Pyre of Dreams is quite possibly the most accomplished album by Persephone's Dream yet. Chock full of varied instrumentation, a vast array of vocalists, and eclectic songwriting, it is easily their most diverse work. It still treads the same moody, atmosphere-laden prog music they're so well known for, but it also adds more varied elements, including bits of gothic darkness, electronica, and folky landscapes.
The vocal tracks are split between two amazing female vocalists, Colleen Gray and Heidi Engel. Each vocalist portrays the intended mood successfully; Gray appears on the more laidback, melodic pieces such as "Threnody" and "Synesthesia". The former is an excellent opener, lending itself to 80's pop rock during its chorus but quickly morphing into its prog-laden roots thanks to Rowen Poole's amazing guitar theme that is utilisted recurringly through the piece. The melody here is simply sublime; it works beautifully amidst distant percussion, weird sound effects, and the harmonized vocalization. "Synthesia", on the other hand, is a heavier song, delving into almost RIO territory thanks to its remarkable use of dissonant guitar voicings and evil synth lines. The ending part, however, completely belies its roots, bringing forth acoustic and electric guitars draped over a fat bass bottom.
Some of the tracks featuring Colleen Gray are differently structured; they are definitely darker with a more cinematic bent to them. On the five-part "Temple in Time", however, Heidi Engel appears on "Nimiane" first, providing an immediately recognisable contrast to the Colleen Gray-sung "Mist", littered with vintage keyboards (think Uriah Heep) and some narration by Rowen Poole's wife Kelly Fletcher. In a way, "Nimiane" recalls White Willow's more recent material, marrying the best worlds of progressive rock and Scandinavian darkness. Similarly, on "Avalon", Persephone's Dream sounds more like Ayreon circa The Final Experiment, developing a fiercely melodic song around bassist John Lally's thunderous rhythms. Gray's a capella-style singing here at the end is to die for. Heidi Engel's voice, on the other hand, has a tremendously powerful timbre; it gives goosebumps when she delivers her tortured, almost gothic rock-sounding voice, best heard on the electronically driven "Aphrodite", complete with ethnic percussion, cool male vocals, awesome slap bass parts, and a sweet, totally addictive voice.
DC Cooper who is credited as the producer on the CD also guests on two tracks, enriching the content of the CD. "Soliloquy of a King" boasts epic-size guitar harmonies whilst "Camlann" recalls his recent vocals in Amaran's Plight. Again built around John Lally's prominent bass work, the song also features excellent counterpoint vocals and intense synth work. Speaking of Lally, who appears on at least half of these songs, it's a shame he passed away shortly after recording this album. Also, original founding member, bassist Chris Siegle, has departed the band, but he has still contributed to several songs on the CD. It could be argued that Persephone's Dream is the most bass-centred progressive band around, as every song of theirs is carefully expanded on a strong bass presence, so let's hope they can replace these two great musicians with equally talented individuals.
The two longer songs at the end of the album, "Aphrodite" and "Alien Embassy", are the epics. Pay attention to the Middle Eastern elements on the latter; the flute arrangement, Gray's wonderful whispers and soothing vocals, and constantly shifting atmosphere are truly amazing. It boggles my mind as to why someone of her calibre doesn't get more praise. It would be great to hear her on a future Ayreon album. She appeared on Dutch guitarist Marcel Coenen's solo work recently and did a fantastic job.
Unfortunately, the production of the CD seems a bit flat -- considering the detailed instrumentation, layered soundscapes, and melancholy-inducing songwriting, these pieces should certainly have been recorded and mixed better. Being a self-release, it is understandable that it was all done on a tight budget, so no big complaints here. That said, I can't help but wonder how this album would sound if it had been recorded and mixed by a professional.
Don't let the less-than-stellar production deter you from checking this CD out though. It's actually one of the finest albums of its genre.
- Temple in Time I: Mist
- Temple in Time II: Nimiane
- Temple in Time III: Soliloquy of a King [King Arthur Mix]
- Temple in Time IV: Camlann [King Arthur Mix]
- Temple in Time V: Avalon
- Android Dreams
- Alien Embassy
- Soliloquy of a King [Lady in the Lake Mix]
- Camlann [Lady in the Lake Mix]