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(47:24, MALS Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Heart of Darkness 6:20 2. Blood of the Rose 10:03 3. Castle Walls 5:06 4. The Dark Lady 13:26 5. Come Summer, She Died 6:52 6. Time 5:37 LINEUP: Rick Miller Ц various instruments; vocals With: Will Ц drums Sarah Young Ц flute Mateusz Swoboda Ц cello Barry Haggarty Ц guitars
Prolusion. Canadian composer and musician Rick MILLER has been an active recording musician for more than 30 years, and since the beginning of the 2000's he has steadily released studio albums where he explores his own particular brand of progressive rock. "Heart of Darkness" represents Miller's ninth foray into the progressive rock universe, and was released through the Russian label MALS Records in 2014.
Analysis. Rick Miller has over the past ten years or so carefully developed his own brand of progressive rock. Recurring elements in his material have been moods and atmospheres of a fairly dark nature, alongside certain qualities to his instrumentation and arrangements that make it just about impossible not to reference Pink Floyd as a likely influence. This is very much the case for his latest studio production too, but this is an album that also solidifies the impression that Miller has firmly established his own sound and identity, and that his compositions due to that have fewer direct references to other artists and a distinct sound particular to him. The compositions are, as expected, still very much dark in mood and spirit. Not dark in a threatening or ominous manner, but a darkness that can be described with words like sadness, longing and melancholy. And rather than opting for any stark and dramatic effects, Miller constructs his sonic universes with a warm, organic and relaxing overall feel, soothing music that calms the mind and spirit. While the compositions may come across as fairly smooth and without any distinct edges or contrasts that grab your attention, the delicate manner in which his compositions develop through multiple themes is a joy to uncover for the avid listener. Miller transports his listeners effortlessly through one theme after the other, a smooth journey through multiple landscapes where you don't really notice just how much variety you have been served until you start recollecting and then take the journey anew. This master of the subtle touch creates compositions that carefully wander through atmospheric oriented sequences with a strong ambient touch to solitary instruments supplementing Miller's comforting, melancholic vocals splendidly, delicate constellations will develop towards richly textured landscapes with sleepy symphonic qualities, and occasionally he'll utilize folk music inspired rhythms and percussion for more of an invigorating touch as well. A new element used on this occasion is driving, energetic bass motifs on two occasions, an unexpected energetic element in Miller's otherwise more careful and tranquil universe. The darker atmospheres are partially made with underlying synth textures, partially with careful cello motifs and partially by way of darker toned, careful guitar riffs. The latter aspect the one that invites to the aforementioned Pink Floyd references, alongside the longing guitar soloing and light toned guitar details that make it just about impossible not to mention David Gilmour. The one composition that stands out from the rest this time around is also the longest one, The Dark Lady. This 4-part epic-length creation sees Miller twist his dark, melancholic universe into a more menacing one, where the longing moods are replaced by haunting ones, the melancholic details are given an undercurrent of fear and the spirit of sadness covered in a slight coating of tragedy. And while I generally don't follow the lyrics that much when listening to music, as I listen to and regard the vocals as an instrument first and foremost, I see that in this case at least the lyrics match the subtle, unnerving feeling of horror crafted by the instruments on this occasion.
Conclusion. Atmospheric laden, carefully performed progressive rock with ambient elements, folk-oriented details and a certain Pink Floyd vibe to it is the specialty of Canadian artist Rick Miller. At this stage of his recording career he has a sure hand in creating warm, melancholic and calming landscapes of that kind, occasionally twisting the knife to add undercurrents of a more threatening kind, but always going about in a careful, subtle and mostly non-dramatic manner. Fans of dark, atmospheric progressive rock should know their visiting time here, and as usual I'd recommend those who tend to enjoy 70's Pink Floyd to inspect the works of Rick Miller, if they haven't already done so.
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