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Legend - Cardinal Points CD (album) cover

CARDINAL POINTS

Legend

 

Neo-Prog

3.83 | 100 ratings

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Lost Lorien
5 stars Cardinal rules

For me, this album was a real slow burn. I first came across it on the useful Progstreaming website and my initial impression was I could take it or leave it, but my partner said he liked it so I gave it another couple of listens and it grew on me. Truthfully it got completely under my skin to the extent that I now feel it is possibly the best of album of 2011 if not the album of the decade so far, and I hope it isn't a decade before this band grace us with more.

Legend's sound is definitely unique ? though not in an 'in your face', stand out way, but rather as a cunning blend of subtle surprises worked into the overall rock sound. A couple of the reviews I've read have described the production as dull or muddy, which I don't understand, the sound has been layered with the skill of a landscape artist building textures that go beyond the instruments without sounding contrived or overtly synthetic. Indeed organic would be my description for the sound overall. Legend seem to draw on a broad palette of influences. I will refrain from a long list of bands here, because there are plenty of comparisons elsewhere and looking at comparisons really won't give a meaningful insight. Better to move straight to the heart of the album and the only thing that matters, the music:

The album opens with Carved in Stone, an opener laden with menace, even the birdsong is sinister. The first instrument is Didgeridoo, which gives a pulse to which ethnic percussion and 'Gabriel-esque' drones are added before Kerry Parker's earthy yet ethereal tones are added. I must confess I prefer male vocals as a rule but, Parker is one of the few exceptions. The lyrics weave their spell as the sound builds in tension until we get our first taste of the full band in a call and response chorus, beautifully embellished with flute and guitar licks from Clare and Dave Foster respectively. Any thoughts that Legend might be 'airy fairy new age' are firmly dismissed as the band continues to show its harder edge. This section gives way to a much weightier second part; Organ and punchy guitars drive the band onwards into a hypnotic primal pulse, a heartbeat of the earth, built on pulsing drums with floating vocals which then twists into a medieval interlude before sidestepping into a whimsical folk flute solo then turning it all on its head once more. A monumental link passage moves us into the next twist in the song. A sparse backing that is pure rock, and perhaps even a hint of blues to these ears, gives some space for Parker's voice to move 'mountains and to mark the arc of time'. The track concludes with organ and guitar trading licks as the rhythm section pushes the song to a rock solid conclusion.

Whisper on the Wind is introduced by Dan Nelson's space rock inspired bass riff against the background of singing wind, shortly followed by the full band, who take up the riff and a close harmony lead vocal completes the picture. After the melodic verses and choruses the song breaks down into a deliciously alluring ambience that chills like an eerie wind, heavy with suspense. What comes next is unexpected; a Spanish guitar lead emerges fluttering on the senses, teasing one's thoughts until it gives way to a Floyd-esque electric lead, pure and flute like. This in turn evolves into a positively frenzied display of guitar pyrotechnics, building to a crescendo. The return of the wind and the elegant bass riff and we're off again! The verse returns though with a much harder edge and after a joyous final chorus the song breaks down once more into swirling textures and a bass guitar feature adds a flavour of jazz fusion to the mix. Nelson's dexterity and lyrical style really shines here giving an already well crafted song a new twist. The bass deftly introduces a keyboard break by Steve Paine which trills up and down eastern scales like eddies in a storm, while the band goes into all out rock mode reminding me of Hawkwind. The swirling keyboards soar and spin and echo around bringing this song to a breathless ending.

Rolling thunderclaps lead to Spark to a Flame as Parker's voice, initially accapella, takes the driving seat. A chanting gothic choir fills the air as the band drive an insistent beat. The verses twist and turn like the flickering flames they represent and the chorus melody will burn its way into your heart and soul with its layers of harmony. Parker truly is the mistress of all she surveys in this song. A beautifully executed, if slightly predictable, middle section leads us to another fine example of Paine's keyboard skills as a sinewy almost talking sound flows in and out between your ears, expanding to fill your brain before slithering away like a serpent. Then a refrain of the powerful choral chant that pumps us into a definitive, slightly tongue in cheek orchestral climax. Then like the floors giving way in a burning building the listener is left floating as, like the glow of embers, a tantalisingly subtle texture introduces a completely new direction to the piece. Parker's voice at its most angelic articulates a hymn like vocal that weaves a calming moment into the proceedings before more menacing undertones begin to bubble up from beneath. Monk like chanting leads us towards Parker's insistent whisper spitting a Latin incantation that builds and builds as if bringing forth a presence from the beyond. Then the chanting choir returns in full force. After a refrain of the chorus that leaves me breathless each and every time, there is a momentary pause to draw breath before Foster leaps to centre stage assaulting the senses with flurries of notes as if they were sparks flying in all directions. A final bombastic refrain of the chant brings the song to a triumphant close. This song really demonstrates Legend's power, balancing neatly on the fence between Prog Rock and Prog Metal. Falling rain dowses the embers as the fourth and final song Drop in the Ocean leads us into a more introspective side of the band. Echoing guitars and keys fade in through the gurgling water and subtle percussion sets the stage once more for Parker to mesmerise us with her poetry. A snap of a snare and the song changes gear. Here John Macklin gets an opportunity to step into the limelight, as guitar, bass and piano conjure up a maelstrom of syncopation, he delivers us filigrees of deft jazz like fills blended with full metal tub thumping that amply displays his technical and dynamic prowess. Macklin's drumming throughout the album is excellent as it blends the dynamic and drive of each song gluing the pieces together without being overly flamboyant nor becoming repetitive and dull. A rippling piano run launches us into a pacey, open sounding vocal section, riding along on a tide of acoustic guitar and fluid bass, which in turn ebbs into a slower piano variation before ebbing completely to the sound of gently trickling water. This brings us to the most delicate and yet perhaps the most breathtaking part of this album, made so by its pure subtlety and attention to detail. First Clare and Dave Foster lure us in with a simple, charming flute and guitar duet which flows into a modulated soundscape providing a perfect foil for perhaps Parker's most outstanding vocal delivery of all; it is edge of the seat stuff laden with emotion. Rolling cymbals, hint at the crashing waves to come draw us back as orchestral sounds crowd into the vista. Strings and Horns proclaim the finale to come which starts with a guitar arpeggio and just builds with layer upon layer of sound whilst Parker's impassioned swan song soars and swoops over it all until the waves come crashing down and it is over.

Every time I listen to this album it takes me on a journey and many and varied have been the destinations. I suspect I have yet to uncover every secret it holds for the listener. Perhaps it is not the most accessible album initially, but it is worth taking the effort to listen to it and be swayed by its charm and power. Like many fine things it takes time to appreciate it fully, which in my opinion, was well worth the effort. So give it a chance and don't dismiss it out of hand, like I very nearly did.

Lost Lorien | 5/5 |

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