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Strangers On A Train


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Strangers On A Train The Key, Part II - The Labyrinth album cover
3.12 | 46 ratings | 7 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1993

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Darkwood (20:37) :
- a) A new Beggining (Instr.)
- b) Edge of Darkness
- c) Deliverance
- d) A moment of Sanity
- e) Beyond the Rubicon
2. Hijrah (Instr.) (6:40)
3. The Labyrinth (14:07) :
- a) The fist Veil-Sensing a presence
- b) The second Veil-Contamination
- c) The third veil-Trick of the Light
4. The Vision Clear (6:57)
5. Endzone (23:32) :
- a) Ocean's Flames (Instr.)
- b) Purification
- c) Recovery (Instr.)
- d) A new Perspective
- e) Denouement

Total Time: 72:05

Line-up / Musicians

- Tracy Hitching / vocals
- Alan Reed / vocals
- Karl Groom / acoustic & electric guitars, bass, Moog bass pedals, drum programming, co-producer
- Clive Nolan / Korg piano, Mellotron, synths (Roland D50/D110, Roland Juno 106, Korg DW 800, Minimoog, Kawai K1, Proteus II, Yamaha SY35/SY77), orchestration & co-producer

Releases information

Artwork: Peter Nicholls

CD SI Music ‎- SIMPly TWENTYNINE (1993, Netherlands)
CD Verglas Music ‎- VGCD013 (1998, UK) New cover art
CD Metal Mind Productions ‎- MASS CD 1467DG (2012, Poland) Remastered (?)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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STRANGERS ON A TRAIN The Key, Part II - The Labyrinth ratings distribution

(46 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(30%)
Good, but non-essential (35%)
Collectors/fans only (17%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN The Key, Part II - The Labyrinth reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Don't hold your breath for part 3!

Strangers on a Train are one of the many side projects of Clive Nolan of ARENA and PENDRAGON. "The Key" was intended to be released in three separate parts but as part three has yet to be recorded, and part one appears to be unavailable even from the Verglas label (Nolan and Arena's own label), part two is the only "part" currently available. With more than 10 years having elapsed since Part 2 was released, part 3 is looking less and less likely.

Nolan is joined by his fellow SHADOWLAND member Karl Groom (also of THRESHOLD), and Tracy Hitchings (LANDMARQ). Alan Reed (ex-PALLAS) also guests on vocals. While Nolan inevitably dominates the album, the female lead vocals immediately create a different feel from his many other ventures.

The tracks are long and generally symphonic, while having a slightly lighter feel than the music of Arena. The album is essentially three long pieces, separated by two shorter tracks. There are noticeable similarities with the music of Arena, with Groom's guitar work often sounding very similar to John Mitchell's. Nolan creates his typical layers of keyboard sounds which provide a solid foundation for the music to be built upon. His playing is however often more up front than it is with Arena, with several synthesiser and piano solos. While his soloing is in the style of Wakeman, and perhaps Emerson, it is not generally quite as strong as those virtuosos. He appears to be at his best, and indeed most comfortable, when he is a significant part of the overall sound, but not the prime focus of it.

The opening track, "Darkworld" is a five section epic full of majestic sweeping keyboards, and alternating male and female vocals. The pace is stately and the sound rich.

"Hirjah" is a cross between "Intermezzo no 1" by Abba (a great instrumental track quite out of character by the way), and "Flight of the bumble bee". Nolan switches to piano for this frantic instrumental, the shortest track on the album, but still nearly seven minutes.

"The labyrinth" is in three parts or "veils". Hitchings is dominant over an acoustic backing to start. Here the music has a stage show feel, a reference point perhaps being Yvonne Elliman in "Jesus Christ Superstar". The music darkens as the track progresses, with a menacing beat pounding incessantly while "Fall of the house of Usher" (Alan Parsons) type orchestral sounds build over it. This suddenly gives way to a totally contrasting mediaeval instrumental section to conclude the track.

"The vision clears" is a magnificent, reasonably commercial piece, which builds and expands from a rather inconspicuous start through searing guitars and waves of keyboards which threaten to subsume an oblivious Hitchings in full flow. There are strong echoes of Arena at their powerful best here, surely John Mitchell and Karl Groom must have had the same music teacher!

The final track, "Endzone" is another sprawling epic in five sections, lasting over 23 minutes. The symphonic opening has tumbling piano akin to "Tubular bells", giving way to more emotive lead guitar work of the "Firth of fifth" variety. Nolan then takes over with one of his finest synth solos ever. Reed initially takes lead vocal, his voice, which was so distinctive with Pallas, fitting in well with the similar type of music here. The track is generally slightly lighter with strong melodies, but ultimately builds to a suitably magnificent ending.

