15 July 2010

CD REVIEW: The Enid - Journey's End (2010, Enidiworks/Operation Seraphim)

Ahh, The Enid…

If you’ve been reading my blog the past few weeks, you’ve heard me rave about their performance at NEARfest 2010, and you’ve probably sorted out that I am a raving, drooling fanboy. Honestly, you’d be right. Ever since the first time I heard one of their compositions on Delicious Agony Radio, I’ve been hooked by them. No band sounds like The Enid, really.

A bit of potted history, for those of you not quite familiar with the group (and taken from the NEARfest website):

“Formed in 1974 by keyboard player Robert John Godfrey, who eschewed a possible career as a concert pianist, The Enid fused rock based music with the power, dynamics and scale of symphonic classical music. Godfrey had stopped hanging around the Royal Festival Hall and started hanging around the Roundhouse, where he met and joined the young Barclay James Harvest, living and working with them over a three-year period in a farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors. The Enid signed first to BUK records, a tiny label which was then a part of EMI, and in 1976 released their first album, "In the Region of the Summer Stars", based on the Tarot sequence and on the writings of Charles Williams. Comparisons to any other bands were pointless; Progressive rock it wasn't, although in many ways it was what prog rock should have been. The most "indie" of the "indie bands", The Enid and their fan base took direct control of all aspects of their career, from recording to mastering, artwork to distribution – decades before Marillion took credit for the same ideas.”

The Enid has gone through various configurations over the years. While their initial studio albums saw them crafting longer form instrumental compositions, interspersed with briefer pieces with a more accessible, melodic tone, by 1983 they had begun working in vocals and songs with lyrics. Something Wicked This Way Comes, their first foray into the arena of vocal music, saw them expressing and lamenting the fears of a cold war world, some 30 years after similar fears of fallout and poisoned skies. Future releases would see the band exploring the cyclical nature of being, musical re-tellings of novels by Laurens van de Post, and the place of man in a world dominated by science, often to the detriment to nature as a living being. Heavy, heady stuff, to be sure.

Journey’s End, the band’s first studio album in 13 years, does see The Enid covering similar ground. The subjects remain the same, and for good reason; in many ways we stand on the same precipice we have since the 1980’s, creeping ever closer to an inevitable collapse unless we can figure out a way to open our eyes to the problems that surround us. These are the messages that drive founder Robert John Godfrey, and his new band of Enidi, to create.

On Journey’s End, RJG is joined by fellow band founder member Dave Storey, who mans the drum kit. His rhythms are central to the band’s shifting sound. Supplementing these two original members is Max Read, who joined the band in 1997, and handles all vocals on this release; live, he also contributes guitar and synthesizer work as well. Jason Ducker plays all guitars on this album. Joining the band in 2003 for one show, he became an official member in 2007. The guitar position in The Enid is a special one; any person taking that role is inevitably compared to Stephen Stewart and/or Francis Lickerish, founder members of the band themselves and responsible for the harmony guitars that were such a part of the band’s early symphonic sound. It’s still early days for Jason, but he’s shown live and on record that he has the skills to take on this difficult role and handle it with comfort. Finally, Nick Willes completes the 21st Century Enid, playing bass and tympani/percussion. Anyone who has seen the band on their recent tour knows how much energy Nick adds to things, and his contributions are a huge part of the band’s performances.

