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Shadowland - Mad As A Hatter CD (album) cover

MAD AS A HATTER

Shadowland

 

Neo-Prog

3.27 | 50 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Nomadness here

Having recorded and released two fine albums in what might be described as favourable circumstances, the members of Shadowland found working on their third album to be a much greater challenge. By this time (1995), Clive Nolan had become deeply involved with Arena while Karl Groom was similarly hard at work with Threshold. For the first time, Nolan shares some of the writing credits with Mike Varty. Varty had provided keyboards at live gigs (while Nolan sang) but by now he had been taken into the band as a full recording member. In his sleeve notes for the fine "Cautionary tales" box, Groom recalls that they "Never had everyone in the studio at the same time.... it was actually quite hard to get the album finished".

The album opens in dramatic fashion with the 9 minute "U.S.I. (United States of insanity)", a track which finds the band making what is arguably their most progressive piece thus far. The song is a melting pot of time changes, soaring synths and dynamic lead guitar. It challenges Nolan's vocal abilities to the full, but he just about pulls it off. While the title may suggest this is a song along the lines of IQ's"Harvest of souls", lyrically there is no such controversy to be found.

"Mephisto bridge" has a very Arena like introduction, Karl Groom's guitar work being highly reminiscent of that of John Mitchell. The song actually suits Nolan's vocals much better, bringing out a surprising power in his voice. The two part "The seventh year" includes what must rate as Karl Groom's finest lead guitar solo ever. Sub-titled "Why Krukulick", his contribution here is simply stunning.

"Zuleika" is an intriguing song, as it draws on world music influences while incorporating backing vocals by "The Mad Hatter's choir". It is certainly quite different to what we expect from Shadowland, and fans could be forgiven for dismissing it. For me though, the track works reasonably well. At almost 12 minutes, the title track is the longest on the album. As with the opening "USI", the song features many of the key identifiers of prog, in this case we have some fine retro keyboards, mellotron sounds and cello. The closing track, "Salvation comes" I simply love. The song is a building anthem like piece with a simple melody. The choir like vocal is quite different again to the typical Shadowland.

The only track which does not really work is the acoustic "Father" which has the feel of a demo, Nolan's voice being rather over exposed on this occasion.

In all, "Mad as a hatter" is undoubtedly the most progressive of the three Shadowland albums. Each of the songs is a prog epic or mini-epic, packed with all the tenets of a fine prog song. The circumstances of the recording may have been less favourable, but the band responded to the challenge superbly, drawing upon their ever growing experience to create a wonderful result.

Shadowland was effectively put on ice as soon as this album was released. A planned tour was cancelled and the members focused on their other projects. Nolan and Groom would continue to work together while Ian Salmon would join Arena. The band never actually split up though, and while no further studio albums have been forthcoming, they did tour together again in 2009.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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