MR2 Kickstarter Project (And no, it’s not a Toyota!)

Some of you may be aware that before this colonial life I sang in a band.

Since my departure in 2011 Morpheus Rising have released an album, Let The Sleeper Awake, performed at the Cambridge Rock Festival, undertaken a second UK headline tour and, more recently, supported Panic Room on their 2013 SKIN tour and signed with an American Independent Label. Oh, and they’ve snagged Nigel Durham (ex Saxon/Oliver Dawson Saxon) as their new drummer.

You can hear (and buy) the debut album here:

The lads are now working on the, as yet untitled, follow up to Let The Sleeper Awake. They’ve written some of the material and are now beginning the process of recording, mixing and producing the album with a forecast release of December this year. They’re also planning the tour to support the album.

For those of you involved in the music industry in any way, shape or form I need go no further by way of explanation.

For those of you who aren’t, the process of recording an album and preparing for its release is inordinately expensive (even considering what is achievable in a home/project studio these days). Certain aspects need to be recorded in a ‘proper’ studio, costing 10s to 100s of pounds per hour, then it needs to be mixed and mastered, the CDs have to be manufactured, also costing hundreds, promotion has to be arranged, you don’t want to know how much that costs, and then there’s the touring… Think fuel, food, accommodation, venues, equipment, drinks, and then double your estimate.

Gone are the days of bulging record label wallets opening up for advances and so bands now need to fund this process themselves. This is where sites like Kickstarter come in.

Kickstarter allows artists, designers, developers etc to let people know what they’re planning and to ask them to stump up some cash in advance of receiving the final product. Yes, it requires a little faith, but it also offers special incentives.

This is where Morpheus Rising are just now. They’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to allow them to complete their new album.

After just seven days of the project’s 30 day target they have raised over 75% of their goal! This is where it gets tougher… All the friends, family and current fans have seen the adverts about the project, now it’s time to spread the word. I really hope the band reach their goal and release a great follow up to their debut.

You can help make that happen.

Visit their Kickstarter page and pledge your support.

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I’m enjoying the ‘Feast’. So should you.

A Feast of Consequences

The new album from Fish.

On the 25th of September 2013 the deluxe editions of A Feast of Consequences, the new album from Fish should start be posted out… The standard CD and download are available now. The deluxe editions should have been shipped by now, but a disastrous experience with the printers has meant that they’re delayed.

By way of appeasement Fish decided to send out a download code for a 24 bit FLAC version of the album to everyone who pre-ordered the deluxe version. This placed me in a bit of a quandary… I’d purposely avoided all the soundbites and videos about the album to keep the surprise on first listen intact until I had my grubby paws on the 100 page book full of Mark and Julie Wilkinson’s artwork, the CD and bonus DVD. One of the things that made me plump for the deluxe version was the enhanced ‘book’ in which the CD would be ensconced. I’ve been in thrall of Mark Wilkinson’s art since the first time I saw a piece of it as cover artwork on a 12 inch single way, way back. The indecision lasted all of about 5 minutes, and two or three other fans’ posts on Facebook.

I downloaded the FLACs over the painfully slow 3G dongle link here in Kenya and started to play it at about 23:30 on the 4th of September. I haven’t stopped playing it since, it’s the only CD I currently have in my Land Cruiser, and it’s on every music playing device I own.

A Feast of Consequences is the first Fish studio album to be released in almost exactly 6 years (13th Star was released on 6th September 2007 I believe?). As with another band’s recent output I’d become somewhat disenchanted with the previous 2-3 releases with both Field of Crows and 13th Star, while having some outstanding tracks, leaving me cold as complete albums (my preferred way to listen to music). I’d read most, if not all, of the blogs and news updates about this new album and, despite myself, was infected by the positive vibe coming from the man himself. Artists often describe their latest offering as the best they’ve ever done, but for Fish to say that this was, in his opinion, the best material he had recorded in this entire career (I hoped) really did mean the bar had been raised.

The album is made up of 11 tracks of which the centre piece is the The High Wood Suite, a 5 track piece inspired by a battle in World War One in which both of Fish’s Grandfathers served. This has caused many to make comparisons with this album and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I couldn’t disagree more. The Wall was a political statement (among other things) woven around the memories of a child’s recollection of the impact that losing his father in World War Two had on his life. The High Wood Suite is a story, a factually based story, centred around a location which saw bitter fighting during the Battle of the Somme. There is, quite simply, no comparison.

