The return of a legend when it comes to psychedelic music, and with guitarist, backing vocalist and main man Andy Glass still at the helm, the only original member, it is, somewhat surprisingly, a stunning album. The new sextet includes females as vocalist Emma Brown and fiddle player Jenny Newman illustrate, plus a male quartet on the guitars, keys and drums. The album itself consists of 5 tracks, so you're getting the necessary short and long prog-rock classic approach to things on what is also a type of concept album, to boot (plus there are 3 bonus tracks that we'll come to later). The sound is very similar to their ye olde album “Silent Dance” only sounding remarkably fresh, original and surprisingly addictive for what is a hippy-esque example of prog-rock.
The first track, “Eyes Of Fire”, eases you in gently with a low-key melodic mood that's as emotive as it is wistful, all manner of cosmic bliss flowing and floating its way through layers of heavenly female vocals, drifting guitar refrains and gently strummed acoustic, all creating a seriously full-sounding pastoral mood which warms the cockles of your heart, with even a Pink Floyd-esque electric guitar break around the 6 minute mark, taking you towards the end on ebbing waves of guitars and keys, now joined by Mason-esque drumming and the whole thing is pure “WYWH-era” Floyd. The 8 minute “Keepers of The Truth” is seriously decent seventies prog, like a cross between Renaissance, Wolf, Genesis and Greenslade, with organ, violin, keys, guitars and rhythm section backing, interweaving with and soloing over the rich sounding female vocals, again a strong burst of electric guitar providing the bite when the solo sizzles and burns, but there are so many textures, as the rhythms maintain a mid-paced strength and the whole thing is a mix of smouldering flame and energising bite. The synths come to the fore as the whole thing builds to a cresecendo, then winds down to end as it began, only with that female vocal joined by....well..... practically everything else. “Warriors” is a 17 and a half minute prog-rock epic by any other name, and if you can imagine a cross between Yes, Renaissance and Brand X with more atmosphere, less pomp, definitely better crafted and plenty of dynamics from searing guitar breaks to vocal-led passages of great reflection, then this numbers alongside the great prog-rock epics of that era and beyond. The next two tracks, at around 11 minutes each, follow a similar path, working a treat and essential listening for anyone into seventies prog, and even modern-era prog, come to that. Through playing , production, composing, singing and arrangements, they don't put a foot wrong from start to finish. So, not only do you get what is arguably one of the finest albums to come out of prog-rock Britain in the last 20 years, but you also get three bonus tracks from the original “Silent dance” album, remixed by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, the icing on what is already a seriously tasty cake.
Andy Garibaldi (Dead Earnest 12-13)
John O'Boyle's ReviewOh I do love a live album, a product that does divide its community, love or loath them, there is no denying that they have made peoples careers, giving them almost legendary status. If I was to set you a challange to name your favourite live album, you will probably start reeling off titles which in all honesty will probably for the most part, come from the late 60’s to the early 80’s. For me the defining era of the live album was the 70’s. It always seemed a much more mature and relevant method of promoting an artists talents than using the mundane compilation to fulfil contractual obligation, not that this is what this release is, far from it. For me it really does test an artist’s mettle, displaying an inherent quality of character laying bare their musical souls. The live album offers mystique allowing the listener an opportunity to build their own visuals, creating mythical pictures of grandeur.
Then along came video, DVD and Blu Ray, a medium that changed everything but that’s a whole other story.
31 years in existence and this is only their sixth release. Solstice is not the most prolific band in the world, but then Andy Glass has always worked with the ethos of quality over quantity which is Festival Music’s ethos also, something that has served both well. Festival Music has performed a sterling job in making sure that their back catalogue was remastered to the highest order and that they provided a continuation of that work ethic for both 2010’s Spirit and 2011’s Kindred Spirits, which has to be a dream come true for any band.
It is also worth noting that all their releases have been DPRP recommended, not an accolade too many bands can boast and in my eyes Kindred Spirits is another release that will be added to that list.
This new release incorporates both audio and visual elements within its packaging making it the perfect companion forSpirit, being a good entry level for the uninitiated and a fantastic release for fans of old. For me it is the DVD that is the real winner here, but don’t write the cd off as that is a stunner too.
