With the nearly overwhelming amount of praise it has received over the course of the past month, I found myself feeling obliged to check out Phideaux’s eighth opus ‘Snowtorch’ out for myself. An independent band that has since developed quite a devoted underground following, I had only early a handful of tracks from the band before diving into what has been said to be their greatest work to date, I enjoyed my existing taste of Phideaux, and to put it simply; my first album experience with the band has been excellent. A massive undertaking consisting of a thirty-six minute long epic divided into two parts along with a little more music for good measure, ‘Snowtorch’ is certainly an album that has taken some time to grasp fully, and while I may not agree with it being the greatest thing to come out of 2011, Phideaux has found a new fan in me.
As has been the norm for everything I’ve heard out of Phideaux, the music is dark and mysterious, but keeps a playful attitude throughout. There’s no major revolution to this formula for Phideaux here, but the grandeur of the compositions certainly puts the album on their discographic map. These strangers to epics (the suite ‘Chupacabras’ comes to thought) but there is a sense throughout that Phideaux Xavier and company are experimenting with musical structure here. As with all experimentation of course, there are faults along the way…
As a whole, the ‘Snowtorch’ epic leaves a lasting impression. A feast of vintage mellotrons and keyboards, the track features about as much variety and dynamic as one could hope for; catchy melodic segments are followed by drawn out instrumental showcases and focused build-ups. Both halves of this piece are showered with great moments of composition that sometimes reach the caliber of being classical in nature.There are plenty of counterpoints and harmonies and- not to go without mention- a wide variety of instruments to behold throughout the music. As is typical for Phideaux, this epic composition is backed up by some great performances from everyone involved. Leading some of the most memorable parts is the voice of Xavier himself, who may not have been gifted with the greatest vocal range, but has a really warm and personable tone to his voice that is scarcely seen in progressive rock.
As great as ‘Snowtorch’ is as an epic, I cannot consider it a perfect piece. Every vocal moment to hear in ‘Snowtorch’ is absolutely mesmerizing and a joy to hear each time, but the instrumental segments do tend to drag on longer than I may have liked. This is not to say that the instrumental aspect of Phideaux is weak in any way, but it does tend to get a little self-indulgent, especially towards the second half of the piece. On it’s own though, ‘Snowtorch’ is still a masterpiece, taking into account even its least inspired moments. There is however, the middle track ‘Helix’ to take into account. While the same sonic depth and warmth is employed here, it lacks the structure and melody to be memorable, which would have made it a welcome respite from the more involving compositions, instead of a track which feels as if it gets in the way of the real gold.
‘Snowtorch’ may not have the same effect on me as others on the international progressive rock scene, but Phideaux really proves themselves here as one of the frontrunners on the independent prog scene here. An excellent album.
1. Snowtorch – Part One (19:39)
a) Star Of Light
c) Fox On The Rocks
2. Helix (5:54)
3. Snowtorch – Part Two (16:11)
a) Blowtorch Snowjob
b) Fox Rock 2
c) Coronal Mass Ejection
4. ” … ”’ (2:34)
* Phideaux Xavier – acoustic guitar, piano, vocals
* Ariel Farber – vocals, violin
* Valerie Gracious – vocals
* ‘Bloody’ Rich Hutchins – drums
* Mathew Kennedy – bass guitar
* Gabriel Moffat – electric guitar
* Linda Ruttan Moldawsky – vocals, metal percussion
* Molly Ruttan – vocals
* Mark Sherkus – keyboards, piano
* Johnn Unicorn – keyboards, saxophone, vocals