“It was time to leave Earth. Truth be told, it was time years ago – but we’d held on, waiting for things to get better. They never did, of course. They’d only got worse.
“We were always Scanning The Dark Horizon, constantly looking out for anything that could be considered a threat to our already fragile existence. Anything appearing through the far-off gloom – a brief dot on the radar, a sudden flash of light beyond the cloud, the smallest flicker on a screen could be a sign that we were about to come under attack.”
Just part of the introductory text, taken from the album cover, for this the first of a planned trilogy of sci-fi inspired albums from The John Irvine Band (JIB). Just in case you were unaware, along with his six solo albums, John Irvine is a published sci-fi novelist, releasing a trilogy of books under the title The Smith Chronicles, the first of which appeared some ten years ago. So John’s sci-fi background is ever present, not only in the album title(s) but also firmly embedded within his music.
Scanning the Dark Horizon also acknowledges the ongoing catastrophe ‘man’ is/has made of the planet’s environment. In John’s narrative, rising sea levels have pushed ‘us’ North and to higher ground. Adding to our self-inflicted miseries, the planet is now under increased attack from The Cloud Seeders, an ever evolving alien species. H.G. Wells’ “No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century…” resonates still…
Scanning the Dark Horizon opens with the title tune, and in true JIB fashion it’s a multifaceted exploration that can be foreboding, depicting the darker message lurking beneath, and uplifting in equal measure. For those familiar with John’s last two albums, last year’s excellent Psychopomp and the equally marvellous The Machinery of the Heavens (2020), rest assured that this new release is of equal standing. For those unfamiliar, and as alluded to in previous reviews, John’s musical palette has changed across the six albums, which sees the emphasis shift from the more jazz-fusion inspired earlier albums to a distinctly progressive jazz-rock environment. This shift acknowledges John’s heritage, particularly evident in the wonderful guitar voicings, whilst bringing a more accessible, ear friendly and expanded sound to the music.
Joining John on this, the third of the ‘duo’ albums, is session drummer Andrew Scott, who has worked with King King and Paul Gilbert, to mention just a couple. As with the previous drummers, Andrew is on the money from start to finish.
Staying with the title-track opener, if you imagine an alien instrumental concoction featuring Keith Emerson, Pat Metheny and ’80s era Rush, then it might point you towards these dark horizons. And things become more twisted with the arrival of The Cloud Seeders. The deep bass, set against the alternating stomping and manic rhythms, captures the advent of the invaders. In contrast, the Solar Winds is a bright, breezy and tempo excursion offering a lighter notion.
Given the somewhat bleak and desolate storyline behind Scanning the Dark Horizon, it has to said the the music doesn’t get entrenched. Yes, there are parts of the story which demand more obscure expositions, but these are juxtaposed by lighter and contrasting moments. The aforementioned Solar Winds and the aptly titled Lifeline spring to mind. Thematically strong Lifeline is a rather special moment on the album and a particular favourite, as is the driving The Storm Chasers.
Maybe the best has been left to the last? Not that we need reminding, but album closer A World on the Run features John’s masterful guitar work. Rhythmically it might bring thoughts of Andy Summers or Robert Fripp, topped with some tasty, sublime blues-tinged lead work. It’s fiery, it’s thematic, it’s memorable and it is a killer end to the album.
There we have it. Scanning the Dark Horizon is a cracking opening gambit to the End of Days trilogy, and bodes well for the sequel Here Come the Robots! and the concluding part The Starships Are Gathering. Last but not least, a mention of Sam Hayles striking artwork which brings the music into a visual focus.
01. Scanning the Dark Horizon (7:19)
02. The Cloud Seeders (4:25)
03. Solar Winds (5:37)
04. Of Seas and Oceans (4:19)
05. A Delicate Thread (2:42)
06. Life Line (6:43)
07. The Storm Chasers (4:22)
08. A World on the Run (7:45)
Total Time – 43:12
John Irvine – Guitar, Keyboards, Bass
Andrew Scott – Drums
Record Label: Head In The Door Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st January 2023
The John Irvine Band – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube
Andrew Scott – Facebook