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Druid - Toward the Sun CD (album) cover

TOWARD THE SUN

Druid

 

Symphonic Prog

3.42 | 75 ratings

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Joolz
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars How fickle is Fate. In the hot summer month of July 1975 when Toward The Sun was launched at Shepperton film studios, Druid were a young band on a roll with a new EMI contract in their pockets and the patronage of DJ Bob Harris [who produced the album] and British music paper the Melody Maker [whose competition they had recently won]. Each of these would prove to be barbed blessings, however, as the critics sharpened their quills!

Druid's debut album occupies the kind of AOR space that some of the major Prog bands - I am thinking Yes and Genesis - would turn to during the late 70s, laced with sympathetic instrumentation like acoustic guitars, 'flutes' and lush keyboards, all neatly wrapped in a Symphonic Prog overcoat of more adventurous instrumental passages. In other words, Toward The Sun is a fairly generic example of mainstream Prog from the later 70s with the overt intricacy toned down and without the attendant success factor.

Any melodic rock album must have a solid foundation of good songs, and Toward The Sun's songs are good to excellent. There are a couple of exceptions, but otherwise the songwriting is first class with some lovely tunes and lyrics which 'sound right'. There is even a common theme spread throughout the album - dreams and dreaming: from the "long nights' dreams" of opener Voices; remembering them and "understanding every word they say" in Remembering; disillusioned and asking "whatever happened to the dream, should we still listen to the meaning" in Toward The Sun; finally to "sail away" to Shangri-La "there I'll find my dreams, and some day I'll return when the world has changed".

Aside from an occasional lapse into Howe or Hackett territory, Dane's guitar playing is exemplary without being unduly flashy, producing a number of luscious understated solos. Brewer's Rickenbacker is well to the fore, splattering the songs with that trademark sound. The album is also awash with lush keyboards, including Hammond organ and Mellotron and the odd synth. All instruments meld together quite naturally to produce a full and balanced sound, never sounding forced or out of place. Even better are the arrangements: always interesting and involving; always developing without ever getting too far off the road; full of light and shade.

Shangri-La is the undisputed star of the show, a magnificent ten minute tour-de-force of melodic Prog with everything you could wish for: Mellotron and acoustic guitars; wonderful varied harmonies from Dane; one or two little proggy bridge sections; a change of pace to inject a lift via a short instrumental; a false ending; and a rousing finale complete with choir. All this is based on a majestic multi-segmented song which progresses quite seamlessly before returning to its opening melody. This is one of those songs that worms its way into your head and stays there.

The other stand-out songs, shorter but from the same mold, are the title track Toward The Sun and Remembering. Perhaps leaning more towards the AOR side of their character, both are nevertheless very high quality songs. Remembering is the more Proggy of the two, with some instrumental contrasts, while Toward The Sun relies on a simpler structure which builds to an abrupt ending. Both Voices and Dawn Of An Evening are excellent examples of fundamentally standard soft rock core songs augmented and lifted by inventive arrangements and surrounding instrumental passages, though Voices is the most derivative song here.

Clearly for many, the primary stumbling block is Dane's singing voice: the real origin of those 'Yes clone' accusations. He is compared to Jon Anderson because he, too, sings in a high register, but their voices are not otherwise alike, indeed Dane sounds more like a female than Anderson. Believe me, it does sound quite natural and does not in any way detract from the music: on the contrary, it is one of the album's strengths, especially on some excellent harmonies.

The verdict - Toward The Sun is perhaps a little derivative in places but it deserves to be heard. I like it very much and would recommend it unreservedly to lovers of classic Prog.

Joolz | 4/5 |

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