The music on the album is far more organic than on the previous one, there’s a rawness which mirrors much of the lyrical content. It seems that much has been learned by Fish during his Fishhead’s acoustic tours about both his voice and the power of ‘less is more’. Don’t get me wrong the album still has balls, and some of the heavier sections of songs are really powerful, but the overall feeling is far more laid back than you would assume. And it’s all the better for it.

I’ll write a review of the album in due course (I need to let it bed in more) but in the meantime I think it’s suffice to say that it’s the best album released by Fish in at least a decade, and possibly longer. It’s worth the entry fee for The High Wood Suite alone, and 5 of the other 6 tracks are on a par with that section’s sheer brilliance.

The album’s track listing is:

Perfume River
All Loved Up
Blind To The Beautiful
A Feast of Consequences
The High Wood Suite
– High Wood
– Crucifix Corner
– The Gathering
– Thistle Alley
– The Leaving
The Other Side of Me
The Great Unravelling

A Feast Of Consequences Art

The CD Cover

You can buy the Standard CD or the Download (MP3 or FLAC) now. Or you can pre-order the Deluxe Edition of A Feast of Consequences now and receive a download code immediately. I highly recommend the final option, a work of this stature deserves to be enjoyed as it was intended, accompanied by a work of art to hold, read and enjoy while immersing yourself in some of the best music to be released this year.

2012 Music – My Top Ten Albums

I set myself a few ground rules for this list; no live albums, no EPs, no re-releases… It’s just as well I did as the choice (apart from 3) was extremely difficult to make. (And made all the more difficult by my noticing some people were including EPs in their lists!)

So, without further ado, here’s my top ten albums of 2012:

10 – Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth. Despite all the rumours and the aborted previous attempts at reformation I held out little hope that Van Halen would get back together with their original vocalist, Dave Lee Roth. After reading Sammy Hagar’s autobiography even my little glimmer of hope was diminished and yet, despite all the odds, here it is: the first new VH album in many a year. What I like about it most is that it picks up almost exactly where the last DLR VH album left off. There’s no attempt to modernise their sound, there’s no attempt to reinvent their style. It is, quite simply, a testament to those first 5 albums and the sound they created. Despite the terrible (but fun nevertheless) attempt to recreate Ice Cream Man I find the whole album enjoyable to the extreme. It’s just a shame the mess with Mark Anthony couldn’t be resolved and the tour fell apart… But I suppose it’s to be expected with DLR and EVH back in the same room?

9 – Flying Colors – Flying Colors. Neil Morse, Steve Morse, Mike Portnoy, Dave LaRue and the relatively unknown (to me at least) Casey McPherson, seemed like a recipe for another bloated, self-indulgent prog supergroup and, for that reason, I almost avoided it completely. Oh, how wrong I was! Despite the pedigree of those involved there is very little showboating here, most notable to my ears is the positive reserve of Mike Portnoy and the only occasional flamboyance of Steve Morse. The songs are solid, and varied, with the fault only being perhaps too much of a balladic feel as the album progresses. Stand out tracks for me are the opener Blue Ocean, All Falls Down and the 12 minute closer Infinite Fire.

8 – Rush – Clockwork Angels. And here we come to the disappointment of the top ten. So why is it here at all? Well, the fact that this is perhaps the best Rush album in at least 20 years, perhaps even over 25, is reason enough. The music is classic rush, the concept classic Peart, and it all works extremely well. The title track, The Anarchist and The Garden should be enough to convince any non-believer to visit Rush’ back catalogue, they’re sublime! So, why so far down the list? Quite simply the album suffers from terrible use of some kind of maximiser in its production. There’s no dynamic. A friend described it as ‘the sausage factory’ effect, and he’s right. It’s a shame as, if this hadn’t been the case, then Clockwork Angels would have been top 3 material. As it is, I struggle to listen to the album as a whole because my ears hurt after a while.

7 – Stolen Earth – A Far Cry From Home. Despite their pedigree Stolen Earth have managed in this, their debut album, to avoid becoming a tribute to their previous endeavours. The songs are strong, the music excellently written, and performed, and Heidi Widdop has managed to produce a performance across the whole disc which I find beguiling. I likened her voice to that of Chrissie Hynde‘s on the album release and yet I now feel that does her performance an injustice. While there are hints of that tonality the overall result is far stronger than anything I’ve heard by Ms Hynde. I’m looking forward to hearing the next chapter from this band. The fact that they’re the only band from the stable of other related acts should not go un-noticed, of all the MA related bands releases over the last 18 months this is, to my ears, by far the strongest.

