For those unaware of them, 25 Yard Screamer are a Welsh prog act who have been around since 2002, releasing eight albums along the way, of generally excellent quality. Originally a trio, they expanded to a four-piece a few years ago, and continue in that vein. The first album of theirs which really drew my attention was the tremendous Cassandra (2007), which featured just four tracks – two long epics and two more concise cuts – and since then I have been keeping an eye on them. Their previous album, 2019’s Natural Satellite, saw their sound mellowing somewhat. Always having a strong latter-day Marillion element to their output, that album went perhaps a little too far down the laid-back ‘atmospheric droning’ route that Hogarth’s crew have an increasing propensity for. As with Marillion themselves, it made for an album which was beautifully crafted if somewhat lacking in excitement or drama. The dramatic cover image of this new album immediately promised a more extrovert piece of work, so I was keen to see whether it was followed through on.
Thankfully the answer is – largely, yes. From the beginning this sounds like the work of a far more energised band, with the nine-minute opener Adrift a powerfully nuanced work of light and shade which packs a punch which was largely withheld on the previous album. The record continues to mix up the mellow pieces with more aggressive, in-your-face fare, with tracks such as Eye To I, Incident and Giving Away My Last Secret as powerful as anything they have recorded for some time. When things do drop a notch, they are often accompanied by very high quality melodic songwriting which escapes the Hogarth-esque ‘mumbling’ trap – the shimmering beauty of Gravity being a definite case in point. The closing Fragility Of Angels is a definite highlight to end on, going through the whole gamut of those light-and-shade highs and lows over its seven minute duration, and almost acting as a summation of the album in microcosm. It may be the best track on here, though there are a few competing contenders.
There are slight reservations here and there, though one of those is, it must be stressed, a purely personal one. Vocalist Nick James has always possessed a voice so close to Steve Hogarth that he could mug you at gunpoint wearing a mask and Hogarth would do time for it, but that is something which could be a big positive for as many people who might find it a negative. Never having warmed to H’s style of detached ennui, it is something which I find a little distracting, but that is, as stated, a personal preference. Like Hogarth? You’ll love this. The other thing is that, while the first and last tracks here do stretch out, a lot of the songs remain in the five to six minute ballpark, and I would have loved to see the band stretch out an throw in another real epic such as Blackfield or Cassandra from that 2007 album. Of course, for this to happen some material would have to make way, and perhaps Breathe could be excised if space were needed, as it is very close in soporific tone to the immediately preceding Gravity without being as good, and as such it does sap the energy of the album’s flow a little. Those are relatively minor niggles however, brought up merely as signposts to how, to my ears, a very good album could become a great one.
If you’re new to 25 Yard Screamer, this is a reasonable starting point, certainly ahead of Natural Satellite unless you are a big fan of Marillion albums such as FEAR. Keep Sending Signals and Until All Are One are also highly recommended, but my choice for the very prog-minded listener with a high tolerance for the epic side of things would still be the splendid Cassandra, which remains a quietly undiscovered gem. Whatever you go for, you should definitely acquaint yourself with these guys. Contemporary Welsh rock really isn’t all about the Manics and the Stereophonics!