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Phideaux - Snowtorch CD (album) cover



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5 stars US composer and musician Phideax Xavier made a name for himself back in 2007 with the brilliant "Doomsday Afternoon" production. With an energetic, all encompassing marketing campaign instigated, lead and executed by Xavier himself he almost overdid the marketing back then, but with an album of such quality he was soon forgiven for being just a tad too eager at that time.

That was then and this is now. Four years have passed, a well made album that didn't quite live up to the expectations built by it's predecessor have since come and gone, and Xavier's plans for future releases was jinxed by a piece that started living a life of it's own. A strong-willed composition that wasn't satisfied until it had been expanded into an album's worth of material, due to be released later this year under the moniker "Snowtorch".

And whatever muse that took control of the proceedings that lead to this creation has most certainly been an inspired one. A lyrical concept is explored that should please most fans of such endeavours, intellectual in scope with a strong spiritual if not even religious touch, but without any starkly obvious points of reference. Those who enjoy thinking about lyrical contents and their meaning can note down this production due to this alone. Those who prefer wizards, unicorns and elfs can move on to the 70's section in the back, as fantasy, high magic and flying capes are features nowhere to be found on this disc. Although the final instrumental track may be to their fancy by way of association, with the piano and violin leading into a bittersweet dance with dampened sounds of festive folks as a constant drone in the back. Kind of what one might imagine at ye olde public house in a medieval fantasy land on a Saturday night, at least of you disregard the subtle undercurrents provided by keyboards and other instruments belonging to this day and age which flesh out this creation in a neat, sophisticated manner.

But there's plenty to enjoy other than the enticing qualities of the brief epilogue that ends this production, first and foremost the two epic length creations that share the name "Snowtorch". The former with the piano appearing to be the main supplier of the thematic foundations explored, in an excursion elegantly moving between passages reminding of various great bands of yesteryear and various interludes and transitional pieces that mostly are instigated by the ebony and ivory. More often than not with one or more instruments quickly added in for delightful soloing passages. Echoes of Kansas and Gentle Giant are in place alongside shades of Genesis, a whiff of Jethro Tull and a touch of Camel. While Xavier's vocals at times takes on a delivery reminding me of German act Sylvan - emotionally laden, expressive and heartfelt. He's still not what most would describe as a highly talented vocalist I guess, but in the four years that have passed since "Doomsday Afternoon" it has improved markedly, adding an additional sheen to these compositions. But for sheer vocal prowess Phideaux still has a way to go, as brilliantly showcased by the ladies in the band, who are given ample room to showcase their talents this time around.

Aside from the lead vocals dampened, richly layered symphonic progressive rock is the name of the game here, with a multitude of delightful details that should captivate anyone fond of the previous efforts by Phideaux the band and probably convince a few more. Keyboards, organ and Mellotron are used to good effect, as are backing vocals and the occasional sounds of a more synthesized nature. The second part of Snowtorch explore territories of a slightly harder hitting nature too, with the guitar given an elongated passage to dish out some delightful riffs with occasional textures from various tangents coming and going in a neat, subtly dramatic manner. A nice follow up to the dream-laden acoustic guitar, Mellotron and keyboards theme that opens the second part of Snowtorch, leading on to more distinctly symphonic territories reflecting back to the opening composition as it approaches the end.

Wedged in between the Snowtorches we find Helix, a brief escapade of a slightly less adventurous nature. Not as impressive as the massive epics at hand but a nice, soothing and playful affair to calm the mind that works extremely well in an album context.

A common denominator for all the songs as good as all stages of their development is the inclusion of a small myriad of instrumental or vocal details. The dominating theme is just that, the general atmosphere is rich and pleasing, but the intent listener will enjoy all the additional sounds, textures and motifs that makes up the rich undercurrents of these creations. Aside from that the band have opted for a delightfully uncompressed mix that should please retro-oriented symphonic prog rock fans no end, especially since the overall sound and instrumentation of this CD also have more than a few nods in the direction of yesteryear. Mix and production are as crystal clear as any contemporary production you can name however, making this album less retro-oriented than it might have been.

Those who have been looking forward to this album will most likely be pleased. Personally I was positively surprised by this album. I had expected a solid effort and hoped for a really good one, and I'll readily admit that even my hopes for this disc was surpassed. And while hardened, dedicated avant fans won't see the light when encountering this CD any more than what they have done with the previous efforts of the band and the man, those who enjoy the symphonic part of the progressive universe will most likely enjoy this one. Quite a few immensely so. In fact, I'll be surprised if this one doesn't make it into most lists of the top 10 albums of 2011.

A side note towards the end here, as I'm writing this some three weeks prior to the album release. Phideaux was kind enough to send me (and some other lucky bastards) a digital advance copy of this CD. Not quite the finished album, as he had a few minor tweaks he wanted to add prior to sending this one to the CD press. These minute details aren't of a kind that will have any impact for my assessment of this CD, other than perhaps adding a slight increase in overall quality.

Summa summarum: "Snowtorch" is an album I think most of not all existing fans of Phideaux can look forward too, and a production that should win him some new followers to boot. It's not an album one might describe as boundary crossing or capital P progressive, but a darn fine, high quality effort through and through, fast closing in on perfection as far as my own personal musical taste go. A CD to look forward to, and enjoy.

Report this review (#409593)
Posted Monday, February 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars After some buildup and fanfare, the greatly anticipated "Snowtorch" has arrived. All I can say is- phenomenal! I was one of the lucky ones to be chosen to receive the free uncompressed download of this album, including artwork, and I am so glad to have been given this honor. It is only fair to reciprocate in kind and provide my review of the (almost) final CD. As always, I will be brief, so as not to ruin any of the fun of the first listen.

I was surprised yet pleased with the direction of this album. There is quite a bit of the ghost of ELP hiding in the corners here, as well as some YES and Genesis, making this one go down smooth and steady. The lyrics are great as always, the production value high, and the mix rich with atmosphere. The whole thing is pleasing to the ears, from the tinkling of the driving piano to the glorious female vocals, with nary a misstep.

My only qualm is the length: more please! The 2 main epic tracks are grand (clocking in at close to 20 mins. ea.), with the shorter Hex serving as a bridge between the two parts (hemispheres perhaps?) and a final untitled epilogue that is quite tiny but obviously not an after-thought. This is a total of 4 tracks, with the last not being listed, so it appears as 3 tracks on the album artwork.

Certainly add this one to your wishlist if you are already a fan of Phideaux. If you are new to PX's world, go grab Doomsday Afternoon now so you will be ready when the solstice arrives, along with the landing of Snowtorch at your online/local store. I am sure it will prove to be one of the highlights of 2011.

Report this review (#414682)
Posted Saturday, March 12, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Phideaux is a band very close to my heart. Fronted by multi-instrumentalist/musical genius, Phideaux Xavier, they have crafted some of the greatest progressive rock of the modern era. In particular, I find Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven to be masterpieces of progressive music that have a very important place in my music collection. So, I was thrilled to be amongst the first people to hear the newest Phideaux release, entitled Snowtorch. The man himself, Phideaux Xavier, sent out early copies of his album to several close friends, fans and reviewers, and I was privileged to be amongst this group. Along with the copy of the album, Phideaux wrote a note that said that this version of the album is about 99% finished, so there might be a few differences between this and the finalized product that comes out in just a couple weeks. So, just keep that in mind as you read this review.

I am pleased to say that Snowtorch is a monster of an album. It hits all the right chords for me musically, and I place it amongst his trilogy of excellence along with Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven. All the trademarks of the Phideaux sound are present here: the great vocal combination of Phideaux's unique tone along with the gorgeous female vocals, the beautiful piano melodies, the acoustic guitar passages, a very strong influence from the early prog pioneers but with a modern edge, the quirky yet highly intelligent lyrics, weaving through several different musical passages with ease, and the list goes on and on. It is all here, and all done to perfection.

Just take the first track, the epic "Snowtorch (Part One)" that is almost 20 minutes long and features just about everything I love about Phideaux. It starts off rather slowly, but builds up in intensity throughout the track in a magnificent fashion. The whole band is playing fantastically with one another. I certainly love the instrumental section about six and a half minutes in that seems to nod in the direction of Gentle Giant with some great vintage keyboard sounds and guitar playing. Then there is a great section where wind instruments get the chance to shine amongst the symphonic mix. What follows are some truly majestic sections with a great keyboard melody at the forefront. Then comes a Beatles' inspired section that includes some clever lyrics sung by Mr. Phideaux himself.

But, at about the 13 minute mark, my favorite section of the album (and perhaps all of Phideaux's catalog) begins with a wonderful piano medley accompanied by violin and some great vocalizations. The piano begins playing a majestic melody, perhaps in the style of Neal Morse, that really brings to mind the wonder of being out in the middle of space. Then the piano morphs into a quirky, quick section that brings to mind ELP at their most technically furious. This instrumental section is phenomenal and builds fantastically towards an almost funky section that even includes saxophone. The keyboards, violin and saxophone along a solid drum and bass backdrop really make this a magical piece of music. I just could not keep the smile of pure joy off my face when I first heard this section. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Things slow down considerably for "Helix", which could perhaps be considered the ballad of the album. Truly it is a little breather between the two epic parts of Snowtorch that bookend it. The best part about this track to me is the feel that it conveys. I feel as I'm listening to it as if I am floating through space listening to the beautiful female vocals and beautiful violin, keyboard and guitar that surrounds those vocals. I almost get a dreamy Yes vibe from this track. Part Two of Snowtorch begins with an interesting instrumental section that really features the acoustic guitar. It is a great way to build-up into the second half of the album, with a wonderfully quirky stop-and-start style rhythm.

After a bit of a fade out from that section, the acoustic guitar remains a major presence into the next instrumental section which starts slowly, but then kicks in with some intense keyboards and fast drumming. What I love about this whole opening section is that it is really a fantastic introduction into the second half of the record, before themes from part one are re- introduced. I love when the familiar keyboard line from part one comes out from the somewhat chaotic instrumental section, taking us back into familiar Snowtorch territory. For some reason, this whole second part (and perhaps the album as a whole) really brings to mind "A Passion Play" from Jethro Tull--an album that I truly love.

The album concludes in spectacular fashion, bringing back the themes from the first part of the album. There is even a little epilogue of a track that is a lot of fun and ends the album on an upbeat note, leaving the listener wanting more. And, with that, the only criticism I can give towards this album is that it feels a little short. But, perhaps at the same time that is one of its greatest strengths. It is very compact, devoid of any weak spots, and leaves the listener wanting more. A piece of music should never be extended just to fill the length of a CD, and Phideaux seems to have a good sense of how long this piece should be. There is not a wasted moment--every second of this album is top-notch.

