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Nine Stones Close - Leaves CD (album) cover


Nine Stones Close



3.85 | 112 ratings

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5 stars Sombre expanses, decidedly forceful environments and desolate reactivity. Nine Stones Close (NSC) have altered their state, moved beyond the zone of calm twilight and flung themselves into a completely different sonic dominion. A rather massive shake-up of personnel was at the forefront of such an adjustment as Adrian Jones on guitars and drummer Pieter Van Hoorn have re-tooled their muse, bringing in talented Dutch keyboardist Christiaan Bruin (who has a few albums under the 'Chris' moniker), bassist Peter Groen and a versatile Irish vocalist Aio O'Shaughnessy (Frameshift) . Adrian's fabulous Jet Black Sea project obviously tailored a new and fresh direction, a stark universe loaded with intensity and gloom. While quite a new experience from their previous works, their melancholic nature is forever present, now heightened by a sharper palette as well as a more masculine vocal presence that does take a little getting used to at first.

Things start out in classic form on 'Complicated', a brooding mood swings in the atmospherics and little time is wasted to introduce Adrian's scratchy guitar and Aio's rather exalted vocals , elevating the power levels to raunch and launch, the driving bass and van Hoorn's powerful drum fills giving all the support needed. Angry and, well ''complicated'! Sinuously seductive with a dash of sonic perversity, this could have been a heavy Porcupine Tree styled song, if not for the more urgent vocal stylistics. Short and to the point, welcome to the new NSC!

The next 4 tracks are all 10 minute + affairs, so this is a dense, developed to the gills opus that provides immense depth and width. First up, 'Goldfish' is a whopping expanse of annoyed ambiance, heavily drenched in cyclical psychedelia that forges mood over matter, feeling over formula. Fizzy somnolence allied with electric rage, there is a panorama of emotions that span the gamut, from anguish to irritation, showing little penchant for platitude. Adrian laces a myriad of licks, bites and chomps to the synthesized stew, at times clanging, chiming and ringing chords to great effect, using some slide guitar phrasings to add some garnish. Bruin remains discreet, effectively coloring the arrangement with tons of modern flourishes, rich in electronic effervescence. Aio languishes in his lament, cuing the rhythm section to forcefully kick in the door and let the power enter the fray, brutally and uncompromisingly! A tremendous epic track of the highest order.

The bittersweet expression of 'Lie' is totally unexpected, an oblique, raw, almost dissonant and grungy piece that exhorts a desire to stupefy and confront. This is a heavy, greasy and unshaven colossus, hinting toward a more hurricane-like delivery that yearns for discomfort and sleaziness. The stunning vocals are desperate, almost frenetic, hence quite the polar opposite of the more feminine (but brilliant) style of Marc Atkinson. The insistent rough guitar shrapnel pains, threatens and scars the uninitiated listener, all kinds of interesting stylistic experiments that truly are progressive in terms of evolutionary context. Yes, this is more demanding and complex that the previous NSC works, requiring open-mindedness, participation and concentration. Adrian outro solo is agonizingly stellar.

The longest track, 'Spoils' clocks in over 16 minutes, an adventure in progressive mastery that may remind some fans of PTree's glorious epic 'Anesthetize', in that it stretches the scope from hushed romanticism to hysterical abandon, with every other emotion in between. The balls it takes to leave a man and a microphone alone with scarcely any accompaniment is quite the gamble, as Aio hurls forward his wounded venom, until the rage explodes like some monstrous cyclone of dread and doom. The Led Zeppelin (a la Kashmir) riff will catch you unaware (even if I gave it away), a sudden and booming elevation into the upper territories of bombastic symphonic prog, Aio bellowing and blaring with unchecked sizzle. This teeter-tottering between black and white, once soft and then hard is expertly displayed, in the most convincing manner by all the instrumentalists as well as the lead singer, each focused on the prize. The lyrical content is dour, pessimistic and flat out despondent. Another sensational but arduous ride, squeezing the soul with apparent impunity.

The final and title track is the clincher, a tremendous opus stamped with genius of unparalleled proportions, displaying incredible restraint and creative intelligence, Peter Groen in particular doing some finesse work on his bass guitar, Adrian caressing his frets with vivacious delicacy, the subtle jazzy drum filling and Aio's muttering grievance, all in tune as if in a gentle and relaxed bubble, waiting for the release. When he states 'I only drink when I am drowning', the sheer brilliance hits you like a ton of bricks, the soporific voice reminding one of vocalists such as Steve Hoggarth or early Mark Hollis, undeterred by the clever electronic keyboard barrage. The impression that this fleeting feeling can go on forever is slashed by a whopping guitar solo, a crescendo slowly building up momentum and passion that is purely mesmerizing. With more astute lyrics like 'Have you ever seen the light, have you ever lived your life', the realization that both artist and spectator are in a symbiotic pleasure dome that has achieved the loftiest level of intensity: aching beauty, delirious melancholia and the coalescence of simplicity. The finale is grandiose and explosive, proof is in the undeniable impression of sonic afterglow.

If a fan of the heavy progressive scene, you will find all the challenges that you need to continually discover new twists within tracks you may hear many more times gain, it's just THAT dense. It's not an easy listen, no fluff, no respite, no ballad, no top-ten attempt. The Porcupine has chopped down its Tree, perhaps it's time to rake in the 'Leaves'.

Just plain amazing!

5 Shrubberies

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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