If neo-prog is your "bag", this album will satisfy you enormously. The female vocals can at first seem a bit strange, but once you acquire the taste for them (and you will), they become absolutely right.

2012 update I am delighted to report that both of the Strangers on a Train albums have been remastered and re-released on the Metal Mind Productions label, and are now readily available.

Review by Matti
2 stars 248 reviews/ 2 years later: Part Two. During that time I have heard a lot more Neo Prog, but my relationship with this Clive Nolan Project hasn't grown any warmer. Wheras The Prophesy contained shortish separate tracks, this one has 5 tracks from 6+ minutes to 20+ minutes. That may be a hurrah for many (Neo-)progheads but not for me, not in this case anyway. Another new feature is the addition of a male singer (Alan Reed, not bad) on few places. Tracy Hitchings (formerly of LANDMARQ) has a bigger share, unfortunately. What a pretentious, over-the-top, mock-sensual style she has. Her voice resembles a bit TOYAH (remember her from the 80s?), with a hint of BONNIE TYLER, but with theatrics of Rob Sowden (ARENA).

Karl Groom (guitars) is credited for bass and drum programming too; the keyboard-dominated sound of this band clearly suffers from the lack of a solid rhythm section. Nolan is "poor man's Rick Wakeman", except that the speedy breathtaking (airy!) solos seem to be not his area. He can build up heavy layers of organ-like synths but it seldom sounds great to my ears. It often gives me a stuffy association to role-playing computer games or such. The lyrics are not about dungeons and dragons but as well they could be. Highlights (if I can call them highlights) were the few moments for acoustic guitar and Reed's vocals. OK, I may be too harsh for these albums. The band info, whoever wrote it, gives quite an opposite opinion, and there are five 4-star rates for this one. It's a matter of taste!

The key pt. 3 was planned to be released in 1998, does anyone know if it ever did?

Review by progrules
4 stars In the early nineties Clive Nolan, the great progwizard from the UK was active in quite a few bands or projects. He became member of the already famous Pendragon, had his own band Shadowland but also participated in Casino and in this "project" Strangers on a Train (later some solo and duo projects and of course Arena). It was a period in which I bought a lot of progalbums without really knowing what I bought, I only knew it was prog so that was enough. Strangers on a Train's Labyrinth wasn't a complete guess because I heard it on a SI-sampler and was quite impressed. There weren't too many female singers around in prog and Tracey Hitching was doing a good job in my believe. It also sounded a bit classical almost and that intrigued me as well. That classical aspect was very much present in Hijrah, the instrumental track on the album and it's a very vivid and interesting track. In the other songs the vocals of Tracey and Alan Reed (Pallas) alternate and sometimes sing together, it's all sounding really good. The instrumental parts of the songs are very much products of mr. Nolan, the man is a genius. This whole album is more or less comparable with a classical symphony so if you like classical music in general you could check this out.

Another striking thing is the build up of the songs, especially the two longer tracks, Darkwood and Endzone are very special in this respect. This is all in all a very good product and I would almost give it the full 5 stars but since it's all a bit too decent for my liking (I'm more of the rougher stuff) I give it 4 (almost 4.5)

Review by b_olariu
2 stars If this album is considered one of the best symphonic albums ever - like is said in the description of the band, that means i have to enlarge my musical horizon much more, because i don't understand this album. Seriously this second part of the key is one of the most borind unpleasent neo symphonic albums i ever heared. In this case doesn't matter if here plays Clve Nolan and Karl Groom, two of the most important musician in the field, because the album is aimless. Even they can't save the album to be a total desaster. I begin with the first track called Darkwood - aimless, borind, to mellow, no vein, no nothing - 1 star. Second long track from here Endzone - again impossible to listen at once - 1 stars, the shorter tracks are maybe better but don't expect something great, just ok to listen one time, nothing more. I forget to mention that the bass and drums are programming, the keyboard-dominated sound of this band clearly suffers from the lack of a solid rhythm section. I will give to this album 2 stars, avoid this album, not recommended, even if you are a die hard neo prog fan. Move to something for real interest like other projects of Karl Groom and Clive Nolan - like Casino, Shadowland or Landmarq.
Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars I was not really charmed with their first release, the first of a trilogy (?). The approach for the second leg is a bit different: while there were lots of short pieces in "The Prophecy", there are only five songs (for over seventy-two minutes of music) for this one.

It is obviously more a Clive effort, with some bombastic keys (just listen to the instrumental intro of the opener) which might sound rather pretentious, very much Wakeman-esque IMHHO. This long song (over twenty-minutes) has a lot to share with some tracks from "A Trick Of The Tail" (the quiet ones like "Ripples" or "Mad Man Moon"). Oldfield is not alien either. As you can see, the references are quite good, but this piece sounds a bit borrowed even if it is a fine one after all.

