By: Gaz Cloud
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Released on October 16, 2015 via InsideOut Music
Nad Sylvan’s latest effort is a typical modern progressive album: it is epic in proportions and scope, whilst featuring a cast of guest musicians as illustrious as you’d expect from someone who’s spent a few years hanging out with Steve Hackett. Sylvan calls on the considerable talents of Nick Beggs on bass, a man seemingly on a quest to feature on as many great records as possible in the hope we collectively forget about Kajagoogoo; Hackett himself; Nick D’Virgilio; The Flower King’s Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold; plus many others who all add to what would amount to a star studded album by anyone’s standards.
Apparently keen to create a 17th century atmosphere, the concept album’s central character, the “Vampirate”, gives Sylvan an opportunity to indulge in the theatrical, and over the record’s 70 minute run-time, there are plenty of fine solo passages and impressive multi-part compositions. By the close, anyone playing “prog bingo” would have a fully marked card. This is nothing new, and fans of his work prior to his Hackett association will know what to expect, to a degree. After all, this is surely one of the reasons he was given the call for Genesis Revisited – he’s not just a singer, but an artist.
The subject matter is universally dark. The title track concerns itself with filicide, and is as weird as you’d expect from even a glance at Sylvan himself. ‘Echoes Of Ekwabet’ deals with the demise of a native American tribe and contains some of the album’s most stroking verbal imagery. Elsewhere the tone is as gothic as the cover artwork would suggest. It’s hard to work out how the first three compositions fit together – in fact, each track often contains disparate sections, so joining the dots between one song’s movements can be challenging enough. Though the album’s overarching storyline may be little bombastic, paying close attention is rewarding. A host of details help to elevate the album and the coherent second half hangs together conceptually. The words are interesting on every track except ‘Ship’s Cat’, which does little lyrically except enhance the central narrative.
Curiously, for what amounts to a very memorable album, the opening track, ‘Carry Me Home’, lacks a hook to bury itself into the listener’s consciousness. Rob Townsend’s flute creates a tapestry towards the end, but the fade out that closes the record’s opening chapter would suggest a more epic composition than that which preceded it. ‘Courting The Widow’ is better, but still nowhere near the album’s peak. Perhaps that’s an effort to distance Sylvan from Genesis comparisons: by ‘Echoes Of Ekwabet’ the similarities are obvious, whist the album’s centrepiece ‘To Turn To The Other Side’ could be an outtake from the band’s classic era. That’s to say it’s inventive, ambitious and quite unlike anything else, even on the same record.
Things inevitably fare less well immediately after this masterpiece: ‘Ship’s Cat’ is silly, whilst ‘The Killing Of The Calm’ represents the album’s musical nadir, with Baroque arrangements that seem contrived: Kaipa do this kind of thing far more successfully. ‘Where The Martyr Carved His Name’ is a white soul track that’s genuinely funky and catchy without becoming annoying and sees an improvement in musical fortunes. ‘Long Slow Crash Landing’ provides a musical finale of double-tracked guitars vocal duelling that lingers long after the close.
For a man now most famous for singing the songs of Peter Gabriel, a man with a decidedly average voice, Nad Sylvan’s timbre is rich and his range impressive. He avoids unnecessary vocal gymnastics, although he’s clearly capable of them, instead preferring to enunciate his lyrics, paying careful attention to each syllable to ensure he’s understood. After all, there’s a tale to be told, here, and Sylvan’s determined to get his message across.
Stylistically, the record could be classified as neo-prog – another era indebted to Hackett, Gabriel et al. But this is neo-prog for the 17th century, not the 21st, more akin to Ludovico Einaudi’s neoclassicism than Ólafur Arnalds’ take on the same revivalist genre. Whilst Sylvan doesn’t break new ground musically, his tracks are full of imagination – ‘To Turn To The Other Side’ being particularly quirky. Here is a musician as closely associated with another era and ensemble as it’s possible to be without a time machine, laying his own idiosyncratic vision onto the template and creating something wonderful. The whole album, but particularly ‘To Turn To The Other Side’, is a fitting tribute to Genesis, of course, as the band never stood still, and one hopes their fans still favour conceptual innovation over faithful recreations of their hero’s original ideas.