I feel that Phideaux has very much succeeded in creating a modern progressive masterpiece with Snowtorch. I find myself debating if I prefer it or Doomsday Afternoon as my favorite Phideaux album. They are both incredible in their own way. I love how Phideaux manages to pay homage to the progressive rock artists that influence him (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, etc.) but crafts a sound all his own that is unique to him. When I hear Phideaux, I instantly recognize it, and that to me is a quality only the best bands possess. I love the playing on this album and I love the spacey feel that fits perfectly with the unique lyrics. Phideaux has created something truly special here and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. It is exciting when a band is at their creative peak and continues to put out high quality music year after year. I recommend this album to all. Those who already love Phideaux, will love this album, and I imagine those that don't could become new converts to the world of Phideaux. I strongly suggest you give it a chance. A perfect album.

Report this review (#415289)
Posted Sunday, March 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Album of the Year (so far).

Phideaux hasn't lost his sense of mystery throughout Snowtorch, and he hasn't lost his sense of melody. Boy oh boy, are we for a treat this time! I was one of the few lucky to receive a demo by Phideaux himself, and I tooked my time before writing a review, give it the attention it deserves.

After the End of the World, now the Birth of Life, the Source of all Reason. A fun concept, full of the quirky lines by Xavier's pen ( ''...Let's meet at the grave of the wax figurines...'') and with the same quality of the other records. Even better? Perhaps. It's a short album, the band has chose quality over quantity this time. With longer albums, the chance of baloney get higher and God knows how many albums are way too long (everything by Beardfish or Astra's album for instance). A modest 45 minutes (which is almost an EP in the modern prog world) with no filling, never a dull moment, not a weak track.

Snowtorch is more piano/ vintage keys oriented, with less guitars but more flute and cello. It's the HUGE palette of keyboards that had me: colorful variety that reminded me the great years of Kerry Minnear (Gentle Giant), ELP and many acts of the 70's Italian scene( like Balletto di Bronzo). I love the fact that the band is not bending over by being du jour with a Riverside ,or Marillion approach, we have way too much of those these days. No, I almost felt the ghost of Solaris' Martian Chronicles at times! Yes, it's a rare thing these days, and it's a new hope for the ones who are not into Post Metal (ouch my ears) and who longs for an album without growling.

What to say? Phideaux and his band delivered a masterpiece; (again! can you believe it?!)this band has more epic records in 5 years than many bands over their career. He's spoiling us again: long, lushious instrumental parts with countless hooks that makes you think: ''Is this guy's gonna run out of ideas one day?''

Phideaux at the top of his art, not a black cloud in sight.

Report this review (#418047)
Posted Friday, March 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Snowtorch is another exceptional album from Phideaux. Especially since Doomsday Afternoon, they have maintained a high level of creativity without losing the particular elements which define their sound. The band still makes dark elaborate rock music with lots of acoustic touches. Also par for the course, Phideaux make use of a large cast of musicians all of whom have now been present since 2007. The outcome of this collaboration is a tightly played, but also very intricate album.

As time has gone on, Phideaux have drifted further and further away from their eccentric gothic pop roots deeper into symphonic prog territory. Their songs have become longer and their structures increasingly more complex. I have to say their themes have become increasingly obtuse as well. The end result of all this is a serious musical progression for the band and a regression of their sound towards the heyday of extravagant progressive rock in the 1970s.

While keeping largely to their own character, the band has also drawn from the giants of the era. The most distinctive influence on the band, as I touched on in my review for Tempest of Mutiny, is Jethero Tull. In addition, certain passages easily evoke Supertramp, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and even Tangerine Dream. Phideaux have for the most part borrowed rather than stolen though. They've augmented their already rich sound with ornate organ and synthesizer passages. There is also a degree of complexity in their structures which has few precedents in their own discography. Furthermore, the band has adopted a style a lot like Yes at their progressive peak. The band has always had excellent lyrics, but I've also found them slight on meaning. Vocals have now more or less simply become part of the music. Trying to decipher them is about as productive as counting the number of angels which could fit on the head of a pin. It isn't a bad thing, it is however a new thing for Phideaux.

Before I conclude I want to jump back to Jethro Tull for a moment. I listed them as the main influence without backing up my position. Snowtorch is very reminiscent of Thick as a Brick. While it lacks any of Ian Anderson's poignantly snarling wit, there is a laundry list of other similarities between them. The most obvious connection is musically. Rolling heavy organ lines make up the core of both works. The fusion of acoustic and electric is also an integral feature. Both also go through a number of movements yet always seem to settle back to the organ. Again from a lyrical perspective, Thick as a Brick is always powerful but only manages to stay comprehensible for about the first quarter. After that the words sound interesting, but lack substance: e.g. "where the hell was Biggles?" etc. The same can be said for the basically entirety of Snowtorch: e.g. "When is a fox not a fox?" etc. It is a concept album, but I don't even begin to grasp the concept. And finally from a structural perspective, both albums are comprised by a suite of two large mostly instrumental tracks. Snowtorch incorporates a smaller intermediary track, but it is pretty much perfunctory. I will stress that each of these works are their own beast. There is however a discernable relationship between the two. I was able to pick up on it during my first listen.

To summarize Snowtorch is a grand and complex album. Phideaux have pushed themselves into new and interesting territory. Here, more so than ever before, they've chosen wear their influences on their sleeves. The result is a throwback to prog's glory days. I joined Prog Archives to find albums like this. I also trust that a number of you out there have the same motivation. This album is essential. I think old fans of Phideaux will love it as I do. I also think it will broaden then band's appeal on this site. Lastly, I'd like to say I still like Doomsday Afternoon and the epic from Chupacabras better, but Snowtorch is easily among their best work. Five stars out of five

Report this review (#420171)
Posted Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | Review Permalink
1 stars Yuck ! This is the worst kind of pseudo-prog ,absolutely nothing original here, the vocals are very irritating, I feel I am listening to a Pink Floyd cover band. I wanted to like this album, and this artist. With all the Bloated reviews touting this as some sort of masterpiece. Of course, I wasn't as lucky as many of these earlier reviewers You see, I didn't receive an advanced copy ! I am wondering,What exactly they are getting out of this music that i am not? I just believe it's not very Original. So the Bottom line is. The vocals are bad, the keyboards sound like samples, If I want Pink Floyd , I will listen to Pink Floyd. I won't be listening to this again that's for sure.I like the cover art though. Come on, Where's the Pushing The envelope we all love within progressive rock. this is just filling the envelope with the same old content. As another reviewer boldly stated, "This is the album of the year", If that is the case, Then Prog is dead !
Report this review (#421433)
Posted Wednesday, March 23, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Phideaux has outdone himself with "Snowtorch", and that after having set the bar very high. His past two albums have demonstrated a man who is skilled in his craft. (His fifth, "The Great Leap" is a lot stronger than some have given credit. I'm hoping he is able to gain the same respect with a collection of songs.) With "Snowtorch" he proves his mastery and makes it clear that sometimes less is more. This album moves along so fast, with so many beautiful melodies, and with powerful lyrics that are so perfectly delivered, that I have listened to it more often in a short period of time than any album ever. He seems to be at his creative peak, and is confident in his art. Beethoven referred to his much maligned 8th symphony lovingly as "My little symphony". I hope this album won't need the author's defense, but my guess is that Phideaux will hold his "eighth" as dearly in his heart. We often try to compare an artist, or portions of their work, to those who have gone before, but this album stands on its own. This is no "A Passion Play"; this is "Snowtorch". This is a new standard; this is the album to which critics too young to know those "classic progressive rock classics" will compare the next wave of "Prog". I know this sounds overblown, but I cannot get over how much I love this thing. My wife is also listening to this a lot, and she only likes only a few of the cd's I buy. I won't try to break down each song, because I know many others will, but I would be remiss not to express my joy in some of the highlights in one of my very favorite albums. (I can say that already.) 1. I love Phideaux's lyrics, even though they usually are just a little (or a lot) over my head. 2. Valerie has an "angelic" voice, as close to perfect as any to my ears, and she is again beautiful here, but her emotive and powerful delivery in "Helix" really smokes. 3. The interplay between Ariel's violin and Johnny's/Mark's? keyboards near the end of "(Part One") is perfect.
Report this review (#421700)
Posted Thursday, March 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Snowtorch was a long-awaited album for me since I am a strict follower of the glorius Phideaux. Firstly I have to say something about the album and actually generally about Phideaux: You can hear lots of influences which are a true success in catching the real gem of 70's progressive rock music but what you really hear is Phideaux itself. They somehow manage to create their own insight of music and they have a great way to share it with the listener. When you listen a song form them you easily say that 'yes, this is Phideaux'. And in Snowtorch it is no different than this.

Firstly the lyrics are really good, a questioning approach to the rulers of the universe or a man who is trying to re-born upon his ashes with some observations that he had never done before. A good concept in my opinion.

Snowtorch Part One is easily the best song on the album in my opinion. Starting with some cool lyrics and turning out to be one of the greatest songs of the band ever. The heavy piano playing, dynamic drumming and and some instrumental-ish singings by the unique vocals of the band. Sometimes you get a great Van der Graaf Generator feeling in the dynamic moments of the song.

Helix starts off with some dreamy vocals and cool chords by the keyboard. I think this song is good example of the psychedelic side of Phideaux. The repetitive acoustic guitar and drum work with some cool keyboard melodies going along with them. This is a really psychedelic improvisation which actually makes the listener wonder more about what to come.

Snowtorch Part Two, in my opinion is the hardest piece on the album to digest. I found it kind of awkward and boring at first but after lots of listens the song made itself clear. The acoustic guitar introduces the song with some dynamic drumming again and it flows really well after that.

'...' is kind of a restart to the album with some nice violin work.

To sum up; Snowtorch is in my opinion one of the best releases of the last decade. Influences from VdGG and Genesis are the minor factors that making this album a little more beautiful. But the whole composition itself is actually what is making this album almost a masterpiece. I would give this one 9/10 but since I can not do it and I'd not like to call it a masterpiece I am giving this album a well deserved 4 star.

