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Steve Hogarth - Steve Hogarth & Richard Barbieri: Not The Weapon But The Hand CD (album) cover


Steve Hogarth


Crossover Prog

3.55 | 65 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars In progressive rock circles, you'll have a tough time finding too many modern acts adored as much as Marillion and Porcupine Tree. Both bands have rightfully earned massive cult followings over the past roughly three decades, and a collaboration between the lead singer from one and the keyboard player from the other is bound to be met with some high expectations - enter Not The Weapon But The Hand, an album released in early 2012 with the names Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri on the cover. Although I wasn't even aware of this collaboration until stumbling upon a review after its release (most likely due to ignorance on my part!), I immediately had to check it out as both of these musicians have become favorites of mine over the past few years. Not The Weapon But The Hand had some high expectations from my end, and although it's vastly different from what most listeners may expect from Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri, the result is stunning nonetheless.

For those unfamiliar with the names in question, Steve Hogarth has been the lead singer of progressive rock act Marillion since 1989, and Richard Barbieri played in Japan for numerous years before joining Porcupine Tree in 1993. Hogarth and Barbieri have worked together before on Hogarth's 1997 solo album Ice Cream Genius, but this is the first formal collaboration between these two musicians. We're obviously dealing with experienced and extremely gifted performers just by those credentials alone, but Not The Weapon But The Hand adds a whole new chapter into their extensive musical histories. This is a mature, moody, and introspective work of brilliance that will take quite a bit of time to sink in for those without the patience to appreciate the deep songwriting and intricate atmospheres presented throughout this bold artistic statement.

Make no mistake - Not The Weapon But The Hand is not by any means a mix of the progressive alt. rock of recent Marillion and the heavy space prog of newer Porcupine Tree efforts, and those going in with those types of expectations will likely be disappointed. Not The Weapon But The Hand is not 'prog' in a traditional sense; I'd venture to say that this album instead represents a meeting point between new age, ambient, progressive rock, and alternative rock, with a heavy emphasis on the 'ambient' portion. Not The Weapon But The Hand isn't an aggressive sounding album by any stretch, and nearly the entire observation focuses on creating dreamy atmospherics and mesmerizing soundscapes. Those who consider themselves fans of Lunatic Soul (an ambient rock project from Riverside's Mariusz Duda) should equally enjoy what Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri have crafted on Not The Weapon But The Hand.

Albums that aim most of their focus towards atmospherics and subtle compositions tend to be a mixed bag for me, but Not The Weapon But The Hand is an example of how such an approach sounds when done right. Steve Hogarth's vocals are as expressive, emotional, and gut-wrenching as we've come to expect from him, and Richard Barbieri's multi-layered and meticulously thoughtful keyboard arrangements never allow the compositions to sink into 'background music'. While Not The Weapon But The Hand is an excellent listen for relaxation or meditation, it also serves as an exceptional 'headphone' album for those looking for a soothing album that still challenges the mind. The almost inhumanly pure sound production suits the beautiful nature of the compositions perfectly, with the spot-on mixing never sounding off by even the slightest degree. Every time I've ever listened to Not The Weapon But The Hand, I've been by myself with a pair of good headphones and roughly 45 minutes to kill in a quiet room - this isn't an album for all occasions by any stretch, but I can't think of very many albums that I'd want to hear before this one when it comes to a solitary, meditative experience.

Alongside Hogarth and Barbieri, there are also a handful of guest musicians that, while not nearly as prominent, exceed their call of duty. The clever basslines from Danny Thompson and Dave Gregory (who also provides some nice atmospheric guitar work and string arrangements) and the subtle drum parts provided by Arran Ahmun and Chris Maitland help make the compositions feel even more dynamic and fully realized; when these instruments do appear, they truly are integral parts of the music.

Of course, none of this would matter if the compositions were dry and lifeless, but thankfully the exact opposite is true. Not The Weapon But The Hand is an extremely personal and emotional album, both musically and lyrically, and the songs thrive on strong melodic foundations and remarkable arrangements. Songs like "Red Kite", "Your Beautiful Face", and "Only Love Will Make You Free" especially stand out - it's very easy to lose yourself in the multi-layered soundscapes of these tracks in particular. The rest of this rather thematic album also maintains a similar level of quality; Not The Weapon But The Hand is a great listen from start to finish, and the only way to experience everything the album has to offer is in one focused listen. It's tough to do an observation with this much attention to detail any justice at all without providing it with your full, undivided attention.

After enjoying Not The Weapon But The Hand for months now, I finally found it appropriate to write my thoughts down in the form of a review. For some reason or another, this album has slipped under the radar of most prog listeners, but hopefully my words have convinced at least one person to go out and buy it. Although it may be different from what many may expect from Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri, the end result is nothing short of stunning. Not The Weapon But The Hand is quite simply one of the best fusions of new age atmospherics and progressive rock complexity that I've ever heard.

J-Man | 4/5 |


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