The Circus and the Nighthwale by Steve Hackett

Release date: February 16, 2024
Label: InsideOut Music

For 50 years Steve Hackett has taken the mantle. Not only to keep the legacy of the original five and four-piece era of Genesis from 1971 to 1977, but also, as a solo artist when released his debut album Voyage of the Acolyte 50 years ago. He has come a long way to keep both of the legacies alive. But when it comes to his solo work, he’s very much a visual storyteller coming to life with his arranging and composition.

His latest release The Circus and the Nightwhale is like a stick of dynamite, ready to explode at any second. A conceptual story about a young character named Travla who is right in the middle of this chaos that’s going on.

Recorded between 2022 and 2023 during the time Steve was on tour, he brought along some helping hands from the States, Sweden, Austria, and the in the U.K. Not only Steve plays brilliantly on his guitar, but he can play percussion, harmonica, and bass.

With Roger King handling keyboards and orchestral arrangements, Rob Townsend on sax, vocalists Nad Sylvan and Amanda Lehmann, bassist Jonas Reingold, and alongside Craig Blundell on drums, Nick D’Virgilio and Hugo Degenhardt make a guest appearance on the Nightwhale. Followed by Steve’s brother John on flute, Tar player Malik Mansurov, and keyboardist / engineer Benedict Fenner.

The album cover, which was done by Denise Marsh, says it all. It’s a very disturbing portrait of an orca opening up its mouth to reveal the nightmarish circus in its light-red portrayal on what is going on. When I think of the cover, I think of the Bands from the Rock Progressivo Italiano scene who had striking covers. From Alphataurus’ sole self-titled debut released in 1973, Le Orme’s Uomo di Pezza, Semiramis’ Dedicato a Frazz, Unreal City’s La Crudelta di Aprile, and Museo Rosenbach’s magnum opus Zarathustra.

Hackett has done his homework when it comes to the Steam and Biopunk atmospheres behind the Nightwhale’s story. Once ‘People of the Smoke’ begins, there’s something surreal when it comes to the opening track.


He returns to his Acolyte years by going even further as he unleashes a massive tidal waving approach in the midsection. He makes the train chug enough more coal by going up and down on this dangerous roller-coaster ride which speaks of Grieg’s ‘Hall of the Mountain King’.

It has an intensive drive that is menacing and very ominous to segue into the Saens-sque approach of the string section for ‘These Passing Clouds’ as you embark on the waltz of death. ‘Taking you Down’ is Sylvan’s reverb vocal effects, setting up this alarming sound on the battle this is happening across the river Thames.

Hackett tips his hat to Eloy’s Frank Bornemann, channeling the Inside-era and delving deeper into the Harvest label and Ladbroke Grove band from the ‘60s, High Tide and their debut album Sea Shanties.

‘Found and Lost’ walks into this dreamy lake of flamenco rivers before it transforms into this smoky nightclub in the early ‘50s of the jazz scene in Paris with a bluesy ballad and Hackett’s harmonica, crying off into the night as he heads into Goblin’s territory with ‘Enter the Ring’.

John’s flute takes flight by flying off into this blue-sky atmosphere as Steve aims for the heavy, grey clouds to happen with unexpected time changes that speak closely to Kansas, Premiata Forneria Marconi, and the Perry Mason theme by bursting the doors down with ‘Get Me Out’. The sixth track is completely off the wall. You hear this massive battle of the instruments between guitar and organ, punching it out in the boxing ring, taking one direct hit after another.

Speaking of unexpected changes, the brutal forces come swinging in throughout the climax on ‘Circo Inferno’ with guitar and a heavy sax solo, reverbing like a lunatic taking over the asylum before going inside the orca’s body with a militant funeral on ‘Into the Nightwhale’.

It all makes sense for the story itself to be brought as a graphic novel or an animated rock opera in case Steve wants to bring The Nightwhale story to life. And it leaves us wanting more for the adventure to continue. But it has to be with the right people. And we can always vision the story as a movie inside our heads.

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