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PENDRAGON

Neo-Prog • United Kingdom


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Pendragon picture
Pendragon biography
Formed in Stroud, Gloucestershire, England in 1978.

Originally known as ZEUS PENDRAGON it was decided fairly early on to drop the "ZEUS" as co-founder Julian Baker felt it was too wordy to fit on a t-shirt! There were several line up changes in the early days, members included Julian Baker (co-founder/guitar) Nigel Harris (drums) Stan Cox (bass) Robert Dalby (bass) John Barney Barnfield (keys) Rik Carter (keys). The one constant key element was Nick Barrett. The line up then remained the same for almost 20 years, featuring : Nick Barrett (guitar/lead vocal) Clive Nolan (keys) Peter Gee (bass) and Fudge Smith (drums), until 2006 when PENDRAGON and Fudge Smith parted ways.

Todate there have been 21 releases from PENDRAGON who set up their own label "TOFF RECORDS" in the late 1980's following the release of "The Jewel" and "KowTow" (as well as a couple of mini albums). "The Masquerade Overture" is probably their most acclaimed work todate. Although a recent change of direction with "Believe" has seen opinions somewhat split, it is definitely a remarkable album and maybe showing a move away from classic Neo-Prog.

I would highly recommend this band to anyone enjoying neo-prog.

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Love Over FearLove Over Fear
Pendragon 2020
$20.99
Not Of This WorldNot Of This World
MADFISH 2012
$10.15
$13.57 (used)
The Window Of Life (2 LP Gatefold Sleeve)The Window Of Life (2 LP Gatefold Sleeve)
MADFISH 2017
$25.98
$34.97 (used)
Masquerade 20Masquerade 20
Metal Mind 2017
$15.32
$19.09 (used)
PassionPassion
Snapper Import 2011
$20.80
$24.10 (used)
BelieveBelieve
MADFISH 2017
$9.19
$13.35 (used)
First 40 Years (Box Set w/ Book)First 40 Years (Box Set w/ Book)
Pendragon 2019
$100.60
$124.20 (used)
Masquerade OvertureMasquerade Overture
MADFISH 2017
$9.40
$14.16 (used)
The World ( 2 LP Gatefold + Bonus Track )The World ( 2 LP Gatefold + Bonus Track )
MADFISH 2017
$24.99
$30.72 (used)
History 1984-2000History 1984-2000
Metal Mind 2006
$13.74
$9.67 (used)

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PENDRAGON discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

PENDRAGON top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.35 | 304 ratings
The Jewel
1985
2.62 | 233 ratings
Kowtow
1988
3.78 | 426 ratings
The World
1991
3.93 | 477 ratings
The Window Of Life
1993
4.03 | 645 ratings
The Masquerade Overture
1996
3.90 | 491 ratings
Not Of This World
2001
3.55 | 401 ratings
Believe
2005
3.89 | 634 ratings
Pure
2008
3.74 | 539 ratings
Passion
2011
3.66 | 235 ratings
Men Who Climb Mountains
2014
0.00 | 0 ratings
Love Over Fear
2020

PENDRAGON Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.38 | 64 ratings
9:15 Live
1986
2.37 | 41 ratings
The Very Very Bootleg Live In Lille France 1992
1993
3.59 | 53 ratings
Utrecht ...The Final Frontier
1995
3.96 | 60 ratings
Live In Krakow 1996
1997
3.42 | 66 ratings
Acoustically Challenged
2002
4.02 | 19 ratings
Liveosity
2004
4.10 | 78 ratings
Concerto Maximo
2009
4.15 | 60 ratings
Out of Order Comes Chaos
2013
4.67 | 9 ratings
Masquerade 20
2017

PENDRAGON Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.17 | 60 ratings
Live At Last ... And More
2002
3.96 | 66 ratings
And Now Everybody To The Stage
2006
4.03 | 63 ratings
Past And Presence
2007
4.44 | 99 ratings
Concerto Maximo
2009
4.56 | 50 ratings
Out Of Order Comes Chaos
2012
4.14 | 18 ratings
Masquerade 20
2017

PENDRAGON Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.91 | 55 ratings
The Rest of Pendragon
1991
2.44 | 8 ratings
1984-96 Overture
1998
2.55 | 46 ratings
Once Upon A Time In England Volume 1
1999
2.50 | 41 ratings
Once Upon A Time In England Volume 2
1999
3.43 | 28 ratings
The History 1984-2000
2000
4.13 | 5 ratings
A História
2001
4.10 | 12 ratings
The Round Table
2001
3.22 | 12 ratings
Introducing Pendragon
2013
5.00 | 2 ratings
The First 40 Years
2019