Report this review (#422239)
Posted Friday, March 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Ode to progressive rock

What an album... It's just incredible how Phideaux managed to create another consecutive masterpiece after the great - Number 7. But this time even more accomplished and completed than before. The progress of the band over the years is remarkable and that brings to a construction of a perfect and flawless album with potential classic statute/presence in the future. I hail Snowtorch and wish it long stay among TOP PA albums list. In fact, the result of the progress of the band is better and better albums all over the years. But from here... to eternity!!!

The expressiveness of the album is the main impression in me! So pure and majestic pictures and ideas combined in hyper-advanced songwriting abilities of Phideaux Xavier. There's not spoiled places or professional void around the album. Little emptiness is usual even for a 5 star album, but not in here. The sound continues to evolve, too. With perfect musicianship and a lot of instruments implemented in it, Snowtorch inflames the human imagination with supreme arguments of combination and flirtation between its themes and motifs into the suites. The heavy organ and keyboards as whole are the divine thin (and sometimes not so thin) line all over the album.

In terms of subgenres inclusion, it is quite different to its predecessors and departs almost completely from Phideaux's early gothic/psychedelic sound and decreases significantly Pink Floyd/Mike Oldfield influence. Snowtorch is mainly symphonic prog album (one of all time bests) with art rock twist. As my title displays, it's like ode to progressive rock, because Snowtorch uses lots of the means of expression of progressive rock. It's classic prog produced in 2011, without imitating a tangible 70s band or direction. As our respectable PA user JoeMcK said - it's Snowtorch, but not A Passion Play. I would add - it's not Palepoli by Osanna, it's Snowtorch by Phideaux. I make the comparison, because of the equal structure of both albums.

Of course, it's impossible without influence from earlier bands. It's always been like that. My brain detected most notably ... I won't say band names, because in Snowtorch's case without imitating, it would be inappropriate. I shall just strongly recommend the album to all fans of english and italian symphonic prog, art rock and folk rock. As a conclusion I would say Snowtorch is one of the most accomplished and balanced contemporary album (if not the most) in the world of progressive music!

Report this review (#422345)
Posted Friday, March 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
1 stars I do not see any reason well appreciated of the given album. Not an interesting vocal, boring, tiresome arrangements of music, absolutely melancholy melodics. If your desire in prog-rock grandiosity even it isn't present on this album, no doubt this is so. Really the album deserves estimations, comparable with estimations of the best albums of prog-rock? I am sincerely surprised.

If to compare this album to an album of 2008 the music arrangements are better, music became more smart, but remained the same uninteresting. Unfortunately, after listening of an album I have understood that for time wasted. What for to me spend my time to listen "Depeshe Mode" in arrangements of music Prog-rock?

Report this review (#422359)
Posted Friday, March 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars OK guys, I think I also have to say something about this album which is so high-rated.

I listended to it a few times and I have to say that "Snowtorch" is an brilliant album with a powerful, atmospheric sound which I love on the other Phideaux-albums too. There are no weak moments and it's of course always nice to hear that in this times of mainstream-pop and rock are still some progressive artists alive ;-) . I don't want to say too much about "Snowtorch" because every prog-fan should hear enough of it. I just wanna say that this is a great album and everyone should listen to it. But, ask yourself, is it really as good as "Godbluff" or "Wish You Were Here"? I think not. Sure, it's one of the best albums of the last years but it has not the magic, this special feeling of the good old prog masterpieces.

So, buy this album and listen to the wunderful music. But in honor of the masterpieces of the 70's, which will never been beaten, I have to give this album 4 stars.

Report this review (#422417)
Posted Friday, March 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars -Well-made -compositionally intelligent

It has parts that sound really epic, but it does not move me to the point that I'm just like, "Oh my God" this is amazing. It cannot move me emotionally.

The song Snowtorch follows a recurring rhythm that is pretty catchy, but it can get a little repetitive to the point that I feel like they're overdoing it. After the first 10 minutes it can start to get boring. And I never really enjoyed synthesizers, and I don't even know why Phideaux needs them in here. The album is not bad. The singing is good, both male and female voices (Female is better though because it sounds like she is using less machines to alter her natural sound). They have a diversity of instruments which is good.

But to say that it is better than Floyd, Tull, VDGG, or Crimson is not really comparable (and he says that they are his influences).

2.5 stars, 3 for the obvious effort

Report this review (#422471)
Posted Friday, March 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
5 stars Phideaux have created a cacophony of eargasmic soundscapes, designed for a captivating headphone experience.

I officially announce my conversion to Phideaux. After being absolutely blown away by the brilliant "Doomsday Afternoon", I was very keen to get hold of the latest Phideaux This eighth journey into prog excess is a triumph of controlled instrumental prowess. There is a strong concentration of piano running like a thread through the dense layers of music. Interwoven within the tapestry are powerful lyrics that are open to interpretation. The music takes the listener on a journey with sweeping synth washes and the poetic beauty of ambient violins. The lengthy epics that house the album are wonderfully crafted with felicitous time sig changes and some extraordinary instrumentation. The album becomes an absorbing work of beauty that has the power to transport one to other places, moving through a myriad of emotional twists and turns.

The lyrics are powerful and moving on Snowtorch Part One, with vocals interjecting over the music immediately; "Star of light, see what you gave, you cheated away the core, dark night edge of a blade, as we tap the grave of the wax figurines, ice melts upsets the sea, submit follow me, walk with me now in the sunlight, daylight down with the night, invincible light are you back with us now, source of all reason, I come alive finally I cry, and it's me I have arrived...." This could be about a protagonist who is searching for an answer to the chaos in life, the despair that he feels is due to the disappointments that have plagued him but around the corner is the light at the end of the darkness, things will get better. It is open to interpretation. He questions nature itself, "is it the tree that I wanted to climb" and his senses drive on for all he can see.

Then the time sig changes with the strong synth melody is excellent with nice keyboard swells too. I really love this first track. The lyrics continue to disperse mystical imagery and enchanting words weave a spell of compelling words; "Are you dusty, my figurehead friends, what's it feel like to come to the end..." The protagonist is questioning his existence, people are like wax figures to him, no soul and no emotion, the disillusion of life's tragedies has emptied the man of emotion and filled him with regret. He continues, "From your glasshouse can you see what you set, are you listening to the things that they said, in your diary, the book of the dead". Perhaps the diary, the words written therein are all dead and gone now that he is moving on to a new life, leaving behind the pain of the past. The glasshouse is his life open for all to see, his life as an open book, and there is nowhere to hide so he must reinvent himself, to live again after all that has occurred to mar his existence. I must admit that the feel of the track is like vintage Van der Graaf Generator and I am delighted that this is so. The retro feel of the instrumentation is wonderful especially that Hammond sound and off kilter rhythmic metrical pattern.

The flute section feels happier but there is an ominous lead guitar threatening to dominate and swallow the peaceful feelings. The twin flutes merge together and dance merrily along with cloudbursts of drums and chiming synths. A minimalist piano brings the mood down till the female vocals come in with enchanting lyrics, "I bring to you the words you threw into my face once before, I'm only here to spread some fear, I need you to know you will die." Here the female is expressing how she feels about the angry words that were in the air during their torrid relationship. The male answers "I know what you need", but the lady sings that she promises she will "purge all the words left inside". This section really sounds like Ayreon the way the male and female vocals trade off. The mood becomes intense but then the tension is released with the lonely piano and bright synths. Both male and female vocals harmonise that they are entwined. The song changes feel then with a very pronounced piano forte passage. The staccato piano is joined by ambient passages of synths and a tirade of fast tempo hi hat cymbals and low buzzing synths. The piano section is reminiscent of classic Emerson, and a delightful keyboard break to enhance the mood. Xavier sounds excellent on the vocals; "When is a fox not a fox when he hides in the rocks," and, "how can you count the amount of the mountain that sprouts if you're not there when it comes out." All these words and phrases contain a plethora of rhyming words, alliteration and assonance. We have heard how words are important to the main theme of the album, and perhaps in these phrases we are seeing how words can be used as nonsense phrases, the rhyming showing the uselessness of words, perhaps words are futile once a relationship has burned out.

There is a masterful piano section that is heavy handed like Emerson at his most vicious. When the violins and woodwind section blazes away the song has completely become a majestic work of art. Words are literally replaced with vocal sounds and high-spirited music when the band go into full flight. The lengthy instrumental is incredibly progressive and there is even an indelible saxophone that blasts out benign notes. The saxophone epitomises the ultimate accompaniment to the wall of sound that has been built over the foundation of electric piano.

After a spacey interlude, a guitar break intervenes, dominating and forcing its way through the thick cloud of keyboards. The opening track is ineffaceable masterful prog at its best, multi instrumental and very provocative, moving in textural shades of many moods and making an impact on the listener due to the virtuoso playing and reflective lyrics.

Helix begins with a delightful Hammond, sad violins and some ascending guitar chords. The beauty of the soundscape is augmented by Enya like echoed vocals and then an absolutely enchanting vocal performance from Valerie's crystal clear intonation. She pleads with a soulful melodic tone; "so tell me how to lose the regret, the glass is more than half empty yet, salvation in one last cigarette, I might want to forget or get lost in the rush of distraction at last." The lyrics are about stepping towards finding the hope amongst regretful feelings, finding a moment of trust. She explains, "Maybe this is a test to get off from the sloth and face what I've seen, for the kill that is coming for me," and she comes to the conclusion that "all heroes are false" perhaps because she is over those who she has put her trust in, and now has learnt the hard lesson that nobody can be trusted when it comes to love. The track moves into an elegant piano driven sound, and builds gradually with the vocals that become stronger with some spacey effects, and high pitched squeals on guitar and synths. There are washes of sound like waves washing up on a beach that are very effective. The time changes are pronounced and it ends with quite a joyful section of multi layered keyboards until the lone piano finishes it off with the main motif. Sandwiched between the two sprawling epics, Helix is a short track but an effective one thanks to the emotive vibrant performances.

The next track is Snowtorch Part Two, another lengthy epic track with a focus on instrumental breaks and introspective or reflective lyrics. Once again the track is a tour de force of virtuosic musical finesse. The musical interludes are a high wire act of inventiveness and creative inspiration. The sporadic percussion section and weird effects add a sense of controlled chaos and there are notable acoustic guitar chords creating some impressive atmospheric vibes. This track is very different to the rest of the album, as is every track for that matter. There is a heavy guitar riff that cranks out with some excellent keyboards and pounding drums. Eventually the music breaks out into a heavier guitar hook, with fabulous Hammond-ish hammer blows. Phideaux's music commands attention and once it grabs you, it is virtually impossible not to be moved by the quintessence of the music generated. After three or four time sig changes the music locks into a crunching riff that never ceases to impress me.