The DVD historically documents the Spirit launch show recorded at the now defunct Pitz Club in Milton Keynes which would appear to have been a bit of a spiritual Mecca for the band. The bonus extra’s New Life and Brave New World on the DVD is from their 2010 Loreley show.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. As ever, Solstice offer their majestic artistry to who ever wants to participate, a band that has a somewhat unique sound which incorporates prog passages that are embellished with folk, a sound that feels both tribal and spiritual. The beauty of their creations is that you can actually feel the love, energy and emotion they have invested throughout. Andy’s guitar work is just an extension of his personality; the fret work is metered precisely, as if the guitar is part of his being, switching between lead and rhythm with the flick of a switch. Jenny Newman sonically compliments their interactions and vice versa, the duelling between them at times is really exciting, perfectly complimenting each other. Emma Brown builds the storylines with conviction, whilst the listener hangs in the balance intently caressing every word offered.
The older songs still sound fresh and relevant Cheyenne being a very good example of this. Even when you listen to the cd you can feel the band engaging with the audience with their warmth and passion. Ducks sees the band getting the audience to dance allowing Jenny to breathe and display her virtuosity, a mixture of Celtic Ska and Country rhythms. Ska is the order of the day with the band working their way through 5456 and Brave New World. The track that always intrigues me though is Don’t Tell Me, a brave and intrepid musical journey, which can feel out of place at times, but does confirm that the band have a fun loving side too. It’s also nice to see Robin Phillips, (bass), Pete Hemsley (drums) and Steve McDaniel (keyboards) having fun engaging in some musical malarkey working their way through Tubular Bells (theme for The Exorcist segment), Star Trek and The Simpsons, something that breaks down the dark intensity of Here And Now.
The whole package in general manages to perfectly capture the band live since 2007 albeit in the same location, but no matter. This is a release worth buying, that does work on several levels and is highly entertaining. The audio and video quality is impeccable throughout, with the usual multi angle shots, only the two Loreley tracks being slightly ropey on sound.
The live arena is definitely the place to see this band, a place that they are very comfortable in. Having seen Solstice live several times I can categorically confirm that this really is a true representation of what the band are about.
What you waiting for?
In some parallel continuum, where green elves ride astride giant dragonflies across Roger Dean landscapes, people still listen to musicians who play to the limit of their not-inconsiderable interactive skills, and attempt to break on through to advanced levels where the ageing whore of rock is more than it has ever been before.
Snotty music-critics have long derided prog as a term of abuse. Flash, virtuosity, the ability to improvise creatively is suspect. Even potentially great guitarists such as John Squire or Johnny Marr are slagged off for the mere suspicion of straying beyond the most limited permitted style-repertoire. But music is now multiplatform-wide and diverse enough to ignore such sniping. Music has multiple parallel continuums, barely touching, unaware of each other's existence, but sufficiently self-sustaining to contain diverse appreciative audiences.
Andy Glass formed Solstice in 1980, which was not a kind era to this sound, but a re-issue of theirSilent Dance album provoked a 1990s reformation, and new material, and then a new 2007 line-up. And now Prophecy catches a whole new ripple of neo-progressive appreciation, with Treat and The Way We Live, and the amazing Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree as spirit-guide on hand for remix duties. You might not realise, but it's all around you. And - prejudices aside - it's impressive stuff, admit it. The sleeve-art, by 2000 AD's Barry Kitson catches the exact futuristic Native American meld of influences. And that's it, a kind of intense ambient spirituality, interpreted through involved instrumental interplay that never devolves into pure self-indulgence.
Andy's stinging soaring guitar is set off and precisely balanced, in this Solstice incarnation, by Jenny Hemsley's folk-pure violin adding earth to Black Water, Steven McDaniel's keyboards contributing ice to West Wind, Emma Brown's voice providing quiet fire, plus the thunky drums and bass gravity of Pete Hemsley and Robin Phillips. But it's all worked collectively, in immaculately textured ensemble interplay, with no space for ego-trips. Is that a Robert Plant sample on Warriors..? Maybe... Probably not... But five tracks, plus three remixes from the original Silent Dance eight-track tape, take in the width of multi-verses. You'll never hear this on the radio. N.M.E. won't like it. That doesn't really matter. It thrives and survives its own parallel continuum. That's enough.
Young prog fans in the UK in the early 1980's had some good times. There were enough bands (Twelfth Night, Marillion, IQ, Pallas, Pendragon, Solstice etc.) to create a lively scene (which became known as 'neo-prog'), enthusiastic audiences, plenty of gigs in decent venues (The Marquee and The General Wolfe were my usual hunting grounds) and a sense of expectation that one or more of the bands would break into the big time. Personally speaking, I was also very lucky to have an indulgent mother who was brave enough to let a young teenager from the Midlands head off on his own to London and elsewhere to pursue his passion for music.
