Steve Hackett - Wolflight

Steve Hackett – Wolflight

What can an artist do after having massive success going round the world reviving the music of the golden era of one of the greatest bands in Progressive Rock history? Well, what Steve Hackett chooses to do is what he has always done – he does things his own way!

With Wolflight he characteristically avoids any temptation to mine further the seam of his former band’s music, and has released a fascinating and diverse work that builds upon the revival in his own solo career shown in his most recent releases, the fine Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth (2009) and Beyond the Shrouded Horizon (2011). Whilst the Genesis Revisited II album, tours and subsequent live albums have provided a very significant late boost to Hackett’s reputation and reminded Prog fans everywhere of his undoubted pedigree, it was clear in those albums that Hackett’s aspiration and imagination as a writer and performer remained undiminished and was already on a clear upward curve. Wolflight continues that progression, but further develops his singular vision with a project of breadth and ambition unparalleled previously in his career. Wolflight refers to the hour before dawn, when much of the album was written, which Hackett felt was a special time in which “You’re in an altered state because you’re closer to the world of dreams”. There is certainly a dream like quality to much of the album, sometimes slipping into darker nightmare, and like many dreams the music is amorphous and difficult to define at times.

Hackett often travels the world and these experiences permeate Wolflight with musical influences and instruments drawn from places as diverse as Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Middle East, the Deep South and Australia. Alongside those more exotic aspects Hackett also adds to his musical palette with imaginative use of classical orchestral music. Nevertheless, Hackett ensures that this album is liberally embellished with his trademark guitar sounds. The diversity of the musical ideas brought to this work means that it is often unpredictable, can be quite bewildering at times, and is certainly never boring!

Out of the Body introduces the album with a wolf’s cry and acts as a dramatic overture for the epic sweep of the title track Wolflight, which opens with the exotic sounds of the Tar, a stringed instrument of Central Asia. Hackett sings of the experiences of the ancient nomadic horse tribes of those regions, evoking the seemingly endless wilderness and their struggle to survive, with orchestral backing and his distinctive angular guitar tones. Quieter interludes of acoustic guitar punctuate this piece followed by a martial rhythm and insistent progress, echoing their journey. This is music on a widescreen basis, painting musical images with an eclectic range of styles. Hackett states the album is “about opposites complementing each other”.

This cinematic approach is later matched on Black Thunder, but with a very different musical canvas as Hackett dramatically and powerfully describes a slave rebellion in the Deep South of the U.S.. Hackett has not been known for his singing previously, often using other singers, but on this song he gives an effective and gutsy singing performance, verging on the blues. However, it is his throbbing, wailing guitar that most strongly evokes the passion and ultimately the tragedy of this theme, given a poignant coda by multi-instrumentalist Rob Townsend on saxophone.

The remarkable diversity of this album is most notably characterised by the wonderful carefree optimism of Loving Sea, inspired by a speedboat ride into a dolphin filled lagoon with his wife. His joyful memory is conveyed in a shimmering piece of chiming guitars, psychedelic feedback and beautiful harmonies in a style reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash at their peak. Hackett continues to excavate his personal memories in a wholly different manner on The Wheel’s Turning as the sounds of a fairground introduce a track about his childhood memories of Battersea Funfair. Hackett has visited the world of whimsy and childhood visions previously, most notably with Narnia from Please Don’t Touch, and he evocatively opens up this world of dream-like memories as he takes the listener on a fascinating fairground ride of different sounds, contradictory feelings and a whirl of images. Where do we go next from Battersea Funfair? Only Hackett would then take us to the Ancient Greek World of Corycian Fire, and strangely it works as it feels like we’ve smoothly walked into a mystical cave of sounds conjured up by a harp and Townsend’s Duduk playing. Hackett tells the story of women in Ancient Greece climbing Mount Parnassus with burning torches to invoke and awaken Dionysus from the Corycian cavern deep within the mountain. The synthesis of orchestra and rock band is well balanced in conveying the dramatic spiritual nature of this place of legend, before a choir intones over the climax – another imaginative piece with cinematic scope. The following song Earthshine is an essential gentle interlude, in the style of his Bay of Kings acoustic album, and beautifully sets up the joyous Loving Sea.

