Album Review: Big Big Train – Grimspound

Big Big Train

Shame on me! I’m not quite sure how the new Big Big Train album slipped me by, especially considering that over the years I’ve enjoyed their records quite a lot, and their last year’s full-length was an astonishing experience. The UK prog rockers have expanded their line-up over the years, and they currently work as an octet comprised of David Longdon (vocals, flute, keyboards, guitar, banjo), former Spock’s Beard drummer Nick D’Virgilio, Dave Gregory (guitars), Beardfish singer and guitarist Rikard Sjöblom, Danny Manners (keyboards), Rachel Hall (violin, cello, vocals), Andy Poole (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Greg Spawton (bass).

Grimspound is Big Big Train’s tenth studio album, and may as well be their best effort to date. This group of musicians never felt “more band” than on this record, and everything before Grimspound was simply build-up, stepping stones if you will. While Big Big Train had indeed released some great albums that were unlike anything else being released at the time, it seemed as if they were inching closer and closer to perfection yet never actually reaching their goal. The band’s fanbase was steadily growing larger and larger with each album, and their live shows were gaining increased attendance due to the elaborate and bombastic stageshow.

Grimspound more-or-less represents everything that was great about the art-rock/progressive rock movement of the early ‘70s, combining all of the genres strongpoints into one album. It is filled with flash, bombast, and pomp, yet it never onces becomes pretentious – the lyrics are witty, filled with wordplay, and the music itself is incredibly tasteful. Whereas in the past the group would often go overboard with its playing style, dipping into the territories of “showing off,” on this album they play tastefully and even beautifully at times, yet still manage to reach new levels of complexity and a classical touch as well.

Grimspound

I certainly cannot say which band member does what when it comes to guitars and keyboards especially, as few of them change the roles on the record. What I can tell though is that guitarists on Grimspound prove themselves as some of the best axemen in the contemporary Prog Rock. From the unique finger-tapping style, to the dulcet acoustics, to multiple solos throughout the album, Sjöblom, Longdon, Gregory & Poole certainly play masterfully and alway surprise.

There are no repeated riffs or over-used techniques, as the guitar work is always exciting. Bassist Greg Spawton makes his presence very much known on this album, playing complex and great-sounding basslines all across the record.

“Brave Captain” kicks off Grimspound with an atmospheric 75-second intro, just to expand from a minimalistic to quite complex prog epic, full of beautiful moments and dynamics. Lead singer, David Longdon, is in his finest voice yet and commands the ebb and flow of volume taking place behind him. The band’s more unified approach is immediately notable here, as everyone’s tricks have an effective, continuing role in the arrangement, even when it quickly changes its direction. Grimspound could well be Big Big Train’s cooperative peak, even if the group may not have written and recorded it in that state of mind. The balanced production works wonders in that regard.

This comes forward especially well in the largely instrumental, and longest track here—“A Mead Hall in Winter.” The classical piano part and stunning guitar solo during the middle of the track are two clear individual standouts, and despite that, neither feels like an ego trip, fitting very comfortably within the song and only working to enhance it.

10-minute “Experimental Gentlemen” opens with a beautiful piano melody which is rivalled by a repetitive flute piece. In keeping with the song’s evolving sound, Longdon comes in with a convincing line, “farewell, my friends / taking leave of England / headed due south…,” passing the musical baton to Rachel Hall, who is absolutely amazing here. “Meadowland’s” position in the middle of Grimspound is very well weighted; a song that is constructed as an “unplugged” piece brings forward a nice interplay between acoustic guitar, violin, piano and soothing voice.

The album pace and structure is something that deserves to be highlighted. The songs follow an epic progressive formula which other bands should take note of. Instead of instrumental show-offs, Big Big Train show restraint; they know how to keep their audience listening.

Grimspound is easily one of Big Big Train’s greatest (if not the greatest) efforts. It moulds the band’s strengths more carefully and diversely, showing they could hold back when needed without giving up the things that made them exciting in the first place. The group is at its most focused at this point, delivering a number of amazing compositions and coming very close indeed to progressive perfection.

Treat yourself with a copy of the album; it’s available from Bandcamp.

Tracklist:

1. Brave Captain
2. On the Racing Line
3. Experimental Gentlemen
4. Meadowland
5. Grimspound
6. The Ivy Gate
7. A Mead Hall in Winter
8. As the Crow Flies

Line-up:

* David Longdon – vocals, flute, keyboards, guitar, banjo
* Nick D’Virgilio – drums and vocals
* Dave Gregory – guitars
* Rikard Sjöblom – guitars, keyboards and vocals
* Danny Manners – keyboards and double bass
* Rachel Hall – violin, cello and vocals
* Andy Poole – guitars, keyboards and vocals
* Greg Spawton – bass and bass pedals

Links:

bigbigtrain.com

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2 Comments

  1. Alessandro Schiariti

    May 29, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    wait wait wait !!! for you this is the best album from Big Big train??????????serius?

    have you ever heard english electric ????

    • Nicci

      May 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Yes, seriously. You have problem with that?

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