It may be important that you know, from the start, that Phideaux is one of my favorite contemporary bands, and that I even go further in stating that, for me, it is already one of the great projects of Progressive Rock in general, compared to the great bands of the 70’s in terms of quality delivery.
After a more post-punk attitude in such albums as Ghost Story and Fiendish, and art rock song-oriented approach in Chupacabras and The Great Leap, Phideaux boarded the modern symphonic rock with the classics Doomsday Afternoon (still one of my all time fav albums) and the follow-up Number Seven. With two singles released meanwhile, it is now time for the new full length album called Snowtorch. This album continues the evolutionary path proposed by the later two, slightly shifting delivery while not changing approach. The music, again, is based on the creation of complex arrangements and mood-shifting emotional soundscapes that always keep a tremendously strong melodic sense. The capacity to create catchy and even mind-blowing harmonies while maintaining a challenging architecture and the ability to present many different aspects, nuances, details and proposals in each track; while being able to keep a compact and interactive musicality within the tracks and transposing that to the whole feel of the album is really one of the greatest achievements in compositional terms. Snowtorch is no exception in that, as the two long tracks, accompanied by two smaller ones, work as a logic line, again making the album work as a sole entity with a continuity feel.
While none of the latest albums by Phideaux is immediate, it seems that they are getting more and more “difficult” from release to release, imposing the need for a more careful and longer exposure of the listener to the music, so that the listener is able to sink in and absorb the whole scope and depth of the presented sonic trip.
Phideaux always bet on a very strong lyrical concept, which makes their albums a rich experience as a whole. Sometimes disguising in post-apocalyptic fables, the lyrics normally deal with the Human condition in its self-destructive attitude. These aspects are then transposed to the music itself, which is normally slightly dark and presenting the rithgeous emotions that fit in the lyrics. The singing is therefore sad, prophetic, angry or slightly tingled with despair, according with the words that are being sung. And this is one of the things I most appreciate in music: when there is a strong, rich and interactive relationship between the music and the lyrics, correctly tiled and framed, constructing a solid and complete package. But this also means that Phideaux needs and asks for your full attention, making the releases unreachable and inappropriate for soft/superficial listens. You must grant Snowtorch, as well as Phideaux’s latest albums, a bit of your time and dedication. And in exchange you really get your reward.
The music in Snowtorch is as easily anthemic as it is personal and intimate. It has epic moments with the same ease and naturality as it delivers zen moments of inner contemplation. And while this may be the weapons of many prog albums out there, the way all these moments are entwined and breathing within the same track, the way they fit together and complement each other is probably the biggest winning factor for this artist/band/project. And then there is that vintage vibe, that relation to the classic symphonic rock that, while omniscient, is never intrusive or transposing the modernity of the arrangements and the overall result to a regressive status. On the contrary, they serve only as a bridge to the real new approach and new millennium symphonism that the music conjures.
To talk about reminiscences and tendencies on a Phideaux album is almost counter-productive. Ok, so some relations to Yes, Genesis or even Gentle Giant may be there, while disguised (almost) beyond recognition, but they are not drivers or mandatory elements. The mandatory elements are normally the references to previous works/ambiances/themes/melodies by Phideaux itself. In fact, as soon as you start listening to this album you immediately recognize the standards and the musicality of Phideaux, rather than finding conections to other artists. This because Phideaux has already formed and solidified his style and his personal signature, which makes it being a new reference in contemporary prog, rather than a surrogate or ersatz.
Snowtorch slightly diverses from the previous album, as that one was also slightly different from the one before. Yet they keep some strong relations in aesthetic terms (therefore my reference to the fact that a style has been created and cemented). The production is simply excellent (once again), allowing the listener to really dive on the music in its complexity and detail. The instruments enter into action with precision, interacting to perfection and allowing the constant shifts in direction and the later return to the point of origin. The piano/keys and the guitar are basing and with a nuclear importance as drivers of the mood, velocity and direction, while the rhythm section complement that line of work. All other (many) instruments, serve as rich-filling-components. The vocals (male/female) end up working as another instrument, imposing depth with its emotional statuses and choruses. Multi-layering has been used and abused (in its positive meaning), in order to construct a solid but challenging architecture.All in all, and while in need for more listens to get to that point where one finds it to be another masterpiece, Snowtorch has all the right ingredients, atmospheres, instrumental richness and compositional challenges to slowly built up to be considered as such. And while I am not yet there (I still prefer Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven), I simply know I am on that way and it is just a matter of time until I add Snowtorch to my list of “Desert Island Disks”. Do yourself a favour and allow yourself to slowly be conquered by the utter brilliancy of Phideaux…once again!