Unlike some other reviewers, I'm not reluctant to the nice voice from Tracy Hitching (from "Landmarq") who is backed up with Alan Reed (the only new member for this album) from "Pallas", with only one exception.

This work sounds a lot more symphonic as neo-prog IMO. When you listen to "Hijrah", "Renaissance" comes immediately to mind. Same great keyboards and orchestrated-type sounds. Soberly is still not its most famous quality.

The title track is my least favourite one. Highly acoustic in its first half, I wonder what happened to Tracy's voice here: like Matti highlights in his review, it sounds indeed as Bonnie Tyler at times! Not quite expected. The second part is unfortunately no better: it is a long and dull instrumental section with no passion. Truly boring and repetitive. Press next.

The mellow "Vision Clears" is only shining thanks to the excellent guitar solo from Karl Groom who is rather discreet so far.

The album started very promisingly, but fell a bit flat after the first two very good songs. The longest piece "Endzone "(over twenty-three minutes) starts on the same mellow mood as "The Labyrinth". The relief is that Tracy sounds a lot better during her vocal parts, but it takes too much time to really start. (actually, it only does so during the last minute and a half)! Some fine acoustic guitar play with some Spanish accents, aerial vocals that's for sure. But I would have preferred some more bombastic sections like during the opener.

Even if it is quite uncertain that the thrid and final leg of thistrilogy would ever see the light (there are still no real project to do so some fifteen years after this Labyrinth), the Verglas web-site always takes it for granted that this will happen. Stay tune.

This album should please symphonic prog lovers. Three stars.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
3 stars In the shadow of Shadowland

Clive Nolan is a genius and one of my favourite people in music. He is the brain behind Arena, Shadowland, Casino, and numerous other musical projects (I don't include Pendragon here as there he is "merely" the keyboard player). The two albums by Strangers On A Train, both released in the early 90's, have long been the missing pieces in my Nolan collection. It is very good news that these albums now have been re-issued and thereby been made more widely available and thus less difficult to find. I've been listening a lot to both albums recently and both are worthy additions.

Like on part one, this sequel features Nolan on keyboards, Tracy Hitchings on vocals, and Karl Groom on guitars. But this time they have added a second lead vocalist as well in Alan Reed (who is better known from Pallas). Both Reed and Hitchings are excellent vocalists with equally distinctive voices and both do a very good job here. With Reed on board, there are naturally more duets here than on the first album (where Nolan himself sang the occasional line). The voices of Reed and Hitchings blend perfectly.

The music is once again driven primarily by keyboards and vocals. It is somewhat similar in style to some of Rick Wakeman's solo albums. The guitars are perhaps somewhat more prominent here, but they still play a relatively lesser role. Some guitar parts remind of Mike Oldfield. Overall, the sound of this album is a bit more diverse and more symphonic than the first. There are still no proper drums, but Groom adds some occasional, tasteful drum programming. The feel of the album is rather light. As such this album is far away from the dark and hard-edged Neo-Prog of Arena or the progressive Metal of Threshold.

In between 1990's The Key part 1 and this follow-up from 1993, Nolan and Groom had already formed Shadowland and released an album under that name, and it wouldn't be long until all the members of Strangers On A Train found bigger success elsewhere. The planned third part of The Key was therefore put on ice and has yet to appear. 20 years has passed now, but Nolan still insists that part 3 will be released some day in the future. We'll see...

Review by Windhawk
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars UK project STRANGERS ON A TRAIN was one of a number of different entities featuring the talents of Clive Nolan back in the 90's, and like the majority of them they produced material for the Dutch label SI Music, a label that mainly supplied those with an interest in neo-progressive rock. On this venture Nolan is joined by vocalist Tracy Hitchings and guitarist Karl Groom, with Alan Reed joining the ranks for this second album in the series. These productions were planned as a three album long cycle, and while only the initial two ultimately were recorded and released, these have been rather popular. Out of print for some years now, both albums were reissued by Metal Mind Productions in the fall of 2012.

Neo progressive rock with a foundation in the symphonic parts of the progressive rock universe is how Strangers On A Train comes across in style on their second outing. The compositions are still more often than not based around piano motifs, and the role of the lead vocals is just about as prominent as on their initial production. The compositions themselves appear more advanced though, leaving the more distinct pop art style of the preceding disc behind for a more sophisticated overall sound. That those who have a soft spot for the gentler parts of the neo progressive productions of the 90's should be a core audience for this disc is a statement that should be fairly uncontroversial.

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