From the opening keyboard rush of "Circus of the Absurd", to the catchy chorus that soon follows, it becomes quickly apparent that the debut album from the UK's Pilgrym is one special recording. Comprised of seasoned studio musicians from the UK rock scene, namely Andy Wells on keyboards, guitars, bass, and vocals (who has played with Mike Rutherford, John Verity, Baby Tuckoo, and Voyager, as well as written for Huey Lewis), Tony Drake (Iron Duke, Rudy and the Zipps) on guitars and vocals, Kev Mulvihill on drums (Rudy and the Zipps), Ol Drake on guitars and bass, and Emma Pearson on keyboards. Together they form a very competent line-up, and the writing skills of Wells really shines throughout the CD's eight songs. Now in the band but not featured on the CD is Rob Jarvis on guitar and keyboards, and bassist Mike Syslo played in a few tunes on the album but is no longer with the group.
If you like your progressive rock with lush, sweeping keyboards, tasty guitar work, strong vocals, and killer hooks, then Pilgrimage is certainly a must have. In fact, I haven't heard a prog CD this filled with catchy melodies as well as vintage prog sounds since the first Asia album. Songs like the addictive "Believe Me Now" or the emotional "Ghosts of Years" contain melodies and hooks that you will be humming for days, not to mention soaring Hammond organ, Mellotron, and symphonic synthesizers. Wells and his entourage of keyboards lend an ELP-styled sound to the raging "Building a Pefect Universe Pt. 1" , a three part prog-epic that also contains searing guitar work from Drake. The band segues into "Building a Perfect Universe Pt. 2", again led by huge walls of symphonic keyboards and a gut-wrenching guitar solo from Drake that will remind you of David Gilmour or Andy Latimer. Both of these tunes are mostly instrumental, save for some brief spacey vocals from Wells (Ummagumma anyone?), and feature loads of ARP synth, Mellotron, and various other vintage keyboards.
On "Song of the Albatross", a purely instrumental track, Wells shows off his talents on piano, complemented nicely by Drake's lush acoustic guitar picking and waves of Mellotron. I was reminded of a more rocking version of early King Crimson or even Pink FLoyd on "Black Sun", a song with thick, heavy guitar lines, haunting Mellotron & Hammond, and a plodding rhythm section that seems ready to burst at any moment. Once again the vocals of Wells here remind me a bit of David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. If you like early period Barclay James Harvest then I can highly recommend "Reborn", of which a live version of the song is included here as a bonus track. Dual Mellotrons on this one from Wells and Pearson, this somber piece could almost be mistaken as a long lost BJH song, thanks to the ominous keyboard sounds and the emotional vocals of Drake.
Quite frankly, Pilgrimage had me once I laid eyes on the wonderful cover painting, and hooked me even more as the CD began to spin. It's been a while since a prog CD with wonderful hooks & vintage sounds so effortlessly paired together came across my desk. I'm wanting to hear more from these folks, and real soon. Highly recommended!
1) Circus of the Absurd
2) Ghosts of Years
3) Believe Me Now
4) Building a Perfect Universe Pt. 1
i. Endless Space
ii. The Spark
iii. Creating God
5) Building a Perfect Universe Pt. 2
i. Understanding the Machine
ii. All That You See
6) Song of the Albatross
7) Black Sun
8) Reborn (live)