PENDRAGON Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.34 | 57 ratings
Fly High Fall Far
1984
2.07 | 33 ratings
Red Shoes
1987
2.49 | 26 ratings
Saved By You
1991
2.52 | 14 ratings
Nostradamus
1993
3.67 | 95 ratings
Fallen Dreams And Angels
1994
3.41 | 73 ratings
As Good As Gold
1996

PENDRAGON Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Jewel by PENDRAGON album cover Studio Album, 1985
3.35 | 304 ratings

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The Jewel
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Another prominent British band that has remained fairly true to its Neo Prog roots (over a career spanning nearly 40 years and eleven studio albums), this is one of the bands whose sound has, in my opinion, improved with age-- especially since 2004 when they chose a heavier sound (which is oddly out of character for me)--though most critics have acclaimed the decade of 1991 to 2001 as their "masterpiece" era. The Jewel was the album that started it all.

1. "Higher Circles" (3:29) organ intro is joined by the others by the end of 30 seconds. Nick Barrett's PAUL WELLER/JOE STRUMMER-like "protest singing" voice starts off this anthemic song before being joined by the others in the chorus. Sounds like such a teen tough boy song! Maybe this is a remnant from where the band started; it is no indication of where they are about to take me. (7.75/10)

2. "The Pleasure Of Hope" (3:43) jumps full into power jam like a STARCASTLE opening before shifting to a MARK JOHNSON/THE THE-like song. The sound of the multiple voices singing the "Welcome home" shouts is awesome! Matter of fact, the multi-layered vocal approach throughout this song is very cool! A nice change. I like this! (9.5/10)

3. "Leviathan" (6:13) opens with a kind of RUSH/STARCASTLE/YES weave before vocals enter to give it it's own shape and sound. I don't think I've heard a "neo prog" band with a non-imitative singer before. The music is definitely in the neo prog realm but that singer is not! Nick Barrett sounds more like a 1975 East End punk rocker! I like it! And he can play a pretty cool guitar, too! Wow! I am impressed far more than I expected to be. (This is literally my very first ever listen to a Pendragon song!) The music begins to sound a little too derivative in the second half (Genesis), otherwise this might be a 10-10 song! (9.5/10)

4. "Alaska" (8:39) (18.5/20) - a) At Home With The Earth - a gentle, romantic synth and electric guitar picking opening until 0:55 when a very nice GENESISian weave is launched. Love the fretless bass! The high flute-like synth dancing in front as Nick begins to sing is a little distracting (and disappointing). The vocal is mixed strangely "out" of the soundscape and Nick's vocal has pitch issues. The chorus is a step back in the right direction, though the vocals are still pitchy. The instrumental section which follows is okay, best for the whole-band cohesiveness. (I just don't like that synth soloing.) (8.5/10) - b) Snowfall - picked 12'string guitar with very dynamic fretless bass starts off this section. Thirty seconds in it takes on a JEAN-LUC PONTY feel, sound, and pace (think of some of the cooler uptempo jams in either Cosmic Messenger or A Taste for Passion). Awesome CAMEL-esque synth soloing over this instrumental jam! (10/10)

5. "Circus" (6:34) guitar arpeggi, drums, and bass are soon joined by APP Usher keyboard arpeggio before the song shifts into third gear as a kind of CLASH/PAUL WELLER jam. The lyric is powerful and I like it's monotone shout delivery. The song then speeds off into an extraordinary instrumental jam with great driving bass and drums while Nick and Rick Carter take turns soloing and supporting each other. In the fourth minute odd upper-register major seventh chord strums sound like harps as Nick sings. The chord progressions are heavenly throughout this song, with every musician locked in on full power and tightly united throughout. GREAT song! My favorite from this album--and that's saying a lot cuz there are a lot of fine songs here! (10/10)

6. "Oh Divineo" (6:51) opens with Nick's plaintive guitar soloing, as if in a distance, as organ lays a romantic fabric beneath. The full band joins in at the end of the first minute with a swinging rhythm base as Nick continues soloing melodically over the top of a GENESIS-like "Misunderstanding" structure. When things finally break down at 2:28 to allow for a nice vocal, the lyric is surprisingly political, not romantic. The "where does the fire burn" lyric and following section are nice though quite derivative of earlier GENESIS themes. (13/15)

