Comatose is Lee Abraham’s latest ambitious release in his increasingly impressive and varied solo career. This release is a continuous flowing song cycle imagining the experience of someone in a coma following an accident, which is a world away in feel from his previous album, the more A.O.R. oriented Colours in late 2017, which included one of my favourite songs of the last few years, the brilliant The Mirror Falls. Lee Abraham rejoined Galahad in 2017 when they were well in to the writing and recording process for their truly epic and outstanding Seas of Change album which was also an extended progressive piece, and it appears that playing on such a long form album has impelled Lee Abraham to embark on a similar solo exploration of an extended format. Whilst Galahad’s clearly Brexit influenced album focused on wide scale political subjects Lee Abraham’s Comatose is on a much more personal and human scale. Lee Abraham takes us on a 47 minute ‘real time’ apparent ‘stream of consciousness’ based on the thoughts of a person in a coma floating in that twilight world of semi-consciousness.
On recent albums Lee Abraham has written songs perfectly suited to a regular range of guest vocalists, including Dec Burke (Dust & ex-Frost*), Simon Godfrey (Valdez, Shineback & ex-Tinyfish), Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) and Marc Atkinson (Riversea & ex-Nine Stones Close). However, wisely on this song cycle he has only utilised one lead vocalist to provide a consistent voice for the protagonist undergoing this traumatic experience, and even more wisely he has employed the impeccable and wonderfully soulful voice of Marc Atkinson. Atkinson shows his vocal dexterity and touch, equally adept at handling the more rock oriented Twisted Metal & No Going Back with passion, whilst also sensitively conveying the delicate emotion of the diaphanous highlight of The Sun.
Lee Abraham has continued to develop his skills as a writer and a performer, playing all the keyboards, guitars and bass on this album. He retains the ever dependable Gerald Mulligan on drums, who is in particular a force of nature furiously powering the opening very progressive piece, Numb Pt 1. This Floydian style curtain opener begins cinematically with a deep ominous synth drone accompanying the bleeps of a heart monitor. A fragile acoustic guitar picks out a few notes interchanging with some distant electric guitar tones – there is a very real sense of the ‘near’ and the ‘far’, the feeling of an internal world set against a barely perceived wider environment. The calm is briefly broken by a dramatic keyboard, bass and drum fanfare before we return to the synth drone punctuated with subtle sound effects. An orchestral keyboard passage builds and builds until bass, drums enter and Lee Abraham’s now distinctive trademark high pitched guitar soloing soars above the piece. Heavy Porcupine Tree style riffing erupts and then takes flight into another Abraham guitar solo… and then settles down into the sounds of an ambulance siren and it feels like we are in the back of that vehicle. Long-time collaborator Rob Arnold makes his first appearance with some deftly played piano leading up to the first time we hear the vocals at nearly 8 minutes in to this opening. Marc Atkinson’s vocals evoke the sense of dislocation and disconnection the central character must be feeling in his semi-conscious netherworld:
The Light is Drowning out the Noise,
My Mind is telling me it’s real and not Destroyed
Taken from all I Know, Memory is fading
Taken from all I Know, Just Numb and Waiting
This extended opening feels like an overture for the whole album, setting the scene with a range of evocative music and sound effects, dramatically immersing the listener deep in the experience.
Lee Abraham has previously proved himself to be a high quality song writer, particularly on my favourite Abraham album Black and White from 2009, which also features some extended pieces. Whilst this album imaginatively conveys one storyline in an extended piece, crucially he has also not lost sight of interspersing the more cinematic or atmospheric sections like Realisation with songs which could easily stand-alone outside the narrative of this album. Twisted Metal is one such song as it throbs with a keyboard and drum opening and Marc Atkinson sings with controlled power over an insistent synth pulse, vocalising the frustration of a commuter. His words are interrupted suddenly with the implication that such pent up feelings may have led to his current predicament:
I sit and stare at the car in front of me, willing it to start
The screaming starts to fill my head like a work of art
The open road is in my head, in my head, Get out of the way before you’re…
This is a very well-crafted rock song… and probably not one to be played too loudly in traffic jams!
The listener is then suddenly thrust from the frustration of the driver in to the strange euphoria of a ‘near death’ experience in Ascend the Sky with mellotron sounds and choral vocals, featuring Lee Abraham’s wife Diane and Abraham’s Galahad band mate Mark Spencer. Lee Abraham lays another flowing guitar solo over the piece and there is a real sense of Ascension.
One of the highlights from this outstanding album is the achingly beauty of The Sun, which rises with softly played acoustic guitar and flute sounds acting as a gorgeous bed upon which Marc Atkinson can lay down his soulfully gorgeous voice. The tempo and instrumentation increases but the sense of sweet melancholy remains as the main character remembers the love of his partner, seemingly all thrown away by ‘a momentary lapse’. There is much beauty in that sense of regret and reminiscence.
Numb Pt 2 is a musical refrain of Pt 1 with added power reflecting a desperation to stay alive with Gerald Mulligan in fine form on drums. The heavy riffage and drumming continues on No Going Back, underpinning an intense vocal performance from Atkinson… before it subsides to the sound of a ventilator in a hospital ward.
The enigmatic Awaken? segues in over the ventilator with Rob Arnold’s finely judged piano introducing a contemplative feel before drums, bass and acoustic guitar gently join the piece. This final part of Comatose builds gradually in intensity before Lee Abraham’s electric guitar fluidly and emotionally solos for a gloriously extended finale – it’s a remarkable piece of guitar playing to complete an excellent album. It is left to the listener to guess whether the protagonist survives his comatose state or not … but I may be slowing down when I next drive to work.
Taking on such an extended work is an ambitious project, and calling a progressive rock album Comatose is brave due to the risks of some ironically twisting such a title negatively with regard to such a sustained song cycle! Lee Abraham has been wholly successful artistically, telling a story with great musical skill and imagination. At the heart of his work is an understanding of the importance of great melodic song writing, whether for 3 minutes or over a longer duration. In this work Lee Abraham has probably produced one of the standout albums of 2019, filled with sweet melody and guitar power, and definitely one of the finest albums of his notable career.
I. Numb Pt 1 (11:18)
II. Realisation (3:55)
III. Twisted Metal (3:29)
IV. Ascend The Sky (5:15)
V. The Sun (4:48)
VI. Numb Pt 1 (4:28)
VII. No Going Back (6:19)
VIII. Awaken? (7:24)
Total Time – 46:58
Lee Abraham – All Guitars, Keyboards, Bass Guitar & Backing Vocals
Marc Atkinson Lead & Backing Vocals (2)
Gerald Mulligan – Drums
Rob Arnold – Piano
Backing Vocals – Mark Spencer & Diane Abraham
Record Label: Progrock Records | F2 Music
Date of Release: 27th September 2019
– Pictures in The Hall (2004) – (CD-R originally only – now only digital)
– A View from the Bridge (2005)
– Black and White (2009)
– Distant Days (2014)
– The Seasons Turn (2016)
– Colours (2017)
– Comatose (2019)