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…
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.
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!
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!