7. "The Black Knight" (9:57) the ususal guitar arpeggi with lone synth intro with singer Nick Barrett joining in after half a minute. Nick's vocals here are better, the melodies more engaging. Full band kicks in with some power around the two minute mark. After a second verse of vocals time and key structure shift ushers in a new more insistent vocal approach. Nice earworms from the lead guitar in the instrumental section. (17/20)

Total time 45:26

Nick Barrett's guitar playing--especially his lead soloing--is sublime; it is amazing to me how he can continually create new and always pleasing, adrenaline pumping guitar solos year after year, song after song, even multiple times within one song (even here on their debut album)! His voice, however, is an acquired taste.

B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a surprisingly eclectic albeit derivative collection of Neo Prog songs. Great debut album!

 Saved By You by PENDRAGON album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1991
2.49 | 26 ratings

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Saved By You
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Saved By You is a significant Pendragon release because it marks the end of their 1980s era. From the original Fly High Fall Far EP onwards, Pendragon had consistently been gunning for widespread commercial success by offering a balance of poppier tracks and more neoprog-oriented numbers.

Their EPs and singles had tended towards the poppier end of their sound, The Jewel and 9:15 Live dialled the prog side of things up, and Kowtow attempted to find a balance between the two - especially when later issues of Kowtow tacked the title track from this EP on at the start of the running order.

That opening number is one of the most upbeat pop anthems in the Pendragon catalogue - and it was also pretty much their last song in that particular compositional vein. You wouldn't think it to look at the rather humble artwork on the cover here, but this EP doesn't just mark the end of a decade, but it also marks the last gasp of the band's juggling of pop and prog.

Before this EP, the Kowtow album represented their last-ditch attempt to get the interest of a major record label - originating, as it did, as a demo tape for EMI, and then after the label rejected it the band made it the first release on their independent Toff Records label. And after this EP the next release from the band would be The World, which would see them reconfigure their sound, embrace a more prog-oriented approach (albeit targeted at the more melodic and accessible end of prog), and attain substantially greater long-term success as a result of the artistic path that led on from that than they ever did with their pop efforts.

What do we have to listen to here, then, at the tail end of their flirtation with melodic pop-rock? Well, the title track is a simple and endearing enough anthem, Lady Luck is rather forgettable, Chase the Jewel is the most vivid taste of their 1980s prog sound that this EP has to offer, and Elephants Never Grow Old is a pleasantly inoffensive closing number. I wouldn't say that the material here is terrible and if you're fond of early Pendragon, you might enjoy this - especially if you find their attempts at pop endearing rather than cringe-inducing. But at the end of the day, it's a release more notable for the musical transition it heralded than the actual music contained on it.

 Red Shoes by PENDRAGON album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1987
2.07 | 33 ratings

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Red Shoes
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This single is a bit of a prog sandwich - Searching is a vaguely neo-proggy guitar solo in the middle, and on either side of it you have poppier songs which were clearly pitched to show a more commercial side to Pendragon. A bit of a folly? Perhaps, but you can see why the band would have found it necessary to do this.

After the Elusive Records experiment - a bid by Marillion's manager to set up a neo-prog record label distributed by EMI - fizzled out, the band found themselves working under the auspices of Andy Ware's Awareness Records - a label Ware had originally set up to reissue otherwise-deleted Roy Harper material, and also with an EMI distribution deal. This saw Fly High, Fall Far and the Jewel get reissues, as well as the release of 9:15 Live, but Awareness couldn't justify keeping Pendragon on their books without a strong single; Red Shoes was their attempt at that.

The end result is a song which, perhaps, suits Pendragon better as a lightweight encore number than as a main attraction, and doesn't really reflect their best side. (There's a reason the compilation this is collected on is called The _R_est of Pendragon, after all!) It's kind of endearing and fun in a pop-rock sort of way - like a happier, less cynical take on Marillion B-sides like Lady Nina or Freaks - but it's not top flight Pendragon material. Worth a listen, but don't bankrupt yourself trying to track down the original release when The Rest of Pendragon has this and the Fly High, Fall Far and Saved By You EPs compiled in one tidy package.

