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Strangers On A Train: The Key Part II: The Labyrinth

Three years on from their debut collaboration Shadowland pair Clive Nolan (Arena, Pendragon, Caamora....) and Karl Groom (Threshold) joined forces once again with Landmarq chanteuse Tracy Hitchings as Strangers On A Train. This time also inviting Pallas frontman Alan Reed into the fold. The band's 1990 debut effort, The Key Part I: The Prophecy (reviewed separately elsewhere) was a cold stark affair, lacking in character and any place to really get your teeth into the bleak, singularly piano dominated outlook. Interesting in flashes, there's no denying it was hard going. Would three years and an extra vocalist alter that ever so hard to interact with approach? Well actually it would and, as this neatly packaged reissue from Metal Mind proves, it wouldn't. Nolan once again was the sole contributor of both music and lyrics, but for The Key Part II: The Labyrinth, Groom's guitar work is allowed to come to the fore at least on occasion, while Reed's warm tones offer a welcome counterpoint to both the harsh piano and Hitchings relentlessly (in this setting anyway) theatrical vocals. Gone are the short - well short by prog terms - songs, in favour of three lengthy suites and two shorter interludes to buffer the "epics". However in truth while some sort of shape shifting had taken place, the end results still suffer from the same issues as before. Yes, the production is cosier and less standoffish, the piano less "all by myself" and the use of (synthesized) drums undoubtedly provides a sense of relief from the overbearing seriousness of it all. However Part II still remains as resolutely difficult to engage with as Part I.

It's impossible to criticise the performances, with Reed especially giving a sterling performance, using his soft, yet strong voice to great effect, while actually being able to hear both Groom's guitar and bass work is a huge step forward from the debut. However just like its predecessor, by the time you've worked your way towards the end of the seventy minutes or so served up here, you can't help but feel a little drained, put upon and, truth be told, bored. The short "Hiraj", which isn't quite an instrumental with Hitchings "ooooooing" and "ahhhhhing" superbly over an atmospheric lush piece of synth work suddenly bursts into some sort of cheesy sci-fi like news bulletin, while "The Vision Clears" ho-hums along with no real intent until Groom swoops and soars some guitar solo life into proceedings. Of the lengthier tracks "Endzone" meanders without any real purpose, while "Darkworld" and "The Labyrinth" spend far too much time wallowing, rather than striding purposefully. Disappointingly however that still doesn't stop The Key Part II: The Labyrinth from actually being the stronger (just) of this pairing of reissues.

Supposedly Part III while now some twenty years in the waiting is still somewhere on Clive Nolan's to-do list. Hopefully numerous releases from Pendragon, Arena, Shadowland and Caamora (or any of his other worthy projects and bands) all come long before it. Two releases for Nolan, Groom, Hitchings or Reed completists only and even then they'll more than likely be dust gatherers on your CD shelves....

Track Listing
1. Darkwood
2. Hijrah
3. The Labyrinth
4. The Vision Clear
5. Endzone

Added: February 9th 2013
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Metal Mind Productions
Hits: 1578
Language: english

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