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Phideaux - Snowtorch CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

4.20 | 828 ratings

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Symphonic Team
5 stars Phideaux have created a cacophony of eargasmic soundscapes, designed for a captivating headphone experience.

I officially announce my conversion to Phideaux. After being absolutely blown away by the brilliant "Doomsday Afternoon", I was very keen to get hold of the latest Phideaux This eighth journey into prog excess is a triumph of controlled instrumental prowess. There is a strong concentration of piano running like a thread through the dense layers of music. Interwoven within the tapestry are powerful lyrics that are open to interpretation. The music takes the listener on a journey with sweeping synth washes and the poetic beauty of ambient violins. The lengthy epics that house the album are wonderfully crafted with felicitous time sig changes and some extraordinary instrumentation. The album becomes an absorbing work of beauty that has the power to transport one to other places, moving through a myriad of emotional twists and turns.

The lyrics are powerful and moving on Snowtorch Part One, with vocals interjecting over the music immediately; "Star of light, see what you gave, you cheated away the core, dark night edge of a blade, as we tap the grave of the wax figurines, ice melts upsets the sea, submit follow me, walk with me now in the sunlight, daylight down with the night, invincible light are you back with us now, source of all reason, I come alive finally I cry, and it's me I have arrived...." This could be about a protagonist who is searching for an answer to the chaos in life, the despair that he feels is due to the disappointments that have plagued him but around the corner is the light at the end of the darkness, things will get better. It is open to interpretation. He questions nature itself, "is it the tree that I wanted to climb" and his senses drive on for all he can see.

Then the time sig changes with the strong synth melody is excellent with nice keyboard swells too. I really love this first track. The lyrics continue to disperse mystical imagery and enchanting words weave a spell of compelling words; "Are you dusty, my figurehead friends, what's it feel like to come to the end..." The protagonist is questioning his existence, people are like wax figures to him, no soul and no emotion, the disillusion of life's tragedies has emptied the man of emotion and filled him with regret. He continues, "From your glasshouse can you see what you set, are you listening to the things that they said, in your diary, the book of the dead". Perhaps the diary, the words written therein are all dead and gone now that he is moving on to a new life, leaving behind the pain of the past. The glasshouse is his life open for all to see, his life as an open book, and there is nowhere to hide so he must reinvent himself, to live again after all that has occurred to mar his existence. I must admit that the feel of the track is like vintage Van der Graaf Generator and I am delighted that this is so. The retro feel of the instrumentation is wonderful especially that Hammond sound and off kilter rhythmic metrical pattern.

The flute section feels happier but there is an ominous lead guitar threatening to dominate and swallow the peaceful feelings. The twin flutes merge together and dance merrily along with cloudbursts of drums and chiming synths. A minimalist piano brings the mood down till the female vocals come in with enchanting lyrics, "I bring to you the words you threw into my face once before, I'm only here to spread some fear, I need you to know you will die." Here the female is expressing how she feels about the angry words that were in the air during their torrid relationship. The male answers "I know what you need", but the lady sings that she promises she will "purge all the words left inside". This section really sounds like Ayreon the way the male and female vocals trade off. The mood becomes intense but then the tension is released with the lonely piano and bright synths. Both male and female vocals harmonise that they are entwined. The song changes feel then with a very pronounced piano forte passage. The staccato piano is joined by ambient passages of synths and a tirade of fast tempo hi hat cymbals and low buzzing synths. The piano section is reminiscent of classic Emerson, and a delightful keyboard break to enhance the mood. Xavier sounds excellent on the vocals; "When is a fox not a fox when he hides in the rocks," and, "how can you count the amount of the mountain that sprouts if you're not there when it comes out." All these words and phrases contain a plethora of rhyming words, alliteration and assonance. We have heard how words are important to the main theme of the album, and perhaps in these phrases we are seeing how words can be used as nonsense phrases, the rhyming showing the uselessness of words, perhaps words are futile once a relationship has burned out.

There is a masterful piano section that is heavy handed like Emerson at his most vicious. When the violins and woodwind section blazes away the song has completely become a majestic work of art. Words are literally replaced with vocal sounds and high-spirited music when the band go into full flight. The lengthy instrumental is incredibly progressive and there is even an indelible saxophone that blasts out benign notes. The saxophone epitomises the ultimate accompaniment to the wall of sound that has been built over the foundation of electric piano.

After a spacey interlude, a guitar break intervenes, dominating and forcing its way through the thick cloud of keyboards. The opening track is ineffaceable masterful prog at its best, multi instrumental and very provocative, moving in textural shades of many moods and making an impact on the listener due to the virtuoso playing and reflective lyrics.

Helix begins with a delightful Hammond, sad violins and some ascending guitar chords. The beauty of the soundscape is augmented by Enya like echoed vocals and then an absolutely enchanting vocal performance from Valerie's crystal clear intonation. She pleads with a soulful melodic tone; "so tell me how to lose the regret, the glass is more than half empty yet, salvation in one last cigarette, I might want to forget or get lost in the rush of distraction at last." The lyrics are about stepping towards finding the hope amongst regretful feelings, finding a moment of trust. She explains, "Maybe this is a test to get off from the sloth and face what I've seen, for the kill that is coming for me," and she comes to the conclusion that "all heroes are false" perhaps because she is over those who she has put her trust in, and now has learnt the hard lesson that nobody can be trusted when it comes to love. The track moves into an elegant piano driven sound, and builds gradually with the vocals that become stronger with some spacey effects, and high pitched squeals on guitar and synths. There are washes of sound like waves washing up on a beach that are very effective. The time changes are pronounced and it ends with quite a joyful section of multi layered keyboards until the lone piano finishes it off with the main motif. Sandwiched between the two sprawling epics, Helix is a short track but an effective one thanks to the emotive vibrant performances.

