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Nine Skies


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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Album number four for this talented band from Southern France, who found the bravery and the will to soldier on after the unfortunate passing of Eric Bouillette, who was not only a tremendously gifted multi-instrumentalist but also a wonderful person with loads of personality. He will remain eternally forever more in our hearts, for all of us in our global little community. While their earlier recorded efforts were excellent in all facets, this one just blew the roof off the domed arena! The spirituality that emanates from one of life's most traumatic experiences such as the death of a loved one, has always been a source of profound emotion and intense creativity. With this opus, it becomes clear that there surely are nine skies, as there is undoubtedly a seventh heaven. When people new to prog ask me, somewhat mockingly at times, "What is so special about Prog?", my perennial answer through the past half century has always been: It is a soundtrack to a movie that is playing in your mind, where you are the producer, director, and cinematographer, and you decide how if makes you feel". The theme of this ceremonial tribute to life has been studiously expressed by my esteemed colleague Lazland in his astounding review (visit There is no room or need for repetition using synonyms. The only thing I would add, is that just reading the various titles of the chosen lives among the 1001 suggested by the expansive Rudy premise, it becomes apparent that each mature individual who has lived (or continues to do so) a full existence , would have at one time or another, been a WANDERER, an EXPLORER, a DREAMER, an ARCHITECT and perhaps would also have been LOST and HAUNTED by the CHAOTIC experience. While paying attention to the story, I could not help being reminded of that Robin Williams movie 'the Bi-Centennial Man', as it also dealt with human eternity and its rather rare limitations. My teammate has done a painstakingly thorough track by track analysis, so I will defer my thoughts and words to his as they run absolutely parallel (it's a spiritual connection!). With well-chosen and seemingly enthusiastic guest vocalists for each track giving their finest performances, each life/track has its own unique inherency, and the ensuing passion and overt intimacy is simply beyond mere utterances. As with all great classic prog albums, the audition is an introspective journey, a surrender to the senses that requires channeling out all the outer distractions and concentrating on the rush of emotions, the adamant warmth of exquisite melodies and the expertise of instrumental adornments that defy the laws of the routine. It takes one to a celestial level that cannot be explained and frankly, should never even be attempted. Anne-Claire Rallo, Alexandre Lamia, David Darnaud, Achraf El Asraoui, Alexis Bietti and Johnny Marter have created a musical masterpiece that every progfan should endeavour to listen to, and surely own as it's a mantelpiece urn of utter beauty. The presence of gifted guests such as Adam Holzman, John Mitchell, Kristofer Gildenlow and Marco Minnemann, as well as incredible singers like Riccardo Romano, Charlie Bramald, Laura Piazzai, Martin Wilson, and Arnaud Quevedo stamps this with dripping crimson wax of quality and will certainly sit at Everest levels in the 2023 prog album lists. Beautiful cover art, pristine sound, a deeply profound story, and great performances will do that without much resistance.

Finally, I only wish to steer the spotlight towards the final two 11-minute plus epics that encapsulate the reason why this recording will go down as one of the very best of the new millennia. The majestic "The Haunted" is an intoxicating lament that is the owner of an off the charts vocal from Charlie Bramald, dripping with unabashed emotion and suave sensation, a crystalline electric guitar lead that scours all nine skies, and some solid atmospheric foundations. The ebb and flow is astounding, what with the mid-section eschewing classic an old school Genesis feel (acoustic pastoral guitar amid the fluttery bucolic canvas), where no panic is to be demonstrated, just wise advice and a sense of overcoming the anguish of fear, verging on a eulogy to the departed. The equally imposing "The Architect" is a solidly built structure of sound and melody, atmosphere, and passion. With the athletic Minnemann on drums and Mitchell on his trusted guitar, Achraf is inspired to deliver a suppliant vocal that also incorporates some pungent narration, as it launches from serene beginnings and detonates into symphonic bombast that gets weightier as the structure solidifies into shape. A moment of shimmering reflection as to verify the status of the construct, Mitchell expressing his inner Hackett with fluid lines that exude grace and elegance, slowly elevating the arrangement into an imaginary upward vortex of ecstasy. I mean, wow! Yes. Stellar like the stars in the universe. Yes, essential like the air that gives life. Don't be a sinner and forego the pleasure of having this marvel at your disposal.

