Shadow Circus – On A Dark And Stormy Night

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Stellar Progressive Rock For The 21st Century

Shadow Circus’ third endeavour is a collection of musical depictions and images from Madeleine D’Engels ” A Wrinkle In Time”. Taking it’s title from the award winning novel’s opening line, “On A Dark Stormy Night ” firmly cosolidates the New York City quintet’s status as one of the front runners in the second coming of progressive rock that began back in the 1980s with bands such as Marillion that some people these days refer to as neo-prog. While the band has always displayed a penchant for early seventies prog rock stylings the music heard on this gem has a very forward looking aspect as well, future / primitive if you like, that by it’s nature is bound to attract younger listeners just as D’Engel’s enchanting story did back in the early sixties.

Although the band has played around with themes from literary works in the past, this is the first time that they have dedicated a complete album to a single work. Metallic and melodic ; angry and poignant, the Shadowmen couldn’t have chosen a better story on which to base their latest audacious musical foray. Progressive rock or art rock is the perfect musical medium, where just about anything goes, through which to interpret this time travel/ fantasy story with it’s religious inferrences and abstract events. However, the stylings of the individual tracks take musical cues from all over the map, from metal to the classics. A dominant feature throughout the work is the extensive employment of keyboards both in deep expansive layerings and forlorn introductory melodies. I don’t know, but it sure sounds like a real hammond organ that makes appearances on most tracks which captures the quintessence of progressive rock of the glorious seventies. It is also obvious that the band had access to better recording facilities than on the previous two outings when listening to some of the synth passages.

The dramatic instrumental orchestral opening, simply entitled Overture revisits a theme from an instrumental track from the band’s previous album , ” Whispers and Screams ”. It develops into an Emeristic blowout which seems to me to be a combined prologue and summary for all that is to come: shadows of good vs evil shrouded in mystery and umcertainty. Even without having read L’Engels novel anyone can get high on this work, such is the calibre of the dynamic musicianship and songwriting. The ballad ”Daddy’s Gone” can be a song about loss and emptiness while the spooky ” Camaztoz ” can be describing a totalitarian society emphasized by Bobick’s theatrical vocalizations and female counter harmonies. A Roger Waters influence is apparent here. The most ” accessible ” track, ” Whosit, Whatsit and Which ” refer to three mystical women ( not witches ! ) who act as chaperons for the the two protaganists, Meg and her younger genius / empath brother Charles on their quest through time and space. It is the catchiest track on the work and can be compared to ” Radio People ” from Shadow Circus’ first release ” Welcome To The Freakroom ” albeit with much more depth, while Uriel ( a mystical planet inhabited by mythical winged centaurs ) with it’s haunting cello / grand piano intro has as early 80s Marilion feel to it ( think Market Square Heroes ).Those familiar with the two previous Shadow Circus offerings will notice quantum leaps in every department on ” Stormy Night ”. Two new members Jason Brower and David Silver on drums and keyboards respectively and the return of original bassist /Cellist / back up vocalist Matt Masek complement the two mainstays John Fontana guitar/hammond organ and Dave Bobick on lead vocals. I also hear one or two female back-up vocalists who appear on several tracks..

The apex of the work arrives on ” Make Way For The Big Show ” with it’s minor keyed early Genesis inspired grand piano intro that builds into a manic synth freakout that reminds me of Laszlo Benko’s synths on Omega’s tour de force ” Help To Find Me ” from ’73. The most complex and coolest tracks on the album is the spasmodic Tesseract which describes a 4 dimensional hyper cube that acts as an abstract conduit in the story transporting the protaganists through time and space. John Fontana’s guitar playing travels through the whole spectrum here. His metallic swirling guitars recall Hawkwind’s ” Space Chase ” off their 1980 Levitation album in addition to venturing into fusion jazz territory. The prettiest track on the album is the ballad, Inxchel ( one of my favourites off the disc ) with its sublime introductory nylon string guitar reminds me of Jan Akkerman’s Lute playing in Focus and on his solo albums from the early seventies. The piece features a Vangelis-like bridge that segues into a wordless spectral male / female hymn-like vocal harmony that reminicient of the Neptune movement from Holst’s ” The Planets ” representing the two protaganists in the novel, Meg and Charles as they search for their scientist father who gets lost in time and space as a result of a fifth dimension time travel experiment gone horribly wrong. The work culminates with a powerful frantic orchestral piece, The Battle For Charles Wallace, dedicated to the end of the novel that resolves itself into a vocal madrigal building up with instrumental accompaniment crescendoing into a brilliant conclusion.

I would hope that this mercurial opus of progressive rock will encourage listeners to read L’Engels endearing story if they haven’t already done so which is why haven’t given away too much about the story itself here. Even though ” On A Dark Stormy Night ” Stands up phenomenomely well on it’s own, much more is to be gleaned if one is able to associate the novel with the Shadow Circus interpretation which fires on all cylinders with the intensity of prog and classic rock of the glorious seventies in this campy world of Justin Beibers, Lady Ga Gas and Celine Dions.  Accolades for this progrock jewel that comes with artwork that actually has something to do with both the band and the alluring story they are so fasdiciously extrapolating. Brilliance.

Tracklist:

1. Overture (8:09)
2. Daddy’s Gone (5:56)
3. Whosit, Whatsit And Which (6:33)
4. Make Way For The Big Show (8:42)
5. Tesseract (5:20)
6. Uriel (5:51)
7. Camazotz (6:22)
8. Ixchel (4:39)
9. The Battle For Charles Wallace (7:00)

Line-up:

* David Bobick – vocals
* John Fontana – keyboards, guitars
* David Silver – keyboards
* Jason Brower – drums
* Matt Masek – bass

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