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Phideaux - Snowtorch CD (album) cover

SNOWTORCH

Phideaux

 

Crossover Prog

4.18 | 662 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

m2thek
Prog Reviewer
4 stars When I first heard about Phideaux's newest album, Snowtorch, I started to get really excited. I had recently reviewed his previous albums, Number 7, and Doomsday Afternoon, and though I liked them a lot, they both had the same issues that kept me from absolutely loving them. The first thing I noticed about Snowtorch is that it would be shorter than these two, which was positive point number one. Upon hearing the album, I was not disappointed, as more items on my Phideaux wish list were checked off, as I took in the music of this great work.

The majority of Snowtorch is made up of the two long movements of the title track, taking up about 35 of the 45 minutes altogether. Helix, the second track, is a shorter bridge between the two parts, and the untitled closer is a nice addendum to close everything out. The album is structured very well, with Helix providing a nice breather in between the fast and complex parts of Snowtorch, while the closer wraps things up by reprising Helix in a very peaceful and satisfying manner.

The actual music within these pieces is characteristically Phideaux, and if you've heard either of their last 2 albums, Snowtorch will feel very familiar. Like always, there is a good amount of piano and acoustic guitar, and other instruments thrown in such as electric guitars, synthesizers, saxophones and others to mix things up. The use of all of the instruments is pretty varied, with the different keyboards taking on the majority of the leads. The composition is, of course, excellent, with both parts of Snowtorch flowing very naturally from beginning to end as they introduce and reprise the many themes. Snowtorch sees Phideaux sticking more to the acoustic, rather than spacey, side of their music, and there are more complex and loud sections than there are quiet ones.

While Snowtorch may initially seem like Phideaux are simply applying the same formula to different notes, there are some key differences here that make a big difference. In contrast to previous albums where the piano was the lead instrument of choice, here it is used more to set the mood and mostly provides backing chords. While it does get a couple solo moments, these are made more special because there are so few. Rising to the challenge, the organ really shines through, and becomes a prominent instrument all the way through. I personally enjoy the change a lot, and it gives Snowtorch a unique feel in Phideaux's catalogue. Also important to note, the synthesizer sounds used are very nice, and never approach the annoying tones they have in the past. Finally, it seems that the two pieces are much closer to being through composed, with only a few, though very satisfying, reprises of earlier material.

The theme that ties the Snowtorch together, if you hadn't guessed from the cover, is fertilization. It's an interesting subject to base an album on, but it provides a lot of interesting wordplay for the vocalists to work with. While the lyrics are only slightly less cryptic than before, the lines are really fun to listen to; I've caught myself smirking a lot, as I hear a new reference to the biological process every time I listen. The two singers, Phideaux Xavier and Valerie Gracious remain unchanged, though the album finds Phideaux giving his singing a little extra, making him all the more enjoyable to listen to. Gracious, like always, gives a great performance, and the interplay between the two is as well used as ever. The interplay between the vocalists and the instruments is also well done, with just the right amount of each.

My only negative point about the album is a peculiar one. Although Snowtorch is extremely consistent, with a couple absolutely stunning moments, I don't think either part of the title track are as strong as say, Formaldehyde or Waiting for the Axe to Fall. It's an interesting trade off in quality though, because given the choice to listen to a single song, I would probably pick one of the two I mentioned. However, if I had to listen to a whole album, Snowtorch would definitely be my pick. This is more important in my mind and the distribution of quality to all of the pieces of the album instead of just one or two is what makes this such a success.

And what a success it is. Even though I don't think it has the absolute strongest material from the band, they've crafted an overall great album, and to my great content, one that I enjoy all the way through. If you're a fan of Phideaux, there's no question that you should already own this, but even if you're just interested in 2011 releases, Snowtorch is as good as any for an early contender for best of the year.

m2thek | 4/5 |

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