 The Window Of Life by PENDRAGON album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.93 | 477 ratings

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The Window Of Life
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars Once PENDRAGON moved on from the train wreck that they released in the form of "Kowtow," the band developed into a neo-prog powerhouse and released some of the best albums of the genre in the 90s starting with "The World." With the stable lineup of Nick Barrett (guitars, vocals), Clive Nolan (keyboards), Peter Gee (bass) and Fudge Smith (yep, a drummer named Fudgie!), PENDRAGON continued to exhibit a compositional maturity only matched by bands like IQ and Nolan's other gig, Arena.

With THE WINDOW OF LIFE, PENDRAGON crafted six strong tracks that found the band's instrumental interplay blossoming on a whole new level. Recorded at the band's new 24 track studio, it really sounds like the musicians took their sweet time in composing the best melodic emotional displays of neo-prog prowess that they could muster up and when the album hit the market in November of 1993, the band found a surge in its popularity and has remained one of the top dogs in the neo-prog world ever since. (Reissues have four extra bonus tracks which are weak and forgettable.)

The album immediately starts out bursting with confidence as a four minute bombastic organ run augmented by a very Pink Floydian guitar solo slowly ratchets up the tension before the vocals kick in along with the walls of atmospheric synth sounds, a bleating bass and drums. The band also began to develop the modern neo-prog staple of ratcheting up the dynamics ever so gently until crescendoing in heavily distorted rock guitar bombast and cyclical looped melodic riffs that offer subtle variations complete with various guitar antics to add some spice. True a Marillion classic sound but PENDRAGON was exploring the nooks and crannies and filling the cracks with various tones and timbres.

"Ghosts" displays Clive Nolan's keyboard techniques as he adds various timbres through the piano and other keyboard sounds. The track is more of an instant emotional connection as the intro is less dynamic and the focus is on the lyrical delivery which finds Nick Barrett's vocal performances in top form. Less prominent is drummer Fudge Smith's excellent and tasteful drum fills as his role is subdued by the overpowering melodic harmonies and thematic presentations but still vital for the overall dynamism of THE WINDOW OF LIFE. While much of neo-prog could be considered nothing more than progressive ballads or sophisticated AOR a lot of the time, "Breaking The Spell" is clearly the most mellow track on board with a soft introduction and a slow ratcheting up effect that slinks over the nine minute mark but never breaks mid-tempo at best.

"The Last Man On Earth" is my personal fave. It nearly hits the 15 minute mark and has some of the best melodies, most outstanding twists and turns and maintains its emotional tug throughout its run and best of all never wears out its welcome. Roughly speaking, it changes gear every couple of minutes and offers new variation on old themes. Careful listening will reveal how clever these guys are at the subtle differences that affect the emotional center in subliminal delivers. It has one of the most unique parts of the album with guest musician Simon Forster delivering a wild harmonica performance with what sounds like a banjo accompaniment towards the end.

"Nostradamus (Stargazing)" has another Floydian intro at least as far as the sonic textures and slow spacey effects are concerned but sounds very different as far as the riffs and keyboard mixes are concerned. This one was a favorite as an opener for live shows at the time. While mostly a ballad, the album turns into a veritable rocker towards the end and reminds a lot of the Fish era Marillion rockers at their best with lots of key changes and that distinct bouncy bass groove. The album closes with "Am I Really Losing You?" which as expected is a tear jerking ballad which is soft and tinny and my least favorite track on the album as it is just too cliche for its own good but also thankfully the shortest track and forgettable.

In summary, THE WINDOW OF LIFE delivers all the neo-prog goods with an excellent band back on track and on the right course to deliver a few more excellent albums that follow. Only the last track rubs me the wrong way as it's just too sappy and predictable but the rest of the album is chock full of beautiful melodies crafted by the beautiful entwinement of instrumental harmonies that result in a beautiful display of atmospheric progressive rock in all its glory. After hearing THE WINDOW OF LIFE, it's quite obvious as to why PENDRAGON began to stand out of the neo-prog pack that was getting bigger by the day. Despite all the excellent tracks, they flow together so well and each has its own distinct personality. Personally i'm not sure if this one or the following "The Masquerade Overture" is my favorite of the PENDRAGON lot but all i can say is that for anyone who loves the progressive space pop sounds of neo-prog can't go wrong with this beautiful specimen of the genre.

