[This album] doesn’t shy away from its ’80s touchstones – and nor should it – but while acknowledging its roots it also manages the neat trick of sounding contemporary all at the same time
Well, here’s one which has justifiably elbowed its way to the top of my inbox after a little while! Appearing in March of this year, just as some other events were winding up to take hold (which is the most unfortunate of timing, one must say), it is well past time to address this situation, as an album of this quality cannot go uncelebrated. Long Earth are a band from Scotland, who have a convoluted ‘family tree’ with many branches connecting to the corresponding conifer of Scots proggers Abel Ganz. I won’t go into all of the links, as we could start playing ‘Six degrees of Scottish neo-prog’, but suffice it to say that there is class and pedigree throughout this outfit. Once Around The Sun is the band’s second album (following on from 2017’s The Source), but the first to feature vocalist Martin Haggerty, whose arrival in 2018 cemented the band’s identity in their own minds.
If you take the somewhat lazy and ‘catch-all’ tag of ‘neo-prog’ as your mental starting point, it won’t give you anything like a sense of the breadth of material here, but it will give you an idea in the right sonic ballpark. Opener We Own Tomorrow, across its eight minute duration, definitely lets you jump into the album from the neo diving board, as it shows off its ’80s-influenced tail feathers beautifully, driven along by Mike Baxter’s bed of keyboards and climaxing with a cracking instrumental section featuring Renaldo McKim’s guitar work. It’s a fine opener, managing not to sound dated despite wearing its ’80s influences proudly on its sleeve. It’s straight into more mellow territory, however, with the lovely ballad My Suit Of Armour, and its message about coping with the slings and arrows that life throws at all of us along the way. The line ‘They say what doesn’t kill you only serves to make you stronger / I should be invincible by now’ raises a wry smile, and the full band come in toward the end to lift things and provide a bit of a lighter-waving coda. The twelve-minute A Guy From Down The Road is something of an epic, with a propulsive momentum about it for much of its length before another great instrumental passage, with what sounds like a Hammond organ calling to mind a hint of classic Deep Purple throughout, while two short songs in the shape of the bright, summery What About Love and the more melodic and lush The Man In The Mirror (no, neither are those songs!) take us up to what one might call the conceptual main course of the album.
From this point on, the final half-hour is taken up by a four-part ‘suite’ of sorts, with each part being named after each of the four seasons of the year. The piece as a whole is Once Around The Sun, being the title track, and lyrically tells the tale of an ultimately doomed romance through its different stages, mirroring the seasons. Musically, the four movements also manage to evoke the seasons themselves in some very clever compositional work. Spring is carried along on a sprightly bed of acoustic guitar, with a little of a Barclay James Harvest feel, while Summer is far more electric, with almost langorous passages broken up by big neo-sounding interjections giving perfect contrast – it’s almost like the musical equivalent of a long, sunny day, with periods of lazy contemplation alternating with joyous activity. Toward the end of this part, the last days of summer are clearly heard creeping in with a melancholy feel, carrying directly over to the wistfully reflective Autumn, in which we sense the end approaching day by day. Winter, in all of its twelve-minute glory, had to provide a conclusion fitting to not only the piece, but the album as a whole, and it does this in spades – or should that be snow-shovels. Avoiding the temptation to continue down the autumnal path to a gloomy denouement, the piece is actually quite upbeat, musically evoking the joy of the season forcing its way in despite the cold and dark. You can almost see sledges going down hills and snowballs hitting their targets, while the lyric acknowledges the end of the relationship – we are left with a sense of the possibilities of new beginnings with another spring around the corner, and the album goes out on a definite high.
This is an extremely good modern prog album. It doesn’t shy away from its ’80s touchstones – and nor should it – but while acknowledging its roots it also manages the neat trick of sounding contemporary all at the same time. Keep an eye out for Long Earth – Don’t be surprised to see them in it for the Long Haul! Caledonian Prog is alive and well…