The jaunty riff is broken with a piano until the spine tingling female vocals come in. There is a spiritually uplifting feeling embodied in the music, laced with some of the more poignant lyrics I have heard on a prog album, sung with a degree of venom, perhaps instigated by hurt feelings; "Nothing to say, has the cat got his tongue, and then he lost his balls, what if I said that he might not be dead in the head but instead, he's over me." There seems to be a thread of hope in her words but she is coming to terms with her jilted lover who has moved on. The missing beat in the next section is typical of a prog song and it works beautifully. The way the music builds in this section is inspirational. She continues in this vein in one of my favourite melodic sections; "I'll bet you probably want to stay away from all the things you found, cos it's bound to drag you down, it takes you further from home, try to crush your doubts, there's so damned many now, what will it take to erase the mistakes from the day when the fox threw it all away." The regrets of wrong words that have been said are overwhelming and yet it's impossible to erase the memories and the words. There is anger in the words but yet relief that the pain is ceasing, only to produce a new level of pain; the pain of loss.

The next section is a quick tempo rhythm and some folkish vocalisations. Then it settles into a slower melancholy style with Xavier's vocals that are more like Pink Floyd at this stage; "Isolate and take what you get, I don't want to know, say it's not so, out on my own, I'm bleeding uncertainty, it's a long way home, a long way home again, a long way, a long way alone, ice, nice, it gets you so cold, but you don't even know what feelings you've folded in again" . Perhaps this section is voicing the isolation that one feels when a relationship is broken, when one feels locked up in their own fortress of solitude. He knows it's not easy and all he can eat from these bones, the framework of a broken fractured relationship. The fractured time sig echoes these feelings. The ice cold sensations of seclusion are strong and there is no way of overcoming these feelings without allowing one to question the madness, the uncertainties of mixed confused emotions. "These words, these beautiful beautiful vowels" , continues the warm female vocals as she is perhaps reminiscing over the words of relationships, it could be symbolic of a bond made and broken to be replaced by the emptiness of a wordless world, devoid of familiar sounds when one has departed forever. The silence that hangs in the air is one of the most unnerving things to cope with when a loved one has gone. The words are swallowed in stark cold emptiness. The isolated piano echoes the sentiment. The piece really grew on me and I found myself more and more drawn into the meaning which is still rather vague and could be interpreted in a myriad of ways. The emphasis on vowels, poetic rhymes and assonance is astonishing. Though it is the music itself that resonates a high emotional response and the melodies are solid, with some ferocious playing by Xavier on keyboards.

The last track is a prog jig. Full of revelry and exuberant voices, it sounds as though it was recorded at a celebratory festival. The melody is virtually a revamped motif of Helix though there is more emphasis on Irish violin sounds. The crowd are heard whooping and hollering as the violins slice away the canto conjuring up images of Riverdance ladies in swirling skirts tripping the light fantastic. It works as an appropriate ending after all the intense complexity of previous tracks. The light hearted nature of the jig plays off as a stark contrast to the usual Phideaux works. It ends the album of a joyful note, washing away the darkness of impassioned feelings poured out before it.

In conclusion this short album, abounding with bursts of innovative prog, will no doubt be valued highly as one of the albums of 2011. In days where prog is being reinvented into nothing more than alternative rock, it is refreshing to find an artist who refuses to commercialise his music, instead holding on tightly to the very essence of all that made classic prog great, with shades of Van der Graaf Generator, Pink Floyd, Genesis and ELP. The lengthy audaciously complex instrumentals, accompanied by slabs of progtastic lyrics, make this one of the best examples of symphonic prog in recent years. On first listen I was prepared for a 4 star rating, but having heard it many times the music has actually embedded itself into my conscious and stamped an indelible impression on me. The album is wildly inventive and brimming over with a cacophony of eargasmic soundscapes, designed for a captivating headphone experience. There is no point comparing this with other albums, as it stands alone as a monumental 5 star Masterpiece.

Report this review (#423454)
Posted Sunday, March 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Snowtorch' - Phideaux (8/10)

With the nearly overwhelming amount of praise it has received over the course of the past month, I found myself feeling obliged to check out Phideaux's eighth opus 'Snowtorch' out for myself. An independent band that has since developed quite a devoted underground following, I had only early a handful of tracks from the band before diving into what has been said to be their greatest work to date, I enjoyed my existing taste of Phideaux, and to put it simply; my first album experience with the band has been excellent. A massive undertaking consisting of a thirty-six minute long epic divided into two parts along with a little more music for good measure, 'Snowtorch' is certainly an album that has taken some time to grasp fully, and while I may not agree with it being the greatest thing to come out of 2011, Phideaux has found a new fan in me.

As has been the norm for everything I've heard out of Phideaux, the music is dark and mysterious, but keeps a playful attitude throughout. There's no major revolution to this formula for Phideaux here, but the grandeur of the compositions certainly puts the album on their discographic map. These strangers to epics (the suite 'Chupacabras' comes to thought) but there is a sense throughout that Phideaux Xavier and company are experimenting with musical structure here. As with all experimentation of course, there are faults along the way...

As a whole, the 'Snowtorch' epic leaves a lasting impression. A feast of vintage mellotrons and keyboards, the track features about as much variety and dynamic as one could hope for; catchy melodic segments are followed by drawn out instrumental showcases and focused build-ups. Both halves of this piece are showered with great moments of composition that sometimes reach the caliber of being classical in nature.There are plenty of counterpoints and harmonies and- not to go without mention- a wide variety of instruments to behold throughout the music. As is typical for Phideaux, this epic composition is backed up by some great performances from everyone involved. Leading some of the most memorable parts is the voice of Xavier himself, who may not have been gifted with the greatest vocal range, but has a really warm and personable tone to his voice that is scarcely seen in progressive rock.

As great as 'Snowtorch' is as an epic, I cannot consider it a perfect piece. Every vocal moment to hear in 'Snowtorch' is absolutely mesmerizing and a joy to hear each time, but the instrumental segments do tend to drag on longer than I may have liked. This is not to say that the instrumental aspect of Phideaux is weak in any way, but it does tend to get a little self-indulgent, especially towards the second half of the piece. On it's own though, 'Snowtorch' is still a masterpiece, taking into account even its least inspired moments. There is however, the middle track 'Helix' to take into account. While the same sonic depth and warmth is employed here, it lacks the structure and melody to be memorable, which would have made it a welcome respite from the more involving compositions, instead of a track which feels as if it gets in the way of the real gold.

'Snowtorch' may not have the same effect on me as others on the international progressive rock scene, but Phideaux really proves themselves here as one of the frontrunners on the independent prog scene here. An excellent album.

Report this review (#424115)
Posted Monday, March 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
Jazz-Rock / Fusion / Canterbury Team
3 stars Once again I am astounded at the reception this music receives here on ProgArchives. Theatric like a Broadway musical. As I listen to Snowtorch I constantly feel as if I'm either caught in a lost ANDREW LLOYD WEBER musical from the 1970s or in a church rock opera production. The keyboards are so music studio, so Broadway-support. The vocals--male and female--are total pop rock opera. (I have no idea what they're singing about and frankly could care less.) The musical theme shifts are so swift and incongruous as to lead the listener to expect a scene change--"Gone to commercial. We'll be right back!" The drums also feel/sound as if they're in the orchestra pit. Where's the show! I can't see it! While I find several themes from "Snowtorch, Part 2" pleasant and memorable (guitars in general; male vocal harmonies; piano instrumental part; Eastern European violin/sax-led theme), and "Helix" has some redeeming parts (female vocal towards the end; guitar soli), overall I find myself more repulsed by obnoxious or cliché sounds and structures. Not an album that I will seek out except only to try to understand what it is that people so like about it (as I have done with Phideaux' last five albums). Good Broadway music; a bit too cheezy for true prog accolades. Good performances--especially guitars.
Report this review (#427410)
Posted Monday, April 4, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars When I saw this album being the top for this year, I listened to it right away and it was pretty good to me. Incredible instrumentals, good sense of melodies and patterns. The vocal parts were pretty deceiving though when they became to intense. A bit Yes-ish, Gentle Giant-ish, Genesis-ish, Renaissance-ish, Jethro Tull-ish, etc. Just like good old prog but with something new and fresh. A bad point though is all the too intense parts were everything was cliché. Good use of keyboards in that album and great guitar parts. It's my first encounter with Phideaux too so I'll watch him a bit more.

Good album to buy for lovers of good ol' symphonic prog.

Report this review (#427572)
Posted Monday, April 4, 2011 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
4 stars I really don´t know Phideaux that much. I guess I just heard two or three of his CDs and I must say that although they were good in parts, I was not impressed. I always felt they lacked a kind of cohesive whole. It was obvious that the guy had a lot of talented and the right influences to please my tastes. Still, something was missing. And that´s why it took a little time to finally get his latest work Snowtorch. And in my humble opinion this is by far the best of his records I´ve heard so far.

Contrary to other of his releases like Doomsday Afternoon and Seven, this one does not sound like made of bits of (good) songs thrown together without much care. It may sound a bit light on the first listenings, but that´s deceiving. The more you hear the more you discover how good and elaborated it really is. Snowtorch finishes as it started: strong and coherent, complex but still accessible, melodic and varied. In its short 44 minutes of playing, he definitly released a very convincing piece of prog rock that defies categorizations. His music is pretty much his music. And yet it sounds quite familiar and pleasant. A very hard - a rare - feat.

There are only four tracks and in some moments - like Helix and parts of Snowtorch part 2 - he reaches some of those sublime moments when you push the repeat button again and again because of the extraordinaire beauty and power encapsuled in those tunes. There are no fillers and the production is very good. The strong compositions, the tasteful arrangements, the terrific perfomances and the powerful delivering of all involved made this CD a very enjoyable experience for any prog lover to hear.

I´m glad Phideaux finally reached the potential that was only partially shown on his previous CDs. Everything works here and the sheer force of his art is quite palpable. I´m looking forward to hear his next works. And I´m also willing to give his previous ones another shot.

Final rating: 4,5 stars. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#427599)
Posted Monday, April 4, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars I've given this a lot of listens prior to reviewing this evening, because I do really think that a rushed review is a bad one, and does an injustice not just to the artist, but also to the integrity of the site. Given that this album has been catapulted into the dizzy heights of one of the finest prog albums of all time, then a careful review is, in my opinion, even more important.

