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Pendragon - The Masquerade Overture CD (album) cover





3.98 | 599 ratings

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5 stars As fans of the band await the new release, Passion, with baited breath, it should not be forgotten that they have a lush and rich back catalogue of albums, and I have been revisiting many of them in anticipation of the new work. This one stands tall as perhaps their finest, and certainly most uplifting, release. It is a good thing when I say with utter certainty that Pendragon have a lot to live up too, and that I fully expect them to do so.

As with the best of their neo-prog peers, Pendragon have a knack of reinventing their sound, and remaining relevant. The opener is a lush symphonic treat, which leads us into a quite magnificent, catchy, and, dare I say it, commercial slice of neo heaven in As Good As Gold. Nolan's keyboards lead the way with a fantastic ensemble piece backing Barrett at his poetical best. A joy to listen to from start to finish, I defy anyone to not be cheered by this track. I will be most disappointed if it is not played live on the forthcoming tour.

Pendragon have always been a very atmospheric band, and this is perhaps best fulfilled on Paintbox, which offers a slightly more melancholic feel than much of what precedes and follows it. it is, however, quite gorgeous, with the sampled flute particularly effective in backing Barrett, who I believe is perhaps the most underrated vocalist in progressive rock music. His voice here is so full of feeling and clarity that you find yourself living his music, perhaps the finest accolade that one can give to a rock vocalist. His guitars aren't half bad either, and the solo that bursts out midway through is achingly beautiful.

It would, however, be wrong to pick out certain tracks and especially the two main protagonists of the band, when offering praise. Peter Gee & Fudge Smith offer a very tight rhythm section, and the various artists providing backing vocals offer a distinctive feel to what is, essentially, a crackingly good symphonic prog album. As with the best symphonic albums, the work flows from start to finish without a dull moment in between, with moments of pure passion catching the ear and lifting the listener to some marvellous heights.

The band also anticipated much of the Celtic tinged prog music of bands such as Mostly Autumn in the short, but lovely, The Pursuit Of Excellence. What follows is some 34 minutes of symphonic excellence. Guardian Of My Soul is slightly misleading in its introspective opening passage, because what follows as the main track builds up is a tub thumping track, with passages perhaps reminiscent of mid period Genesis and latter day Camel in their pomp. The Shadow is simply a gorgeous upliting piece of atmospheric excellence, and I doubt that Barrett has ever sounded better on this both vocally and in terms of his guitar breaks, with passages that remind me of Hackett at his best on Wind & Wuthering.

The album closes with Masters Of Illusion, the longest track on the work at just short of thirteen minutes, and Nolan simply shines in, once again, leading the band in much the same way as Banks did with Genesis, creating a massive sound that a brilliant ensemble feel confident in following and adding to. Barrett's end solo is incredible.

Pendragon are a very important band in one of my two favourite sub genres of prog, and I actually think that they have matched, at times, the creativity and intensity of my favourite band, not just from that era, but of all time, Marillion. As with my favourites, they have avoided the trap of merely sticking to the same formula, constantly moving forward. For sure, there are distinctive elements of classic bands here, especially the four piece Genesis, but not to the exclusive detriment of what stands out as a great band playing their own music very well.

I am pretty sparing with five star reviews these days. But, I think that this is Pendragon's finest hour in a, thus far, illustrious career, and none of the others that came before or after have been less than four stars, so the ultimate accolade for this fine piece of work. Five stars - an essential album which fans of symphonic prog rock, especially, simply must own.

lazland | 5/5 |


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