In relatively dark times it is hardly surprising that art and music reflects some of that angst and uncertainty and Dark Tide Rising from new band Midnight Sun is awash with feelings of loss and anxiety. Midnight Sun is the latest project involving the distinctive vocals of Huw Lloyd-Jones, previously with Also Eden and Unto Us. He is also joined by previous Also Eden bandmate Ian Hodson on keyboards, but any comparisons with their previous band may be misleading. Midnight Sun have a much harder edge with a double guitar line-up with Andy Gelbrand and Ben Swanwick, supported by the precision of bassist Sean Spear, who also plays in Dust, the new name for the Dec Burke Band. The powerful drumming for this album was largely provided by Sam Slater, except for the opening track by the new Midnight Sun drummer, Chris Habicht.
The standout track on the whole album, which seems to best reflect the Midnight Sun perspective and style, is the final, and at 11-minutes rather epic, Control. This is a striking, cinematic song which starts ominously with a throbbing synth and bass (from now departed bass player Jack Thomas) which immerses us immediately in a sinister world. A clanging, percussive beat underpins some descending guitar riffs from Tom Ennis (who has also now left the band!). Furious Dream Theater-like drumming presages a wave of keyboards from Ian Hodson and the guitars spray against a wall of sound. After the intro is expended, the tempo and intensity recede allowing the fine baritone of Huw Lloyd-Jones to lyrically paint the scene:
“The nightmares have all come to stay,
And all the dreams that we held dear
One by one they disappear,
Until they’re all replaced with Fear.”
Huw Lloyd-Jones has shared that this song is about the resurgence of the far-right in the USA, UK and around the World. He is clear that the main issue is that we have allowed this to happen, and this song is a plea to not accept that this is ‘ordinary’ or ‘inevitable’ and that we all need to do something about it.
“The Dark Tide’s rising, And so we drown, so we drown
But don’t let go, There are no ordinary days, Take Control, There really is no other way.”
This is a pile-driver of a song in accordance with its powerful message. It features some fantastically fluid guitar and appropriately titanic drumming, over which Lloyd-Jones proclaims passionately. Sadly, recent events at home and abroad seem to make this a very timely song indeed.
The album starts very differently with the love song, Scheherazade, albeit conveyed in rather heavy fashion. A chiming synth run opens up sunnily enough before a tsunami of sound falls over the song with bass, drums and guitars overwhelming the opening. Heavy guitars accompany Lloyd-Jones’ impassioned singing. The song touches on past, less happy relationships, but at heart it’s a love song played out with crunching riffs and sinuous synth soloing… in truth to me it all feels a bit much for a love song, but some relationships are obviously rather stormier! It’s certainly a rousing opening to grab the listener.
Altogether more restrained and sombre is Clouds, about a parent’s grief for their lost child, opening with piano and acoustic guitars but steadily rising in tempo as an electric guitar takes a short flight above the melody. Whether the child is a runaway, a child lost to drugs, crime or to depression is left open to interpretation. Midnight Sun give this song some room to breathe with quieter passages in keeping with the sense of loss and anxiety about a missing loved one. The main message of the song ultimately is ‘leave the door open’. The poetic lines All that we thought that we knew, fading away, like the pictures in the clouds mark a dramatic change in tempo and power as the song hits a wall of keyboards and heavy guitars. In some ways, this is a powerful interjection, but in others it feels as if some of the poetry and touch is overwhelmed, and sometimes there is more power in restraint in my view.
Midnight Sun are clearly intending to meld together elements of metal with more melodic progressive styles as skilfully played double guitars intertwine with swathes of grand keyboards. It is debatable whether this is wholly successful on all the songs, although one has to applaud their ambition in wanting to avoid formulaic songwriting or rigidly keep to a specific style.
Broken Angels is a song about those who have lost love, commencing in a more contemplative vein before picking up pace and intensity in an apparent anthem to second chances in love. Love is examined in a rather different perspective emotionally on Early Warning, about the prospect of waking up one day and realising you’re not in love anymore. There is a restrained passage in which Ian Hodson’s piano allows Lloyd-Jones’ voice to vocalise that awful feeling of foreboding when you know something bad is growing between you, like a storm brewing in the distance. Then the storm erupts musically with undulating and screaming guitar solos over a thunderous drum and bass backing… and that may just be one of my personal reservations about the album – there is a sense of ‘sameness’ in some of the songs in that Midnight Sun seem very keen to lay great blankets of riffing and power that overwhelm the more subtle expressions in their music.
Lloyd-Jones has shared that the penultimate song, Delirium, is about “the inexplicable feeling to run away from everything that can come over you, maybe because of the way people perceive you. Playing ‘happy families’ when – really – you’d rather be a thousand miles away”. He certainly has a way with words and the lyrical themes are fascinating. However, I am not sure that the music, particularly on this rather frantic piece, is subtle or nuanced enough to fully convey those ideas… but that may be just this listener!
Midnight Sun have produced an album of quality rock songs. However, one has to wonder whether in their ambitious attempt to meld progressive rock with more metal tropes they may not be quite ‘prog’ enough for the progressive rock audience or heavy or ‘metal’ enough for the Metal audience?
Nevertheless, this is an album that does succeed for this listener on many levels, particularly the exotic bombastic love of Scheherazade and the epic, coruscating and political soundscape of Control. It will be interesting to see in which direction Midnight Sun choose to go in future – they certainly have the musical chops and their lyricism is outstanding, touching on important and powerful themes with skill and insight.
01. Scheherazade (6:54)
02. Clouds (8:15)
03. Broken Angels (6:55)
04. Early Warning (9:37)
05. Delerium (5:26)
06. Control (10:52)
~ Bonus track:
07. Clouds (Single Edit) (5:09)
Total Time – 53:09
Huw Lloyd-Jones – Vocals
Andy Gelband – Guitars
Sean Spear – Bass (tracks 1,2,4,5 & 7)
Sam Slater – Drums (tracks 2,3,4,5,6, & 7)
Ian Hodson – Keyboards, Vocals
Ben Swanwick – Guitars
Tom Ennis – Guitars (track 6)
Jack Thomas – Bass (tracks 3 & 6)
Steve Dunn – Bass (track 1)
Chris Habicht – Drums (track 1)
Record Label: Sonicbond
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release : 28th June 2019