I thoroughly enjoyed the previous album, Number Seven, and gave it a four star rating. I was, therefore, really looking forward to this, and was very grateful to the great man himself for allowing me an advance download.

Most of the hype, I am glad to report, has been fully justified. This is a fantastic album, and I think that Phideaux has managed to pull off the very difficult trick that only a couple of other outfits manage (The Flower Kings and Transatlantic come to mind); that is producing a deep and complex work that is so obviously a tribute to classic progressive rock of the classic era, but still managing to make it sound fresh, invigorating, and thoroughly modern.

Whilst parts of the album are a natural progression and recognisable from Number Seven, it is actually very different. The main track is a pure symphony owing more to the influence of acts such as Yes, Genesis, and Camel than its predecessor did to more crossover acts such as Oldfield and the like. It is some 36 minutes split into two segments, and at times the arrangements, very much keyboard and woodwind led in the first act, are stunning. The second act has guitars more to the fore, and is far harder in terms of its sound than the first act. The solo towards the denouement is spectacular.

The album also departs from previous works in a very important, and welcome, aspect, in that this sounds more like a band than a solo artist with a crew of interesting guests. The vocal performance by Valerie Gracious, and the other female vocal harmonies, are stunning, and all vocal harmonies combine effectively throughout the suite with the grandiose music to create, mostly, a grand sense of orchestration and atmosphere.

There are two other tracks on the album. Helix is actually my favourite piece of music in its own right, with a delicious female vocal performance set against a dark and foreboding mood that reminds one at times of Celtic acts such as Enya & Clannad.

The album closer, the unnamed track number four, is a fun, celtic folk rock tinged oddity, as compared to the main title track, but no less enjoyable for that. It's actually a good way to come down after the intensity of much of what preceded it.

So, how to rate it? Personally, I see nothing wrong with rating modern symphonic works as a masterpiece. Each album, and act, should be judged on its merits, rather than a futile comparison.

To these ears, though, it just falls short of that. Whilst an excellent album, with some stunning arrangements, vocals, harmonies, and performances all round, there are some (admittedly few) moments, especially during Snowtorch Part One, where the attention wonders, and the music fails to completely captivate. For sure, when, as in the exceptional flute led passage, it reasserts itself, I personally feel that perhaps the suite is overextended.

These are, though, at the end of the day, pretty minor quibbles.

A very strong four stars, but 4.5 if we had such a rating. Another excellent release from an artist who is deservedly one of the favourites on this site.

Report this review (#430990)
Posted Monday, April 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars In my opinion, the title track of Chupacabras was a transformative work, arguably the best 20 minutes of progressive rock in decades. Doomsday Afternoon solidified PX as the most creative force out there at this point in time. Number Seven was two-thirds of the way to being an even greater work than Doomsday, the final suite just falling off slightly. I find that for several years now, I have been recommending Phideaux to friends more that any other artists. First among all.

I regret that Snowtorch does not advance the accomplishments of Phideaux.

Technically, the work is superb. The score is well written with complexity and variation, the musicians perform with enthusiasm and preciscion, the vocals soar. (I do take exception with those who complain of the male vocals, but recognize that Val's voice is sublime and all others fail in comparison.) The work as a whole continues the apocalyptic vision that we have come to expect from PX, with just the barest ray of hope for the future and perhaps a wink. Snowtorch is in fact patented Phideaux.

But as a work, Snowtorch does not move forward. It breaks no ground. It is "Number Seven.Five". Good. Well crafted. Excellant. Nothing new. More of the same, same that I like, but still same. Patented Phideaux.

I play it. I enjoy it. But Snowtorch does not come close to being the best work of PX, and I continue to recommend his other works to friends before this. Because Snowtorch is after all patented Phideaux, I must give it the four stars it deserves. But I reserve that fifth star for his next transformative work, which I am confident will come and for which I anxiously await.

Report this review (#432840)
Posted Wednesday, April 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Like The Watch and a few other bands, Phideaux are the prog equivalent of dad rock, safe comfort food for the nostalgic and unadventurous. A pleasing and inoffensive affair, Snowtorch is also vanilla and middle-aged in its sensibilities.

I do not mind Phideaux's Floyd influenced vocals, though I find the female parts lack character. One sticking point is the atrocious lyrics. I am absolutely baffled to find people praising the lyrics. There are multiple points where I almost wince at the lyrical incompetence on display and they could be described generously as clumsy.

If we focus on the music we find a lot more to praise. Shades of Yes and Jethro Tull abound as we go on a keyboard heavy journey through extremely familiar prog territory, yet it's all done in a decent and acceptable manner. I enjoy the agressive piano part near the end of Snowtorch I and the opening of Snowtorch II is also great with some nice acoustic guitar work and a build up to an unexpected tribal stomp of sorts. The triumphant folk of the concluding Coronal Mass is also an interesting way to finish.

However, a handful of intriguing moments can't excuse the fact that too much of the album floats gently by. I scoff at the idea that this is an important or essential album. Indeed, I would be shocked if the people foaming at the mouth with five star reviews today are still listening to it in a matter of months, let alone years. As another reviewer suggested by claiming that Phideaux is discovering America, I feel Phideaux is trying much too hard to make the sort of album that inspired him to be a musician. The problem with that is that, even if you succeed, those albums already exist and the result is redundant.

Though they might bristle at the use of the word, those who are brave enough to admit that they are "fuddy-duddies" or people attempting to rediscover the spirit of their own past rather than actually go somewhere new, might find a lot to enjoy here. Those who want something challenging or stimulating will find it ephemeral.

Likeable but completely skippable.

Report this review (#432921)
Posted Wednesday, April 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Another Yummy Prog Dish from Chef X

Among the artists creating what I'd call "retro-prog" these days, many either water down the prog with modern trappings or are too derivative. Phideaux seems to be one of the few artists who actually has something to say other than "these sounds are really cool." His high-water mark was DOOMSDAY AFTERNOON which not only indulged the prog fan with all the favorite flavors of the genre, but also had a good sense of coherent theme both musically and lyrically. Two albums later on SNOWTORCH, all those musical flavors are all here in all their delicious glory, with a few extra spices as bonus. But the sense of musical purpose, though present, isn't as strong as on DOOMSDAY. With a few exceptions that I'll mention, this album is good retro-prog but doesn't push the artist's sound any further into exploratory territory.

So the delicious stuff: there is a dark keyboard part at about 5:00 of Part 2 that is reminscent of RPI, KC, or the awesome French one-off Arachnoid. The nastiness is a welcome suprise, a much needed aggression that is not a usual Phideaux trait. There are multiple odd time instrumental lines that are further into "deep prog" than I remember from DOOMSDAY. My favorite occurs at 14:30 of the first track. These passages (including an earlier, particularly Yes-y section in Part 1 which is quickly followed by some Gabrielish flute) makes this record seem much more like a symphonic prog record than a Floydish psychedelic or crossover affair. As a piece of nostalgia music, this record is superb.

But I'm usually looking for a little more than that. And frankly, Phideaux gave me more on DOOMSDAY. Some of the sections are a little taped together, and a few of the dreamier sections lack any bite or danger. My biggest beef with record, however, is the increased use of the female lead vocal. Though prettier than Xavier's voice, the female lead lacks the unique character of the bandleader's and isn't as emotionally expressive. The voices work well together, but I preferred when Xavier's voice was the primary lead with a few passages of female lead for contrast. Here's it's more a 50-50 affair, so neither feels like a break in the action.

Phideaux has always had some fun wordplay ("Blowtorch Snowjob?" - watch it there mister) and the "Fox Rock" section of Part 1 most feels like an actual song rather than simple a section in a Phideaux composition. Certainly, like all music writers, XP has his own favorite / signature melodic moves and some of these reappear from earlier albums. While their are particular lyric themes for this album, I don't feel like SNOWTORCH has many signature melodic lines.

As a listen to the final minutes of Part 1, I am reminded that this is some mighty tasty prog. It beats virtually all neo-prog I've heard even though it shares alot of spirit with that genre. So I'm rounding a 3.75/5 feel up to 4. I have no problem recommending this to any prog fan - after they've gotten DOOMSDAY AFTERNOON first.

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Posted Thursday, April 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars One might wonder why I even bother commenting on another album by Phideaux after already acknowledging that Doomsday Afternoon was clearly not intended for the likes of me. I guess that I just couldn't believe the unanimous cheer that has spread all throughout the Internet with the release of Snowtorch.

I've decided to spread my listening experience over the course of the last few weeks in order to make the music gradually grow on me. This has unfortunately not happened since all I hear is an empty shell of an album filled with many references to the golden days of prog. There is literally not a single moment where the music would go out of the comfort zone of an old school progressive rock fan. Let's be clear about this, there is no such thing as retro prog since it pretty much defeats the entire existence of the progressive rock genre to begin with!

I do like the fact that Phideaux keeps things brief and to the point with Snowtorch. The two-part epic is definitely the highlight that deserves an album of its own without any unnecessary filler material added in-between the two parts. It's a pity that I can't hear past all the references to the original masters since this music can easily be classified as prog candy to most of the fans. Personally, I prefer to indulge in the main course before getting to desert, which ultimately would result in me indulging in the classics of the '70s and ultimately leaving Phideaux albums for later.

There is really no point of me shouting from the roofs about this music being completely unoriginal and shallow since it won't stop people from experiencing it first hand. The only thing that I ask of is that you have at least heard most of the essential classics before you start praising Snowtorch for its creativity. There is nothing wrong with the music itself and so an average rating is clearly in place here.

**** star songs: Snowtorch - Part One (19:43) Snowtorch - Part Two (16:29)

*** star songs; Helix (5:54) . (2:40)

Report this review (#434190)
Posted Friday, April 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
The Truth
Post/Math Rock Team
5 stars Phideaux has yet to disappoint his ever-growing audience.

The album is basically one long piece that could keep my attention from start to finish on the first listen, but maybe that was the anticipation I had. Regardless, this was even greater than I anticipated, a downright beautiful piece of music.

This album further expands the beauty Phideaux Xavier created with his previous two albums rather gracefully, by adding more violin and piano parts. These two elements are things that really made me love the band and obviously made me fall in love with this album. Piano soothingly glides the piece of music along it's long course and Phideaux's vocals although not perfect have a ton of emotion in them that make up for it. The female singing by Valerie Gracious is once again top notch and she really adds alot of win to the album. The only weak spot I can see is the lyrics which falter at times but have at least some strong points.

