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Strangers On A Train - The Key, Part II - The Labyrinth CD (album) cover


Strangers On A Train



3.12 | 46 ratings

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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.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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