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Colin Masson - The Mad Monk And The Mountain CD (album) cover


Colin Masson


Crossover Prog

3.98 | 61 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars The Mad Monk and the Mountain is a majesic triumphant slice of prog.

Colin Masson's The Mad Monk and the Mountain is an ambient journey along a coastline of howling winds, moonscapes, Atlantic horizons and lighthouses watching over precipices of mountain peaks. There are conceptual faith leaps into fantasy and horror and these are juxtaposed with thoughts of death and ghostly apparitions. The opening track 'Two Lighthouskeepers' spells it out from the outset as the protagonist lapses into a morbid insane frame of mind where the isolation and desolate loneliness envelop his conscious being; "prancing figures in the howling screaming night, casting monstrous shadows in the ever spinning light, waving to the passing ships the sailors see, two lighthousekeepers dancing."

Masson's vocals are subdued, sinister at times, but overall clean and reflective, not unlike Peter Hammill though he does not use the baritone of Hammill. The musical style is perhaps akin to the work of Mike Oldfield especially the guitar tones. The acoustics that begin 'Tilting at Windmills' draws one in with a compelling rhythm, and very nice keyboard orchestrations. The lengthy guitar solo is restrained and melodic, reminiscent of Andy Latimer in some respects. The layered guitars and keys make a wonderful soundscape of easy listening music. The time sig locks in eventually to a rhythmic cadence. There is a well executed lead guitar flourish over an ominous, even portentous, ascending chord figure. The instrumental is masterfully delivered and delightfully innovative shifting into many moods, textures of dark and light pervade the Symphonic atmosphere.

'The Ends of the Earth' continues the high class musicianship beginning with minimalist 12 string acoustic picking. Cathy Alexander is mesmirising on vocals, recorders and keyboards on the album. She is given a chance to shine and her gorgeous vocals are lilting and haunting with a peaceful beauty; "is this a dream, am I walking still, do I spread my wings or the wings of illusion, will I fall to the earth like a stone, or reach for the sky, one day I will fly where the waters run clear, one day I will fly to the ends of the earth." I am reminded of the high octaves of Mostly Autumn with Heather Findlay or Annie Haslam, and Alexander provides a Celtic atmosphere with these dreamy angelic vocals. The recorder work is well accomplished and enhances the ethereal atmosphere. I was delighted that Masson included her on the album as it lends a genuine ambience when a melodic crystalline soprano vocal is heard over ambient music. Simply a beautiful masterful song, featuring a fantastic symphonic ending.

'The Mad Monk and The Mountain' features an intro with Alexander's vocals and a chiming musical piece. The trumpet sounds augment the musicscape, and the bass sounds excellent on this track. There is a progressive time sig that drives it, and lead guitar dominates with a clean sound and elongated notes struck. The sustain is wonderful and then the track breaks into a fast tempo rock section, with some distorted riffs cranking along. Suddenly the album has turned the tide into hard rock territory. The piece continues with many varied melodies and is very easy to listen to, quite relaxing towards the end, with ambience created from warm monochrome lead guitar sounds and sweeping keyboard strokes.

'Caradon's Surprise' is a short instrumental track that acts as an interlude between two long tracks, the last being an epic. In true prog tradition it is a transition point that prepares the listener for the longer piece to end the album. On its own the short piece is quite good in itself, sounding medieval with 12 string acoustics. The tranquillity is akin to Hackett's work prior to the Genesis epic on "Foxtrot" that needs no introduction here among the prog community.

The epic is an instrumental called 'The House on the Rock' following the conceptual line of thought of craggy rocks and dilapidated mansions as a metaphor for the struggles of a broken down life. Well, that's my interpretation anyway. The keyboard motifs that begin the piece draw in the listener and then the golden sounds of lead guitars wash over gently. Mike Oldfield springs to mind again here and I especially love the way it builds with orchestrated keys that have a majestic quality. The piece sounds royal due to the regal trumpet sounds, but the phased lead guitar consistently overtakes the music with delightful sustained string bends. At 5 minutes in the medieval flavour is prominent with flute sounds and a quirky jig tempo. The melody sounds familiar for some reason, and one can imagine some beautiful dresses flowing out as beatific dancers jig arm on arm with joyful smiles. The percussion crunches in soon and there is a very powerful lead riff that builds to a crescendo, keeping the melody but augmenting it with a stronger display of musical excellence. A new time sig at 8:50 breaks out and then it settles into an acoustic rhythm and some Oldfieldish lead guitar work with a high airy nature. The music becomes organic with a moderate cadence and the twin guitar harmonies at 11:25 are wondrous.

In conclusion the album tends to peak early with some amazing vocal tracks and soon the entire thing is an instrumental album. This seems to work on subsequent listens but I found myself waiting for the vocals to come in. The vocals of Alexander are especially a part of the journey lending a calmness and tranquillity to the music. Masson is a very good vocalist too and the lyrics are powerful and necessary in the early tracks. When those vocals are absent the instrumentals have the tendency to become a little laborious or repetitious for my ears. In any case, this album is a remarkable artistic achievement for a virtual solo artist and Masson is a virtuoso musician who knows how to inject just the right amount of light and dark to the musicscape. I was delighted to experience such a beautiful emotive album. After many listens I finally came to the conclusion that it is definitely a 4 star triumph.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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