6 – Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials. What can I say? When I first heard Flo I wasn’t sure, I saw her live and wasn’t sure, then I heard Drumming Song and fell in love with her quirky style. Ceremonials is a different beast to her debut, Lungs, and yet, while it follows a different vein it remains true to the overall style of her music. It’s an immensely uplifting album drawing on church music as its inspiration (apparently) and definitely cements her as the top of the pile of quirky, indie, female acts. The opener, Only If For A Night, Breaking Down and Spectrum are my personal favourites but the album is strong from start to finish.

District 97 – Trouble With Machines

5 – District 97 – Trouble With Machines. Another find from TNIMN (with thanks to Dave Cooper for this one) what we have here is hard to categorise; Rock? Yes. Prog? Yes. Jazz? Yes. Fusion? Could it be anything else? D97 were an instrumental group originally and approached American Idol finalist Lesley Hunt… If I’d known this prior to hearing the music I may well have responded exactly as I guess you just have; disgust. Never fear, Miss Hunt has proven Simon Cowell wrong (I understand he was the one who cast the deciding vote on her elimination) quite emphatically. Even without the vocals the music really is quite amazing with a mix of all genres mentioned above and musicianship which is of the highest order throughout. The Perfect Young Man and The Thief are the stand out tracks on an outstanding album.

4 – Headspace – I Am Anonymous. Another album I almost missed, saved again by TNIMN. I heard murmurings of Headspace a few years back but dismissed them when I heard that it was Rick Wakeman’s son on keyboards. Then, perhaps only a month or so ago (if that?), someone posted about the album so I checked them out on Spotify. There are many reasons I rate what I heard so highly. The first is the theme itself (I’ll let you listen to find out for yourself), there’s the musicianship, the production, the writing, in fact the only piece of the puzzle which doesn’t sit perfectly for me is the vocals. They seem, at times, to be at odds with the music which is modern while the vocals have an almost eighties feel to their production? When all is said and done though, it works, and works very well. This is the album Queensryche have been trying to write for the last 10-15 years.

Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made

3 – Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made. I’ve been waiting for this album for years, literally. Now it’s here I’m relieved, very much so. I’ve stuck with Marillion since Marbles was released despite growing increasingly disenfranchised with their output. From the opening riff of the politically charged Gaza to the closing refrains of the emotionally charged The Sky Above The Rain this really is their best release in a very long time indeed. What I like most of all is the fact that there are no two songs alike and yet they all work together, seamlessly. I’ll admit I struggled with Montreal, a travelogue about H’s experiences on the journey to the last Marillion convention in that city. Then I received the deluxe preorder edition and saw the artwork, and I understood. It is also one of the best produced albums I’ve heard in a very long time. This album could teach the Clockwork Angels production team more than a few things about dynamics and the artful use of a maximiser.

2 – Anathema – Weather Systems. I used the word ‘uplifting’ earlier in this blog, and I’ve used it before when describing this, but I heard a better description of it from Kim Seviour a few days ago… Spiritual. And now I struggle to think of it as anything else. I’m a latecomer to Anathema having first heard their We’re Here Because We’re Here album and then Falling Deeper before delving in to their, much heavier, back catalogue and I’d struggle to put the two together if it weren’t for the latter, a reworking of earlier material in their new style. This album is my current ‘self help’ treatment, it really is that good, it makes me feel good about myself and there’s no higher praise for a piece of music than to say it affects you emotionally, is there?

Album Cover for my Top Album of 2012

Mystery – The World Is A Game

1 – Mystery – The World Is A Game. This one may raise some eyebrows and, to be honest, it was a bolt from the blue to me as well! Having ‘gone off’ Yes a good few years ago I was unaware of Benoit David until they released Fly From Here last year. While I liked that album I firmly believe that this is where he belongs. Like most, I assume, who were unaware of Benoit’s work with Yes, I was also unaware of his previous work with Mystery. I discovered this again through TNIMN and I will be ever grateful for this. It surpasses Fly From Here by a country mile and I can’t hear a weak point on it, anywhere. The instrument sounds are fantastic, I love the chorused, distorted guitar sound, it’s one I want to reproduce myself, I love the instrumentation, the lyrics, the writing and the production. Strangely it’s the ballad Dear Someone which I feel is the strongest track on the album, closely followed by Pride and Another Day. To say that this has been firmly at the top of this list since a week or so after I heard it can only demonstrate how highly I regard it.