Earlier on, Love Song to a Vampire is another cinematic piece covering a range of styles to convey the contradictory seductive and abusive nature of vampires. The song commences very gently to seduce the listener before unleashing more sinister and powerful elements in the music, concluding with a powerful combination of orchestral music and Slavic sounding guitar solo. This ambitiously diverse piece may feel a little overstretched, and probably needs a more powerful vocalist, but one has to admire the imaginative attempt to fuse so many differing elements in one song. One of the major strengths of this album are the musicians used to help describe these musical images. Hackett recorded the album in breaks between the extensive Genesis Revisited tours and largely used that excellent live band, including the deft drumming of Gary O’Toole and the remarkable keyboard skills of Roger King. Chris Squire of Yes, with whom Hackett recorded the Squackett album, also guests on bass.

Wolflight fittingly concludes with a duo of pieces which focus on journey and exploration with a resolution in a loving embrace. The instrumental Dust and Dreams features the Arabian Oud stringed instrument, inspired by Hackett’s travels in Morocco. Nick Beggs’ bass playing strangely manages to convey the rhythm of a camel train through the desert. Hackett then takes to the desert skies with a classic guitar solo, simultaneously evoking the wonder and menace implicit in such locations, before segueing smoothly into a positive song dedicated to his wife Jo, Heart Song. This conclusion encapsulates Wolflight in that Steve Hackett loves to explore both musically and geographically, and he has also clearly found personal happiness, the experiences and emotions of which are so evident in this work.

Steve Hackett has never stood still in his work and has strived to explore new areas of music. Some of those efforts have not always fully worked or engaged his audience, but he has remained true to his principles of stretching himself. He has previously released albums of mainly progressive rock music, or acoustic music, or orchestral music and even blues music, but he has never so successfully fused elements of all those styles and more on one piece of work. After a period of revisiting old classics it is perhaps fitting that Wolflight underlines so clearly that Hackett will never live in the past.

01. Out of the Body (2:29)
02. Wolflight (8:00)
03. Love Song to a Vampire (9:18)
04. The Wheel’s Turning (7:24)
05. Corycian Fire (5:47)
06. Earthshine (3:20)
07. Loving Sea (3:22)
08. Black Thunder (7:32)
09. Dust and Dreams (5:33)
10. Heart Song (2:51)

Steve Hackett – Lead Guitar, Vocals
Roger King – Keyboards & Programming
Gary O’Toole – Drums
Nick Beggs – Bass
Rob Townsend – Sax, Duduk
Hugo Degenhardt – Drums
Jo Hackett – Vocals
Amanda Lehmann – Vocals
Chris Squire – Bass
Sara Kovacs – Didgeridoo
Malik Mansurov – Tar
Christine Townsend – Violin, Viola

Record Label: InsideOut Music
Year of Release: 2015

Main Website: Steve Hackett
Social media: Facebook

· Voyage of the Acolyte (1975)
· Please Don’t Touch (1978)
· Spectral Mornings (1979)
· Defector (1980)
· Cured (1981)
· Highly Strung (1983)
· Bay of Kings (1983)
· ‘Til we Have Faces (1984)
· Momentum (1988)
· Guitar Noir 1993)
· Blues with a Feeling (1995)
· Genesis Revisited (1996)
· A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1997)
· Darktown (1999)
· Sketches of Satie (2000)
· To Watch the Storms (2003)
· Metamorpheus (2005)
· Wild Orchids (2006)
· Tribute (2008)
· Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth (2009)
· Beyond the Shrouded Horizon (2011)
· Genesis Revisited II (2012)