One of the impressive things about the album is the track sequencing, which juxtaposes the disparate influences of the tracks without ever making it abrupt enough to jar the flow.
This is an album I’ve been waiting for eagerly since it was first mooted some months ago. For those who aren’t aware, Moon Halo is a new collaboration between Riversea vocalist/guitarist Marc Atkinson and bass player David Clements, and Mostly Autumn keyboard player Iain Jennings, who himself released an outstanding solo album a couple of years back, in the form of the conceptual The House. With Iain and Marc composing all of the material, the line-up is completed by a gallery of guest musicians drawn, as one might expect, from the Riversea and Mostly Autumn ‘families’, even reaching out to ‘extended family members’ such as Martin Ledger, guitarist with both the Heather Findlay Band and Heidi Widdop’s Cloud Atlas project. It’s a line-up which is perfectly judged not only for the familiarity these musicians have with each other, but also the nice touches of recognition which crop up when listening.
The first thing that would be expected from this album would understandably be a sort of blend of the minor-key gravitas of Riversea and the soaring grandeur of Mostly Autumn (to simplify those bands somewhat), and while that does form a reasonable bedrock for the sound, there’s so much more to it than that, as numerous styles and influences come bubbling to the surface, indicating that this is one of those works in which any limitations are relaxed and anything which works can go in. And almost all of is does work, and very well.
Right away expectations are confounded by opener The Web, which comes over in the vein of prime early-80s Alan Parsons Project, with driving, bright keyboards and big choruses married to lyrics addressing contemporary issues – in this case the internet and social media, and the dangers thereof. It’s a great opener, but just when you think you have a handle on what sort of album this is going to be, prepare to be blindsided by the urgent funk/prog (is that a thing? Well, it is now) of Seize The Day. And so it goes on, with the Fleetwood Mac pop-rock groove of What’s Your Name giving way immediately to the thought-provoking and slow build of Seventh Heaven and the understated majesty of Across The Great Divide, which is the track which would probably fit most easily into the Riversea canon.
Hold the front page, however, as I haven’t even got to the twin highlights yet – coincidentally the two longest tracks at around six and a half minutes each. Firstly, The Veil – introduced by the short instrumental Chroma, which serves almost as a prologue – which is without doubt one of the best new tracks I’ve heard this year. Beginning as a gloriously melodic and uplifting Mostly-influenced vocal-led piece, it moves into an instrumental section which sees the collective stretching out with some wonderful guitar work from the underrated ledger, and coming in at Track Four, it has you smiling and thinking ‘ah, we’ve got something special here’. It’s a classic of post-millennial melodic prog rock, and in a fair world would be recognised as such.
We aren’t done with the ‘mini-epics’ yet though, as the almost-best is saved until last with the soaring drama of Don’t Let It End Like This, which sees Olivia Sparnenn-Josh letting loose with some stunning wordless backing vocals a la Clare Torry and The Great Gig In The Sky, while the piece builds to the climactic ending you hoped the album would have. Thankfully, against their own advice, they did let it end like this, and it could scarcely have been better. Indeed one of the impressive things about the album is the track sequencing, which juxtaposes the disparate influences of the tracks without ever making it abrupt enough to jar the flow.
Added to this, there is artwork on the cover and also inside the booklet from the hugely talented Ed Unitsky, who many will know from his notable work with the likes of Unitopia. The accent overall is firmly on the ‘melodic prog’ angle, and you won’t find much in the way of Gentle Giant time changes and bizarre instrumentation here, but that’s exactly the point. The music here has depth and repeat value yet is also accessible, which is the best of both worlds, and of course a prevailing influence from the ‘Mostly Riversea’ axis is key. There are a couple of tracks which aren’t quite as strong, but not a single duffer in the bunch – and out of thirteen tracks with so much variety that’s a great return. It’s the bright side of the moon, get in its orbit and see.