So, there you have it. My favourite albums of 2012. It was another great year and I’m already looking forward to 2013 (with a couple of pre-orders already in place!). I’ve enjoyed reading everyone else’s lists and am constantly intrigued by the vast differences in those despite so many of us being fans of similar bands, it’s what makes music so interesting to me.

As a final note I’m going to tell you my top 3 EPs (in no particular order) of the year and my biggest disappointment…

The EPs

The Fierce and the Dead – On VHS. I have all of Matt Stevens’ releases and, despite being a huge fan of these, feel he has made a wise choice concentrating on his band this year. Rather than lose his solo attraction by joining a band I feel that this new format has enhanced the experience and taken it further than he could perhaps have gone on his own… We’ll have to wait and see as I’m sure there will be releases from both over the coming year.

Trojan Horse – Fire EP. I always forget how good these guys are, and then I revisit one of their releases and am blown away all over again. Their eclectic style keeps me ever interested and their interaction with their fanbase* is superb, as is their attention to detail when packaging their albums.

Craig Hughes – Hard Times, Vol. 1. This one’s the odd one out of the whole shebang. It’s dirty, low down blues with a Glaswegian bent (Sorry Craig, I know you’re not from Glasgow, but I think you’ve been there long enough to be considered such!) and it’s great! There’s everything on this, banjo, alt-blues, what I can only describe as ‘slit yer wrist’ blues, and I love it. With track titles like He Loved Her and She Sent Him To Hell and Cave Full of Woman Blues you’ll get the gist ;o)

And the disappointment…

In the 80s I liked a band who seemed to come and go in a flash. Three great albums and then very little for decades. Fast forward to the mid noughties and a band called Kino evolved which released one of my favourite albums since the turn of the century. With the exception of Pete Trewavas, who returned to the fold of Marillion, the members of Kino decided to continue as a reformed It Bites for that, in essence was what Kino were. Then there came The Tall Ships… What would IB be like without Francis Dunnery? Surely it couldn’t work? Oh yes it bloody could! The Tall Ships was utterly, utterly, brilliant. Four years later, after what seemed like an interminable tour promoting the comeback album (great shows by the way), we were told that the new album would be a concept album called Map of the Past. After Kino’s Picture and It Bites’ The Tall Ships I had extremely high hopes for this one… Unfortunately, despite trying on several occasions, I just can’t get in to it. It comes across as a flat, lacklustre and emotionless performance to me and I’m bitterly disappointed to have to admit it.

So. On to 2013…

2012 Music – Cast Adrift

It’s been another great year for music; my kind of music at least. Several bands in the 3rd and even 4th decade of their careers have released albums which, for younger bands, may have been considered as watershed albums. In addition quite a few of those bands I follow who are still, for all intents and purposes, independent artists have also released albums which have raised the bar on their previous releases. It’s made it extremely difficult to whittle the list down to a mere 10, I could easily have extended it to 20 or even 30, but where would be the fun in that?

I’ve had to depend on recorded material for my entertainment these last 12 months as not many artists make the journey to East Africa on their tours, not even the ‘big’ ones! Normally I’d be able to comment on the live experience of the material for many of the albums in my list however this year it’s based purely on the recorded material. Not such a bad thing I suppose, it allows me to concentrate on the production as well as the songwriting in its purest form, but it also means that at least one album in the final list has suffered as a result of this ‘clinical’ review.

As a result of my time spent on the Facebook group Thursday Night Is Music Night over the last few months the shortlist grew longer as the year drew to a close and several albums I had firmly in my top ten for the year at their time of release found themselves adrift as I started making my list…

Before I get into what finally made my list, here’s what I’ve chosen to drop:

Panic Room – Skin. An overall impressive album with some great songs but, in my opinion, it lacks the vision and grandeur of its predecessor, Satellite.

Mostly Autumn – The Ghost Moon Orchestra. An excellent showcase for Olivia Sparnenn with some great tracks but too much ‘colour by numbers’ to crack into the top albums.