5 Provencal Luminosities

Report this review (#2951603)
Posted Saturday, September 16, 2023 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A collection of six uniquely individual full-length songs and two short instrumental expressions, all expressly (and quite skillfully) composed with the intention of representing several archetypical roles or conditions common to the human experience.

1. "An Fanai (Intro)" (2:46) wind noises. Weave of picked acoustic guitar and glockenspiel-like instrument slowly fade in to take over. Nicely melodic yet interestingly discordant at key moments. Fades out on the other side of the pan (right). (4.5/5)

2. "The Explorer" (6:13) opens like a sensitive SATELLITE song with church organ and sensitive male voice singing before the full band bursts into a complex weave of full progginess. At 1:30 all bombast ebbs away leaving delicate piano, synth wash, and eery female vocal "swipes" while Riccardo Romano continues singing in his perfect voice. At 2:30 Riccardo amps up his voice: a very smooth and effective (and kind Peter Gabriel-like) transition. At 3:15 the full band jumps back in for a bit but then disappear for some guitar and strings behind Riccardo's delicate, plaintive voice. At 4:28 an instrumental shift occurs into a more rhythmically-diverse motif while Riccardo also adapts before jumping into full voice with the band's re-amping in the beginning of the sixth minute. This is a very polarized song, dynamically, but, for some reason, it works. I think Riccardo's skill and proficiency is the key to that. A very well composed and realized song that reminds me of the passionate story of Breton's SEVEN REIZH's four-part rock opera about the magical stonecutter Enora in the land of Ys. My second favorite song on the album. (9/10)

3. "The Dreamer" (8:01) Very beautiful music with all instruments on ultra-delicate mode as raspy-voiced Martin Wilson sings his impassioned story. Nice guitar solo at the three minute mark before things dial down for a spoken word passage. Delicate weave returns for another verse of Dreamer Martin's story. Unfortunately, Martin's impressive edge is lost a bit in the chorus. Another nice lead guitar solo--this one better than the first--in the seventh minute. This actually plays out to the finish. Nice. My favorite song on the album. (14/15)

4. "The Chaotic" (7:21) a little more aggressive, but still quite bombastic music within which doubled up muted voices of two (or more) male voices semi-rap. Then regal stage-acting vocal performance (Laura Piazzai?) fills the third minute before the band returns to filling the sonic field with aggression as the muted men discordantly chant about "ego," "action," "fear," "intrusion" and the like. At 4:19 we tone things down for a sequenced synth track over which pitch- bending synth solos (Adam Holzman?) for a full two minutes--even while the music is ramping back up beneath him in the second minute. Angular chords and rapid fire guitar notes begin the arduous journey of taking us out of the synth world at 6:23 gradually emerging into a full on guitar-fest of hard rock 'n' roll to the finish. A weird and difficult-to- like/enjoy song--though I do appreciate the creativity involved with its conceptualization as well as the extraordinary skills necessary to pull it off. (13/15)

5. "The Lost" (9:19) Singing in a passionate raspy voice as Kristoffer Gildenlow does while riding exclusively over some fairly nondescript Spanish guitar play for almost three minutes is a tough call--especially when you're trying to please the ears & brain of someone like me who doesn't hear words/messages of the lyrics except in terms as another instrument in the mix. In fact, it's not until the seven-minute mark that the band fully commits to a full-metal jacket for the musical style being presented here--and even then the resultant effect is questionable at best. (The loud flange effect in the final minute may, in fact, be the best thing about this song.) (16.875/20)

6. "The Wanderer (Interlude)" (2:00) interesting choice of bass sounds to use within these eerie space-voices and their ghostly vocalise. (4.25/5)

