or even a broken relationship, so the music speaks to our spirits. It may have the effect of bringing back painful memories, or more likely to feed our subconscious need to reflect on how fragile life is and that we should never take for granted the ones around us who fulfil our lives. When they are gone we fall to pieces, the jigsaw comes apart and the pieces are only memories or traces of what we once had. The music on this track is gentle and moving, with solid slices of lead guitar and keyboard nuances to enhance the mood. The lead sounds like Andy Latimer in places, but there are definite Pink Floydian influences in the moody keyboards.

'Traces' (7:21) is a highlight on the album; a truly wonderful track that has a sweet melody and powerful vocals. Jones' lyrics are powerful about the traces we leave on others during our lives like ghosts upon their consciousness 'immortal thoughts and mortal fears'.. hope lies in beauty, faith lies in you,' and one of the more powerful thoughts is evoked in this track, 'when this body wears me out I won't feel a thing, threads of thought unravel to reveal a fabric of deceit, more nothing than something.' Once again these sentiments are enhanced by strong ambient passage of keys and guitars. The tracks almost merge as one long piece, and are linked by the themes, lyrics and melancholy vocal style.

So as I finally get to the top of this mountain I am climbing, the next song chimes in as if on cue and the words are more stirring; 'and in these quiet hours I reflect am I richer now? Or do I regret what the world has changed in me? The cost of time and empathy.' 'Thicker Than Water' (14:57) is a progressive epic in three parts, beginning with 'Innersense' that reflects on summer dreams almost gone, growing old, and asks the question of what brought us here to this place. The sadness in the vocals are perfectly juxtaposed by soft guitars and a contemplative bass rhythm. The next section is 'Firelight Shadows' which brings us deeper into the melancholic atmosphere with a nice lead guitar and spoken vocals 'dreams in flames, no one to blame, only me'. The protagonist comes to term with his grief and asks the unanswerable question over and over 'what happened to us?' The music builds to a crescendo with some delightful distorted metal guitar stabs, followed by a scorching lead break and some double kick drums. The music turns suddenly into a faster metal riff merging into part 3: 'Secrets Revealed'.

The faster more aggressive feel is a welcome change after all the quieter passages of music. The lyrics by Jones are replete with questions about the regret and frustration felt from the protagonist, 'have you learned or have you lived? Made the same mistakes and never burned a bridge? And all those times you lash at me, is there something you really don't want to see?' There are some powerful guitar motifs as the vocals progress with more force speaking about 'the ghosts of loss' that return to haunt us when it is too late to change, 'self- righteous thoughts' that regretfully hurt the ones we love, and the most painful question of all, 'what happened to us?' for after all is said is done these feelings wear us out when we have no answers for the loss we experience and there is no turning back once a person is gone. The piece merges onto the final section 'Aquiescence', a legal term that generally has come to mean permission that is given by silence or passiveness with an acceptance or agreement by keeping quiet or not making objections. In this case the album ends with the final thought of the one experiencing the loss, and that is, 'never moving on, it wears me out'. In other words, the person has succumbed to the painful circumstances, and they have virtually become passive in denial, therefore remain trapped, cabined, confined to the regrets, the bitterness and the terrible pain of memories that are never purged from the soul.

We may all experience this loss or grief in some form in our lives at some point, but how we deal with it will determine the person we become. The song reflects these powerful feelings and the essence of the album is that sometimes life does not always come to a happy conclusion. It seems that the protagonist is trapped by their own regrets and it is a cycle of frustration that they will never escape until they come to terms with loss. While the grieved continues to ask questions that have no answers they cannot move on from the imprisonment of caged regrets. The album is strong with the concept of what can occur when we bottle up powerful human emotions. It can be a cathartic experience to experience these emotions from a distance, or a warning to prepare us for how these circumstances may affect us. We never know how we will react until it happens to us.

I enjoyed listening to this album because it made me reflect on these things at a safe distance, and I believe soon I may be experiencing exactly what the lyrics reflect on this album; that is loss of a loved one. Perhaps I can turn to this album in this time and it will speak to me in a different way. In any case I can recommend this album as a peaceful melancholy experience; replete with beautiful passages of guitar and heartfelt vocals. The influence of Marillion and Porcupine Tree are strong, with touches of Pink Floyd's ambience. There has been a great deal of passion poured out into this album, and it can have an impact on the listener. Although the music and lyrics are sombre, the opposite effect may be generated, as it lifts up the spirit by forcing us to reflect on how precious our lives are and how we should never take for granted the ones around us who make life worth living.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |

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