Spreading the flaming wings of his firebird, progressive rock veteran flies solo.
For years, Mark Murdock has been involved in various ensembles, from Peter Banks’ EMPIRE to THE NEW EMPIRE which he engaged in with Fernando Perdomo, with CYMBALIC ENCOUNTERS and MASHEEN MESSIAH in between but, having outgrown a drummer-only slot, the Japan-based musician finally found the force to become an artist in his own right. Still, that wasn’t what Murdock implied by the title of his debut album – although, hailing from Phoenix, Mark surely factored in such a pun; rather, he envisioned the hope the world’s in need of in the time of pandemic. Yet again, this is not the story told here, on a concept, if open to interpretation, record.
Deceptively avoiding immediately memorable melodies in favor of escapism for the most part to subtly satisfy a sci-fi-seeking psyche, “The Phoenix Has Risen” pulls the listener in and into the deep from the streamlined sonic assault of the title track onward, over the course of a dozen pieces, including “Exit Door” which wouldn’t feel out of place on “Wind & Wuthering” and “When Thoughts Collide” which could grace an AOR playlist, to the point where the splashes of “Set Your Heart On Fire” marry triumph to vulnerability. Here’s art-rock of a fusion stripe, often painted in broad strokes and given an alluring guitar filigree when Mark’s ivories-driven passages are embroidered with his guests’ six-string flurries, as luminaries like son Preston, Joe Berger and the aforementioned Fernando detail this aural panorama.
As Tim Pepper’s vocals come to the fore, and the album’s pop angles become more prominent, the French-flavored “Reoccurring Dreams” should reveal the songs cycle’s down-to-earth slant and the bass-propelled “Compromised” add a nervous funky layer to the adventure, but the soft drift of “Heal My Wounded Soul” will lend itself to a half-hidden reggae groove before airing the protagonist’s horrors on the intimately styled choruses. With “Silence On Empty Streets” shunning percussion to let emotions reign and “The Starfish And The Four Phases Of The Moon” exposing the Murdock ensemble’s instrumental eloquence, there’s still space for theatricality on “All Fools Fade Away” – heightened by Ronald Howden’s thunder – and other epic cuts, save for “The Unknown Man” whose rawness and lyrical overload almost cause momentum to get lost… And picked up on “In The Future Of”: the quasi-peaceful finale – and a clear precursor to a new beginning, an uplifting paean to optimism. A valiant effort.