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Phideaux - Snowtorch CD (album) cover

SNOWTORCH

Phideaux

 

Crossover Prog

4.17 | 666 ratings

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Windhawk
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars US composer and musician Phideax Xavier made a name for himself back in 2007 with the brilliant "Doomsday Afternoon" production. With an energetic, all encompassing marketing campaign instigated, lead and executed by Xavier himself he almost overdid the marketing back then, but with an album of such quality he was soon forgiven for being just a tad too eager at that time.

That was then and this is now. Four years have passed, a well made album that didn't quite live up to the expectations built by it's predecessor have since come and gone, and Xavier's plans for future releases was jinxed by a piece that started living a life of it's own. A strong-willed composition that wasn't satisfied until it had been expanded into an album's worth of material, due to be released later this year under the moniker "Snowtorch".

And whatever muse that took control of the proceedings that lead to this creation has most certainly been an inspired one. A lyrical concept is explored that should please most fans of such endeavours, intellectual in scope with a strong spiritual if not even religious touch, but without any starkly obvious points of reference. Those who enjoy thinking about lyrical contents and their meaning can note down this production due to this alone. Those who prefer wizards, unicorns and elfs can move on to the 70's section in the back, as fantasy, high magic and flying capes are features nowhere to be found on this disc. Although the final instrumental track may be to their fancy by way of association, with the piano and violin leading into a bittersweet dance with dampened sounds of festive folks as a constant drone in the back. Kind of what one might imagine at ye olde public house in a medieval fantasy land on a Saturday night, at least of you disregard the subtle undercurrents provided by keyboards and other instruments belonging to this day and age which flesh out this creation in a neat, sophisticated manner.

But there's plenty to enjoy other than the enticing qualities of the brief epilogue that ends this production, first and foremost the two epic length creations that share the name "Snowtorch". The former with the piano appearing to be the main supplier of the thematic foundations explored, in an excursion elegantly moving between passages reminding of various great bands of yesteryear and various interludes and transitional pieces that mostly are instigated by the ebony and ivory. More often than not with one or more instruments quickly added in for delightful soloing passages. Echoes of Kansas and Gentle Giant are in place alongside shades of Genesis, a whiff of Jethro Tull and a touch of Camel. While Xavier's vocals at times takes on a delivery reminding me of German act Sylvan - emotionally laden, expressive and heartfelt. He's still not what most would describe as a highly talented vocalist I guess, but in the four years that have passed since "Doomsday Afternoon" it has improved markedly, adding an additional sheen to these compositions. But for sheer vocal prowess Phideaux still has a way to go, as brilliantly showcased by the ladies in the band, who are given ample room to showcase their talents this time around.

Aside from the lead vocals dampened, richly layered symphonic progressive rock is the name of the game here, with a multitude of delightful details that should captivate anyone fond of the previous efforts by Phideaux the band and probably convince a few more. Keyboards, organ and Mellotron are used to good effect, as are backing vocals and the occasional sounds of a more synthesized nature. The second part of Snowtorch explore territories of a slightly harder hitting nature too, with the guitar given an elongated passage to dish out some delightful riffs with occasional textures from various tangents coming and going in a neat, subtly dramatic manner. A nice follow up to the dream-laden acoustic guitar, Mellotron and keyboards theme that opens the second part of Snowtorch, leading on to more distinctly symphonic territories reflecting back to the opening composition as it approaches the end.

Wedged in between the Snowtorches we find Helix, a brief escapade of a slightly less adventurous nature. Not as impressive as the massive epics at hand but a nice, soothing and playful affair to calm the mind that works extremely well in an album context.

A common denominator for all the songs as good as all stages of their development is the inclusion of a small myriad of instrumental or vocal details. The dominating theme is just that, the general atmosphere is rich and pleasing, but the intent listener will enjoy all the additional sounds, textures and motifs that makes up the rich undercurrents of these creations. Aside from that the band have opted for a delightfully uncompressed mix that should please retro-oriented symphonic prog rock fans no end, especially since the overall sound and instrumentation of this CD also have more than a few nods in the direction of yesteryear. Mix and production are as crystal clear as any contemporary production you can name however, making this album less retro-oriented than it might have been.

Those who have been looking forward to this album will most likely be pleased. Personally I was positively surprised by this album. I had expected a solid effort and hoped for a really good one, and I'll readily admit that even my hopes for this disc was surpassed. And while hardened, dedicated avant fans won't see the light when encountering this CD any more than what they have done with the previous efforts of the band and the man, those who enjoy the symphonic part of the progressive universe will most likely enjoy this one. Quite a few immensely so. In fact, I'll be surprised if this one doesn't make it into most lists of the top 10 albums of 2011.

A side note towards the end here, as I'm writing this some three weeks prior to the album release. Phideaux was kind enough to send me (and some other lucky bastards) a digital advance copy of this CD. Not quite the finished album, as he had a few minor tweaks he wanted to add prior to sending this one to the CD press. These minute details aren't of a kind that will have any impact for my assessment of this CD, other than perhaps adding a slight increase in overall quality.

Summa summarum: "Snowtorch" is an album I think most of not all existing fans of Phideaux can look forward too, and a production that should win him some new followers to boot. It's not an album one might describe as boundary crossing or capital P progressive, but a darn fine, high quality effort through and through, fast closing in on perfection as far as my own personal musical taste go. A CD to look forward to, and enjoy.

Windhawk | 5/5 |

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