Article by: Mel Allen
When it was announced that Swedish progressive music pioneers Isildurs Bane and Steve Hogarth, Marillion’s vocalist, had come together for a musical collaboration my interest was notched up quite a bit. Isildurs Bane have been around in progressive music circle since the Seventies with their rock based chamber music, employing strings, brass, woodwind along with traditional rock instruments. I have been aware of them for some time but to my shame have not investigated their musical world; this collaboration with Steve Hogarth seemed too good to miss.
The collaboration came about after keyboardist Mats Johansson invited Steve to join them after his appearance at Isildurs Bane’s annual concert at Halmstad in 2013, where he was a guest of Richard Barbieri. Mats wrote the songs with Steve in mind, and when he had agreed to come on board Steve contributed further ideas which expanded the album. Steve states that the invitation came at an extremely busy time for him but he was intrigued by Johansson’s writing and became engaged with the project. Colours Not Found in Nature is the first full album for Isildurs Bane since 2005’s MIND Vol 5: The Observatory as since then they have concentrated on their successful IB Expo concerts, educational workshops and theatre projects. Johansson felt that the biggest personal challenge was to find out if he could still write music, and if Isildurs Bane as a band were interested in working on a new album. As for Hogarth, he relished the opportunity to work outside Marillion, using more diverse topics for his lyrics, as he puts it, “as a creative artist I get to work with the kind of instrumentation and ensemble that I don’t normally work with. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of. I would jump at the chance to do it again.”
Indeed this album is a beautiful thing, Hogarth’s lyrics sit so well with the instrumentation of Isildurs Bane which support and enhance them while they weave their stories. The performances are all top notch here; special mention should go to Samuel Hällkvist whose guitar contributions are superb, adding colour and texture without dominating the other instruments.
The album has six tracks totalling 41-minutes of music, the perfect running time which leaves you wanting more and invariably leads to you hitting the ‘repeat’ button. The slightly discordant opening leads quickly into the guitar which kicks off the up tempo, lively riff of the first track, Ice Pop, the keyboards and guitar taking the lead ably supported by some great trumpet here and there. Towards the end the strings come in as the tempo slows to accompany Steve’s vocals along with a piano before the song segues into The Random Fires, a Beatles influenced pop/rock song, bright and almost cheerful.
This album at times has a big, varied sound with lots of instruments but they never seem cluttered, there is always space between them to ensure each is heard and no individual dominates proceedings. Each of the songs is superbly constructed, dynamic with quite an emotional or passionate feel, holding ones attention throughout.
The track The Love and the Affair has Hogarth listing mundane and everyday tasks which are done in the name of “love”, the lyrics later in the song suggesting that something is missing and the consequences of this feeling, on this the album’s longest track at over 10-minutes. This follows the wonderful ballad-like Peripheral Visions, a beautiful song where the strings blend and weave around Hogarth’s voice, which appears at its best on this album. The lovely melody of Diamonds and Amnesia, which is provided by the strings and synths, gives way to the tour de force that is the album closer, Incandescent. Here the ensemble’s energy takes us on a turbulent and skillful ride, from a twinkling almost gentle start instruments are added as the song develops before it takes off at around three minutes with some great guitar supported by some brass, ebbing and flowing in a much more angry way than what has gone before.
The level of song writing and performance is top notch, with each contribution as important as the next. The songs appear to have a natural flow through the album, complex and dynamic blending together effortlessly elements of rock, prog, jazz and contemporary classical music into a cohesive whole. This has been a great collaboration, one which I hope they will do again. Give it a listen, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t.