7. "The Haunted" (11:32) Nice relaxed pastoral sound palette for the opening of this, with lots of time given to establishing several of the instrumental hooks, but then things switch completely into solo acoustic guitar picking to back the arrival of singer Charlie Bramald's Geoff Tate/Peter Gabriel voice. Some interesting motifs are inserted here and there giving the music a theatric suite-like feel. Unfortunately, the lyrics really do little to draw me in--do not seem deserving of the Peter GABRIEL/DOROCCUS (Babylon)-like delivery. And the rhythmic patterning of the song is a bit too constant and wavy for me--I find it annoying from the start but then to hear it maintained (even in delicate solo "classical" guitar-like passages) is almost cloying. At 8:45, after the last of these acoustic guitar solo motifs, a spacey atmospheric soundscape is established over which Charlie reads a long poetic passage about how and why he doesn't panic in the face of chaos and stress. This, unfortunately, is, for me, the best part of the song. (17.25/20)

8. "The Architect" (11:32) wonderfully delicate instrumental mix--almost jazzy--beneath Achraf El Asraoui's remarkably nuanced and sensitive vocal over the first 2:40. As the music ramps up into more dynamic realms Achraf's voice keeps pace--continues to be effective. The music looses a bit of my interest in these middle-sections, however, for me, this is the most interesting song on the album for its dynamic diversity, unpredictabilty and wonderful vocal performance. John Mitchell's guitar solo needlessly extended fails because he is not an emotionally-impactful, singer of heart-felt notes; he's a technical wizard, yet there is very little of his technical wizardry in this solo and absolutely none of the David Gilmour-esque magic that one would expect from this length of time dedicated to it. This is what I would call (excuse the pun) and epic fail! My third favorite song on the album. (18/20)

Total Time 58:44

I must say, the match-making of singer/vocalists with each song is quite masterful--especially for "The Explorer," "The Dreamer," and Charlie Bramald's poetry reading at the end of "The Haunted" as well as Achraf El Asraoui's wonderfully sensitive vocal in "The Architect."

B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's modern music collection.

Report this review (#2953289)
Posted Thursday, September 21, 2023 | Review Permalink
3 stars Nine Skies came together little by little; rock, pop, progressive, jazz, neo-prog on Marillion and an orientation for a clean, singular musical community; This 4th album with the story of Rudy living his 1001st last life, his experiences and reflections on the human condition; the idea of giving voice to a different singer; choice which poses the problem of the very essence of the group

'An Fanai (Intro)' says it all, guitar arpeggio on an icy wind, symphonic approach. 'The Explorer' with Riccardo des Ranestrane excels on vocals; a basic riff taking the listener on the wrong foot on a two-tone title, mixing melody and progressive development with Eric's dry guitar. 'The Dreamer' Martin on vocals, you have to get used to different voices; soft, symphonic, digression with Alexandre's melancholy solo; voice-over break before the melodic piano reprise; like the surf of a wave crashing against the bank; a sound reminiscent of many neo groups from the 90s with a superb guitar solo. 'The Chaotic' compulsive explosion the album begins; from a jumbled monolithic sound we arrive at today's prog as I see it; aggressive drums, drawer breaks; Arnaud assisted by Laura having played on 'Imaginaerium' in voice-over; a sublime break from Adam the keyboard of Sir Wilson comes setting fire; its sharp, chaotic sound in which you never get bored; I find Zio's creative madness there with one last good guitar solo.

'The Lost' Tibetan gong, vocals by Kristoffer over a guitar arpeggio; a dark, rocky melody; the voice is suddenly warm with a heavy dark rise, a good point which makes me feel like I'm listening to another group; finale to the grandiloquent Devin Townsend.'The Wanderer (Interlude)' that's all said here too; bass and choir of 50 members for a celestial interlude where the angels remain entangled. 'The Haunted' with Charlie de Zio for a melodic track drawing on Arena interweaving with modern prog like Pendragon second version; expressive solo break connecting the atmosphere a little before a second Genesisian and the crystalline guitar arpeggio; final ethereal piano narrative. 'The Architect' with this ultra-low vibration bringing the guitar arpeggio, we feel Alexandre's touch; Achrah the official singer finally asks himself, why didn't he provide all the voices? Captivating melodic title, the high voice reminding me of Michael from Saga; oriental, Andalusian variation, superb in any case and a purely symphonic prog metal title; the singular phrasing break then a well-calibrated heavy riff, Marco Minnemann's hit, delicate synth notes; a second sinister break introduces an instrumental section with John Mitchell launching a perfect solo.

