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Born in a state of grace
on 30 November 2013
According to their website LEGEND are celebrating their 25th Anniversary as a band with the release of this, their fifth album. Whilst this has a certain pleasing mathematical symmetry, to me at least, it does rather pointedly highlight the fact that they have been far from prolific in their output! On the evidence of this album I would suggest that what they lack in quantity they certainly make up for in quality.
The first thing you note about the album is the stunning artwork by Josephine Wall which is wonderfully multifaceted and certainly conveys the feel of this recording in its imagery. The second, and perhaps the most surprising, is that there are only five songs. However the listener is far from short changed as this still combines to make an hour's worth of quality music. LEGEND have a strong Progressive Rock bent and have certainly embraced the philosophy of the epic Prog bands of the 70's, however this album is not by any means old school Prog.
The opening song Leap of Faith sets the tone for the album it burst forth from the speakers with bombastic aplomb, biting guitars, bombastic drums and a cathedral organ that can reach the heights of heaven and shake the foundations of hell. The band effortlessly power through a Bach inspired introduction leading directly to the next surprise; the Choir! This propels the track into an Orfian frenzy setting the listen up for the grand entrance of their new vocalist Beck Sian, whom incidentally is a relative of the iconic singer / songwriter Kate Bush. Sian's vocal seizes centre stage with the authority equal to any of the strong female voices in metal out there today. Like most LEGEND songs this one is a journey of highs and lows all delivered with poise and conviction. A breathtaking introduction to the album.
Wood for the Trees is the shortest and perhaps quirkiest of the tracks on Spirit. Clocking in at a shade under 7 minutes it grabs the listener from the get go. Amazingly tight Guitar, Keys, Bass and Drums herald a punchy folk rock verse and chorus, very reminiscent of Tull in their Heavy Horse period. Odd timings are woven together in a strangely satisfying whole, with Sian's voice at once deep and resonate whilst still managing to soar over the maelstrom. Her range is certainly exceptional! The lyrics are interspersed with biting solos from both Paine and Thomson, Paine here reminds me of Jon Lord with howling overdriven organ, whereas Thomson's approach is reminiscent of Gary Moore's melodic finest.
As I have hinted already LEGEND have penchant for long and epic pieces and the third track A Tangled Skein is just that. Clocking in at over 18 minutes you might expect long extended solos or introverted instrumental passages, however what you get is a rollercoaster ride of a song. It starts unassumingly enough with lyrical guitar lulling one into a sense of a ballad unfolding, Sian's vocals take on yet another dimension, further proof of her versatility. Eerily seductive keyboards caress the ears before the song shows its true colours. The epic choruses bring drummer John Macklin to the fore showing off his power and dexterity. Having established a central theme the song then twists and turns through a multitude of changes in pace, style and timing, ranging from full out metal to spooky Middle Eastern, psychedelic and tribal elements add the already startlng tapestry. The wall of sound climax leaves one breathless as the band piles on layer after layer of sonic mayhem.
The next song; Crossing of the Ways, brings an air of calm after the storm. A lush synthesizer pad makes the perfect foil for some exquisite fretless bass, courtesy of Steve Paine, setting the tone from a lilting lyrical ballad. The tune is simple, yet beautiful! The chorus has breathtaking passion, as builds into a soaring power ballad, with hints of Jim Steinman at his finest. The interlude duet between keys and guitars brings the song back down to a whisper, before it rebuilds into Paul Thomson's starring moment. A lyrical reminiscent, dare I say it to Gilmour's solo in Comfortably Numb, resolving the song in melodic completeness.
State of Grace, the final track, begins simply with solo piano, soon joined by both the band and Beck Sian, in full flight. This song is a tour de force, melodic verses, powerful choruses, with full choir to boot. Myriad instrumental twist and turns, indeed the essence of epic progressive rock in a single song. At the mid-point, the building crescendo falls back to leave space for Beck Sian to weave alternating vocal layers that weave in and out in stunning contrapuntal harmonies, before the choir and band enter in full flight to bring the song and indeed the entire album to a rousing and uplifting grand operatic finale, wrapped in a full metal jacket.
So what of the album as a whole? Personally I feel that LEGEND pulled off a masterstroke, bridging gaps between genres such as Symphonic Metal and Progressive Rock. In a way it is surprising that this isn't more prevalent as both genres border each other in various ways. Although I have made a smattering of comparisons through this review they are merely hints. LEGEND's sound is hard to pin down they do seemed to have forged their own distinct character over the years. I can see this appealing to a broad church of music lovers, from those who like Nightwish and Within Temptation, to those who enjoy the more progressive sound of Renaissance and Tull, even fans of Rush will admire the musical complexity. The musicianship is superb throughout and the voice of Beck Sian is a crowning glory! Lyrically the words are poetically beautiful in their own right, dealing with themes of emotional challenges that forge the spirit within in each of us. I feel anybody could identify something of meaning within them. Highly recommended it is on my playlist daily!