So, after the superior and, let me emphasize, absolutely faultless Doomsday Afternoon, I started listening to this album with a mix of expectation and suspicion. Expectation that it might live up to the brilliancy of the previous, and afraid that it might let me down on account of my passion and fixation on Doomsday Afternoon (yes, I really, really love that album!).
It is cool to notice that Phideaux keeps developing his music with certain peculiar common details and fixtures that directly refer to his previous works and, in a wider scale, to the history of progressive rock. In that department, I always strive to find, and find very amusing when I do, those small relationships to melodies and sequences that he has already used in previous albums. I find it an ingenious and thoughtful way of making the transition from an album to another and keep a tight relation, a sequence, of all his works. And Phideaux never disappoints me on that department as, again, he uses interpretations of melodies and tapestries he had used in Doomsday Afternoon (example: the melody in Darkness at Noon). And this time around he also goes get (and uses it in a subtle way) a spacey/psychedelic part of Pink Floyd’s work (from Dark Side of the Moon)to enrich one of his tracks (Gift of the Flame). This is one of the things that Phideaux brings as completely new and brilliant in his work: the collage without being collage and the obvious countersense of it.
One other of the Phideaux’s best characteristics it’s his obvious notion on how to create and deploy shivering melodies in his musical concept. Many times driven by the keyboards, which lay down harmonic tapestries, there are always catchy and goosebump melodies to dwell in, to immerge yourself in the complex but carefully laid down labyrinths of his music/lyrics entwinement.
This album does not present the orchestrations that the previous did, and partially plays more with choruses, but the modern symphonic approach is kept, the crafted relationship between each track is always present and results on a one-track album notion for the listener. It becomes difficult to listen to just a few tracks of the album, as you cannot escape the feeling that something is missing unless you experience the whole hour (1h02m, to be more exact).
For those that haven’t yet become acquainted with this artists work, it is never easy to find a parallel to any other artists out there, as Phideaux’s artful sympho-prog is very unique. But sometimes the calmer and more symphonic keyboard parts of Ayreon (or Lucassen’s latest project Guilt Machine) may come to mind, as well as some of the more inspired parts of some Scandinavian bands such as White Willow, Carptree or even Kvazar. Maybe in some other keyboard parts it reminds me of my fellow Portuguese José Cid in his 10.000 anos depois entre Vénus e Marte, which at a certain point becomes the most consistent comparison in my ears. But I’m just throwing names here, as this music is so different and unique that no other band can, really, be presented as a complete reference.
When I first listened to this album I was initially disappointed. Maybe because of my, already mentioned, high expectations. While Number 7 does follow the exact same path and sonic imagery as Doomsday Afternoon, it does not seem to reach the same level of brilliancy. But the more I listen to this album, the more I like it. And so I decided to try and forget about all comparisons and just enjoy Number 7 as another great album of contemporary symphonic art.
The music sounds Epic when it must, and calm and nostalgic when needed, always in the right proportions. Just what a post-apocalyptic landscape and soundscape should be, in my opinion.
Complex enough, not more nor less, to maintain its ear-friendliness even to non-proggers, this album ends up being prepared to ensnare a wider audience than the pure prog community, though it is obvious it will best fit and fully fulfill the symphonic prog listener that like the evolutionary path that symphonic prog as taken into contemporary approaches.
To sum, the hard and challenging task of providing a new release after delivering a true Masterpiece has been assumed with courage and talent by one of the best Progressive artists around. And even if not fully achieving the greatness of Doomsday Afternoon, still number 7 is way, way above average. A great album with great music, great lyrics, great interpretations by musicians and vocalists, great artwork and great concept…so what can one expect more? And what are you still doing seated there reading these lines? Shouldn’t you be ordering this album already???