Nine Skies chose a multitude of singers, which makes prog rock burst with the succession of voices and musical themes.

Report this review (#2961991)
Posted Monday, October 16, 2023 | Review Permalink
4 stars If you are at all like me, you will feel a special anticipation from the first moments that The Lightmaker unfolds before your ears. You are taken by the hand and guided through a majestic journey of a lifetime as nine different voices share their experience and lessons with you, though they are actually the same person: Rudy, who has lived 1000 different lives, and is now on his 1001st and last. What has he learned? What will he share?

The kinds of profound emotions and musical scenery is, as you can imagine- vast, varied and heartfelt. The several different lead singers and indeed each member of the band have reached deep into their souls as this album marks an important turning point for Nine Skies. It's the first album created since the untimely departure of Eric Bouillette. He was a pillar in the band- doing songwriting and performing guitars, piano, keyboards and violin, but the remaining members are bravely forging ahead. If he is able to hear the results in the hereafter where he may reside, I'm convinced he is delighted with the results.

As a big Yes and Steve Hackett fan, plus Opeth, I felt right at home with this album. The Alan Parsons Project-style of featuring different vocalists was a brilliant move and contributes to the album's profound narrative. There's plenty of excellent musicianship here as well. Bass guitar-wise there's some lovely fretless work as well as a 3 string chord/fingerstyle bass solos like on The Wanderer. Guitar-wise there is are plenty of acoustic steel-sting passages featuring soothing and beautiful chord parterns and progressions, as well as tons of tasteful electric guitar sections and some great, and occasionally epic solos. The keyboards and synths feature prominently as well, layered throughout including a remarkable and iconic solo in Chaotic. The drums also fit so well into all of the songs- as everything does, in this gorgeous and well-mixed album.

It is at once epic and modest, and I predict this album will find its way into the hearts of many fans of the progressive rock genre. It's a new high water mark for prog in 2023.

Report this review (#2968490)
Posted Monday, November 13, 2023 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
4 stars It is always a difficult decision as to whether to maintain a band when a key person leaves or sadly passes away, and I am sure there were many discussions as to what to do when multi-instrumentalist Eric Bouillette passed away way too young. He was also the most high-profile member, having been involved with multiple other bands as well, but it is nice to be able to report that Nine Skies have not only kept going but have returned with a very enjoyable album indeed. It is a concept, telling the story of Rudy who is living his 1001st and final life and is retracing some of his existences through different characters and he reflects on these.

They have dispensed with saxophones, so Laurent Benhamou is no longer with the band, but the rest of Nine Skies are the same as on '5.20'. They have again used guests, but this time around they have used multiple singers, and since the recording have brought in a new lead vocalist themselves in Charlie Bramad (who here provides lead on "The Haunted"). There is less instrumentation and diversity than previously, and now we often have keyboards providing a backdrop for other instruments to rest against. This has actually given the band a new lease of life and their guitars are more to the fore, moving even more deeply into neo-prog. The highlight for me is "The Dreamer", featuring Martin Wilson on vocals. Martin is of course a founder of The Room, which at one time included Eric, but I remember seeing him many times back in the Nineties fronting Grey Lady Down and here the band take a back seat and allow his emotional vocals to take centre stage, quite reminiscent of Credo. The guitar is plaintive and just right, providing the cut through.

I do hope this album gives the band enough confidence to record the next one without any guests as I would really like to hear them fully on their own, as I have no doubt there is no need for the additional help and with a new lead singer and a tour booked let us hope that is indeed the case. Even with everything the band has been going through, this is their fourth album in just six years and long may that work ethic continue. This is a very slick and well-produced neo prog album, given life with some wonderful fretless bass, keyboards providing the supporting role, complex drum patterns, guitars cutting through and vocals which are always to the fore. For those who think "neo" is a lesser form of prog need to listen to this and enjoy.

Report this review (#2986016)
Posted Friday, January 26, 2024 | Review Permalink

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