The Producers – Made in Basing Street. Excellent writing, excellent production but overall it struggles for any one track which is ear worm material.

Soundgarden – King Animal. A welcome return for one of my favourite bands of the 90s, but too… clinical(?) in execution, I’d hoped for a return to BadMotorFinger and the halcyon days.

Muse – The 2nd Law. I love this, it’s there most consistent release in years but just not quite good enough when compared to the top ten.

Shadow of the Sun – Monument. An excellent collection of songs which I’ve watched grow from Dylan’s Soundcloud demos to a polished release. There are some belters, notably Halo and Who Cares? but as a whole the album needs something ‘more’?

Threshold – March of Progress. I haven’t given this enough listens to fully appreciate it, but I keep coming back to it which, in itself, justifies a mention in this list.

Kompendium – Beneath the Waves. A brave and bold project from Magenta’s Rob Reed this is, as intended, reminiscent of those concept albums of the 70s and 80s. Not only with the music; the packaging is something to behold. Unfortunately, despite astounding tracks like The Storm and superb performances from all involved, there are elements of this which grate and cause me to want to skip ‘bits’.

Kamelot – Silverthorn. I’ve never paid Kamelot their due despite having most if their back catalogue. I love this album when I listen to it, but struggle to remember any hooks when I’m not. Perhaps it will grow on me over the coming months and rise above the noise of everything else I’ve listened to this year?

The Reasoning – Adventures in Neverland. Written and completed during a difficult period for the band this album bodes well for the pared back version of the band we now see. My impression is that there’s a disconnect between the musical style and the vocal stylings of Rachel Cohen at the moment. I can’t define it, but the two don’t sit well for me on this release.

Each of these have songs, and in some cases the entire album, which are very strong, but when it came down to it they didn’t hold my attention to the same extent as those which follow…

Making the most out of your music, Pt 1

Over the last few years I’ve been a vocal advocate of independent music, and all that entails.

I’ve not been too vocal over the mistreatment of artists by the ‘Majors’ (I could have, I’ve a cracking story about SyCo akin to the Rhythmix debacle, but I couldn’t afford the cost!), but I have made a point of advocating the idea that, in order to make the most of their music, artists should stay independent. Or at least retain control of their creation.

Having spent the last few weeks working with a band on the release of their new full length album, I think I may have changed my tune… slightly.

I still firmly believe that most bands/artists should maintain as much (if not total) control over their music as they can and that, in most cases, signing a deal with a major label will be detrimental more than beneficial to a band. There is a caveat to all this however; the question usually asked at this stage is “What do you want to achieve?”

Regardless of the answer to that question, and in all honesty when it comes to the next point, it’s moot anyway, most musicians would like to make some money from their recordings. The real question is, or should be, “How do you make as much money as you can?”

The answer to this, as with most money related questions, is not a simple one. And I think it’s this fact that all the ‘Industry Experts’ seem to miss when they tell all new budding global superstars to go it alone. If you want to do it properly then releasing an album, an EP, or even a single is no mean feat.

In fact, it’s a bloody nightmare!

I’m not going to get involved with the process of actually writing and recording your material, I’m going to start at the point where that’s done… What next?

Where would you like to start? Mechanical royalties? Performance royalties? Publishing? How about the basic retail of your product? But then there’s the decision of online vs physical, and if you go for the latter there’s the medium you choose?

And, of course, there’s the cost involved in getting most of this to happen in the first place…Which isn’t as expensive as you might think but can be prohibitive for many bands in their fledgling years.

What I have noticed over the last few years is that, despite everybody and their Aunt telling you to go it alone, there are very few places where you can actually find out how to make the most if it. I had to spend weeks trawling industry websites, phoning poeple, writing emails and all sorts of other ‘non-musical’ activities before we released our first EP. And even then I got it wrong! Our second single wasn’t much better, although it was nice to get the email from the UK Chart Company asking us for more details as we were selling well but they needed some further information. A pleasant surprise if ever there was one!

I’ve been involved with several releases by my old band, some more with other bands I’ve known, I’ve advised even more, and I’m still learning. Every day.
This is no easy task and I can see why having some kind of representation involved could be of great assistance to any ‘independent’ artist.

