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Shadowland - Ring Of Roses CD (album) cover





3.57 | 68 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars He's doing a balancing act in the dark

Ring Of Roses is the first out of three albums that was released by Shadowland during the first half of the 90's. The band's leader, principle songwriter and lead vocalist is none other than Clive Nolan, better known for his role as keyboard player extraordinaire in Pendragon and, first and foremost, as the brain behind the fantastic Arena, in which he is responsible for the music, the lyrics and the keyboards as well as for some backing vocals. While in Arena, Nolan's constant partner is ex-Marillion drummer Mick Pointer, in Shadowland it is guitarist Karl Groom, better known for his later work with Prog-Metal band Threshold. Groom is a very good guitarist and his playing in Shadowland is very different from what can be heard on Threshold's albums. The band is rounded of by Ian Salmon (who also would end up in Arena later) on bass and acoustic guitar and Nick Harradence on drums.

Clive Nolan is indeed a multitalented artist as he is a brilliant songwriter (both from the musical and lyrical perspective) as well as a great keyboard player and - surprise! - a good singer too. Admittedly, he is perhaps a less good singer than he is a keyboardist and songwriter, and it was certainly a very wise choice to employ other vocalists for Arena. But having that said, I must say that Nolan does a fine job singing lead in Shadowland. He has a distinctive and emotional voice. Some qualities of his voice and the way he sings even bear some similarities to the vocalists of Arena (John Carson, Paul Wrightson and Rob Sowden). Hearing Nolan sing here makes me think that he had much of the vocals for Arena's music figured out in advance and that he instructed these vocalists according to how he would sing the songs himself.

The music of Shadowland (despite these and perhaps some further similarities) is very different from that of Arena, however. Fans of the dark and hard edged sound of Arena (or the heavy sound of Threshold) are almost certain to find Ring Of Roses to be a rather lightweight and almost poppy affair; the choruses are often very catchy, the guitar sound is very clean and the production is very polished. Coming from a band that bears the "dark" name of 'Shadowland', this album is surprisingly light-hearted and easy on the ear. The overall feeling and mood of the music can aptly be described as 'romantic' and Ring Of Roses is thus much closer to Marillion's Misplaced Childhood and Pendragon's Masquerade Overture than to anything by Arena (or Threshold for that matter). Some of Fish's solo work (A Gentleman's Excuse Me?) might also be an appropriate reference point to understand what Shadowland is about.

Songs like The Whistleblower, Painting By Numbers and Ring Of Roses have infectious melodies that will stick in your mind after only one or two listens, the title track in particular has an overly sweet melody and romantic sound that, for me, makes the song, particularly the chorus, almost a bit cringe-worthy! This is also the low point of the album for me and pretty much the only low point. Jigsaw is a very existential and emotional song, Nolan really knows how to capture feelings with words. Life is indeed a one-way street as this song has it - you can look back, but you can't go back and change things or re-live your life. Songs like Hall Of Mirrors and Scared Of The Dark, on the other hand, takes a few more listens to get into and as such these have more lasting appeal compared to the shorter songs. The Kruhulick Syndrome is the album's only instrumental and it is a very good one, I particularly like the acoustic guitar solo and the nice classical piano that builds up towards a great electric guitar solo. Also in Hall Of Mirrors is there a very nice acoustic guitar passage.

In conclusion, Ring Of Roses is a very good, very melodic, but perhaps not very original Neo-Prog album made by some very talented people. While I very strongly prefer Nolan's later work in Arena, I would certainly strongly recommend this album to those who like the more "romantic" side of Prog. But anyone expecting anything like Arena (or anything like Threshold for that matter) might be much less impressed. I used to rate this with three stars only, but after a longer time of listening to it I have upgraded it to four stars.

This is definitely the place to start with Shadowland!

SouthSideoftheSky | 4/5 |


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