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Pendragon - Passion CD (album) cover





3.74 | 516 ratings

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5 stars A lot of the pre release hype about this new release from Pendragon, easily one of the most important bands to emerge from the UK in the 1980's, would have been enough to make a lot of prospective buyers think twice about investing their hard-earned cash. "Massive new direction", "shedful of new influences", and "Barrett does rap, but will the fans accept it?" are just a few of the ones I saw.

In reality, this stunning release basically pushes the band further in the direction commenced with the excellent releases Believe and Pure. Far heavier in outlook and execution than their earlier works, but without ever losing the excellent musicianship, thoughtful lyrics, and sense of grandiose pretensions that made a lot of us love them in the first place. And as for the rapping, I can reassure the public reading this that Barrett gives us about a minute on the opening title track and a bit more on Empathy, but Tiny Tempers or Snoop Woofy Woof he ain't, thankfully. In fact, without the pre release hype, you would barely notice it was there.

Passion opens deceptively quietly, with acoustic guitar leading us into the explosive sequence, both musically and lyrically ("drop my balls" indeed!). In fact, these lyrics repeat themselves in theme across the work. I get the impression that Barrett has thought long and hard in attempting to put across his disgust at much of modern society and politics. Dripping with bile in parts, and exceptionally thoughtful throughout, he is a lyricist who demands being listened to carefully.

The harder direction hinted at in the last two albums finds its most obvious successor in the exceptional second track, Empathy. In parts, very heavy, very well played, but interspersed with that lovely sense of symphonic theatre that the band have always executed so well. Turn your speaker volume up as far as you dare for It's Just A Matter Of Not Getting Caught - they will shudder at the intensity, and this track puts to shame many bands who pass themselves off as genuinely heavy metal. Skara Brae is just about the finest mix of symphonic and metal that you are ever likely to hear.

Longstanding fans of the band, such as myself, will delight in the incredible drumming performance of Scott Higham. It is absolutely no exaggeration to state that he really does bring a huge amount of energy to this band, and he is definitely better suited to lead the rhythm section of an outfit tending towards heavy prog territory.

But, of course, we do still have those gloriously lilting guitar solos by Barrett, one of the most underrated exponents of his craft in my opinion. Clive Nolan, as ever, brings to the band his wonderful sense of lush soundscapes (witness his remarkable solo one minute at the denouement of Empathy), and his quieter piano interludes are a joy to behold. He shines in this vein on Your Black Heart. Finishing off is Peter Gee, a great bassist, who clearly has fed off the energy that Higham has brought to the band.

It is difficult, as ever, to pick out highlights from a Pendragon album. Each of their works has demanded to be taken as a whole, and this one is no exception. However, to these ears, the longest track, This Green And Pleasant Land, at over thirteen minutes long, is up there with the finest pieces of music they have produced, and that means the finest of prog in my opinion. Huge in scope and execution, there are passages of pure beauty contained here. I don't think Barrett's guitar, set against a stunning backdrop by the rest of the band, has ever sounded better. Higham also proves himself very adept at leading the charge in lighter, as well as heavier, moments. The pace, at times, is utterly relentless and pulls you along absolutely willingly into another plain. In addition, the band show us they haven't lost their sense of humour when you are treated to a nice little Swiss yodel set against a throbbing bass line at the end.

Album closer, Your Black Heart, is also exceptional. It is a gorgeous ballad, just short of seven minutes long, and is, I suppose, reminiscent more than all else on the album, of earlier days. It is a marvellous way to come down from the sheer intensity of much of what preceded it, and the closing passage sends shivers down your spine.

In a similar way to the excellent XXV release by Pallas earlier this year, Passion is the sound of a band absolutely refusing to pander to and rest on past glories. It is the work of a band determined to push their own boundaries and stay relevant in the 21st century.

This is an album which "traditional" neo-prog fans, as well as those who love bands such as Rush and Dream Theater, will revel in. I cannot recommend it highly enough, it is a delight from start to finish. It is by far the finest album I have heard this year, and in rating it I bear in mind the mark of a great album - such a work should be one that you come back to time and again, over a period of many years, rather than a few, interspersed listens. This is an album which will blast out of my speakers many times in the future.

Five stars. A masterpiece of modern progressive rock, and quite possibly the finest thing this great band have ever produced.

lazland | 5/5 |


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