Ten Jinn - Ardis

Ten Jinn – Ardis

Ten Jinn has had an interesting career arc. In true progressive spirit, these guys have rocked, surrendered to the classical muse, reinterpreted Bowie, and gone all-out prog concept. Give them credit for not only trying on a new hat with each release, but doing it all convincingly well. Ardis, another concept based loosely on Jack London’s 1908 novel The Iron Heel, throws all these influences into the blender, hits puree, and comes up with yet another album that departs from its predecessors.

Ardis presents the story of an oligarchy which takes over America during the early Twentieth Century, as seen from the viewpoint of a 27th Century scholar, four centuries after the fall of the totalitarian state. The songs shift between the two time periods as well as the points of view. Wisely omitting any character names allows the listener space to more easily enter the story on his or her own terms. Lyrically, the story is not so specific that it requires knowledge of the book for complete enjoyment. So, slap on the headphones, get comfortable, and enjoy the story of Ardis.

Fading in stealthily on piano and synthesised strings, Elegy I begins the proceedings in a contemporary classical style. The introduction of drums and electric guitar do nothing to dispel the mood, the guitar adding tonal colours that might have been assigned to an oboe in a true orchestral setting. This is a talented and surprising band, and the promise feels real.

Drummer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Wickliffe acquits himself by not only wiring the music to Brotherhood of Man, he also performs all but the instrumental solos and lead vocals. The song is firmly grounded in rock parameters, but with numerous inventive and interesting choices of sounds. There are sonic elements which remind me of Blue Öyster Cult’s proggier moments. Still Strauss’ vocals lend the song Ten Jinn’s signature style. Slaves of the Machine uses a funky 7/8 groove to provide the bedrock for the bass and guitar which carry the song. The instrumental bridge offers a change of tempo and a bit of a Styx influence. Strauss again carries the song with his strong vocal delivery, particularly in the manner in which he handles his own background vocals. What his voice lacks in heft he makes up for in dexterity. The several mood and time changes pay dividends as one section flows seamlessly into the next.

Strauss commands Say Aye/Bishop’s Vision right from moment one, a bed of piano and synths cushioning his voice. Happy The Man’s Stan Whittaker is a frequent contributor and provides a typically smart and melodic solo on Say Aye. Moody church bells and acoustic guitars signal the Bishop’s Vision portion of the song. An appropriately dense and churchy organ goes through some out of the ordinary progressions as Strauss provides an earworm vocal melody. Elegy II picks up where Part I left off, this time with a more prominent guitar part and a marvellously rubbery bass, courtesy of Wickliffe. The piano and keyboard orchestrations are sumptuous and benefit from having more time to explore the sonic landscape. About halfway through, a complete change of pace places the synths in a more ominous position and the orchestrations respond accordingly. The song comes full-circle as the original piano motif returns for a satisfying conclusion.

One of several singles from the album, Adumbrations: Beginning of the End, is enthusiastic and anthemic in tone. The sound is thicker but not muddy, and again Strauss’ vocals are mixed up front. Mike Matier’s guitar solo is brief while saying all it needs to before disappearing into the emphatic chorus. A song about omens, the opening lyrics capture the dichotomy of the uplifting music and the song’s foreboding message: “It’s a sunny day and I see beauty everywhere / When suddenly doubts come into view and I smell a storm in the air… Thunder and lightning splits the sky like adumbrations of creation”. A total triumph of a song.

The Red Virgin opens with a flamenco feel, barely hidden beneath the guitars and synths. Metal guitars segue into Fripp/Belew angularity. A truckload of ideas cycle in and out of these eight minutes, practically demanding your attention at every turn, each one weaving in and out and back again. Co-writers Strauss and Kenny Francis share vocal duties, at times creating massive slabs of melody and harmony thick as syrup. They know how good they are too, as a disembodied voice whispers “cool” after the final vocal onslaught. Nightmare lives up to its name musically as Matier goes berserk on this instrumental piece. Weird atonal leads compete with Mellotron choirs for the oddball factor before succumbing to acoustic guitars and keyboard orchestrations that should offer respite, but instead ratchet up the tension. Every musician gives his most manic performance, resulting in a totally fun roller coaster ride.

Final track Ardis/Elegy III takes the spirit of the instrumental opener and ups the ante by adding another great vocal, making the song resonate more deeply. The song offers more gorgeous synth work, especially in the choice of tonal colors. Francis does his best Brian May imitation over harpsichord and synth pipes for a magnificent outro. As the Ardis section gives way to Elegy III it takes on a Celtic flavour, jaunty and with a sense of delight. Once more, as the music ends, a voice almost subliminally asks, “How did that sound?” My answer – simply glorious, guys; you can be proud.

Melodic Revolution Records has over the years been home to an interesting assortment of artists, and the quality has ranged almost as widely. This year, something seems to have broken through as 2023 is shaping up to be a banner year for the label. Ardis is another fine addition to the label’s cannon and the latest in a string of triumphs from a fine and underrated band.

01. Elegy 1 (1:29)
02. Brotherhood of Man (4:02)
03. Slaves of the Machine (5:47)
04. Say Aye/Bishop’s Vision (6:50)
05. Elegy II (5:49)
06. Adumbrations: Beginning of the End (3:52)
07. The Red Virgin (7:54)
08. Nightmare (4:18)
09. Ardis/Elegy III (7:32)

Total Time – 47:25

John Strauss – Lead & Backing Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, String Bass
Mark Wickliffe – Drums, Percussion, Guitar, Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Synthesisers, Synth Bass, Backing Vocals
Michael Matier – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards
Matt Brown – Organ, Synthesisers, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Kenny Francis – Electric, Acoustic & Ebow Guitars, Church Bells, Keyboards, Lead & Backing Vocals
Matt Overholser – Bass, Stick
~ With:
Stan Whittaker – Guitar Solo (on Say Aye)

Record Label: Melodic Revolution Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 26th May 2023

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