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Pendragon - Men Who Climb Mountains CD (album) cover

MEN WHO CLIMB MOUNTAINS

Pendragon

 

Neo-Prog

3.65 | 203 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars For their tenth album `Men Who Climb Mountains', UK Neo-proggers Pendragon, led as always by the talented trio of Nick Barrett, Clive Nolan and Peter Gee, with new drummer Craig Blundell, continue in the style of their new-found maturity that began with `Believe' back in 2005, `Pure' in 2008 and `Passion' three years after that. All of those signalled a new direction for the band, eventually heavier, yet still retaining many of those classic grand symphonic gestures the band has always been known for. Using the imagery of climbers and explorers as a metaphor for overcoming and facing hardships and adversity, `...Mountains' is the darkest, most emotionally heavy and brooding work from the band to date. Yet it still retains traces of heart and humanity, and despite initially being quite underwhelming, repeated listens paying careful attention reveals many merits, with just a few occasionally frustrating elements as well.

Despite instantly opening with an overlong stream-of-consciousness lyric vocal passage from Nick over repetitive chiming guitars, the initially melancholic two parter with heavier blasts of `Belle Ame/Beautiful Soul' eventually reveals one of those soaring uplifting choruses that only Pendragon do so well. The almost eleven minute `Come Back Jack' delivers a sad vocal and a punchy muscular repeated chorus, but the highlight is Mr Barrett's playing - his guitar rings with a slightly off, wavering quality throughout the atmospheric intro, turning bluesy and heart-wrenching in moments throughout. A perfect showcase for the whole band, `In Bardo' has Clive Nolan's restrained floating synths and wig-out soloing, Craig Blundell's complex drumming , Peter's serpentine slinking bass and a dreamy vocal and Gilmour-esque reaching guitar solo from Nick all weaving together in perfect unison. Unexpectedly, `Faces of Light', with it's stark but impossibly beautiful piano melody, female backing vocals and uplifting chorus with one of the strongest melodies on offer here, sounds like it's wandered off one of the recent Anathema albums, especially the uptempo burst full of life in the second half.

Less vocals throughout `Faces of Darkness' means more time for the instrumental elements to take focus. It unfolds with a dark and delicate ambient keyboard intro before racing through a mix of skittering frantic drumming, pulsing bass, bristling Mellotron washes and Nick's psychedelic treated voice drifting around. A slightly forced vocal delivering some clunky lyrics let down `For When The Zombies Come' slightly, but thankfully there's slow-burn ghostly bluesy guitar moodiness, a haunting unease throughout. `Explorers of the Infinite' drifts by with jangling acoustic and electric guitars, silky group harmonies and soaring victorious synths, but too many lead vocals over the top mean the eleven minutes here drag on a little too long. `Netherworld' then makes for a more simple and reflective album closer, ideal for the introspective quality throughout so much of the disc.

There is no doubt this is a very thoughtful, mature and complex musical statement from the band, as well as being a deeply personal work for Mr Barrett. Yet it also happens to be deadly serious, frequently wordy and loaded with endless vocal and lyric passages when it could really do with sometimes stepping back and letting the instrumental flourishes the band is so well known for shine a little more. In some sections it almost comes across like a Barrett solo album, with just his voice and guitar and only little contributions from the rest of the band behind him. Thankfully the heavier elements are not quite as obnoxious and upfront as on the previous album `Passion'. While he has grown with immense confidence as a vocalist over the years, there still a few questionable vocal choices Nick presents, and sometimes the combination of tricky lyrics gets the better of him. Finally, sixty-four minutes definitely pushes the friendship here, as, in addition to the increase of vocal sections, several passages are somewhat repetitive meaning attention starts to wander in a few spots.

But Pendragon have proven that they've well and truly moved on from the traditional Neo Prog type compositions and romantic grandness of their first several albums. While not entirely satisfying and easy to enjoy as many of their previous works, it's admirable that the band are inspired, not simply stuck in a rut and repeating what they've done before, instead taking bold chances to push themselves and challenge their fanbase. It would be great if they retained just a little bit more of those softer qualities that made listeners adore them in the first place, but `Men Who Climb Mountains' is still an occasionally thrilling work, and their most rich, dense and subtle release to date.

Three and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |

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