Journey’s End is based around vocal songs. Things open with ‘Terra Firma,’ an almost funeral piece when the lyrics are looked at. It bemoans the systematic pillaging of the earth and its natural resources by the people who live across its crust. I look at the lyrics and wonder if perhaps something more metaphorical might have worked, and then realise that in this day and age, metaphors just don’t cut it. Better to cut to the quick than try and dance around things. Filled with layers of vocals and a fairly driving beat, it introduces The Enid 2010 in a big way. It’s followed by ‘Terra Nova,’ a 5-plus minute instrumental that is our first taste of how the new band tackles the more orchestral side of what The Enid can offer. It builds slowly, with long notes echoing almost like whale song in an ocean of faint ambient sounds. The piece sounds and feels very much like a soundscape more than a symphonic tone poem; while melodic lines do figure in roughly half way through, in many ways this piece doesn’t begin to evoke the older Enid style till well over three minutes in, when a single Ducker guitar line quietly begins to resolve itself. The slow pulse and swathes of choral vocalese are soothing and calming, contributing to the ambiance. Finally, with about 30 seconds to go, Godfrey offers up a brief piece of solo piano, closing up the piece in classic style.

‘Space Surfing’ is an interesting piece. Again based around vocals, this time Read runs his voice heavily through vocorders, creating an odd, effected sound for the first verse of the song. This is altogether a heavier track in so many ways, with bubbling bass work, an almost funky beat, and choppy chords turning this into an actual rock song. It remains odd, even after all these years, to hear The Enid doing straight up rock, but they do a good job on it. ‘Malacandra,’ on the other hand, is a full bore, no holds barred return to classic long form Enid composition. Nearly 14 minutes in length, it is grandiose, romantic, shifting; filled with lush keyboards, orchestral percussion, singing guitar lines, and dynamics the likes of which are almost unseen in modern progressive music. There are lyrics, there are vocal sections, and it all gels together in an intense and diverse piece that leaves one breathless. An earlier version of this piece was featured on the band’s 2009 touring CD Arise and Shine; here it is fully formed and evolved, and the difference is night and day. This is The Enid old timers are familiar with, but updated to sound as fresh as ever. For those fearing the loss of epic Enid, look no further; this is a harbinger of great things to come.

‘Shiva’ is the last but one track on Journey’s End, a comparatively ‘brief’ 8-minute vocal song with layers upon layers of Max Read vocals. The liner notes state ‘these alone took many days of studio time and compromise up to about 60 tracks of real voice plus the use of a vocoder to create the choir-like scale of sound at the end of Shiva.’ The effort was worth it; this is song like no other in the band’s C.V., combining the sprightly upbeat sound of pieces like ‘Humouresque’ or ‘Bridal Dance,’ the orchestrals of ‘Under The Summer Stars,’ and the vocals of…well, there isn’t a song with vocals in the band’s catalogue that sounds at all like this. It’s a one of a kind. And honestly, if this is how The Enid will handle vocals in the future, I say bring it on.

The album closes out with ‘The Art of Melody – Journey’s End.’ One final instrumental, it gives the old fans a final taste of old-fashioned classical Enid. Quiet, placid, rising to a peak and then slowly dwindling away to silence, it is the end of the journey posited by this album. ‘Shiva,’ the previous track, closed out with the following lyrics:

‘Welcome all our friends
Please come inside
Welcome in
Come in to the light.’

‘The Art of Melody’ is that light, the end of the journey out of the long dark night we’ve created for ourselves, and the dawning of a new day.

This is the kind of album The Enid made in 1983…filled with a message and wonderful music. Perhaps nothing has changed since the band released
Something Wicked This Way Comes that year. Perhaps it’s time for another message to be delivered. Perhaps Journey’s End is the album more people need to hear.

Track Listing:
1. Terra Firma 7:08
2. Terra Nova 5:38
3. Space Surfing 4:57
4. Malacandra 13:56
5. Shiva 7:59
6. The Art of Melody - Journey’s End 5:20

Band Members:
Robert John Godfrey – keyboards, piano
Max Read – vocals
Jason Ducker – guitar
Dave Storey – drums, percussion
Nick Willes – bass, tympani, percussion
Elsa – growl

1 comment:

Malc said...

Thanks for all the Enid info.

I've not seen them live since, err . . . , about 1980, so it's great to hear they're still composing and playing.

Now, where's the old black sweatshirt with the '3D flock'-printed logo . . . ?