This nicely packaged album is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist/composer Gregg Johns and follows up the debut album from 2006 which received mixed reviews. Gregg continues to take most of the lead vocal role despite being the focus of much of the criticism of his last outing but he seems to have taken that on board as he has made a much better job of it on this one, aided by the use of a software package providing female vocal accompaniment and the electronic processing of some of his own input as well as guest singers being used. The compositions are only sparsely vocalised anyway which makes any shortcoming in this department barely an issue at all.
The opening track, "Columns" has a pleasant basic melodic structure but allows itself to expand instrumentally in the lively percussion and synth features which develop compellingly before returning to the closing verse of the song. The next piece "Flag of Dimbu", is entirely performed by Gregg and is reminiscent of the Hungarian band Solaris in the keyboard structure and bombastic instrumental arrangement and is one of the best parts of the album for me. Superb soaring guitar pierces the keyboard loops and the track develops through several phases with changes of tempo and mood. The change to a liquid piano and synth arrangement just before the end is especially delightful.
"Ceci Smith takes over the vocals on "Cosmic Irony" and this, together with the tasteful synthesised sax and the incursion of a meaty prog-metal riff in the middle gives this my 'best song on the album' award. "Harps of Space" is another instrumental commencing with synthesised harp and ethereal electronic voices with midi-drums and a powerful grumbling bass from James Walker taking the track up in pace to a hard driving rhythm which is spaced with further interludes of softer atmospheres. Gregg's eloquent guitar is a highlight on this track. Gregg really stretches out on the next one though. "For Vlad" is a potent mixture of doom-laden synths and soaring guitar and organ chords creating a heady symphonic instrumental track with sound effects and everything bar the kitchen sink thrown in – I'm not sure about the role of the sheep though. "Distrust" has Johns using an idea from his first album of adding narrative to the sung parts. It's a fair vocal performance nonetheless on this song about the loneliness created by defensiveness and lack of trust. In "St Johns Wood", we have another classy 6-part instrumental using an attractive blend of acoustic and electric guitar with programmed drums and digital keyboards generating a positive, celebratory mood.
The songs revert to the paranormal concept of the Slychosis debut in the last 3 tracks. "Metaphysical fitness" is a full on band effort with bass, sax and drums added to Gregg's guitar and keys while the 'Vocaloid' Miriam warbles digitally in the background. "Afterlife" is a dramatic spiritual ride with an elaborate Andy Latimer like guitar solo taking us through two crescendos and a darker, more intricate section toward the end before the main theme re-emerges. Todd Sears wrote the lyrics and collaborate on this Scottish clan-themed piece. Grey Lady Down's Forces album springs to mind very much here with its mix of sound effects, traditional marches and modern neo-progressive arrangements. Pity about the over-blown salutation by Todd but what the hell, its prog isn't it?
The excellent artwork on the cover and accompanying booklet is the work of Vladimir Moldavsky (http://www.artabus.com/moldavsky/). Overall, this is a much more consistent package than the debut; I'm reminded of some of Phideaux' work in terms of the mix of styles and the quality of the production and packaging. A winner for me.
2. Flag of Dimbu
3. Cosmic Irony
4. Harps of Space
5. For Vlad
7. St John's Wood
8. Metaphysical fitness
10. Crimson Fields of Glory