I remember reading on the old CD Baby site that if you found yourself being better at one aspect of the music industry than the other, or enjoying one more than another, then you should reconsider what you do. I’m at that point now.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to write about what I’ve learned during the last few years (and weeks). And who knows, now the new album’s out someone might actually make some money from it!

Once it’s ready this series of posts will move across to a new site. I can’t say too much just now, but all will be revealed soon.

Somewhere between 10 and 20. My best releases of 2011.

It’s been quite a year… Not only in my personal life but also in the world of music. I can’t remember a time in the last decade, possibly longer, where I’ve been compelled to buy quite so many new albums, or listen to so many new artists, well, new to me at least. I couldn’t settle on a top 10 and, if I’m honest, a top 20 would have been influenced by other people’s lists so I’ve gone for 15 with a few ‘close runners’ listed afterwards.

There’s no write up for the artists or albums in this blog, time had caught up with me… I might find the time next week to go into more detail on some of them. In the meantime, if you don’t know the artists then follow the links. Most of these are independent artists and I hope you’ll like what you hear and support the musicians involved.

I’m not going to place these in any particular order, but what follows are my highlights of 2011, as far as I can remember. Also, I’ve not included live albums or reissues in this list, if I had it could have been very, very different.

Matt Stevens – Relic

Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn of Events

Ben Craven – Great & Terrible Potions

Within Temptation – The Unforgiven

Cloudkicker – Let Yourself Be Huge

Wolverine – Communication Lost

John Wesley – The Lilypad Suite

Steve Lawson – 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything

Memories of Machines – Warm Winter

Star Ark – Imperfectious/God Complex Avatar (Teaser EP)

Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow

Tori Amos – Night of the Hunter

Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

Amplifier – The Octopus*

Anathema – Falling Deeper

There others which I would have considered for my top slots, but I’ve either not listened to them enough or I feel my opinion may be influenced by what I’ve read rather than what I’ve heard…

Paul Cusick – P’dice – I’ve only had this a day and, if I’d had it longer it could well have made the top list.

Steve Hackett – Beyond The Shrouded Horizon – An amazing album, broad in scope, but as predicted by my Twitter buddies it’s not quite ‘up there’ with the others.

Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning – I love this, in parts. It’s an amazing achievement, but I think the PT PR machine hyped it so much that people just placed it in their top 10s by default. It hasn’t made mine.

Opeth – Heritage – An amazing album, a departure from much of their earlier music, vocally at least. I just feel that the production let this down, a point made even more obvious when you play the Classic Rock presents Prog CD from last month and compare their track to all the others… flat production wise. A shame as it was up for my favourite of the year until recently.

Morpheus Rising – Let The Sleeper Awake – Do I need to say anything? I can’t put this in my top 15, it would be sad as I co-wrote 10 of the 12 tracks (if you include  the 2 bonus tracks in the download) but it’s bloody stunning and I highly recommend you go see them live next year!

* iTunes tells me this was released in 2010? I’m sure it was this year!

If I was absolutely forced to pick a top three, at the moment, it would be Matt Stevens, Tori Amos (sorry Kate!) and Amplifier, but that’ll change tomorrow!

Waking the Giant!

This is not a review. I was involved heavily in the process which led to this album and am therefore likely to be particularly biased, although I like to think I’ve managed to be honest. Think of it as an unofficial press release…

Oh, and I make no excuse for the number of Iron Maiden references and comparisons. I can’t think of anyone else even close!

Let The Sleeper Awake!

On December 9th 2011 a new album will be released. The band is Morpheus Rising (MR) and the album is called Let The Sleeper Awake.

Said album will be the culmination of many years planning, playing, writing and recording for Pete Harwood, lead guitarist and principal writer, whose brainchild the band is. It will also be the achievement of over just over 3 years work for the other members of the band; Damien James Sweeting (lead guitars), Andy Smith (bass guitar) and Paul ‘Gibbo’ Gibbons (drums) and a triumph for the new vocalist Si Wright.

Despite having left the band in May of this year I am still involved behind the scenes and have been lucky enough to be able to listen to the masters for the last few weeks. Here are my thoughts…

The Band

Morpheus Rising were formed in mid 2008. Concentrating on songwriting and building a performance, rather than getting ‘out there’, the first gig was in mid 2009. Since then the band have supported the likes of GUN, Gwyn Ashton, The Reasoning (on their Adverse Camber UK in 2010) and Also Eden. They’ve also played at festivals including a performance at this year’s Cambridge Rock Festival. There are further gigs planned this year, including a support with Panic Room in December, and more to come in 2012.