Snowtorch is everything I love about the Phideaux project, emotional playing, emotional singing and simply complex music. This album is right on par with Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven (if not better) and is definitely a contender for album of 2011.

4.5 rounded up to 5 stars.

Report this review (#434563)
Posted Saturday, April 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars When I first heard about Phideaux's newest album, Snowtorch, I started to get really excited. I had recently reviewed his previous albums, Number 7, and Doomsday Afternoon, and though I liked them a lot, they both had the same issues that kept me from absolutely loving them. The first thing I noticed about Snowtorch is that it would be shorter than these two, which was positive point number one. Upon hearing the album, I was not disappointed, as more items on my Phideaux wish list were checked off, as I took in the music of this great work.

The majority of Snowtorch is made up of the two long movements of the title track, taking up about 35 of the 45 minutes altogether. Helix, the second track, is a shorter bridge between the two parts, and the untitled closer is a nice addendum to close everything out. The album is structured very well, with Helix providing a nice breather in between the fast and complex parts of Snowtorch, while the closer wraps things up by reprising Helix in a very peaceful and satisfying manner.

The actual music within these pieces is characteristically Phideaux, and if you've heard either of their last 2 albums, Snowtorch will feel very familiar. Like always, there is a good amount of piano and acoustic guitar, and other instruments thrown in such as electric guitars, synthesizers, saxophones and others to mix things up. The use of all of the instruments is pretty varied, with the different keyboards taking on the majority of the leads. The composition is, of course, excellent, with both parts of Snowtorch flowing very naturally from beginning to end as they introduce and reprise the many themes. Snowtorch sees Phideaux sticking more to the acoustic, rather than spacey, side of their music, and there are more complex and loud sections than there are quiet ones.

While Snowtorch may initially seem like Phideaux are simply applying the same formula to different notes, there are some key differences here that make a big difference. In contrast to previous albums where the piano was the lead instrument of choice, here it is used more to set the mood and mostly provides backing chords. While it does get a couple solo moments, these are made more special because there are so few. Rising to the challenge, the organ really shines through, and becomes a prominent instrument all the way through. I personally enjoy the change a lot, and it gives Snowtorch a unique feel in Phideaux's catalogue. Also important to note, the synthesizer sounds used are very nice, and never approach the annoying tones they have in the past. Finally, it seems that the two pieces are much closer to being through composed, with only a few, though very satisfying, reprises of earlier material.

The theme that ties the Snowtorch together, if you hadn't guessed from the cover, is fertilization. It's an interesting subject to base an album on, but it provides a lot of interesting wordplay for the vocalists to work with. While the lyrics are only slightly less cryptic than before, the lines are really fun to listen to; I've caught myself smirking a lot, as I hear a new reference to the biological process every time I listen. The two singers, Phideaux Xavier and Valerie Gracious remain unchanged, though the album finds Phideaux giving his singing a little extra, making him all the more enjoyable to listen to. Gracious, like always, gives a great performance, and the interplay between the two is as well used as ever. The interplay between the vocalists and the instruments is also well done, with just the right amount of each.

My only negative point about the album is a peculiar one. Although Snowtorch is extremely consistent, with a couple absolutely stunning moments, I don't think either part of the title track are as strong as say, Formaldehyde or Waiting for the Axe to Fall. It's an interesting trade off in quality though, because given the choice to listen to a single song, I would probably pick one of the two I mentioned. However, if I had to listen to a whole album, Snowtorch would definitely be my pick. This is more important in my mind and the distribution of quality to all of the pieces of the album instead of just one or two is what makes this such a success.

And what a success it is. Even though I don't think it has the absolute strongest material from the band, they've crafted an overall great album, and to my great content, one that I enjoy all the way through. If you're a fan of Phideaux, there's no question that you should already own this, but even if you're just interested in 2011 releases, Snowtorch is as good as any for an early contender for best of the year.

Report this review (#447948)
Posted Saturday, May 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars There are some albums that draw you in immediately; that even after a first listen you can tell are something special. Phideaux's latest album Snowtorch is one such album. I listened to it six times the day it came out and I haven't stopped listening since.

There won't be too much here that's new or surprising for established Phideaux fans, but that doesn't detract from the album's quality in any way. The music, as per the norm for Phideaux, is both hooky and deeply rooted in the traditions of progressive rock. Catchy melodies meld together perfectly, without seeming forced, making the two lengthy compositions feel like no time at all.

"Helix" is nothing to sneeze at either. I had heard previous to the album's release that it was to be one long song; and I must admit that when I first saw the track listing and times I was disappointed. I worried that it might just be a little "filler" piece stuck in among epics. However, my fears were quickly allayed as I listened through the album. "Helix," a bit more spacey and atmospheric than the two parts of "Snowtorch," fits in perfectly and makes the album feel even more cohesive, as it provides a bit of a break from the frenetic feel of the two long pieces.

The vocals are excellent as well. There are no acrobatics here, but the voices fit the music very well. Additionally, it seems to me that the female vocals are used a bit more here than on the past two releases, which I think is a good decision.

Overall, a wonderful album and, in my opinion, the third in a series of near-perfect albums from Phideaux. If you're just starting to get into the band I would still recommend "Doomsday Afternoon," but this album is, in my opinion, a necessary part of any modern prog fan's collection.


Report this review (#451097)
Posted Sunday, May 22, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Review originally written for

And Phideaux Xavier did it again! Nowadays it is very common to see the name of Phideaux in everyone's charts, reviews and comments, I dare say Xavier and his band have deserved it, because with time they have been working hard and creating original, exquisite and challenging music that can please the strictest prog fan. Some years ago with his "Doomsday Afternoon" he caught our attention and hearts with such a great album, and since then (in my point of view) he has received a boost that led him to continue creating first-class music. And that can be appreciated in "Snowtorch". This 2011 release has already been mentioned as the album of the year by some reviewers. Of course, there are six months to come until the end of the year, but some people have gotten too excited with this particular album. "Snowtorch" features just four songs, two long epics and two shorter ones, all together a strong 44-minute album of excellent progressive rock. "Snowtorch Part 1" is the longest composition, reaching almost twenty minutes. It is divided into four parts, however, they all work together as one. There is a vast amount of sounds, textures, colors, rhythms and even feelings that can be appreciated here. There are no weak moments, the whole track is incredibly strong, well-crafted and ambitious, no matter in which minute you are, the music is beautiful, no matter if the moment is soft or intense or calm or faster, every single note and word transmits and provokes something wonderful. Sublime may be a good adjective to describe the track. The use of vintage keyboard sounds, along with a more "actual" sound, produces an extraordinary mixture, whose only job is to please the listener's ears. They have succeeded, at least with me. It is amazing how the changes are perfectly placed. I mean, there are no discontinuities or disarticulations, after all, pure beauty and top-nocht music is what you will find here. "Helix" is a much shorter composition, however, it is also beautiful. I love the keyboard sound and how it is creating a gentle atmosphere until female vocals appear. The sound is charming and comfortable, but then the voice turns disarming and the feeling changes a little bit, which is actually an extra point for this composition, due to its audacity and talent to touch the listener's nerves. I honestly do not think this is the best track of Phideaux discography, but it is a very good one that can be easily loved. "Snowtorch Part 2" is divided into three sections that together make sixteen minutes. This is the second and last part of the title track. Acoustic guitar, drums and haunting keyboards are everywhere in this song. There are several instrumental passages that create lots of images in your mind, so you can compose your own story by only listening to this. I love how the changes do not harm the composition, though some of them may confuse you for a moment, but you will realize a new sequence (as in a film) is beginning, so put together the pieces and complete the puzzle. The string sound is also wonderful during the whole album, and with string I don't only refer to guitars or bass (let's say, the basics) but to violin and I believe there is a cello there, because they add a special sound, creating wonderful nuances and atmospheres. The parts with vocals are also great, and that is another plus on this album, I mean, the structure of the songs was meticulously designed, so there are vocals (male and female) only when they have to be, and instrumental passages when they have to be as well - perfect. The band decided to finish the album with the shortest track, just a two-minute composition that works as the epilogue of this fantastic journey. This "?" (untitled?) track is a great closing track, a joyful symphonic and folkish composition that will make you smile and feel happy. As you can imagine, this is an instrumental song. What a wonderful album, now I can understand once again why people talk about Phideaux nowadays. He has really managed to put his name in the highest places. This is a clear example of Phideaux capacities and qualities, and also a true example of how good progressive rock acts and albums are these days. My final grade, five stars.

Enjoy it!

Report this review (#455645)
Posted Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Usually I don't take the time to write a review for something that many others have talked about. I prefer to focus on albums that aren't under the spotlight. I'll make an exception in this case because for me it's clear; this album is a total masterpiece from start to finish.

I can start to comment and decorticate each song and then talk about the excellent production, musicianship and so on but I think beyond that, there's a clear sign that evokes the masterpiece tag. You become addicted to this music after very few listens and it sticks in your mind for weeks. In other words, it's accessible enough to be appreciated early on but at the same time complex enough to hold its ground and keep you captivated for a long time. Even after more than a month, the album keeps evolving and I keep signing parts in my head. It's rare and I can't ask for more. Masterpiece.

Report this review (#457979)
Posted Tuesday, June 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#459603)
Posted Monday, June 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Having been hailed as one of the best albums of 2011 (and possibly going to take this classification for a long time), "Snowtorch" caught my attention as I had heard many positive comments about Phideaux.

I do not like it.I loved the beginning, but now I think that record pales next to the magnificence of "Doomsday Afternoon" (which is growing on me) or "Chupacabras" (which I love since the first time I heard). The truth is that although "Snowtorch" was my introduction to Phideaux, decided to postpone my comment about it for a long time because I had not heard the second part of the title track.

And that was a wise decision.Phideaux intended to show a different facet in each of his albums,but I am impressed with what he has to show here.The sound is cold and technical, away from the side of passion-and maybe why so artistic-that he demonstrated in his previous productions.Even the central epic of the album, the title track "Snowtorch" is irregular and dubious to me now,although I loved the first part at the beginning.She definitely has the strength of a song like "Chupacabras", but it is much better than "Micro Softdeathstar" or "Microdeath Softstar."

If "Snowtorch" was composed only of its title song, I would not hesitate to give you something.But here's two more songs-"Helix" and "..."( yes, it's an untitled song) - which I categorize as "fillers" (unnecessary songs).They are perhaps the main reasons why I do not like this album so much.

4 star: Snowtorch pt.1

3 star: Helix, Snowtorch pt.2, ...

