Mandalaband's fourth album, their second in a few years after decades of inactivity, is possibly also their strongest. This is a group of musicians, under the guardianship of project leader David Rohl, that seems perfectly content making music in the studio for their dedicated followers. This album transmits a musical confidence that is rarely heard: it's difficult to explain in words, but there is an ease, a "joyousness" about the music that is extremely pleasing.
Mandalaband, of course, play music that falls under the banner of "progressive rock", but it is not the sort with complicated time signatures and songs that go on for ages. Here, the emphasis is firmly on melody and beauty of arrangement. Keyboards are often layered, often adding symphonic effects, there are sensitive extended guitar melodies, and other instruments such as Troy Donockley's collection of celtic whistles and uilleann pipes add wonderful texture.
As before, the album has a concept. The "Sangreal" is the cup in which, according to the Romano-Spanish legend told in these songs, Joseph of Arimathea collected Jesus's blood on Calvary hill.
You can choose to focus on the story or not, depending on your personal taste, but you will surely want to focus on the beautiful music, which to my ears is the strongest and most consistent of any of the Mandalaband albums. If you have ever enjoyed any of them, then "Sangreal" will delight you, as it will new music fans who enjoy beautiful melodies in tasteful arrangements.
The album's final track is a "bonus track" included in honour of Barclay James Harvest's Woolly Wolstenholme - one of the contributing musicians to Mandalaband over the years and who still managed to do play mellotron recording for some of these tracks - who died in December 2010. It's a sumptuous rendition of the classic BJH song "Galadriel".