 Passion by PENDRAGON album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.74 | 539 ratings

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Passion
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

4 stars If you take a leap from the light-hearted 'Not of This World' (2001) album and listen to 'Passion' for the first time, its actually quite astonishing. Whereas the first is a recognizable early Marillion-inspired melodic neo-prog album, the latter is much darker - filled with dissonance and harsh & personal vocals. Passion means a "strong and barely controllable emotion" (says google anyway) and this describes the feel of this album pretty well. Pendragon has always sounded like a band formed around guitarist & vocalist Nick Barrett, but here his presence is all over the place. I personally don't mind, most of my favorite records have a stand-out performer. I usually listen to the Madfish 2LP edition (which has great artwork by the way!) in the living room, but I must say this album sounds way more psychedelic and confronting with headphones on. Nick Barrett is however not a natural 'Peter Hammill' type performer and some of his vocals might come of as a bit bold and overdone. Yet, he at least tries something different, which is very welcome. The band has also embraces the (then) modern production techniques, which also sets it apart from its nineties records.

The opener 'Passion' sets the tone for the this darker Pendragon universe. 'Empathy' is however a stronger track in which the band really builds up to some climactic moments. The opening of the song (in which the mix/mastering has done little tribute to the low end) has this great dissonant shrieking guitar riff you'd never have expected from Pendragon. Later in the song Nick Barrett's rapping (like in hip-hop yes) really works well. His anger about political issues is genuine, whereas some bands sound like they just don't know what to write about (Galahad comes to mind). To bad the song ends with a Super Nintendo style symphonic part, which totally brings us back to the clumsy opening of 'The Masquerade Overture'. On side two 'Feeding Frenzy' is an up-tempo song that perhaps sounds a bit like the up-tempo songs of Arena. Of course the bands share keyboard player Clive Nolan. 'This Green and Pleasant Land' will undoubtedly satisfy Pendragon fans that love a song like 'Man of Normadic Traits'. It's the least dark song on the album and is therefore fully able to shine with its indeed pleasant symphonic layering and poppy/catchy refrains. On side three 'It's a Matter of Not Getting Caught' is a nice surprise with its gloomy sounds and strong atmospheres. 'Skara Brae' expands on the overall atmosphere of the album without standing out, whereas the final song 'Your Black Heart' impresses with its dark and spiteful performances. Not every-ones cup of tea I guess.

Conclusion. Perhaps not Pendragon's most celebrated album, but it does have its own feel with its rather dark & brooding succession of tracks. I'd rate it 3.5 stars and time will tell how that will translate to a PA rating. Because of the great packaging and the guts to change direction with such a neo-prog institution I'll rate it four stars for now.

 Not Of This World by PENDRAGON album cover Studio Album, 2001
3.90 | 491 ratings

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Not Of This World
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I've recently been acquiring modern (neo) prog-records on vinyl in order to elaborate on my love for albums like Arena's Contagion and IQ's Subterranea. Pendragon is one of neoprog's leading groups. At the heart of this band we find the songwriting, vocals and electric guitar of Nick Barret. The symphonic layering is provided by Clive Nolan (Arena). Within the neo-prog genre Pendragon is on the song-writing side of things with a sound that reminds me most of 'Misplace Childhood' era Marillion and 'Devision Bell' era Pink Floyd. Most songs revolve around relatively simple symphonic chord progressions with expressive vocals (though he sometimes over stretches the boundaries of his limited voice) of Barret and melodic guitar leads. At its strongest Pendragon writes epic melancholy songs that really hit base and set them apart from other groups. For fans of real progressive, diverse and and technically advanced rock the band might fall short - if compared to before mentioned bands like IQ and Arena. Sometimes this album reminds me of adult oriented rock (AOR) hits of the eighties and nineties.

My first impression of the Madfish 2lp is that it is wonderfully produced! A great, wide high-fi sound. The opening track 'If I Were the Wind' hits instant symphonic bliss with great emotional song-writing and a strong vocal performance by Barret. The opening lead guitar really sticks. With the second epic 'Dance Of The Seven Veils' the band fails to keep the parts challenging. To me it seems the adult-rock feel that focuses on the oh so deep personal revelations of white middle class males really falls short - as so often is the case with the neo-prog genre. On side two the 'Not of This World' epic opens very strongly with up-tempo synth leads, some great guitar solo's and great rhythmic interplay. On side three we find what is arguably the best track of the album, 'A Man of Nomadic Traits'. Here the acoustic songwriting of Barret and the succession of it's many parts really elevate the totality of it. On side four the 'Worlds End' suite also manages to keep the passion going and ends the album in a classic symphonic rock 'Euraka!-laden' fashion. Then again, these lyrics "They're flesh and blood / they were human beings" might not be as deep as the performers suggest.