Average: 3.25

3 stars

Report this review (#465975)
Posted Monday, June 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Phideaux have made a name for themselves over the last decade, growing their reputation with each subsequent release. Snowtorch is an album that is poised both to increase their already sizeable fanbase as well as satisfy existing fans of the band.

Although their discgraphy has been fairly eclectic to date, the previous two albums aren't too far from this one in terms of the sound. It almost seems like the band have settled on a sound, and although that may give the impression that they are not exploring as much as they once were, I would disagree with this assessment. They are simply exploring within a more defined area than they were before, where the sound of two albums back to back could be wildly different.

Furthermore, always doing something new had the downside that you do not really get the chance to perfect your craft. This is Phideaux's third album in this style, and in terms of composition, it is both more succinct and expressive than their previous two.

Snowtorch, the bands 8th full length album, Is a long-running concept piece contained almost entirely in a single 35 minute piece, split into two halves with a combined total of 7 parts and broken up with Helix (and . in the vinyl version) between the two halves.

Myself, I love this album and it is defintiely poised to sit high on my top album of 2011 list (if not at the top - only time will tell for that!). It's hard to say where this sits in Phideaux's discography - all I can say for sure is that, while this is not their masterpiece (Doomsday Afternoon holds that crown still), it sits with Number Seven and Chupacabras as another fantastic release from this artist.

The music here is spellbinding. From the first listen, you will "get" it - as soon as that piano kicks in around the two minute mark, the music is set to hook. The melodies are infectious, the mood is mysterious, the sound is clear and organic. The band heavily features pianos, keyboards, and stringed instruments, and I am a huge fan of the symphonic sound this is able to create.

For the past few albums the vocals have slowly been moving away from those Phideaux and towards the vocals of the lovely ladies in the band lead by Valerie Gracious. The trend continues here but for this reviewer, that is a fantastic thing - the female vocals continue to give this band a great sound, and Phideaux's voice still provides great contrast. The different in sound between the female and male vocals really allows the band to convey some great drama in the lyrics as well - the sweet sound of the females undercut by a more sinister delivery from Phideaux, for example, adds great depth to the emotion.

Lyrically this album is strong as any of the past few Phideaux albums. Like Doomsday, it contains a reference to Supper's Ready with the section Fox on the Rocks (When is a fox not a fox? When it hides in the rocks and prepares to reveal itself). This homage is a nice nudge for other fans of classic prog while at the same time working on it's own for what it is in the music. There is only one lyric in this album that sounds a little bit awkward to me, that being in the final scene: "I hear breaking, what is that sound? It's confusing, and boy is it loud", it sounds good up until the very last bit which just lacks the smooth flow of the lyrics in the rest of the album.

This album contains what I believe to be one of the best musical moments of the bands career in the fourth movement of the first half of the title track, the instrumental "Celestine". To date the band has been largely vocal driven without a huge amount of straight-up instrumental sections, but between this part, which contains the most intense, beautiful, and catchy melodies Phideaux has ever released, and the opening of side 2 (Blowtorch Snowjob), the band show that they have a great knack for creating compelling instrumental-only pieces.

These days symphonic-styled and neo-styled prog bands are a dime a dozen, and there is very little in the modern scene to excite. It can be easy to write the styles off completely because the market is saturated with so many groups that sound alike. But there are still a few bands in these styles that create music that is fresh and exciting ... and Phideaux are definitely one of the top groups in this category. With Snowtorch, they continue to demonstrate why they hold this crown.

As an aside, this is the first album Phideaux released on vinyl. Personally I tend not to buy a lot of vinyl compared to CDs - I reserve vinyl for vinyl-only releases or as "trophies" of albums I really love. I knew I was going to own this album on vinyl after a single listen, and hope that over time I am able to add a few more Phideaux trophies to my collection. (I've heard word of a Great Leap / Doomsday triple vinyl set - this would be amazing if it happens!)

Report this review (#488613)
Posted Friday, July 22, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars All the hallmarks of a modern classic...

For me, consistency and endurance are the most important attributes of a first class album. I always regard lopsided releases with one or two stand-out tracks as on par with those which lack mind melting moments, but are enjoyable from start to finish. I have lost count of the number of albums which have missed out on achieving masterpiece status, simply by feeling the need to pack a CD with as much music as it can physically hold. And it's perhaps somewhat ironic that before 'Snowtorch' I considered much of Phideaux's other work to be prime examples of this aforementioned 'crime'.

At just over 44 minutes 'Snowtorch' is fairly short by modern standards, but all this does it prove that concentrations of incredibly well written material will usurp longer, drawn-out works, almost without exception. From start to finish it just oozes class. It is, of course abundant with intricate textures and all the magical moments you would associate with any Phideaux release, but where it really excels is the arrangement of the compositions. I've always enjoyed listening to Phideaux's music, but in terms of game changing musical statements I consider his so called magnum opus 'Doomsday Afternoon' to achieve just under four stars, and its successor, 'Number Seven' to be somewhere in the region of three. I would never have dreamed that any album of his would reach the dizzying heights of five stars, so this is praise indeed.

Phideaux's 2011 release was supposed to be a successor to the concept album 'Number Seven', namely '7½' but that was put on the back burner and 'Snowtorch' was released instead. I remember listening to it quite early in the year and loving it, but decided to let it simmer for a while before reviewing it. After all, there was a whole host of albums scheduled for release later in the year, some from my very favourite bands. Those albums have since come and gone, but 'Snowtorch' remains. It has stood the test of time and remains my favourite record of the year so far. It really is an absolute feast that I would recommend to just about everyone who has any real interest in music.

The Verdict: 7¼ out of 7½.

Report this review (#559503)
Posted Saturday, October 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album had me hooked immediately. The beautiful lyrical opening of Snowtorch Pt 1 lubricates the ears for the epicness ;) to come. Then the piano and male/female harmonies start. Bliss. I love it when an artist is confident enough to write songs that reach the 20 min mark. Phideaux does it with ease, and throws in a little middle eastern influenced surprise at 17:45.

Helix is a great bridge between Pt 1 and 2, with a continuation of the musical theme and the wonderful female vocals.

Snowtorch Pt 2 sounds slightly darker and heavier too Pt 1, but is still a brilliant piece of writing and performing. A couple of the riffs from Pt 1 get a slight twist, which keeps the song fresh.

Have only had limited exposure to Phideaux, but Snowtorch makes me want to explore more.

4.5 out of 5.

Report this review (#565323)
Posted Thursday, November 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars I personally don't mind Progressive Rock bands wearing their influences on their sleeves. We all know the old saying "It's all been done before", but there are some bands out there, like The Tangent for instance, who mix old and new styles with added twists and turns that make for enjoyable repeated listenings, as in the case of their latest album, Comm.

Phideaux's Snowtourch on the other hand rarely goes outside the realms of safe for me, the influences are all to obvious on too many tracks to make for an exciting listen. Again, some great playing on here but not groundbreaking.

Report this review (#589520)
Posted Friday, December 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
Andy Webb
Retired Admin
4 stars In the beginning of 2011, a few albums garnered a massive amount of praise very quickly, sending the albums high into the numerous charts that float around the site while some said they really shouldn't have been. Whether these albums, at the time only a few days old, had truly become masterpieces rivaling the likes of In the Court of the Crimson King or Animals is a laughable prospect, but nonetheless these albums piqued the interest of many, and with good reason. This album, Snowtorch by American crossover artist Phideaux, was one of those albums, and at one point that album peaked at #11 on the top 100 list of all time. Impressive, huh? While it may not by the 11th greatest prog record to hit this side of the universe, Snowtorch is an inventive and exciting release from well-known progger Phideuax.

Most people know Phideaux, and while he's been kicking around since the early 90s it wasn't really until the mid-2000s that he started pumping out his well-known "psychedelic progressive gothic" formula of music that strikes such a chord with the progressive rock community. Since 2004 the man and his band have been making roving bands of concept albums, with intertwining trilogies and spin off projects and musical experiments and a whole host of tasty and creative music to boot.

Snowtorch is set up like an extremely stereotypical prog rock album. It's four tracks, two of which are parts of the lengthy title track spanning in the excess of a half-hour. The remaining two are more or less filler, although each "Helix" and the oddly titled "." contain enough "umph" to stand up on their own as individual tracks. In typical Phideaux style, the compositions are complex and multifaceted with numerous instrumental textures coming from various directions, including a heavy piano and synth section, dual guitars, a near choir of five vocalists, strings, saxophone, and more. Each member adds a unique flavor to the dynamic music, making an overall very tasty dish of jazzy, symphonic, psychedelic, accessible, and progressive music. Some may call it "retro prog," but despite its 70s prog leanings, Phideaux has really made a home run with this album.

Any prog fan with an aptitude for interesting, creative, and generally fun music will definitely find something of interest on this great album. The music keeps a beat consistently throughout the album, despite changing thematically and staying consistently complex the whole way through; Phideaux has done a great job with keeping the music continuous and exciting throughout the 44 minute long album. The production, as always, is crystal clear, not "slippery," and gives the music perfect justice as it deserves. The musicians are, as always, great at their instruments, contributing the perfect amount of each tone and style to the overall picture of the album. The actual music is well crafted with lighthearted and accessibly melodies while not seeming "bubbly" or cheesy. The lyrics are complex without seeming cliché, and tell a story without being too ambiguous. Overall, Snowtorch is easily one of the better albums of the year, and while it's not on par with Fragile or Per un Amico, it's a classic for our day in prog. 4+ stars.

Report this review (#595097)
Posted Friday, December 23, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Snowtorch comes to solidify career Phideaux Xavier and confirm him as one of the leading artists of the new generation of progressive rock. This album confirms that seems inexhaustible creativity, with a distinctive style but without becoming boring or repetitive. As Anglagard, he explores all the possibilities of instruments at its back, with two great epics, it is challenging to keep the breath of music, a task which he does splendidly. The breaks of the songs always print a great melody coming back for more reflective side than technical and always rhythmic. Does not lack technique, but this is seen in the subtle details and not a meaningless jumble of notes. Powerful pianos, effects and mellotrons. I confess to being somewhat nostalgic, what makes me like it less each release of the artists, but in case Phideaux is the opposite ... I love him more with each release.
Report this review (#607733)
Posted Wednesday, January 11, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars I think it's a great decision to put up your albums on sites like Bandcamp. I guess almost every record company is against that, and that is another good reason to be an independent musician or a band. In this case, over a year ago, I gave Snowtorch a listen on Phideaux's bandcamp site, and tried to see what was all the fuzz about on The thing is, I felt the same when I first listened to Yes' "Close to the Edge". In my case, that means I didn't really get it. There were shiny melodies and good progression, but I didn't know that I really needed to listen to the album several times to start appreciating it.

