Well, shiver me timbers and splice the mainbrace (whatever that is). Our favourite pirate-cum-vampire, Nad Sylvan, has risen from the grave with another cracking musical collection that shows he’s more than just a heavily made-up face.
Step aboard me hearties and let Cap’n Nad take you on an adventure you will never forget. Yo ho ho and a bottle of blood! The Bride Says No is a great album, packed full of catchy tunes, wild keyboard soloing and moments of such sheer glorious guitar beauty that even hoary old seadogs will surreptitiously wipe a little tear from their eyes.
When I first happened upon Nad at the beginning of Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited odyssey, I’m afraid I wrote him off as a bit of a poser. A fop. A dandy, even. With his piratey vampire costume, liberal application of facepaint and glorious golden hair that’s almost an advertisement for Silvikrin, I saw him as all show and little substance.
But his 2015 album Courting The Widow was a very, very pleasant surprise. It turned out that Nad could write songs – strong, melodic compositions drawing heavily on 1970s prog, and Genesis in particular – and he could play a pretty mean guitar, as the languid, effecting solo on Echoes of Ekwabet proved. He could also write a well-constructed 22-minute prog epic without boring the pants off us.
The question was – has this vampire still got plenty of bite? Is he Captain Jack Sparrow or Roger the Cabin Boy?
Well, The Bride Says No certainly comes from the same, er, vein. Sylvan has brought together a similar supporting cast of Roine Stolt, Steve Hackett, Guthrie Govan, Tony Levin, Jonas Reingold, Nick D’Virgilio and Doane Perry. And he has continued the theme of the sea-going vampire, a sort of pirate Dracula, this time searching the seven seas for a bride to share his un-life. But, for me, this is a leap forward in composition and performance. This time there is more variety and feeling to the music, more theatricality. He uses the rhythms of sea shanties and draws from the drama of Kurt Weill (think The Black Freighter as interpreted by Steeleye Span on Storm Force Ten).
He’s not afraid to take chances with the arrangements and creates things that owe as much to musical theatre as they do to prog. A stand-out example is The White Crown, which opens with a piano tinkle and ghostly vocals before we are almost in Les Miserables territory, punctuated with heavy riffs. Jaunty, staccato lyrics suggest seamen chanting while hauling on ropes – sorry, lines – while keyboards and guitar dance around each other like duelling swordsmen. It sounds like a godawful mess but it’s held together by Nad’s cheeky Peter Gabriel-ish vocals, a band that’s tighter than a cork in a bottle of rum and an unashamed sense of exuberant drama. I absolutely love it.
Equally impressive is the 12-minute title track, a kind of dialogue between the vampirate and his intended, in which Tania Doko’s vocals blend beautifully with Sylvan’s on some gorgeous melodic lines that at times reminded me of Tears For Fears. Again, the track has dramatic stops and starts, there are moments of spoken word, stabbing strings like the shower scene in Psycho and then a keyboard solo that’s come straight from the pits of hell.
Also worthy of note are The Quartermaster – ostensibly a standard prog rocker but one that again is given a shanty-esque twist, with ethereal female voices complementing Nad’s vocals – and Black Sheep, a great little catchy pop song that closes the album. Sylvan is also impressive when he slows things down a bit and tugs at our heartstrings. When The Music Dies, a tribute to all the musicians taken from us by the Grim Reaper last year, is a solid power ballad with a backing reminiscent of Robbie Williams’ Millennium (who, in turn, ‘paid tribute to’ John Barry’s theme for You Only Live Twice). A French Kiss In An Italian Cafe opens with distorted electric guitar but alternates between gentle menace and a wistful, chilled-out beauty.
But the high-point for me, the song that climbs the rigging and sits triumphantly in the crow’s nest, is What Have You Done. A gentle piano ballad that could have come from Les Miz turns into a soaring guitar duel between Guthrie Govan and Steve Hackett, as they battle to tear your heart out with their picks. If you are not a puddle on the floor after listening to this then you are truly one of the Undead.
Musically, Nad has stretched his horizons. Sure, there are moments that conjure up ’70s prog but there are also nods to the ’80s and ’90s, and a big, fat contemporary drum sound.
So, to conclude: There will, I think, be two reactions to The Bride Said No. The less adventurous among us may think he’s totally lost the plot. But if you love passion, theatricality, invention and ambition in your music; if you believe that vampires and pirates, especially blond ones, have more fun; then you will absolutely love this.
[You can read TPA’s brief interview with Nad Sylvan HERE.]
01. Bridesmaids (1:15)
02. The Quartermaster (5:38)
03. When The Music Dies (7:00)
04. The White Crown (6:15)
05. What Have You Done (8:29)
06. Crime Of Passion (5:59)
07. A French Kiss In An Italian Cafe (5:56)
08. The Bride Said No (12:24)
09. Black Sheep (4:58)
Total Time – 57:54
Nad Sylvan – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Programming, Orchestration
Tania Doko – Vocals
Jade Ell – Vocals
Sheona Urquhart – Vocals, Saxophone
Steve Hackett – Guitar
Guthrie Govan – Guitar
Roine Stolt – Guitar
Tony Levin – Chapman Stick, Upright Bass, Electric Bass
Jonas Reingold – Bass
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums, Percussion
Doane Perry – Drums, Percussion
Anders Wollbeck – Keyboards, Programming, Orchestration, Additional Sound Design
Alfons Karabuda – Water Phone
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 26th May 2017