DPRP – Ashes for the Monarch Review

The history of Glacier is a convoluted one that began back in 1979. Since then the band has endured more than its fair share of stop-starts, personnel changes and tragic loss, with original drummer Mick King succumbing to cancer in 1997. When the debut album, Monument, eventually appeared in 2001 the songs spanned the two decades of the band’s career.

Fourteen years on, following a protracted recording process, their second album Ashes For The Monarch finally sees the light of day. Like its predecessor, the new album features a selection of songs whose origins date back over several years, being written by “present and past members of Glacier”. Despite this caveat, the line-up on this recording is essentially the same as for Monument, namely founding member and guitarist John Youdale, vocalist Dave Birdsall (with support from Mike Winship), keyboardist Dave Kidson, bassist (and former DPRP editor) Bob Mulvey and drummer Graeme Ash.

The digipak artwork, with its muted blues and greys, has a vaguely Wind and Wuthering (Genesis) look, which is appropriate given that the music largely harks back to the symphonic prog acts of the early 70s. Glacier steadfastly occupies a territory once populated by the bigger names of the 80s prog revival, with several similarities to more recent Dutch bands also coming to mind.

Based in County Durham in the North East of England, the band’s songs have a home-grown Britishness, a characteristic that can be traced back to the early work of Genesis, Marillion, and more recently Big Big Train. This is especially apparent in tracks like Hell And High Water, Garden Of Evil and the opening number Whichone, which incidentally picks up from where the concluding track on Monument left off. Like Pink Floyd and Credo they also incorporate sound effects and voice samples to supplement the narrative, although sometimes these can be a distraction rather than a benefit.

Both Whichone and Hell And High Water demonstrate the band’s ability to write compact, finely-wrought compositions with a taught narrative, solid melody and slick arrangements. There is a good deal of emphasis on Birdsall’s singing here. Whilst his voice is not the most refined, it has warmth and character, with similarities to Mark Trueack and John Wetton, which is no bad thing. His clear articulation also benefits Glacier’s documentary-style observations.

More expansive, the three-part Projections romps along at a breezy pace, with guitar and (sampled) flute displaying a strong Camel influence, with elements of classic Steve Hackett, circa Spectral Mornings. For me however it loses the plot a little in the meandering mid-section, where spacey guitar and (uncomfortably) a dentist’s drill are, respectively, used to convey the themes of pleasure and fear.

Based on John Wyndham’s classic novel ‘The Day of the Triffids’, Garden Of Evil is a horticultural horror tale in a similar vein to Genesis’ The Return of the Giant Hogweed. Musically it again has the unmistakable stamp of Camel and Hackett all over it, with a majestic orchestral arrangement that brings to mind the latter’s Shadow of the Hierophant.

The appropriately titled Lightwing is a delicate acoustic solo from guitarist Youdale, which is in a similar fashion to Hackett’s Horizons and serves as a tranquil respite before the album’s main event, the 11-part One Man Alone. Based on the horror classic ‘The Wolf Man’, it’s far more upbeat than the story would suggest, and at almost 23 minutes it allows Glacier ample scope to reference their prog influences. Driven by a bass line that echoes the main riff from Genesis’ Cinema Show, it opens with a sprightly synth theme and includes some very fine guitar moments which have echoes of Steve Howe, Steve Rothery and Andy Latimer.

Kansas (courtesy of the superb violin by guest Gemma Elysee), Yes (Tempus Fugit), and Genesis (Firth Of Fifth ) all get a look in along the way. It’s not all plain sailing however, a Kashmir-like middle-eastern sequence sounds a tad out of place, as does the jazzy instrumental variation tagged on the end. Whilst deftly played, it’s out of sync with the rest of the song which reaches its logical conclusion around the 20 minute mark.

Following the heady sprawl of One Man Alone, the slow burning instrumental The Isle Of Glass (Outro) makes a fitting epilogue, with its hypnotic, sustained chords fading into the distance. It’s also intended as a taster for the next release, which I for one will be looking forward to, but please don’t leave it so long this time guys.

As you would expect from a band of this ilk, there is nothing particularly original about what Glacier do, but they do it extremely well and they do it in a highly engaging manner. The music is a respectful (and accurate) homage to times gone by; don’t expect metallic riffs or any chordal angularity. Whilst their ambitions occasionally get the better of them, for me, tracks like Hell And High Water, Garden Of Evil and The Isle Of Glass show a band (and melodic progressive rock) at its disciplined best.

Review by Geoff Feakes
DPRP (Dutch Progressive Rock Page)

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