Every now and then you come across a band that have somehow passed you by over the years, and then you hear an album by them which frankly stops you dead in your tracks and overwhelms you with its musical brilliance. I have no hesitation in confessing that the latest release by Drifting Sun, Forsaken Innocence, is such an album. It is pure neo-prog heaven that seems to have distilled the essence of the likes of Arena, Pendragon, IQ, Marillion, Threshold and Dream Theater, amongst others, into a heady and warming concoction, with moments of might and power perfectly balanced with passages of delicacy and complexity.
Keyboardist Pat Sanders has been the driving force behind Drifting Sun since the mid-’90s. The UK-based progressive rock studio project released two albums, Drifting Sun (1996) and On the Rebound (1999) before an extended hiatus. Pat eventually decided to give the project another go with new musicians, the result being a series of albums, beginning with Trip the Life Fantastic in 2015, followed by Safe Asylum (2016), Twilight (2017) and most recently, Planet Junkie in 2019, which saw the band’s following steadily growing. Their sound mixes melodic neo-prog with an often dramatic edge, slices of prog metal and symphonic prog on occasion, although the feel and spirit of each album has also been influenced by the multi-national spectrum of musicians employed at the time.
For Forsaken Innocence, Pat has maintained the collaboration with guitarist Mathieu Spaeter (formally of the Franck Carducci Band) from the last two albums. However, he has called upon an array of talented musicians to complete the line-up. John Jowitt (currently of Rain, but alumnus of numerous UK neo-prog bands, most notably IQ) is on bass guitar. The drummer is Jimmy Pallagrosi (formally of Karnataka and currently driving his ZIO solo project) and this time around the vocals (and occasional keyboards) come from Jargon, of Greek band Verbal Delirium. Guest appearances by Eric Bouillette (Nine Skies and The Room), Ben Bell (Gandalf’s Fist) and Gareth Cole (Fractal Mirror) also add seasoning to many of the tracks. It is not always the case that such a stellar line-up of consummate musicians will necessarily produce a work of true quality, but on this occasion the synergy is wonderful.
Over seven tracks (eight if you include the digital/vinyl bonus track), including several of epic proportions, the band produce music of depth, diversity and quality that comfortably flows around and through you for well over an hour. Add the rich, dark, and mysterious lyrical content, expressing the struggle between good and evil and the search for the lost innocence within us, and you have a truly potent listening experience.
Pat elaborates further: “In a nutshell, the theme of the album is about the struggles we face when we try to get that innocence back that was buried within us from our childhood, and how we have to ‘fish out’ stuff that we’d rather not have remembered, along the way in our quest for finding that ‘goodness’ back within ourselves.”
Opening track King of the Country encapsulates the whole sound of the album in one song and emphasises all the elements the musicians bring to the party. Dreamy, ethereal light and nightmarish shade, power and then delicacy, numerous changes in tempo and an ever-changing palette of instruments, create a swirling soundscape. Mathieu plays a minstrel-like acoustic guitar passage one minute, forceful riffing the next, but then delivers an invigorating electric guitar solo to make the music soar. Pat’s piano both drives the track and then presents subtle musical nuances between satisfying slices of retro keyboards. John’s bass runs and Jimmy’s drumming provide a dense and solid foundation, but then add individual, virtuosic passages of intricacy. Throughout it all, Jargon gives an almost theatrical and unsettling edge to the dark, enigmatic lyrics. The chorus “I’m the King of the Country. Young, yet feeling wintry. No longer flattered by the bow” is both accessible and yet off-kilter. From midway, Eric’s melodic violin ties together the many disparate themes, along with the keyboards and guitar, and the music ebbs and flows to its understated piano-led conclusion.
Insiduous begins at a more stately pace, with the plaintive vocals sung over a wash of keyboard chords before the piano takes centre stage. The ominous feeling of evil and dread from the lyrics builds up steadily. “I close my eyes. Under this skin. There’s another dark side of me”: lavish keyboard passages before ghostly wordless vocals and then some powerful ensemble instrumentation. The shadowy refrain “Just close your eyes. I close my eyes” is in bleak contrast with Pat’s classical-style piano by the end.
Dementium continues our dark, labyrinthine journey into paranoia and deceit, with Ben providing some lovely slabs of Hammond organ to the dancing musical melee. Jargon’s idiosyncratic and expressive vocals are now as integral to the music as the dynamic instrumentation, and the intensity rises and falls superbly. “And the spider is spinning her web of deceit. Forsaken innocence.”
New Dawn provides a refreshing, gentler, change of pace. Pat’s piano and John’s haunting bass join Jargon’s despairing vocals of loss and yet defiant hope. Gareth provides some impressive acoustic and electric guitar flourishes over Jimmy’s intricate and restrained drum patterns, with the soothing, integrated keyboards holding it all together.
I have no intention of describing the myriad twists and turns of the epic title track. Split into two parts (the second of which is instrumental), it runs to over 25-minutes and is a melting pot of all the classic neo-progressive rock ingredients from the ’80s, but all set within a contemporary assemblage. Accessible and rhythmic, yet complex and multi-faceted. Lashings of vibrant keyboards, soaring guitar and strings over an ever-changing and dynamic foundation. As dense and powerful as the prog metal of Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment at times, and yet as melodic and sprawling as a Transatlantic epic – this track will take your breath away.
The short closing track Time to Go calms it all down perfectly, allowing us to catch our breath once more. The lyrics reflect on personal loss, as Pat explains: “It is about accepting the loss of a loved one, and how we sometimes use things as a crutch to cope with our grief, which aren’t really helping us, but we cling on to them anyway.” Once again, the delicate piano, acoustic guitar and vocals provide a lovely counterpoint to the message and the album concept as a whole.
Hand on Heart is the digital and vinyl bonus track, but could easily have fitted into the album’s narrative. Energetic and very approachable, with catchy vocals, keyboards and vibrant drumming, the band show they can deliver accessible quality and variety in under five minutes, without diluting their spirit.
If that heavy, neo-prog rock vibe is for you, you’ll find Forsaken Innocence by Drifting Sun a wonderfully immersive album. Melody, complexity and musicianship of the highest order – it is definitely one of my albums of the year. For me, the overall effect is comparable to imagining myself as a child getting locked overnight in the local sweet shop and being overwhelmed by the choice of goodies on offer. Pat Sanders has really hit on a winning formula this time around. Highly recommended! Just put on the headphones, turn off the lights and press play!
01. King of the Country (11:36)
02. Insidious (8:08)
03. Dementium (9:10)
04. New Dawn (6:48)
05. Forsaken Innocence (Part 1) (10:51)
06. Forsaken Innocence (Part 2) (14:52)
07. Time to Go (2:28)
~ Bonus Track (on Digital & Vinyl Editions):
08. Hand on Heart (4:48)
Total Time – 68:41
Pat Sanders – Piano, Keyboards
Mathieu Spaeter – Guitars
Jargon – Vocals, Keyboards (track 6)
John Jowitt – Bass
Jimmy Pallagrosi – Drums
Eric Bouillette – Violin (tracks 1 & 5), Guitars (track 7)
Ben Bell – Hammond Organ (track 3)
Gareth Cole – Guitars (track 4)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 27th October 2021 (Digital), mid-November 2021 (CD), late-January 2022 (Vinyl)