Throughout this period the band have continued to write new material and build on their reputation for powerful live performances and strong material.

The Moving Parts

Si Wright, Morpheus Rising

First off I need to mention Si. Brought in to replace me as lead vocalist, after I announced my departure, Gibbo found him (on Youtube?) with his other band Burnwylde. Pete, Gibbo and I went to see them play and were in no doubt that he was ideal to fill the slot of lead vocalist/frontman for Morpheus Rising. And this album proves that decision was more than justified.

Si Wright reminds you of a pre-’87 David Coverdale on some tracks and then a Powerslave era Bruce Dickinson on others, there’s also more than a hint of Ozzy in songs such as Fear of Nothing and Quench Your Thirst. That said, this is no mimic, he draws from the varied subject matter on the songs and develops a character for each which pulls the listener in and makes you feel the song.

I can’t explain to you, unless you have been in a similar situation, how relieved I am to be able to write so positively about the vocals on this album. You see, 7 of the songs were penned by myself with Pete writing the music, 1 is a collaboration between Si, myself and Pete and the remaining two are Wright/Harwood compositions. All I can say is, he’s done me proud. In fact, I’ll go one better than that, on two tracks in particular, Si has lifted the songs to what I had envisioned but was never able to achieve myself.

And then there’s the music. MR have always described their music as NWoBHM-TNG, the next generation of British twin guitar rock/metal. This is no idle threat, the driving rhythm section of Andy Smith and Gibbo provide a bedrock for some of the most powerful rock songs I’ve heard from a ‘new’ band in quite some time. And then there’s the guitars…

The best guitar duo since Messrs Smith and Murray. Fact.

Pete Harwood and Daymo Sweeting have produced here a piece of work which Messrs Smith and Murray would be immensely proud. The twin guitar riffs, the harmony parts, the diverse style of solos have not been heard on any album since Maiden’s heyday in the 80s. I kid you not. There’s a quote from a review on the band’s website which reads

I could swear I’m listening to a long lost Powerslave era demo track!

And you can hear why, tracks like Fighting Man, Shades of Grey and the title track Let The Sleeper Awake would be quite at home on any number of iconic NWoBHM albums. Harwood’s knack at producing a riff which sounds at once unique and yet familiar allied with Sweeting’s harmonic solo style (you can easily identify who plays what solo) have resulted in some of the most memorable rock songs I’ve heard.

The Songs

Daylight – The first lyric written by Si Wright for a Morpheus Rising track this song is a statement of intent. Lulling the listener into a false sense of security before, at about a minute in, you get that first snippet of riffage which lets you know what to expect. By the time you reach the first chorus you’re already breathless, this song drives forward with various sections showcasing both Wright’s vocal ability and the Harwood/Sweeting magic. Lift out that middle 8 and put it against any Piece of Mind/Powerslave track and I dare you to find a weakness. And then there’s the solo. Daymo joined MR as his first ‘real’ gigging band, at the time he was technically excellent. This solo shows a melodic ear and technical flair which you will be hard pushed to find anywhere else.

Lord of the North – A firm live favourite, Lord of the North is just HUGE! The song has always been more about size than flair and this version continues that ethos. It’s a behemoth, theres no other word to describe it. Despite the additional backing vocals and harmonies the band have managed to capture some of the life from live performances of this track. It will remain a firm favourite.

Let The Sleeper Awake – Title tracks on rock albums are known for being particularly broad and anthemic in their scope and this is no exception. Building from a layered guitar part over a driving (dare I say Kashmir-esque?) chord progression before dropping back for the verse the song builds again to the chorus and then all hell breaks loose. It’s grandiose in scope, and all the better for it. The second of the tracks written by Harwood/Wright this song bodes well for the future (yes, I’m looking to album 2 already!). It’s full of layered vocals, twin guitar harmonies and perhaps the best Pete Harwood solo on the album.

