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(43:12; Head in the Door Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Scanning the Dark Horizon 7:19 2. The Cloud Seeders 4:25 3. Solar Winds 5:37 4. Of Seas and Oceans 4:19 5. A Delicate Thread 2:42 6. Life Line 6:43 7. The Storm Chasers 4:22 8. A World on the Run 7:45 LINE UP : John Irvine: Guitars, Keyboards & Bass Andrew Scott: Drums
Prolusion. UK project The John Irvine Band came to life as a recording unit back in 2011 with the debut album "Wait & See", with Irvine already being a seasoned hand in the world of music at that time. New albums have appeared at regular intervals ever since, with a total of six studio albums available at the time of writing. The most recent album "Scanning the Dark Horizon" was released by Irvine's own label Head in the Door Records at the end of January 2023.
Analysis. Instrumental progressive rock is what we are provided with on this album, and in this case with songs that cover a few different bases and orientations too. It should of course be mentioned that jazzrock is a style that The John Irvine Band is associated with, and this is a part of the experience this time around too, but to my ears at least on this occasion this style element serves more as a supporting presence than as a dominant and defining aspect of this production. But beyond the arguable merits of style, substance is a matter that needs mentioning here. "Scanning the Dark Horizon' is a concept album, and the first in a planned series of three that explores an ongoing storyline. There aren't too many instrumental concept albums around for perhaps obvious reasons, and telling a story solely by way of music is a bit of a daunting task. Thankfully we get a synopsis of the story for this album, which is an interesting read for any science fiction fans out there. Irvine is both a fan of science fiction and a science fiction author himself, so he does know his way around both concepts and storylines. Which obviously makes this album a bit more interesting straight away. Musically the concept is revealed through the use of different style variations, with the opening songs having a cold, futuristic and somewhat alien feel to them, with liberal use of keyboards and a bit of a symphonic progressive rock orientation as the dominant feature. From elaborate futuristic creations with a cosmic feel to more dramatic excursions and light and flowing elegant landscapes the opening set here explore some distinctly different and often keyboard dominated territories that all hone in on different moods and atmospheres. More often than not with at least a bit of what I'd describe as a symphonic swagger. We then get a set of quirkier and more elaborate compositions, with a stronger focus on various off kilter details and odd but compelling rhythms, tones and timbres. First with a composition that acts almost like a transitional phase combining elements between two phases and then a composition that explores these tendencies more in depth. We do get to hear more of the jazzrock aspects of the bands in these songs, but perhaps more in approach and structure than what many listeners would describe as style. The futuristic elements are retained of course, we are never allowed to forget that we are listening to a science fiction story here. Following a more dramatic display broken up by some elegant flowing landscapes we are taken to the next phase here, and while perhaps more simplistic in nature on some levels the final two songs on this album are also the most intriguing for me as a listener. These songs, each in their own way, strikes me as something of a combination of 80's Rush and Tangerine Dream in terms of sound and style, with 'The Storm Chasers' in particular an intriguing experience that carry more than a few similarities in tone, mood and execution with Tangerine Dream's 'Midnight in Tula' from their "White Eagle" album. In this case we can really talk about a companion track in my opinion. And from my perspective both of these songs are excellent too of course, each in its own way. The concluding 'A World On The Run' is a creation that to my ears has a bit more of a Rush feel to it with the electronic elements having a bit more of a secondary role. Not quite as mesmerizing as the track that came before it, but a solid and satisfying conclusion to the album for sure.
Conclusion. While I suspect that genre nerds can have lengthy discussions about which style, orientation and such like that is explored on this album, for my sake I don't really care all that much about that topic in this case. The important bits for me is that the music is elegant when needed, dramatic when required, and instrumental and futuristic sounding all the way. This is an instrumental concept album dealing with a science fiction concept, and Irvine has managed to create music where we get movement and development like in a story, and where the use of various futuristic sounds makes sure that we are aware at all times that this is a creation revolving around science fiction. That the album comes with excellent production values and compositions with a solid appeal needs to be mentioned too of course. This is a high quality specimen of instrumental progressive rock that deserves to be given a listen by those who enjoy high quality progressive rock in general and an instrumental variety of the form in particular.
Progmessor: February 2023
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