In conclusion. I quickly gained a lot of connection with this album's stronger songs; mainly the opener and everything in the second halve. Yet - I wouldn't the describe it as a mixed bag per se. The double vinyl looks and sounds amazing and as a lover of high-fi the sheer quality of the recording keeps me content throughout. I might occasionally just pull out the second disc though. Surely recommended for listeners of modern song-based progressive.

 The World by PENDRAGON album cover Studio Album, 1991
3.78 | 426 ratings

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The World
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars After the train wreck that resulted from the ill fated commercial nonsense attempted on "Kowtow," PENDRAGON learned the lessons of straying too far from its neo-prog aspirations and bounced back pretending as if the previous album was nothing more than a very bad dream. While the usual neo-prog cheese is displayed in full progressive pop splendor, the band was looking more towards "Wind & Wuthering" era Genesis and 80s Marillion for their return to the progressive rock universe and in the process launched themselves into the spotlight as one of the best neo-prog bands to sail through the 90s and into the 21st century.

PENDRAGON's third album THE WORLD redefined the quartet of Nick Barrett (guitars, vocals), Clive Nolan (keyboards), Peter Gee (bass) and Fudge Smith (drums) de-cheesifying from what many consider the awful 80s (in terms of progressive rock) and allowed them to join the new renaissance of prog with the band's first 90s offering. Before the world of neo-prog adopted a more hardened exterior by adopting metal guitar riffs and a more bombastic approach, the style went through its fluffy bunny and unicorn stage as evidenced on THE WORLD's fantastical album cover art. With a penchant for the late 70s symphonic prog sound, the style was evolving slowly into its own and PENDRAGON was along for the ride.

"Back In The Spotlight" exudes a rather 80s feel with U2 styled jangled guitar riffs as made famous by The Edge and a Peter Gabriel type of melodic drive similar to early tracks like "Salisbury Hill" but subtly recycled throughout his career. The keyboards generate an atmospheric resonance that extend into the entire near hour playing time and the vocals of Nick Barrett propelled PENDRAGON into the forefront of the neo-prog scene which would continue with a series of strong albums. "The Voyager" is the epic track of the album and dips past the 12 minute mark. It's here where PENDRAGON really blooms into a veritable neo-prog band. The composition takes on meany meandering fantasy fueled themes with Steve Hackett inspired soaring guitar work, emotional tugs in the form of nebulous visions of ocean dreamers and playing dolphins and a strong sense of compositional fortitude that builds up the intensity.

"Shane" delivers a more space rock vibe from the Pink Floyd playbook whereas "Prayer" is a piano driven tune that brings classic 70s Supertramp to mind complete with military drum marches and a folky flavor. "Queen of Hearts" while technically three tracks is basically a three part suite and the result of various song ideas being stitched together into a more cohesive whole and perhaps the most 80s Marillion sounding track of the album although Marillion were clearly one of the major influences as was most neo-prog of this era. The rest of the album follows suit with similar tracks taking the usual neo-prog twists and turns however different guitar riffs and the mixing it up of Floydian space rock with Mariliion and Genesis inspired symphonic elements keeps it from becoming monotonous.

While i wouldn't call THE WORLD the defining moment of PENDRAGON it's certainly no slouch. That is if you can stomach the somewhat cheesified hangover from the 80s only crafted into a more palatable 90s approach. Neo-prog by definition exudes a strong connection to pop music and in that regard THE WORLD succeeds in crafting instantly cute and cuddly melodies that grab you by the hand and take you to that world where nothing bad is lurking in the shadows. While i find the albums that follow to be of better quality, THE WORLD dishes out an album's worth of strong tunes that while not revolutionary in any particular way sure don't disappoint in the presentation of the classic neo-prog sound. As with any examples of this style of prog, if the vocalist doesn't cut the mustard then the experience will fail miserable but Barrett does an excellent job at crafting the nice vocal subtleties that make this album work for me.

