New chapter of Arthurian saga brings a half-full cup of wonder to the Round Table.
After a five-year hiatus Alan Simon returns to the cycle he had started two decades earlier with what was planned as another spin on King Arthur’s saga yet became a universe in itself. This continuation of the rock opera may exist on the original myth’s outer reaches, and it would require a stage show to outline the story, since the CD version doesn’t provide a single hint at what’s going on there, but the album has a clear conceptual ring to it.
As diverse as guest musicians performances are, the aural tapestry is held together by Celtic motifs that run through it – sometimes in full frontal view as in “The Last Lament Of A Fairy” in which Siobhán Owen pours her acoustic heart, sometimes as undercurrent like in the rousing “Dreamers” which URIAH HEEP‘s own Bernie Shaw voices valiantly, both songs bearing a tremendous emotional load- whereas the fiddle-fueled instrumental “The Fifth Season” welcomes heavy riff in its mystic midst. To harness such wholeness even more, most of the pieces are anchored by Martin Barre of JETHRO TULL fame and SUPERTRAMP’s John Helliwell and Jesse Siebenberg – the two bands’ styles alloyed on “Behind The Mist” – who create a majestic mood for overture “The Wings Of The Dragon” to spread and take off on the strength of memorable twang, electronic throb and orchestral surge until Maite Itoiz’s operatic soprano takes “Dun Aengus II” to a higher ground.
Still, it’s ballads that steal the show this time, “The Passion” – delivered dryly, if intensely, as only CURVED AIR‘s Sonja Kristina can, but hitting hard – while Moya Brennan of CLANNAD elevates the vibe of “Calling For You” above overt sentimentality, occasional riff keeping it in check here and on “Alone” where SAGA’s Michael Sadler appears. The record’s flow doesn’t get predictable, though, as sweet, slider-polished AOR of “You Are The Sunshine” or “Forget Your Sorrow” is balanced with stereo-exploring “Stonehenge” which adds a tender flute and mighty organ to the instrumental palette, and the moments of contrast aren’t rare here. The album may propel the saga to a dark place, but the light is always there, on the legendary blade.