Dark Before Dawn is the follow up to The Divide, the excellent 2019 debut album from Tony Patterson and Doug Melbourne, who were previously in the eminent Genesis tribute band Regenesis. Dark Before Dawn has a lot to live up to after the quality and imagination manifested in The Divide, and there are clear connections in style and themes. However, Dark Before Dawn is a definite development, conveying a deeper resonance and emotion.
Dark Before Dawn ranges across various styles, but is always engaging in theme and musically captivating. Anyone expecting Patterson and Melbourne to mimic the classic ‘Prog’ tropes of their former band will need to look elsewhere as this is a fresh contemporary rock album which is accessible and fascinating. Dark Before Dawn stretches the musical palette significantly in comparison to The Divide. Opening song Maybe kicks off the album in an uncharacteristically up-tempo manner, which rolls along impressively with a great sounding organ from Doug Melbourne and some fine high-pitched, sometimes falsetto vocals and lush harmonies from Tony Patterson. It ends satisfyingly with a rousing electric guitar solo from guest Steve Anderson, of The Room and previously Grey Lady Down. It is a great piece imbued with a joyous ’60s feel and certainly opens the album in great style.
Each song is clearly finely crafted with the outstanding musicianship we have come to expect from this talented duo. Tony Patterson recently stated (in an interview with Steve Petch on Progzilla Radio) that he just did what comes naturally for each song vocally, and the overall quality and control of his voice over a diversity of styles is outstanding. His fragile, almost diaphanous voice on the desperately sad Leaving is a particular highlight on an album filled with great vocals.
The Divide was particularly focused on political and social concerns, and Dark Before Dawn also features insightful and cutting songs which shine a light into sometimes rather dark places. Allied to those themes, Patterson and Melbourne introduce more electronics on this latest release. My Happy Place pulses along with an insistent bass line and synth effects, focusing upon the social media cocoons many of us withdraw into rather vacuously, a delightfully flowing ARP synth solo towards the end giving some echoes of a more prog influence. Electronica takes on a decidedly heavier and more satirical, darker tone with Old School Tie. An infectious electronic beat and distorted vocals from Patterson represents the corrupt nature of politicians using the crony system of privilege to further themselves rather than the interests of the electorate… can’t think what may have inspired that song! However, what makes a Patterson and Melbourne album so entertaining is that they have no barriers and do surprising things that you’re simply not expecting. As Old School Tie pulses on relentlessly, Melbourne lays a cool jazz piano solo over the end, counterpointed with synth stabs. It is surprising but sounds great. Talking of great sounds, the opening of Burn the Skies is filled with a remarkable echoing keyboard effect which will haunt your head for days afterwards. I have no idea what the sound is or what makes it, and actually don’t care – it just sounds great, as does the rest of this haunting song about the break-up of a relationship. Doug Melbourne’s wife, Carrie, adds some gloriously effective Chapman Stick, which explains why in the past she has played with artists such as Tricky and Mike Oldfield. Carrie Melbourne also adds some lovely backing vocals alongside Doug for Flags, in which it seems Patterson was clearly influenced by his fellow North-Easterner, Sting.
I could identify the mesmerising nearly 7-minute journey of Reach Out as the standout song, but there are so many great songs on this album that may not be fair – but I do know it’s been the song I have returned to most frequently. Previous Regenesis bandmate Nigel Appleton provides some skilled drumming and percussion. More surprisingly, he also adds some fine acoustic guitar, and it is notable that acoustic guitars feature much more on this album. The extended programmed synth opening section of Reach Out is a beautiful shimmering soundscape to draw us into this wonderful song, which then descends in a delicate, almost harp-like way before the first vocals inject brightness and optimism after nearly four minutes. It’s a great feel-good piece, orchestrated with such skill and touch by Patterson and Melbourne, and seemingly filled with love.
Talking of ‘Love’, such an often cliched element in modern music, with affected faux ‘passion’ substituting for real depth and emotion. Well, what is very clear is that Dark Before Dawn is utterly remarkable for the real raw emotion in which it is performed. Sadly, during the recording of this album, Tony Patterson’s wife Angela died from motor neurone disease and he has made no secret of how this tragic event has imbued his songs. This is most beautifully conveyed in Stopping Time, in which a finely played piano underpins an outstanding and genuinely touching vocal performance from Patterson. A melancholic cello from Tina Guo towards the end serves to emphasise these feelings. Patterson recently revealed in the Steve Petch interview that his wife’s illness clearly affected the songs, sharing that the vocal for Stopping Time (and also Leaving) was done in a single take, which he decided to keep for the album, such was the emotion in the performance, which he felt he would destroy if he tried it again. True love exudes from every second of this heart-breaking song. Similarly, Come Home (for Angela), the final song on the album, is another piano-led, moving but simple tribute… saying all he needs to about how he feels about his wife. It really is quite moving hearing this emotion so delicately laid out, and it feels quite a privilege to have a small insight into his heart. However, whilst such subject matter is undoubtedly sad and emotive, this is not a depressing or overly melancholic piece of work. Indeed, amidst the sadness there seems to be a sense of hope. The album’s title song characterises that feeling, melodically conjuring a sense of hope in the distance, even when things seem at their bleakest, with rising chords and subtle orchestration conveying glimmers of hope.
Dark Before Dawn is an outstanding album that excellently interweaves a diverse range of styles, sometimes delighting with melodic skill and at other times touching the heart with pieces of resonance and great emotion. There will be bigger, noisier, brasher and more prominent albums in 2022, which may gain more attention, however it is doubtful that many albums – if any – will come anywhere near close to attaining the musical quality and lyrical and emotional truth so beautifully played out by Doug Melbourne and Tony Patterson in this evocatively resonant release.
[The Progressive Aspect would like to thank Steve Petch (The Progmeister) for his podcast radio interview with Tony Patterson and Doug Melbourne, which was helpful in forming this review. We would also like to convey our heartfelt condolences to Tony Patterson on the sad loss of his wife, Angela.]
01. Maybe (3:48)
02. My Happy Face (4:54)
03. Flags (3:40)
04. Leaving (3:32)
05. Old School Tie (4:11)
06. Burn the Skies (5:07)
07. Stopping Time (4:09)
08. Reach Out (6:56)
09. Dark Before Dawn (5:01)
10. Come Home (For Angela) (2:20)
Total Time – 43:48
Tony Patterson – Lead & Backing Vocals, Piano, Synthesisers, Church Organ, Flute, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Programming, String Arrangements
Doug Melbourne – Piano, Keyboards, Programming, Backing Vocals (track 3)
Nigel Appleton – Drums, Acoustic guitar, Percussion (track 8)
Carrie Melbourne – Backing Vocals (track 3), Chapman Stick (track 6)
Steve Anderson – Lead Guitar (track 1)
Tina Guo – Cello (track 7)
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 25th February 2022