My favourite bands from that period were Twelfth Night (who released a really strong album called Fact and Fiction), IQ and Solstice. I saw these three bands more than any other. Solstice were a powerful live act with strong compositional skills and great musicianship throughout the band. In particular, I was a huge fan of their guitar player, Andy Glass, who specialised in truly epic solos. Whenever I got there early enough, I would pick a spot right in front of Andy so I could be close to the action as his soloing took flight (the poor bloke must have thought he had a stalker.) Andy's playing was one of the main reasons I picked up a guitar and started Big Big Train.
Despite many amazing gigs and a devoted following, commercial success never quite happened for Solstice. They made an album called Silent Dance but, despite the hard work of all who made it, the album didn't capture the power and majesty of the band at their best. One of their contemporaries, Marillion, went on to major success, and some of the other neo-prog bands were signed to decent labels, but Solstice fell behind and then fell apart.
However, there have been occasional signs of life from the Solstice camp since the mid 1980's (some re-issues and re-union gigs and even some new music) and now, in 2013, the band are signed to a supportive label and have released a fine new album.
Prophecy consists of a suite of 5 excellent new songs. There are many wonderful passages of music on this album (in particular the epic West Wind and the understated but majestic closing sections of Warriors and Black Water). As if that isn't enough, there are also three bonus tracks from the Silent Dance album which have been remixed by Steven Wilson.
And it turns out that the Silent Dance LP did, after all, capture the power and glory of Solstice in the early 1980's, it was just that the album needed the mixing and engineering skills of somebody like Steven Wilson to bring out the full quality of the audio recorded onto the multitrack tapes.
If you haven't bought any Solstice music before and need a pointer to their sound, imagine a mid-point between Yes and Camel, then add some fiddle. But Solstice have always had their own identity and I strongly recommend checking out Prophecy to get a good idea of what they are all about. Whether on new songs like West Wind or on reborn classics such as Return of Spring, this album shows them in fine form.
2010 marked a resurgence of activity for Solstice with the release of Spirit, their first studio album in 13 years. Since then they've released 2011's live CD/DVD set Kindred Spirits and now a brand studio album, Prophecy. Common to all three releases is the now fully established line-up of Andy Glass (guitars, vocals), Pete Hemsley (drums), Jenny Newman (fiddle), Steven McDaniel (keyboards, vocals), Robin Phillips (bass) and Emma Brown (vocals).
The band began life in 1980 as a neo-prog collective and perhaps the most conspicuous change in recent times is the prominence of Glass' guitar playing establishing him unmistakably as the bands front-man. And whilst his phrasing still contains elements of the Latimer, Hackett and Howe style of old (particularly when he's playing the melody line) there is now a harder, bluesy edge to his soloing. He is also responsible for writing all the songs that collectively lend a new-age spirituality to the album. The concept is reinforced by the linking of each track and the thematic nature of the evocative cover and booklet artwork (by veteran Marvel Comics artist Barry Kitson). Kitson also supplied the artwork for Kindred Spirits but here the images are richer and as a result more sympathetic to Solstice's lyrical and musical style.
With each track ranging from the 8 to the 17 plus minute mark they are given plenty of time to breathe. Eyes Of Fireopens the album in subdued but atmospheric fashion, taking a generous amount of time to establish its ambient setting. The harmonies here are quite gorgeous complemented by an extended and very David Gilmour-ish guitar solo. With its lilting acoustic guitar and violin theme, Keepers Of The Truth relieves the solemn mood with Emma's uplifting vocal melody recalling the prog-folk Solstice of old. Guitar and synth solos from Glass and McDaniel respectively play fast and loose with the main theme before joyous counterpoint choral harmonies brings the song to a satisfying conclusion.
The album's near 18 minute centrepiece, Warriors is brimming with musical references. The stark piano opening echoes Yes' Awaken followed by a bouncing guitar line reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Run Like Hell. A rapid, reoccurring guitar riff brings Steve Howe's frenzied playing near the start of Heart Of The Sunrise to mind whilst Glass' main guitar theme (taking up a good deal of the songs centre portion) is very Camel-esque including a seven note phrase similar to the one in Yes' The Revealing Science of God. Finally a haunting acoustic melody is resplendent with rich vocal harmonies that are especially evocative of Jon Anderson's solo efforts (not to mention Yes in their sweeter moments).