 Kowtow by PENDRAGON album cover Studio Album, 1988
2.62 | 233 ratings

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Kowtow
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

1 stars While PENDRAGON's debut album may have landed without crashing, it didn't exactly land on two feet as it was a mix of AOR dross cross-pollinated with high class Marillion inspired 80s neo-prog. The sophomore effort which came out three years later in 1988 found the band completely wiping out altogether. Despite the band starting to gain some momentum with the neo-prog sounds that would emerge in the 90s on the debut, on KOWTOW the band made a complete retrograde and in the process dumped its weakest albums of its career much less the neo-prog universe in general. This was the first album to see the debut of keyboardist Clive Nolan who had only worked with a band called The Cast at this point and while Nolan has been one of the bigwigs in the world of symphonic prog ever since, on this debut one could hardly guess that fact in any way, shape or form.

Not only did Nolan replace keyboardist Rik Carter but Nigel Harris was also replaced by percussionist Fudge Smith who would also stick around for the next eighteen years up until 2006. Pretty much considered PENDRAGON's absolute worst effort, KOWTOW went off the rails and created the ultimately bad AOR infused album with only a few progressive moments. While everyone knows neo- prog is in the pop oriented sector of the prog supermarket, KOWTOW takes things to the ultimate extreme and dishes out a bunch of sappy overweening tracks that fail to take into account that good AOR music requires two vital elements. Number one: catchy well crafted pop hooks which are woefully missing from every track included here and number two: a competent vocalist that can focus the attention on the lyrical content. Neither are present here and while Nick Barrett would improve his vocal talents, here he falls woefully flat.

While the album is primarily a batch of irritating crappy pop tracks that are rich in tinny keyboard sounds and lifeless drum programming, the album's saving grace is the decent but yet unremarkable "The Haunting" which hints at the more sophisticated epic themes that would emerge on the next album "The World." There are also the occasional jazzy touches (by session musicians) with on "I Walk The Rope" and "2 AM" that unfortunately remind me more of Kenny G than Miles Davis. Barrett's vocals have a very strange quality of sounding like a mix between a less talented Geddy Lee mixed with the Clash's Joe Strummer at times and at other times hint at achieving some sort of deliverable goods but doesn't quite cut the mustard leaving behind an unfulfilled promise where all the proper fluffing was delivered but no climactic resolution.

There are only so many ways to express how bad an album is. While i can understand why neo-proggers would want to craft some commercial success after once great legendary prog bands like Yes and Genesis were tearing up the pop charts and supergroups like Asia were raking in the bucks off their popification of prog, someone forgot to explain to PENDRAGON at this point that the songs would have to be irresistibly infectious and in the case of KOWTOW it is exactly the opposite. This is a difficult listen and i'm a very tolerant music lover to be fair. While i try to find any redeeming value in any given album i experience, KOWTOW is truly one of those absolute worst of the worst and a true burden to sit through for this review. Soulless and as plastic as Barbie's bosom, KOWTOW is as bottom of the barrel as any album with the prog tag could possibly sink. To be avoided at all cost and a useful torture device for your enemies. Their heads will explode like the aliens on the movie "Mars Attacks!"

 The Jewel by PENDRAGON album cover Studio Album, 1985
3.35 | 304 ratings

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The Jewel
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

3 stars Amongst the bands that kept progressive rock on life support in the 80s, only Marillion gained superstardom and achieved arena live setting status but there were quite a few other bands that came and went without much fanfare. Included on a different list is the band PENDRAGON who came but never went away and in the process found relative success in the 80s neo-prog boom along with other bands such as Pallas, Solstice and Twelfth Night. The band actually was formed all the way back in 1978 by vocalist and guitarist Nick Barrett but soon joined by bassist Peter Gee. The two have been the only constant members since the band's inception when it was called Zeus Pendragon. The Zeus part was quickly dropped.

The band went through several lineup changes and released a few EPs before crafting the debut album THE JEWEL which is the only album not to feature long time keyboardist Clive Nolan. At this early stage that task was performed by Rik Carter who was actually the second keyboardist after John Barnfield. The band was completed with drummer Nigel Harris who himself would soon be replaced after this album. While many neo-prog artists in the mid-80s were starting to differentiate, PENDRAGON followed the playbook of imitating Fish-era Marillion, the symphonic prog of 70s Genesis as well as the space rock of 70s Pink Floyd although like many contemporaries traded in the Moogs and mellotrons for digital 80s synthesizers that gave many of these bands a clear connection to the era.