It's easier for me to talk about the full thing than to bring you track by track analysis. It's overall a tender journey, proving that beautiful melodies harvested in clever compositions and the progressive transitions between beautiful sections and intellectually and artisticly wonderfully written lyrics and wonderful production can bring a result of one of the best modern progressive albums that I've ever listened to. What an argument. The compositional skills of Phideaux Xavier is, for me, heart-whelmingly solid. I'm talking about composing about the level of mighty Ian Anderson on "Thich as a Brick". This will be heard as a talk of ignorance, since you can't compare something from 70's with an album that is out on 2011 from a band that the band leader's favourite LP of all times is Thick as a Brick itself. Yet this fact can't stop me to like this album more than Thick as a Brick, because of the upcoming reasons. Phideaux are a band that uses a variety of instruments nicely, with wonderful vocal ladies accompanying Phideaux Xavier himself as a vocalist. The tones of keyboards(which vary greatly, making me fall in love with every other tone used), guitars, drums, the overall experience is presented with modern production technics. While "modern production" is a term that makes some prog fans irritated with the fact that 70's production brought us the very best of prog music; I believe that some prog artists use the modern production technics to bring something original. Copycatting the 70's era of symphonic prog and alikes doesn't work on bringing a masterpiece of prog rock anyway. In this case, Snowtorch is one of the nice examples of modern production. Today's music needs modern production anyway. Just listen to Steven Wilson, if you're looking for a perfect modern prog production. Creativity, melodic and compositional skills are a much bigger reason that makes 70's so special. The thing that I was trying to say, the original elements and the overall journey presented by the production, brings us a much more polished journey than Thick as a Brick.

Since I've begun comparing "Thick as a Brick" with "Snowtorch" without any need or serviceableness of doing it; I'll continue my unreasonable and unsenseful journey. I love Snowtorch's lyrical themes and presentation. Each time I hear "These words, these beautiful vowels..." on part 2, I get in a mood that only very special music can make me. And for my taste, it's more musically precious than humourous approach that Thick as a Brick brings. Yet I'm aware the two albums can't be compared in this way. Lastly, Snowtorch's most special way of bringing the special moods depend on the wonderful female vocalists, Ariel Farber, Valerie Gracious, Molly Ruttan. (I depend on the credits on progarchives for these names, hope I don't miss anyone.) I should add that I love Phideaux Xavier's vocals as well. Overall, Phideaux Xavier is showing his skills as a musical composer on vocal melodies, and his skills on creating great prog rock epics on the other melodies. The wonderful instrumentation from all the players, rhythmic changes, wonderful compositions will be appreciated by any listener. Without disrespecting Jethro Tull and Phideaux as a "Thick as a Brick" fan, only meaning it as a compliment to the artistic success of "Snowtorch", I find "Snowtorch" much more "fun" than the legendary groundbreaking masterpiece of Jethro Tull.

"Snowtorch" is a masterpiece of modern progressive rock. I never got tired of it, and it never reduced the intensity of feelings it brought to me. I'll be digging into Phideaux's discography, since I hear that all of the band's albums are as special as this. Yet it's easy to believe that Snowtorch is presented better than the other albums of the band, since it's appreciated by prog fans all over the world. Phideaux are one of the best (if not the best) progressive rock acts of today. I'm grateful for the work they've done and they're doing. I want to thank the band as a listener, for proving me that the more melodic approach of prog rock is not dead, and will not be.

PS: That concern is because of my thoughts on the most popular prog rock artist of today, Steven Wilson. I'm a huge fan of his work and personality, but again, I'm concerned about the lack of shiny melodies that can be heard all over "Snowtorch". I think he reflects the new generation with the love of dark moods and dark music. The biggest example is prog metal itself being the most popular prog thing out there. I think it's obvious now that where the rock scene is located and headed, and that creates a bigger need of bands like Phideaux. With "Snowtorch" being a dark album in its own terms, it will never make anyone think worst of his/her life. But "dark music" is something bigger than presenting dark moods anyway, since it's art and I believe almost any kind of art makes people appreciate the life and its joys better.

Report this review (#643708)
Posted Thursday, March 1, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Another fine concept album from Phideaux, Snowtorch tells a story ranging from the formation of the Earth from cosmic dust and barrels onwards from there. Part of the joy of being a Phideaux listener is seeing which bands he'll draw from next; here, the keyboard work on some parts of the album puts me in mind of a mishmash of Keith Emerson's work in ELP and some of the use of organ on Anglagard's first two albums. For a prog fan, the album is sure to be a sheer joy, building on the successes of Number 7 and Doomsday Afternoon to an admirable extent.
Report this review (#769515)
Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars In my opinion a bit overrated

First of all I must say that 'Snowtorch' is a good album of prog rock, recommended if you are a big fan of the music of Phideaux.

Unfortunately, this is not exactly my cup of tea. After the brilliant 'Doomsday Afternoon' and 'Number 7' my expectation for this album was very high, and I must admit that listening to 'Snowtorch' I feel a bit of delusion. I am very surprised about the good reviews, because I think 'Snowtorch' is not at the same level of the previous two albums.

For my taste the arrangements are too complex and the sound excessively redundant. Again, is a too keyboard-oriented work; The electronic keyboards overwhelm the other instruments and there is little space for acoustic instruments which is a shame, considering the great feeling that this artist has for acoustic music, as is evident listening to albums like "Ghost Story" and "Number 7'. Where are the flute, the vioin, the harpsichord and the sax? Where are the dreamy acoustic guitar parts? All these instruments are underutilized or almost always overshadowed by the keyboards and synthesizers in particular.

Some instrumental parts are too long, sometimes a little boring. Fortunately some vocal sections are remarkable, although it lacks the unique harmonies of "Number 7". There are highs and lows: cut here and there you can get a nice 20 minutes epic, but some parts of the album are objectively unnecessary.

I am a great fan of Phideaux music, and I hope he will return to the gothic approach of 'Doomsday Afternoon' or to the psychedelic folk of 'Number 7'. In my opinion this is a good but not essential album and nothing more. My final rating is 6/10.

Best song: Snowtorch Part Two

Report this review (#786365)
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars I have a bone to pick with Phideaux, the Los Angeles-based band helmed by guitarist/vocalist/composer Phideaux Xavier. Almost everything they've released since 2006 are conceptual pieces that promise to be ongoing. Yet, rather than provide part three of the trilogy started with The Great Leap, they produced Number Seven. Instead of the promised a quick-on follow up to that one, called, creatively enough, 7 1/2, we get Snowtorch. Can't they follow through with anything?!?

OK, that's not really a bone I'm too prone to pick when the tangential results are as good as Snowtorch (and Number Seven, for that matter). Running just long enough to fit onto one side of a 90-minute cassette, Snowtorch is the band's most overtly proggy release to date. A good hunk of the two epics (parts one and two of the title track) are given over to extended instrumental workouts stretched over shifting meters and rhythms. But workouts are (or sound to be) carefully constructed passages, not just a clump of aimless jamming. Themes rise, fall, and appear again minutes later. This is what epic prog should be.

Lyrically, the album is as inscrutable as ever (at least to me ? I'm not very good a digging deep meaning out of things, as my high school English teachers), but we seem to be dealing with the origins of the Earth and life upon it. Shouldering that burden, vocally, is Xavier, of course, and his usual cohort of female vocalists. One of them (Valerie Gracious, I think) comes to the fore on "Helix," which acts as the meat in the "Snowtorch" sandwich. What common sense might say should be a calm port in the storm between the two halves of the epic instead booms out at you, thanks to the vocals.

One of the things that has always appealed to me about Phideaux's music is that it so often has a relentless sense of forward motion to it. I'm not talking about a drum beat rhythm (although that helps), but rather the rhythmic churning of the rest of the band that propels things forward. Snowtorch has that feel in spades, almost relentlessly pushing itself to the end of its 45 minutes. By the time we've reached the short instrumental finale (a sort of cooling off exercise), it's been one hell of a ride.

In the end, Snowtorch takes the Phideaux sound and cranks the proggy elements up to 11. Along the way, it's still full of the fantastic lush arrangements that make the band so fun to listen to again and again. Pick this one up ? it'll be one of the best of 2011.

Report this review (#1453707)
Posted Sunday, August 16, 2015 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
5 stars Snowtorch is another impeccable feather in Phideaux's prog-rock cap, filled with artistry, lyricism, and a rousing energy that entertains from start to finish.

If you've never heard Xavier Phideaux's work, it's sort of a retro take on prog-rock blended with darkly moody folk, electronic, rock, and symphonic sounds. The end result is something that is both old and new and wonderful. It's genuinely engaging stuff, and Snowtorch continues this legacy excellently.

In general, this album is slightly heavier, darker, and more intense than the previous two (outstanding) albums. There's more edge to the guitar and less of the ambient moments that I so enjoyed on Doomsday Afternoon; however, this doesn't detract from the effect. In fact, the more intense guitars and raw vocals simply give us a new side of the same Phideaux.

The extended opening work begins mysteriously, moving in to an upbeat and tension-filled series dramatic melodies. Kennedy's bass guitar lines are smooth and powerful, while the keyboardists are upfront and dynamic. As usual, Xavier is joined by the feminine vocals of Gracious and Ruttan, who add a fantastic level of depth to grace to the music, which is ambitiously written. While not filled with standout instrumental solos or "wow" moments, the composition is complex and exciting. The song transitions into its second movement, which has exceptionally powerful guitar work, and then into a creative instrumental closing. What more could you ask for?

"Helix," the only short tune on the album, shows off more of Phideaux's outstanding writing; Snowtorch has some of his best lyrics yet. Crypitc, evocative, and yet somehow deeply resonant, the ladies' delivery is outstanding. The final half of the Snowtorch suite continues the combination of rousing, post-psychedelic-folk-symphonic-art- prog-rock (a new category here on the Archives?). There are countless moments to grab hold of and remember from this album.

Another tour-de-force by Phideaux, one leaving me simultaneously satisfied yet eagerly waiting for he and his band's next work. First rate prog-rock and highly recommended.

Songwriting: 5 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 5 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 5

Report this review (#1520459)
Posted Tuesday, January 26, 2016 | Review Permalink

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