West Wind is a song of two contrasting halves with a reflective acoustic guitar and haunting vocal intro that breaks out at the 3½ minute mark into an Ayreon flavoured metallic guitar riff in an almost middle-eastern setting. Jenny's strong violin playing and McDaniel's brassy keyboard orchestrations add to the sense of the dramatic, subsiding into meditative electric piano which returns to the opening theme. Beginning with stark electric guitar and violin, the concluding Black Water builds progressively (in the manner of Steve Hackett's Shadow Of The Hierophant) driven by Hemsley's powerhouse rhythm before returning to the strident middle-eastern flavour of the preceding track. Emma's voice doesn't enter the song until around the halfway mark and even then is sparingly used almost like another instrument, knitting effortlessly with McDaniel's memorable piano motif and Phillips' fine bass work.
With the main album clocking up almost 60 minutes, the bonus tracks may perhaps seem a tad superficial but they do at least give added value for money. All three songs are taken from the original master tapes of what would become Solstice's 1984 debut album Silent Dance, remixed here by self-confessed Solstice fan Steven Wilson. The warm melodies and introspective charm of all three is in marked contrast to the edgier mood of Prophecy even though lyrically they share a similar vision. Find Yourself has a smooth jazz ambiance and Sandy Leigh's breezy vocal whilst the infectious instrumental Return Of Spring (for me the strongest of the trio) is dominated by expressive violin playing from Marc Elton. For the acoustic tranquillity of Earthsong, Sandy's evocative singing sounds very Jon Anderson-like complemented by Mark Hawkins' moody bass which (thanks to the remix) is nicely upfront.
The bonus tracks demonstrate just how far Solstice have come since their '80s beginnings. Given the near 30 years that separate the recordings and the fact that, with the exception of Glass, the personnel has changed the album still retains a sense of symmetry which is a testimony to Wilson's sympathetic production. Bonus tracks aside, Prophecy is perhaps the strongest Solstice effort since 1997's Circles and as such bodes well for the bands future.
GEOFF FEAKES : 8 out of 10
Keepers of the truth…..More than 30 years after the band's formation, Solstice has created what is in my opinion their best album to date. Prophecy--the band's fifth studio album--consists of five tracks (with no breaks between them) that all in all run for just under an hour. (In addition, there are three bonus tracks which are older Solstice tracks remixed by Steven Wilson.) The album revolves around a concept or theme that wisely is never allowed to overshadow the great music. The comic book-like artwork by Marvel artist Barry Kitson provides an appealing visual aspect. The lyrics and the artwork complement the music well making for an organic unity.
Eyes Of Fire opens the album in a rather low-key fashion and on my first listen I worried that I was in for a sleepy experience. But instead this builds up nicely to a guitar solo and leads the way to the much more energetic Keepers Of The Truth and onwards to an exciting and progressive journey. The vocals are often Yes-like with the female lead vocals of Emma Brown being backed up by male harmony vocals in a way that strongly evokes how Chris Squire and (to a lesser extent) Steve Howe characteristically back up Jon Anderson in Yes. Even some of the New-Agey lyrics remind of Anderson's lyrical style and some acoustic guitar parts remind of Steve Howe's acoustic playing. The electric lead guitar playing of Andy Glass instead often evoke (his namesake in Camel) Andy Latimer's wonderful sound. The many violin-driven passages often remind me of Kansas.
With Yes, Camel, and Kansas belonging to my personal all-time favourite bands, being reminded of them here is a blessing for sure and a basis for commendation. But I also wish to stress that Solstice are by no means just followers, they have a sound of their own that also draws on Folk and Jazz music in ways foreign to the above mentioned Prog giants (and the New-Agey/World-Music 'feel' of the music is, if not unique, at least somewhat unusual; perhaps Mandalaband can be mentioned in the context). Solstice has certainly inspired hordes of female-fronted progressive Rock bands of more recent decent. They are often counted among the pioneers of the British Neo-Prog movement, but in reality they have close to nothing in common with the usual suspects of that subgenre (Marillion, Pallas, IQ, etc.). Solstice is somewhere in the borderlands between Neo-Prog and classic Symphonic Prog. The keyboard sounds may be modern, but the mind-set is closer to that of classic progressive Rock.
The three bonus tracks are remixes by Steven Wilson of three tracks from Solstice' 1984 debut album Silent Dance. The latter is a very good album as well, but hearing these tracks straight after the new tracks just stands to emphasise that these songs are better heard within their original context (new remixes notwithstanding). If you don't know Solstice yet, starting with Prophecy is a good idea, and the three bonus tracks (when heard in isolation from the new material) should make you curious about Silent Dance and the band's other albums. Solstice is a great and unfairly overlooked band well worthy of your attention.