THE JEWEL is the typical neo-prog album of the 80s that implemented the dramatic emotional lyrical outpouring with heavy keyboard-laden arrangements that ran the gamut from the cheesy AOR pop opener 'Higher Circles' to the more fully gestated multi-suite prog gem 'Alaska.' Despite a fairly consistent set of tracks that display the bands talents and showcase a somewhat gentler approach than the bombastic theatrical nature of Marillion, THE JEWEL unfortunately suffers from an extra weak production and if you ask me, nothing sounds worse than the one two punch of cheesy synth sounds of the 80s with a lackluster production job, however not all is lost as the compositions keep an even keel pace that allows the emotional connection to remain despite the flaws on board.

While not exactly excelling as they would with their 90s works, PENDRAGON became one of the more active bands which led them into the next chapter of the progressive rock revival that began in the 90s and in many ways the most familiar neo-prog sounds of that era resemble what PENDRAGON was doing at this moment rather than the idiosyncratic style of Marillion. While a pleasant experience of early neo-prog, i wouldn't call THE JEWEL an absolutely essential piece of its history at least for a top dog in the quality department. While historically important for its role in defining the sub-genre as it evolved, THE JEWEL basically comes off as a typical example of 80s synth-laden progressive rock with a firm connection to the AOR melodic rock scene that was all the rage at the time.

Nothing is particularly bad here. Barrett's vocals are in top form. The melodic guitar solos the same and the compositions are well done as well however neo-prog is a style of music that requires a decent production job and in the case of THE JEWEL even the 2005 remastered versions can't quite make it sound complete, however definitely not a bad beginning and one that should be explored if you have any interest in PENDRAGON's early origins that allowed them to garner enough clout to continue on as one of neo-prog's most successful artists. The album was originally recorded at Soundmill Studios and Cloud Nine Studios in 1984-85 and then remastered at Thin Ice Studios in 2005 but in this case everyone failed in that department. So a crown JEWEL? Not really but one that was dug up and needs a little TLC to make it shine.

 The World by PENDRAGON album cover Studio Album, 1991
3.78 | 426 ratings

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The World
Pendragon Neo-Prog

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The third album of the long-lived British Neo Prog band PENDRAGON may not be quite as strong as what was to come after it -- my [other, slightly bigger] favourites are Masquerade Overture, Not Of This World and Believe -- , but The World is very pleasant in its melodic and emotional mellowness, as can be witnessed from high ratings. Those who don't like it at all are most likely such prog-listeners who don't appreciate the Neo Prog style in general, and who tend to despise especially its softer and more pop-oriented features, seeing them as weakness. But yes, this album surely could have more spine and edges, for the line between harmonic and mediocre/boring can be thin and depends mostly on the listener. At first I wasn't sure if my rating would be 4 or 3, but I'll round 3˝ upwards for the bonus track 'Sister Bluebird' which I believe to be included on most CD releases on the market nowadays.

Sonically and for the production The World is on the same good level with its followers; the differences lay more on songwriting which is a bit sharper on e.g. Masquerade Overture. Nick Barrett's guitar, reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Marillion, soars nicely, and Clive Nolan's keyboards finish the typical, polished Neo Prog sound. The opener 'Back in the Spotlight' with its U2-ish guitar sound has an energetic anthem-like feel. Not necessarily very proggy as a composition, but fairly enjoyable. 'The Voyager' quickly became a fans' favourite, Barrett says on the re-release's liner notes (2005). During the 12 minutes it contains some gorgeous melodies, romantic keyboard work and a passionate guitar solo. Even more emotion can be heard in 'Shane' which admittedly is a bit cheesy, almost like an 80's hard rock ballad. 'Prayer' is the weakest track, musically pretty forgettable in its lyrics-oriented sweet pathos.

'Queen of Hearts' is a near-22-minute epic in three parts. The first, 8-minute part is a bit boring (ie. over-extended), but the following parts are more inspired. As a whole it's not an album highlight for me, except perhaps for 'The Last Waltz' (Barrett's personal favourite, by the way). 'And We'll Go Hunting Deer' is a soft and a sort of pastoral song in a peaceful tempo. The aforementioned 'Sister Bluebird' (don't start thinking of Yes' 'Starship Trooper', no musical resemblance at all) may be my favourite on the CD, the moody emotion manages to touch me especially at the end where the words "sister" and "bluebird" are being repeated over the music that finally fades out. All in all, The World is best described as PLEASANT and is warmly recommended to those who enjoy both Neo Prog subgenre and mellowness. Others may not get very much out of this album.

Thanks to ProgLucky; Atkingani for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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