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Pendragon - Believe CD (album) cover





3.54 | 383 ratings

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4 stars Pendragon's last studio outing, Not of this World, may have given the impression that the band had lost their inspiration. The songs were long-winded, the album was over-produced, and the vocals and music seemed to be contrived re-hashes of past albums. But I still had high hopes for Believe, and though it is not the complete masterpiece that I had hoped for, it is a huge step in the right direction.

First of all, Pendragon have altered their sound on many tracks drastically. There are far more influences of world music to be heard throughout Believe, and when this aspect of the music is focused on, it really gives a sense of diversity to the otherwise predictable sound that Pendragon is known for. Also, there are more acoustic guitars used on Believe than on any other of Pendragon's studio albums. This also helps amplify the world influences throughout the album.

However, there are a few moments when the classic problems that Pendragon, for the most part, has always had. Some of the lyrics are a bit silly and don't always complement the music well. If anyone was hoping for Nick Barrett's voice to drastically change into Peter Gabriel's or something like that will be disappointed. His voice remains the same. Whether you think it is appropriate or not or even good is up to you, but I still do not mind it. But if you enjoy his vocal style, this album will certainly please you.

Well, on to the individual tracks.

"Believe" is an instrumental of sorts, even though there are vocals through certain passages. It starts off very eerie and foreboding, with Arabic soundscapes that give way to a beautiful chant, apparently in Gaelic. But after that, out of nowhere come a strange effect, possibly a vocador, which goes on "soloing" for the next minute. It doesn't necessarily spoil the mood, but I could have certainly done without it.

"And now, everybody to the dance floor."

...begins the next song, "No Place for the Innocent," which is very catchy, upbeat. It is a pretty big departure from what Pendragon usually creates, and would not be out of place on a local rock radio station. It begins with a jaunty riff and, weird as it is to say this for a Pendragon song, but you probably could dance to this song.or at least the first half. About 2/3 of the way in, a gentle acoustic breakdown emerges, which seems particularly beautiful. Soon, the main guitar riff comes back, and Barrett moves in to solo, and does a very good job too. Nothing too fancy, but it fits the song well and doesn't grab for attention.

"The Wisdom of Solomon" recalls the presence of Middle-Eastern influences and is overall a very good song. After a minute or two of the masterful Clive Nolan laying down some epic textures with Barrett soloing over, the main acoustic-driven theme arises. But I should mention that the first two minutes of "The Wisdom of Solomon" is much of what Not of this World tried to do, but failed, meaning that the soloing is not overdone and that the keyboard textures are simple and easy to digest. Back to the acoustic part, Barrett proves his skill here with a very impressive picking flourish. After awhile, Barrett comes in with the lyrics, which are not very good at parts. Sometimes they're bad enough to detract from the music, but not very often, which is very fortunate, because this is some of Pendragon's greatest. The song continues to add instruments and textures, and soon Barrett goes into an explosive solo good enough to fit on The Masquerade Overture.

"The Wishing Well" is the epic of Believe, and very surprisingly, nearly every minute of it is excellent. It is conveniently split up by sections, all of which are diverse and memorable.

"i. For Your Journey" is very emotional. Nolan provides excellent background keyboard textures while Barrett gives an inspirational lyrical delivery. For once, the lyrics rise above the music, and serve their purpose very well. The song is actually very sparse musically, but it manages to seem full and it resonates beautifully.

"ii. Sou' by Sou'west" begins with dramatic acoustic picking. The chorus is ushered in by an ethereal electric guitar. At first, I though the lyrics were a bit cheesy during the chorus, but now I believe they're simply cryptic, and I'd really like to know what they're all about. Soon, the song goes into a cathartic long chorus with a particularly moving atmosphere. It boils over and dissipates into a picked ending with Barrett singing fairly silly lyrics, and the mood falters slightly.

"iii. We Talked" starts off with the same picking pattern that ended the previous section, this time on an electric guitar. The groove that develops between the bass and drums is similar to that of a certain section in "Master of Illusion" from The Masquerade Overture, but it fits the song well and certainly doesn't feel like a rip- off. An electric guitar interlude from "No Place for the Innocent" is echoed during an interlude for this song, with a chaotic series of voices and conversations. The groove is brought back with appropriate theatricality and the song soon grows until it reaches the boiling point in which it all explodes and dissipates into a spacey and unnerving atmosphere which segues into the next section.

"iv. Two Roads" begins with yet more acoustic picking, but with a wintry Nolan keyboard melody. After awhile, certain melodies and guitar effects from "No Place fro the Innocent" are again echoed, and are used fairly well. Halfway through, a crunchy, metal-esque riff emerges and serves as a somewhat abrupt yet appealing alternate section. After that, "Two Roads" goes into a jam reminiscent of Pink Floyd, yet I can't pin a song. It just feels like Pink a good way.

This is an excellent way to end such an epic song. Pendragon have really outdone themselves on this one. Not many bands have an epic song that is compelling all the way through, but Pendragon now do.

An echoed, watery electric guitar announces "Learning Curve," a bass-driven song that uses an exotic woodwind instrument sparsely, yet effectively. Also, the employment of an acoustic guitar to connect key points in the song, such as the segue into the guitar solo in the last half of the song, is creative and enjoyable. By the way that guitar solo is top notch.

"The Edge of the World," ends Believe on a very subdued and reflective note. A gentle and minor-key acoustic guitar begins the song with a simple melody, over which Barrett sings some vague yet appropriate lyrics. A melody similar to that of "Paintbox" emerges after awhile and sounds particularly sad and beautiful. The atmosphere of "Wisdom of Solomon" is recalled; as yet again Barrett solos over Nolan's supportive textures. The original theme returns finishes out the song, and the album.

One weakness that Pendragon have always had throughout the years has been an inconsistency in the lyrical department. Unfortunately, Believe does little to dispel this. None of the lyrics glow with brilliance, yet none seriously detract from the musical impact. At best, they're well thought-out and delivered with force, and at worst they either fall flat or are pompous and silly.

The subject matter of Believe is sometimes hard to decode, because honestly, Barrett is not the best lyricist in the world. But from what I can gather, most of it deals with post-9/11 paranoia, war, authority and religion.specifically blind faith, which I gather is where the title "Believe" comes from. Some songs specifically mention or make a veiled reference to the turmoil in the Middle East, and this is accentuated by the constant Middle Eastern musical vibe throughout. Believe is also dedicated to those who died in the London terrorist bombing of July, 2005.

Believe is a grand comeback album, and shows that Pendragon can revive themselves in great new ways. Be prepared for strong Arabic musical influences and more acoustic guitars than normal. It's not quite as good as The Masquerade Overture, but comes very close. Highly recommended!

stonebeard | 4/5 |


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