The John Irvine Band - Psychopomp

The John Irvine Band – Psychopomp

Edinburgh based, The John Irvine Band return with album number five, and it’s a welcome addition to the already impressive back catalogue released over the last decade or so. Formed circa mid-2011 – and it probably goes without saying – the constant across the JIB albums has been composer and guitarist John Irvine, the ‘band’ on the other hand has fluctuated across the albums. Psychopomp is no exception with Calum McIntyre taking on the drum mantle and multi-instrumentalist John taking onboard all the guitar and keyboard parts. Once again the album is an instrumental affair and follows the traditions of previous releases with an amalgam of jazz/rock/fusion intermingled with healthy doses of progressive rock, although to these ears the ‘proggier’ elements seem to have been ramped up on Psychopomp, something evident straight from the opening tune.

Following the brief sci-fi atmospherics, Changing Worlds takes us full-tilt into the familial sounds of JIB with a strong keyboard theme supplying the catalyst for the intricate rhythmical backbone to spring into action. Calum McIntyre immediately establishes himself in the high traditions of JIB drummers, kicking in at a rollicking pace. The aptly titled Changing Worlds has numerous changes in pace and dynamic, which the duo fully exploit over the track’s nigh on ten-minute duration. Particularly effective is the stomping middle section which neatly contrasts the tracks fiery opening and closing themes. A killer opener…

Now a glance at the striking album cover will immediately conjure up an alien theme, somewhat of a trait of John’s, as along with his diverse musical output he has also written a series of sci-fi novels comprising The Smith Chronicles.

The sci-fi theme is ever present on Psychopomp, permeating and often bookending the tracks, but also evident within the body of the music. The title tune, for instance, rests on a percolating bed of synths, which is then pushed and propelled by Calum McIntyre, whilst John’s harmonised guitar themes float and attack the music in equal measures. Weight of the Heart, on the other hand, is cocooned by John’s superbly voiced chordal work, recalling the sadly departed Allan Holdsworth. With deep synths and a jazzier feel, the track also sees Calum battling with the aliens during his brief solo.

In previous reviews I have remarked that considering John’s main weapon of choice is the guitar, the overall musical palette encompasses a wide range of keyboard layering and associated electronica, giving the music a far greater panorama. The numerous guitar and keyboard layers are colourfully interwoven, and as John employs a rather broad brush, so you are as likely to detect hues of ’80s synth pop as you are, say, Keith Emerson. So traversing the album, I’m constantly trying to tie it down, for reviewing purposes of course, however John defiantly throws a spanner into the machinery at every juncture, with a multitude of cross genre styles that really shouldn’t gel together, but do, and do so rather well. The snappy The Devil’s Work has an almost post-punk vibe. In contrast, the tour-de-force that is Esoteric Dimensions features a whole smorgasbord that could be a Rush outtake, or equally ’80s-era Jan Hammer, or OMD! Regardless of any ‘influences’, actual or inferred, Psychopomp is its own beast.

I reckon that with Psychopomp, John Irvine has produced an accessible bridge that will sit comfortably between both the progressive rock camp and those with a jazz-rock/fusion leaning. An extra-terrestrial marriage combining rich multi-layered compositions with strong and memorable themes, none of which ever appear to be self-indulgent but encompasses a complexity that challenges and enthrals.

01. Changing Worlds (9:52)
02. Psychopomp (5:48)
03. The Devil’s Work (1:44)
04. Esoteric Dimensions (8:14)
05. Weight of the Heart (4:57)
06. In A Higher Gear (4:47)
07. The Melancholy Martian (4:51)
08. Childhood Jetpack Delirium (8:22)

Total Time – 48:35

John Irvine – Guitar, Keyboards, Bass
Calum McIntyre – Drums

Record Label: Head In The Door Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 22nd April 2022

The John Irvine Band – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube
Calum McIntyre – Website | Facebook