The World as we Knew it is the debut album of the rather strangely named Welsh melodic rock band Retreat from Moscow. They may be new to most people, but when someone with the ear of the excellent Robin Armstrong of Cosmograf sees fit to release their album on his Gravity Dream label then it’s got to be worth a listen. They say patience is a virtue, but it has to be said that Retreat from Moscow have shown rather more than is usual… about 40 years of patience! Apparently, they gigged a lot between 1979 and 1981, and even managed to release a single, but then it appears fate and ‘real life’ got in the way of their dreams. Getting together again in 2016, this rather more mature set of musicians decided it was ‘better late than never’ and set about releasing their long-delayed debut album, only for it to be delayed again by… well, we all know what delayed a lot of things recently.
Was the wait worth it?
The answer depends on how much you like free-flowing, well played melodic progressive rock which can really rock in places and at other times can spin around your brain with ear worm hooks and riffs. I do, so this ‘out of the blue’ album has been on fairly constant rotation. Yeah, sure the ‘neo-prog’ ’80s influences and distinctive synth sounds are clearly embedded in their musical DNA, but there is far more to this album than some pale imitation of former musical heroes. There is brio and style, and quite some skill in how Retreat from Moscow have woven together a fine set of melodic prog songs, with each song having its own individual feel and character. The One You Left Behind starts things off impressively with a fascinating musical journey, commencing with harmony vocals from John Harris over what sounds like a strange, treated percussion sound, and then a beguiling serpentine synth line from Andrew Raymond (presumably, although John Harris also plays keyboards as well as guitars… and flute) draws us in to the heart of a dramatic piece. One thing that stands out immediately, and throughout the album, is the excellence of the rhythm section of Tony Lewis (bass) and Greg Haver (drums). The power ramps up relentlessly until Harris floats in a subtle Hackett-esque guitar, which leads us into the enchanting coda, resonating with echoes of 12-string guitars akin to Trespass-era Genesis. This impressive opening piece fades mysteriously away with some particularly fine vocals from Harris, intoning about being “lost among the Lotus Eaters”.
Another feature of this album is that Retreat from Moscow can REALLY rock when they want to, and certainly know how to write a memorable riff and melody line. Radiation has a great heavy guitar and Hammond intro before morphing into choppy, almost indie rock verse sections interspersed with fluid rock choruses. The ‘dirty’ guitar sound of Harris has real character, especially set against the Supertramp-like keyboard sounds which build and build into a crescendo ending – a rather fine five minutes of music. Size really isn’t everything. Similarly, later in the album, rocker Perception surfs in powerfully on soaring guitars, crashing drums and a solid U-Boat bass underpinning it all, and then almost heroically synths and guitars combine to drive it along magnificently. Harris is excellent on vocals, easily matching the meaty groove. Seeing this live would be rather a treat. There’s not much more to say about this one – it’s just a great rock song… sounds simple enough when you say it like that, but rarely do you hear something as catchy and distinctive as Perception.
There is one ‘epic’ on the album, Home, focusing on a volunteer in World War One, adding yet another extended song to the fine list of Prog songs about that conflict. (What is it about the Great War and Prog music?!!). For this listener, this piece did not hit the mark as it seemed to lack the memorable impactful rock or melodic touches of most of this album. However, that view is based more on my liking for the excellence of the other songs rather than a negative view on Home. It’s an interesting extended piece on an engaging subject – I just much preferred other songs on the album.
The ’80s influences really come to the fore in the excellent Armed Combat which starts with yet another great riff filled fanfare with absolutely cavernous drums, before slotting into an ’80s Rush-like groove and synth wave, and some lush harmony vocals. This really is a bass tour de force from Tony Lewis who fluidly carries the whole beast with high quality playing alongside some incendiary drumming from Haver, and some short stabs of electric guitars from Harris in a gloriously straightforward six minutes of rock.
I’m Alive is rather more complex musically and rumbles in on a great bank of oscillating keyboards and a wave of drums and bass before a distinctly ’80s synth line weaves its way in. Another fine vocal performance from Harris carries the song forward in a more thumping passage before I’m Alive slips seamlessly into a more subtle contemplative mid-section. The thrilling opening section is recapitulated at the end with ’80s era Marillion keyboards bringing things to a close. Retreat from Moscow pack a lot into this relatively short song.
Retreat from Moscow show they are comfortable in a range of styles with the distinctly more poppy Henrietta, which bounces along initially, seemingly describing a cast of characters with mental health conditions, before taking a left turn into more expansive and subtle progressive territory with echoes of Trick of the Tail or Wind and Wuthering Genesis… which is never a bad thing!
The brakes are applied for a trio of slower tempo songs in Constantinople, Moving Down and Don’t Look Back which all show how adept this band are at evoking the sweeping sounds of Camel and Caravan. Moving Down is particularly effective at conveying a shimmering melodic atmosphere which builds into an emotive vocal crescendo, followed by a fine, fluid guitar-led finale – one can imagine this song finishing their gigs triumphantly. Closing song Don’t Look Back starts with delightful flute and flows into a gentle middle section with engaging, optimistic lyrics. It then builds into an impressive rocking finale finale with the whole band contributing, encapsulating in about six minutes all the positives in this album.
The World as we Knew it surprised me – to be honest I was not even going to review it (I’m trying to cut down… but there always seems to be ‘just one more!’) and I was going to pass it on to someone else, but I thought I’d give it a quick listen first… and it captured me straight away. There’s no pretension or aspiration for breaking musical boundaries in this album. This is an unashamedly retro melodic progressive rock album, but done so well. Retreat from Moscow are walking down well-worn musical paths, but they do it with such quality and with a real ear for exciting rock riffs and melody… and after all, don’t we all sometimes repeatedly walk down some of our favourite paths, seeing and hearing different things every time?
They may be called Retreat from Moscow but with this impressive album they may well be ‘Advancing from Cardiff’ very soon! It’s only January but The World as we Knew it may well turn out to be one of the best debut Prog albums of 2022. It really is that good – highly recommended.
01. The One You Left Behind (7:52)
02. Radiation (4:52)
03. Henrietta (7:01)
04. I’m Alive (6:39)
05. Constantinople (6:17)
06. Home (11:38)
07. Armed Combat (5:59)
08. Moving Down (5:13)
09. Perception (4:57)
10. Mandragora (6:40)
11. Don’t Look Back (6:37)
Total Time – 73:35
Andrew Raymond – Keyboards, Guitars, Backing Vocals
John Harris – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Flute, Keyboards
Greg Haver – Drums, Percussion, Synth, Backing Vocals
Tony Lewis – Wal Basses, Moog Taurus Pedals, Backing Vocals
Tanwen Evans – Violin (track 6)
Andrew Walters – Violin (track 6)
Carly Stone – Viola (track 6)
Nathan Stone – Cello (track 6)
Andrew Walters – Strings Arrangement (track 6)
Record Label: Gravity Dream
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 22nd January 2022