The next track is Snowtorch Part Two, another lengthy epic track with a focus on instrumental breaks and introspective or reflective lyrics. Once again the track is a tour de force of virtuosic musical finesse. The musical interludes are a high wire act of inventiveness and creative inspiration. The sporadic percussion section and weird effects add a sense of controlled chaos and there are notable acoustic guitar chords creating some impressive atmospheric vibes. This track is very different to the rest of the album, as is every track for that matter. There is a heavy guitar riff that cranks out with some excellent keyboards and pounding drums. Eventually the music breaks out into a heavier guitar hook, with fabulous Hammond-ish hammer blows. Phideaux's music commands attention and once it grabs you, it is virtually impossible not to be moved by the quintessence of the music generated. After three or four time sig changes the music locks into a crunching riff that never ceases to impress me.

The jaunty riff is broken with a piano until the spine tingling female vocals come in. There is a spiritually uplifting feeling embodied in the music, laced with some of the more poignant lyrics I have heard on a prog album, sung with a degree of venom, perhaps instigated by hurt feelings; "Nothing to say, has the cat got his tongue, and then he lost his balls, what if I said that he might not be dead in the head but instead, he's over me." There seems to be a thread of hope in her words but she is coming to terms with her jilted lover who has moved on. The missing beat in the next section is typical of a prog song and it works beautifully. The way the music builds in this section is inspirational. She continues in this vein in one of my favourite melodic sections; "I'll bet you probably want to stay away from all the things you found, cos it's bound to drag you down, it takes you further from home, try to crush your doubts, there's so damned many now, what will it take to erase the mistakes from the day when the fox threw it all away." The regrets of wrong words that have been said are overwhelming and yet it's impossible to erase the memories and the words. There is anger in the words but yet relief that the pain is ceasing, only to produce a new level of pain; the pain of loss.

The next section is a quick tempo rhythm and some folkish vocalisations. Then it settles into a slower melancholy style with Xavier's vocals that are more like Pink Floyd at this stage; "Isolate and take what you get, I don't want to know, say it's not so, out on my own, I'm bleeding uncertainty, it's a long way home, a long way home again, a long way, a long way alone, ice, nice, it gets you so cold, but you don't even know what feelings you've folded in again" . Perhaps this section is voicing the isolation that one feels when a relationship is broken, when one feels locked up in their own fortress of solitude. He knows it's not easy and all he can eat from these bones, the framework of a broken fractured relationship. The fractured time sig echoes these feelings. The ice cold sensations of seclusion are strong and there is no way of overcoming these feelings without allowing one to question the madness, the uncertainties of mixed confused emotions. "These words, these beautiful beautiful vowels" , continues the warm female vocals as she is perhaps reminiscing over the words of relationships, it could be symbolic of a bond made and broken to be replaced by the emptiness of a wordless world, devoid of familiar sounds when one has departed forever. The silence that hangs in the air is one of the most unnerving things to cope with when a loved one has gone. The words are swallowed in stark cold emptiness. The isolated piano echoes the sentiment. The piece really grew on me and I found myself more and more drawn into the meaning which is still rather vague and could be interpreted in a myriad of ways. The emphasis on vowels, poetic rhymes and assonance is astonishing. Though it is the music itself that resonates a high emotional response and the melodies are solid, with some ferocious playing by Xavier on keyboards.

The last track is a prog jig. Full of revelry and exuberant voices, it sounds as though it was recorded at a celebratory festival. The melody is virtually a revamped motif of Helix though there is more emphasis on Irish violin sounds. The crowd are heard whooping and hollering as the violins slice away the canto conjuring up images of Riverdance ladies in swirling skirts tripping the light fantastic. It works as an appropriate ending after all the intense complexity of previous tracks. The light hearted nature of the jig plays off as a stark contrast to the usual Phideaux works. It ends the album of a joyful note, washing away the darkness of impassioned feelings poured out before it.

In conclusion this short album, abounding with bursts of innovative prog, will no doubt be valued highly as one of the albums of 2011. In days where prog is being reinvented into nothing more than alternative rock, it is refreshing to find an artist who refuses to commercialise his music, instead holding on tightly to the very essence of all that made classic prog great, with shades of Van der Graaf Generator, Pink Floyd, Genesis and ELP. The lengthy audaciously complex instrumentals, accompanied by slabs of progtastic lyrics, make this one of the best examples of symphonic prog in recent years. On first listen I was prepared for a 4 star rating, but having heard it many times the music has actually embedded itself into my conscious and stamped an indelible impression on me. The album is wildly inventive and brimming over with a cacophony of eargasmic soundscapes, designed for a captivating headphone experience. There is no point comparing this with other albums, as it stands alone as a monumental 5 star Masterpiece.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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