Published on 25th October 2021
Glacier – Island In The Sky
North-East progressive rock group Glacier release their third album, Island in the Sky, and it’s their most impressive so far. They have successfully built upon their 2001 debut, Monument and 2015’s Ashes for the Monarch to produce a diverse and rich musical landscape, mixing classic, symphonic and neo-prog rock with more modern influences, along with thoughtful, contemporary and refreshingly quirky lyrical content tackling aspects of the human condition. The result is an entertaining musical journey that opens up even further with repeated listens.
The Isle of Glass begins the album and is actually an extended reworking of the final track on the previous album. Taking its title from the ancient name for Glastonbury (‘Ynys Yr Watten’), a spoken narration by Dale Harbron takes us to Arthurian legend, before the vocals lyrically take us through ideas of faith and belief, with references to Jerusalem, the Moon landings, Christian and pagan perspectives and the nature of truth. Resonating guitar is joined by a musical wash with keyboards and violin in tandem, soaring over a mid-tempo chugging rock rhythm with Floydian hints of Echoes at times. Chris Wing’s violin certainly enhances the track and lends it a dreamy, folky feel through to the extended atmospheric conclusion. The shared vocal contributions of Mike Winship, Dave Birdsall, Chris Wing and Linzi Hunter, along with John Youdale and Bob Mulvey, work well throughout the album, definitely giving the group a unique sound at times.
Union looks at conflict and division and how tribalism, especially at this particular time in our history, undermines our lives when standing together makes us stronger. A piano and bird song-like violin introduction changes into complex instrumentation. Expressive violin passages dominate the song, whilst Bob’s bass and Mark Burley’s drums propel the song through the vocals and a catchy chorus: “There’s an angel looking for you. There’s no flying red, white and blue. There’s a hope we’ll all pull on through. Union for you”. A short interlude ends with a well-pitched guitar solo from John Youdale before the violin takes us to the end.
The sound of children is juxtaposed by an eerie flute rendition of “Boys and girls come out to play…” and a piercing scream at the start of Our Children. The track is a deliberation of malice, destruction and the myriad threats to our safety in these contemporary times. The complex and spritely ensemble playing complements the vocals well, with Chris’s flute and Dave Kidson’s keyboard flourishes enhancing the music. The “Our children will survive…” refrain seems to act as a shout of defiance, or possibly a forlorn hope.
The meaning underlying The Icing on the Wake harks back to the ‘greed is good’ mantra of the ’80s and ’90s (and even today) and the irony that the rich got richer and the poor got poorer – often on the hard work and sacrifice of workers such as the miners. The acerbic, politically-charged lyrics are central to this 11-minute epic, which includes a number of vignettes and contemporary soundbites. There is lovely symphonic progressive rock instrumentation from all concerned, especially John’s concluding guitar solo, alongside the ‘Gabrielesque’ word play, and overall you have an ambitious composition with an intriguing mix of Genesis, Twelfth Night and other neo-prog acts to these ears.
Lament for Persephone takes its inspiration from love and the sadness of parting, and is an instrumental tour-de-force that belies its brevity. Soothing Hackett-style guitar and subtle piano develops into a satisfying slab of soaring prog rock, before a melancholic end to proceedings. Excellent music – it’s just too damn short!
Classic-era Genesis influences show strongly in The Man Who Cried, with the late Victorian-period of amusement sideshows in the streets of London, conjured up by a fairground organ and barking dogs. It is a tribute to both David Lynch’s touching film The Elephant Man and John Merrick himself. The vocals encapsulate the ‘inside and outside’ theme and the contrast between outward appearance and innermost feelings and emotions. Once again John’s guitar dominates the instrumentation, with uplifting passages over a solid rhythm provided by Mark and Bob, with Dave’s lovely, poignant piano taking us to the end.
Atmospheric piano also begins Nightwing (intro) segue Lights Out, with accompanying strained guitar notes. Shared vocals (a feature of many songs) are soon joined by a bright musical theme, as we take a lyrical look at the world of the internet and the inherent dangers of a life with everything online, with a plea to “Live life while you can. You’re alone, but you’re alive. You’re bound to survive… somehow (somehow)”. There is an accessible chorus and the violin once again lifts the musical assemblage, while a refreshing guitar passage concludes the song.
There Be Monsters is an instrumental piano tone poem from Chris Wing, with hints of Keith Emerson, which takes us into Nightwing and a reprise of the earlier piano intro. Originally a section from a larger work called Projections (Part I to VIII) and with a main theme echoing a guitar piece called Lightwing (linked to the previous album), the song takes us into world of dreams and nightmares. The lyrics are a melting pot of disparate images and quirky references (with Ena Sharples and Miss Marple rubbing with Che Guevara, along with repeated “Island in the Sky” album title) with unsettling organ chords before rich, progressive rock interplay led by guitar, flute and piano, before the track soars away.
Oddessay (outro) is a short instrumental preview of what is to come on the next album (apparently inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s short story, The Sentinal, itself the inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey). The sound of celestial messaging, together with some nice bass playing, soft but urgent drumming and lush keyboards, provides a tantalising taste of the group’s next release.
Glacier have produced an impressive and very enjoyable third album full of classic progressive rock instrumentation mixed with thoughtful and intriguing lyrical content. There are strong musical contributions from all, with the increased use of violin and strings this time around working very well, and the shared vocal approach proving very effective over a diverse range of compositions. The group continue to mature and develop, and this gem of an album definitely deserves a wider audience.
01. The Isle of Glass (7:16)
02. Union (5:22)
03. Our Children (5:44)
04. The Icing on the Wake (10:58)
05. Lament for Persephone (4:20)
06. The Man Who Cried (8:42)
07. Nightwing (Intro) segue Lights Out (7:05)
08. There Be Monsters (1:11)
09. Nightwing (6:47)
10. Oddessay (Outro) (1:23)
Total Time – 58:48
John Youdale – Guitar, Vocals, FX
Mike Winship – Vocals
Chris Wing – Violin, Viola, Cello, Flute, Vocals
Dave Birdsall – Vocals
Dave Kidson – Piano, Keyboards
Bob Mulvey – Bass, Bass Pedals, FX, Vocals
Mark Burley – Drums
Linzi Hunter – Vocals (tracks 1,2,4,6 & 8)
Dale Harborn – Narration (tracks 1 & 4)
Record Label: Independent
Formats: CD, Digital
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 20th October 2021