2016 is becoming increasingly difficult, at year end my editor will say “what are your top ten for the year?” and I’m up to five already. No, make that six. I loved the last Drifting Sun album, Trip The Life Fantastic, and was happy to sing its praises and moan about the artwork which I felt undersold the album (dangerous ground when it was executed by one of the band, but I’m still here). This time round I like the artwork, reminiscent of the Rodney Matthews and Roger Dean posters I hankered after to fill the limited space on my box room wall. It is sort of like the aforementioned artists with a touch of the band Magnum’s album covers. Another one for the merchandise desk, and great on a t-shirt.
But the music, that is the purpose of this scribblery (that’s not a real word, so sue me – Shakespeare made loads up!), and it is good. Trip The Life Fantastic wore some of its influences on its sleeve, Safe Asylum retains some of those but really does start to define the Drifting Sun sound. Regrets? They remain a studio project, I believe they would be so good live, but not to dwell, many of the John Mitchell projects are purely studio based and our pleasure is therefore in the listening.
Like its predecessor, Safe Asylum opens with a strong track. From the first few bars I was expecting The Book from The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy to announce something pertaining to Arthur Dent, but King of Hearts begins with a ‘Medieval meets Rainbow’ feel, a complex and brave piece with chops and changes and that slight ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ feel. I like it, it’s crazy, beautiful, a little bit barking, not “walking apart” at all. It changes, it moves, melodies occasionally repeating, but never lost or losing its way.
The eccentricity is akin to that of Muse, but it really does make you smile; it is infectious. A different feel for The Hidden Truth, a more traditional power ballad but with its proggy twists it hits the spot. Drifting Sun flit between their genres with the speed of a fly avoiding the swat, and do so with a seamless professionalism. Only by being hypercritical could I find fault, but this is about listening pleasure rather than artificial fault finding.
Is it a theme in the album fabric that a track called Intruder is the third up (see Peter Gabriel 3)? Spoken intro, poppy with a metal edge, and the Magnum compare and contrast returns, probably more in the sense that Drifting Sun tell stories. It is a thoroughly enjoyable driving companion and I seem to spend more time playing the CD loud as it is more nuanced than the download, raising that old chestnut of compression again. I would say that it is best on CD, plus you get the lyrics and artwork!
Alice and Wonderland are one piece to me, whether by association of youth or the way they lead down the rabbit hole of Alice into the mythical Wonderland. The guitar work throughout the album is brilliant without slipping into ‘look how clever I am’ mode. In honesty, every instrument is sharp, balanced and, well…make up your own mind. There is a feel of the weight of certain decades at times, ’80s and ’90s, but influence is what it is. Alice is subtle, simple compared to some tracks, and lyrically both delightful and a little sad. After the drive of Intruder the simple is a chance to breathe. Wonderland changes the pace and style, but the narrative remains. Storytellers; it seems that the early progressive music has returned, whilst former storytellers like The Enid have become more worldly aware, Drifting Sun are more allegorical. There is room for both. I shall be fascinated to see what comes next from the Sun, as they recently announced that the next album is a concept. Another form of the album that seems to have returned, via Dave Kerzner and Gandalf’s Fist, to name but two.
Gods is lovely and sounds like… oh what the heck, love it, my personal favourite. I shall let the music speak as the theme that started with Alice continues.
Desolation feels dark and mysterious, tinged with a sadness that ends when the drummer lets loose with a beat that effortlessly slides into the upbeat Retribution. From the foundations of Rock to the ethereal heavens of the gentle tracks, Drifting Sun are in control.
The album draws to a conclusion, and yet I have been happy to let it play through more than once. The general release ends with Retribution while the Special Edition includes bonus tracks Emphasis and Vagabond. It is value for money, and I commend its purchase to your ever emptying wallets in a year where the end of the year top ten looks increasingly like requiring an extension built.
The Hidden Truth is the latest “single” backed with the unreleased track Lost Knight, and is as good an introduction as any. Lost Knight is another of those bouncy medieval crossovers with rock elements, slightly cheesy but I does make me smile. I will reiterate my statement though, this a band who should consider appearing live. There is drama, pathos, light and shade, it is musical theatre without becoming Lloyd-Webber; perhaps live is not achievable but I hope it is. With the next in development being a Concept Album, we could do with some more theatre. An eclectic group of musicians that deserve a wider audience and a big artwork based poster outside the venue (envision cheesy grin).
Conclusions? Must buy (in my view), better than Trip… and I’m in anticipation of the concept album…dribble.
01. King of Hearts (8:44)
02. The Hidden Truth (6:31)
03. Intruder (10:42)
04. Alice (7:32)
05. Wonderland (8:33)
06. Gods (6:06)
07. Desolation (5:29)
08. Retribution (3:54)
09. Emphasis (For Sienna Joy) (1:11)
10. Vagabond (3:40)
Total Time – 62:22
Pat Sanders – Keyboards
Peter Falconer – Lead & Backing Vocals
Dan Storey – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Manu Michael – Bass
Will Jones – Drums & Percussion
The Alice Quartet
– Rosie Henbest – Violin
– Chris Pitsillides – Viola
– Adam Pitsillides – Cello
– Brian Wolfe – Flute
Record Label: Independent
Country Of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 21st August 2016