August 7, 2020

This iteration of Abel Ganz has produced a modern prog masterpiece.

Scottish neo-prog band Abel Ganz have had a curious history. While many bands in the neo-prog wave of the 1980s burnt brightly for a short period and then faded away, Abel Ganz spluttered through the 80s – with their chance of recognition sunk by rivals Pallas stealing their rather good singer at the time, Alan Reed – before coming back to record the well-received Shooting Albatross in 2008 and then a much more mature (and less overtly neo-prog) album in 2014, rather oddly called just Abel Ganz. A further six years on and we now have a new release – thankfully not called Abel Ganz II – and instead with the fascinating title of The Life Of The Honeybee And Other Moments Of Clarity.

The album kicks off with the title track, which at almost 13 minutes might make you expect a neo-prog epic full of pyrotechnics. But no, the song is mostly restrained with plenty of acoustic and piano based sections, hence more Big Big Train than Marillion. There is a meandering feel to the vocals and the strong support from the keyboards and good use of the sax (Snake Davis) all contribute to a sound that reminds me of Supertramp at their best. It’s never flashy but it’s still a quite brilliant song. Following this is a set of three songs: two tremendously good ballads – the guitar-based One Small Soul and the piano/strings-based Summerlong – both highlighting the melodic capabilities of the band – and sandwiched between these is the short peaceful solo acoustic guitar piece Arran Shores. These three reflective pieces capture perfectly the general concept behind the album which the band describe as an exploration of our relationship with memory and loss and the liminal space between a fading ‘what was’ and an anticipated ‘what is to come’. Heavy stuff!

The danger of this becoming all too maudlin is dispelled by the intro to the second 13 minute track, Sepia And White, with its lively and funky bass theme.  The middle instrumental section of the song is perhaps the only part on the album where the music gets truly aggressive, also oddly containing a guitar refrain that seems to me to be a deliberate tip of the hat towards the near-identical refrain in the intro of Rush’s Xanadu(!). Overall, it’s a fine song and well-constructed, and provides musical balance in the album.The atmospheric closing track, The Light Shines Out, begins with vocals over evocative spaced out piano chords. Here I have a bone to pick with the choice of singer. For some reason, Denis Smith came out from behind his drum kit and took on the lead vocals. It may be that the band thought his gravelly voice suited the song better than lead singer Mick Macfarlane. Personally, I think they missed an opportunity to ask Emily Smith (who had already guested on vocals on One Small Soul) to take the lead here. An ethereal female voice would have made this track much stronger, in my view.

The album is barely 40 minutes in duration – a deliberate attempt to hit vinyl length according to the band – and it works perfectly. Anything longer with this intense and introspective concept album might have stretched it a little too far. The band members may have changed over the years and none of the founding members remain, but this iteration of Abel Ganz has produced a modern prog masterpiece. It’s well worth checking out!