Fear of Nothing – This song has it all. Soaring vocals, twin guitars, huge riffs, pounding drums, driving bass. And yet, despite all this, I find it hard to ‘like’ the song? I don’t know why, Si’s at his most ‘Ozzy’, drawing the dementia of the lyric out well, the riff is huge (once it gets going), but there is something… missing? Perhaps it’s because it’s between ‘Sleeper’ and…

Shades of Grey – This was one of the last lyrics I wrote in MR. We performed it live once or twice and yet I never considered it finished. No matter how I tried I couldn’t fulfil the potential the song had in my head. What you have here is my vision for this song. This is how it was meant to sound. This, for me, is the highlight of the album. Everything is just… right. The vocals, the guitars (My God! The guitars!) and the rhythm section blend together to provide you with a true rock anthem. This is what Morpheus Rising are all about.

Those Who Watch – This song appeared on the original demo EP, the first single and the live album and yet, certainly in my opinion, the recordings never did the song justice. Lacking a guitar solo this track relies on atmospherics, a driving riff and a twin guitar hook to pull you in. This recording has managed what none before have done and brought the vastness of the alien world to bear on the listener. The additional vocals and harmonies put a finishing touch to what will be the definitive version of this song.

Fighting Man – A #2 single in 2009, this track is how most people will have come to know Morpheus Rising. It’s the epitome of everything Pete hoped to do with the band. It could be considered an homage to Iron Maiden with its twin guitars, harmonies and, let’s not forget, it’s in 12/8! It was the centrepiece of what Pete wanted to achieve. And he did, in 2009. Perhaps I’m still suffering from over exposure to the song, or perhaps it’s just too different from the original version for me, but I struggle to like this song here.

Gypsy King – The live version of this song outsold everything we ever released by about 100 to 1 on streaming sites like Spotify and Napster. I could never understand why. Until I heard it here. Si Wright oozes 1987 era David Coverdale as the song starts over the looping guitar part, in fact the pomp of this version would be well placed on any 1987 onwards Whitesnake album. It’s the most radio friendly song on the album, with one caveat; What pop rock song do you know of that has over 20% of it taken up with a guitar solo? I do not jest! Weighing in at dead on 1 minute, this is one of the top 3 solos on the album and, while perhaps tarnishing that radio friendly sheen, it would be a travesty to change one note.

In The End – I remember reading in the first review of the Original Demos EP that this song appeared to be ‘unfinished’. How dare she! It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s got a stonking twin guitar riff, it’s got soaring vocals… What could be wrong with it? Or at least that’s how I felt at the time. Live this song stands proud and holds its own in any MR set. Unfortunately, here at least, it falls foul of the standard of the other songs it’s stacked up against. As with Fear of Nothing earlier in the album this could be considered, by some at least, as ‘filler’.

Quench Your Thirst – I’ve always liked this song. The riff is immense, the 7/8 chorus is fantastic (and great to watch the moshers at the front trying to head bang to!) and it just… rocks. I never recorded this with MR, although I did perform it live regularly, and I always felt that, despite my loving it, it needed something more. Thanks to Si it now has that something. Adding some additional lyrics, some backing vocals and a menace to the lead part this song has grown beyond all my expectations. One of the strongest songs on the album this is definitely one of those ‘leave them wanting more’ album closers. And boy do I want more!

The Album

Let The Sleeper Awake CD Cover

So, there we have it. 7 great rock tracks, 1 off the boil and 2 which I think are perhaps misplaced. Not bad, eh? So what else?

Fans of Morpheus Rising will notice some glaring omissions in this track listing. Established set openers Save The Day* and Brave New World don’t appear, and neither do Hold On* or the encore These Four Walls. On any normal day I’d question this decision but, at just over 50 minutes, the album is not short and would perhaps suffer from being much longer. Even building a set list is a difficult challenge when you have more songs than time permits, I’d imagine there was more than a little soul searching involved with deciding what would, and would not, make the final cut for the album.

As a debut full length studio album I’d be hard pushed to think of another which has either the scope, the confidence, or the passion of this by any other artist. It’s not perfect, although you might think so from my writing above, but it’s as close as you’re going to get.

I haven’t received a physical copy of the CD yet but I do have a copy of all the artwork, CD, inlay, booklet etc and I can assure you that Dylan Thompson has done the band proud. It looks stunning.

* Buy the album direct from the band and you will receive both Save The Day and Hold On as bonus tracks, free!! So, support the guys and buy it from their site, you can get the CD or the download direct from them, now!

09/12/11 –  As I mentioned, I’ve been able to listen to this album for a few weeks now and, over that time, my opinion of Fear of Nothing has changed… it really does live up to all the sum of its parts!