Reading the synopsis of their back story, you would expect a far heavier cutting edge to songs created by Phil Stuckey and Ade Fisher, whose musical heritage appears to have been carved from stern stuff!
However, the melodious opening of the first track The Bridge (That Spans the Edge of Time) is a far more languid but captivating slew of vocals, guitar and effortless blend of heavy rock, filtered through floating keyboards that belie their past life treading the boards across the North East, nay, stomping those boards with vim and vigour.
For those familiar with the previous album, The Calling, the transition to this sleeker beast is telling, although the listener is reminded of the power held in check with the opening guitar and drum combo for Carry On, but then Phil Stuckey reminds us of his amazing vocal capacities, effortlessly reining in ‘the beast’ and producing another masterclass in controlled harmonisation.
The band describe their music as ‘melodic rock with a prog twist’ and this is no more true than in the title track The Watcher as the story unfolds, an age-old tale of a guardian awakened, ‘a magical family hunted to near extinction by the dark forces of chaos’. It then gallops ahead, as the music leaps unfettered once more, power chords chasing the insistent drums across this mystical landscape. Ade’s lead guitar breaks loose, soaring effortlessly, but it ends abruptly, cascading into a sudden fade, but I just felt this deserved a ‘full stop’ ending (my only niggle!!).
Silvanir, the penultimate track, stomps into place, a la Deep Purple, before Mr Stuckey takes the stand once more, conducting and controlling the sound, then the foot-tapping and head-nodding beat takes over once more. A great bass solo entices the keyboards back in slowly, the vocals now skirled through a voice changer. The word majestic seems appropriate here, as a marching beat encourages the lead guitar to soar again. Great ending.
A guest appearance by the indefatigable Thijs Van Leer on the final and longest track, Fallen Angels, weaves another prog strand into the equation, before the imperious vocal moves front and centre once more. A swirling potpourri of rock beat, storytelling and empirical flute.
There is plenty here for the new listener to enjoy, and for existing fans a chance to hear the growth and sophistry that the band have chosen to introduce in this excellent album, the last track finishing with an expressive flourish, usually the reserved domain of Pink Floyd fans.
What stands out for this listener is the quality of the sound, the blend of ’80s rock and timeless prog, with the finesse of Stuckey’s vocal range, and the storytelling mastery. Here is a band emerging into the light of exposure, and the third album will be aiming high to equal this one. The bar has been set, gentlemen. Definitely my cup of tea, no biscuits required!
As a sad postscript to this review, the band have reported the tragic recent passing of keyboard player Alan Gibson, followed unbelievably by the news that Danny Stephenson, the bass guitarist on the album, who had just left Stuckfish to move on to new ventures, had also died suddenly just a few days later. As a testimony to them both, the band have asked for the review to be published, as they are so proud of the music on this album and the contributions made by Alan and Danny.
01. The Bridge (That Spans The Edge Of Time) (5:45)
02. Run (7:42)
03. Carry On (5:16)
04. The Mirror (5:58)
05. The Watcher (6:41)
06. Silvanir (8:49)
07. Fallen Angels (8:54)
Total Time – 49:05
Phil Stuckey – Lead Vocal
Ade Fisher – Lead Guitar
Alan Gibson – Keyboards
Adam Sayers – Drums, Percussion
Danny Stephenson – Bass Guitar
Thijs Van Leer – Flute (track 7)
Record Label: Sonic Portrait Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 22nd November 2019