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Phideaux - Snowtorch CD (album) cover

SNOWTORCH

Phideaux

 

Crossover Prog

4.18 | 634 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Eapo_q42
4 stars An excellent effort, but undoubtedly a step away from his best.

This is a slightly difficult album for me to review because I have been long anticipating it's release and as such had placed great expectations upon it before I even heard it. Like so many others, I fell in love with Phideaux's music around the release of Doomsday Afternoon. After buying up most of the back catalogue, I welcomed the release of Number 7 and enjoyed it even more than its predecessor. In fact, I loved it so much that my expectations for this follow up became astronomical. Perhaps they could never be met, but I believe I have given the album enough time to sink in and finally comment (after all it has been some months since the release).

After all these listens, my conclusion is that this album of very good prog rock is still less than Phideaux is capable of. Now, a 4 star Phideaux album is still better than most of the nonsense that gets offered up today, but the fact is this album doesn't transport me to the same transcendental highs as his best work.

With that out of the way, lets discuss the music at hand. The epic two-part Snowtorch suite is of course the centrepiece here, and it has roughly as many vocal driven melodic sections as sumptuous instrumental sections. The pacing of these is managed quite well, as the album never grows boring. The vocal sections are both pleasant and memorable, in the classic Phideaux style, and a few of them serve as album highlights.

The band plays with precision, and never without a healthy dollop of passion as well. Most everyone seems to contribute something absolutely vital to the album's success at various points, with the backing vocals and ancillary instruments such as cello as saxophone helping to add atmosphere throughout.

So why then does this fall short of his best work? Well there are two reasons, and one follows on from the other. Firstly and most importantly, his best work has a strong emotional resonance which I feel is nowhere to be found on this album. This emotional resonance has been watered down as Phideaux begins to explore a more rigid complexity and "progginess" in his compositions. Now, I'm sure many readers of this site wouldn't mind, but for me the emotional crescendos of Phideaux are what lifts his albums to essential status.

The follow on effect, put simply, is there are too many "been there, done that" moments on the album, mainly during the instrumental sections. It has been well documented that Phideaux has a strong influence from former greats, especially Pink Floyd, but at times on this album it seems as though the influence has become a direct point of reference on far too many occasions. Throughout many of the polyrythmic workouts, you'll notice yourself asking "Didn't I hear that exact keyboard tone in Gentle Giant? Didn't I hear that sax in VdGG? Isn't that one of Gilmour's pedal effects?"

In modern prog this is sometimes unavoidable, and trust me I wouldn't even bother mentioning it if it wasn't definite. Unfortunately on this album you will surely ask yourself "have I heard this?" at least once. I have a similar complaint with the production. Although it sounds excellent, highly professional and crispy clear, they have gone for an extremely retro 70s sound. The effect is brilliantly realised, but it is not what best suits this band. Number 7 had a very modern, warm production that washed over you, and in comparison this production and mix feels cold and distant. Surely that was the intent, but for personal preference I don't rate it.

So what are we left with then? Ultimately, this is an excellent album, full of pleasing, challenging compositions, played marvelously by highly accomplished musicians. Loses a point for a slight lack of emotional resonance and for wearing it's influences on it's sleeve too obviously. 4 stars in anyone's language.

Eapo_q42 | 4/5 |

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