I discovered Freedom To Glide relatively recently following some air-play on Shaun Geraghty’s excellent The Prog Mill show on Progzilla Radio. It immediately hit the spot, not only through its musicality but also its subject matter (given that I am an old soldier), and then I read Rob Fisher’s TPA review of the band’s last album, 2019’s Seed. It’s compelling stuff, and Rob gives an excellent account of what it is all about; the brutality and futility of war, and the waste of lives.
Seed was the third album in a trilogy, very focussed on one man’s experiences in 1918 at the end of World War One, but much of this story can be attributed to the horror of any war, and the unspeakable cruelty of how warring factions can treat each other. I am compelled to say that my personal experiences of both war and peace-keeping operations in other theatres of conflict, such as the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, indicate that the latter can be far worse in terms of human suffering than any conventional war. So, whilst Seed might have closed the book on Freedom To Glide’s story of World War One, along comes this album, The Chronicle of Stolen Souls, which continues the theme; the story of war was never really over and, of course, it never will, as conflict continues to rage the world over, in particular in Ukraine. Indeed, the band explain that “We can only hope for peace, not a peace that is forced upon the loser but a peace without victory.” No truer words, but I fear hope springs eternal.
The band’s intent for new music was somewhat hijacked by the events of 2022. Again, the band explain that this apparent epilogue to their superb thought-provoking trilogy comprises a track composed every year from 2014 to 2019, and released in the week prior to each Christmas Day. A timely reminder of the futility of war. It was always their intent to compile their work, revisit and rework it for a future release, with no specific timeframe for doing so. But given the conflicts we have seen since February 2022, including Putin’s war in Ukraine, now was seen as a good a time as any.
Rob Fisher was right when he described the difficulty in picking out individual tracks from the conceptual stories that Andy Nixon and Pete Riley tell; all of their albums need to be listened to as a whole and that is how they were written. Here we have nine songs and 51-minutes of highly melodic progressive music coupled with the most heart-rending lyrics. They have been compared with the likes of Pink Floyd, but Freedom To Glide is even more conceptual with their musical works. A good example on the current release is The War Cannot Be Won, which has riffs and tone similar to tracks on the former’s Animals, albeit not as angry. There is great depth across the musical register, with crystal clear vocals and pristine guitar tone. And with lyrics such as “There cannot be a peaceful outcome, If there can’t be a peaceful end, So this war cannot be won”, one can sense the analogy with the current Ukraine conflict. But there is also a feeling of resignation to fate and a determination to press on with whatever is required; a ‘don’t give up’ mentality, if you will, in an attempt to achieve a positive outcome, with beautiful guitar solos and piano to the fore throughout many of the tracks, with stormy winds creating a bleak atmosphere.
The title track The Chronicles of Stolen Souls, in both Prologue and Epilogue, bookend the continuing story, the prologue opening with clanky typewriter to signify the formal recording of the whole sorry, ghastly story. A chronicle indeed, as it drips with melancholy, and one is immediately gripped by the theme of conflict and its aftermath, poetic in the extreme as it segues into Stolen Souls, Story telling at its very best as the characters bed down for a long cold winter on the front: “Spirits rising as the gauges fall, The mud beneath us turns to stone, Voices carried over frozen ground, And so our thoughts are turned to home.”
Peace Without Victory has a number of tempos, building a picture of drudgery and boredom in the trenches, followed by a sense of urgency as it gallops along with a steady beat – and upbeat it is too, before settling back to the single tolling of the bell. Silent Land is an album favourite, with simple piano and vocal conjuring the image of sadness and desperation. It is classic melodic prog and signature Freedom To Glide, which builds to a shivering section: “You’ve taken everything we had to give and serve a reminder, That time can only heal enough of the pain, To face that deadly truth, the sum of all our failures, Each step by step each frame by frame”. It’s a superb track with some of the best musical interludes on the whole album.
The epilogue returns to the original opening theme, giving time to reflect on not just all that one has heard over the last 40-minutes, but also on the ravages of war and the suffering of millions past, present and no doubt in the future. The album ends with a coda, This Is How It Ends. The closing section with piano feels like the last few frames in a film score; it’s not pretty, and it’s not a happy ending. It’s profoundly sad, haunting and conjures a picture of the futility of war and that wars cannot be broken; they merely pause, waiting to be reignited at some point. This emotional journey is truly a chronicle of stolen souls…
I return to what led to this album; a series of compositions that have evolved over the best part of a decade. For many bands, piecing together a coherent album that has taken years to develop might tend to some degree of disjointedness. Not so here. This is an astonishing curation of songs, ordered and structured with great thought, that somehow perfectly pulls together the themes and detail of Freedom To Glide’s trilogy (Rain, Fall and Seed). Whilst the last track on Chronicles… is a coda for the album, the whole album is a coda for the band’s previous work. What is so impressive about Freedom To Glide is that everything – yes, everything – is undertaken by Andy and Pete; composition, recording, arrangement, production, artwork and promotion, the lot. If you are new to the band, and are into melodic symphonic prog, this is essential listening; you will likely return to it time and time again and discover more with each listen; you will delve back through the discography and I am confident that you will take them to your heart. Of the 68 releases I have bought in 2022, this is certainly in my top 5 for 2022, and it should be in yours too. In fact, it’s my No.1.
01. The Chronicle of Stolen Souls (Prologue) (2:57)
02. Stolen Souls (6:20)
03. Seize the Day (5:19)
04. The War Cannot Be Won (6:55)
05. Peace Without Victory (6:52)
06. Silent Land (6:38)
07. Left Side of the Brain (5:25)
08. The Chronicle of Stolen Souls (Epilogue) (6:22)
09. This is How it Ends (4:36)
Total Time – 51:24
Andy Nixon – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards
Pete Riley – Piano, Synthesisers, Organ
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 30th November 2022