Timeless and The March Of Time confirm The Emeral Dawn’s tradition of writing excellent multi-part and mostly instrumental pieces but with Out Of Time they have upped the ante, nailed the long prog format, and surely cemented their position as the darlings of the prog community.
I can’t quite place my finger on the exact reason why, but there is something wonderfully therapeutic about listening to the music of The Emerald Dawn. The group creates gorgeous soundscapes which remain harmonious even in their most energetic moments. They write lyrics which manage to be deep and meaningful but without falling into angst. And they are definitely not in a rush, so don’t expect to hear pleasant little four or five-minute prog songs (yes, I’m thinking about you, Steven Wilson).
The group’s four previous albums between 2014’s Searching For The Lost Key and 2021’s To Touch The Sky, have seen them on an upward trajectory, and not surprisingly a devoted fan base has emerged during this period. As a result, In Time is one of the most eagerly anticipated prog releases of 2023. A quick look at the track listing will reveal we are in the presence of a concept album of sorts, with every track incorporating the word ‘time’, as well as the album title itself. Now, if you were to put a topic like time in the hands of someone like Peter Hammill then you could expect lots of existential crises – after all, Hammill is the guy who even turned eternal life into an existential crisis in the Van der Graaf Generator song Still Life! The Emerald Dawn take a much more reflective approach, with The March Of Time being the only track that explicitly touches on our mortality, and then in a rather gentle way. The most fascinating lyric is Out Of Time which seems to be about how we hold on to and recall key positive moments in our life, summed up in the lovely line ‘Steal a moment in time, and make it last forever’. Only The Emerald Dawn could take such a topic and make it so life-affirming.
As with To Touch The Sky, In Time consists of just three tracks. This will inevitably draw comparisons to Yes, especially the upcoming vinyl edition which will have one long track on one side of vinyl, and a further two on the flip side. So, can The Emerald Dawn reach the dizzy heights of Close To The Edge or Relayer? Let’s dive in and see.
Out Of Time is the longest track of the three. Actually, at twenty-three minutes, it’s the longest track The Emerald Dawn have ever written, and yet it’s also one of the most coherent and cohesive pieces that they have produced. Tree Stewart’s beautiful opening rippling piano theme is central to the song, and it’s enhanced further by a mournful guitar refrain from Ally Carter. Stewart’s vocals are at first ethereal and subdued but then soar almost operatically. That opening section proceeds in a stately fashion before the pace quickens with a jazzy passage on electric piano and a new falling theme that bounces between keys and guitar. A guitar solo is accompanied by the return of the rippling piano theme and then at the nine-minute mark there is a magical change of mood as distant synths and hushed percussion usher in a mysterious Eastern sounding atmosphere. This passage builds up and Stewart’s vocal ululating and lush keys combined with Carter’s soprano sax all accentuate that oriental mood to the point that you confidently expect Lawrence Of Arabia to ride into your lounge on a camel! There’s another technically brilliant transition at the fifteen-minute mark when the oriental music accelerates and transforms seamlessly back into the falling theme. Inevitably, the music is brought full circle as the rippling piano re-emerges along with the vocals and mournful guitar refrain. It’s a remarkable piece of music and it’s so compelling that you’ll forget about time while listening to it and swear at the end that it only lasted five minutes!
While I’ve described Out Of Time as a single piece of music, it does formally consist of five separate parts. It’s easy to see where the different parts begin and end, so for example the oriental section corresponds to Ouroboros Affronted (Ouroboros being the ancient symbol of a serpent that eats its own tail – which you can also spot on the album cover). But, Out Of Time is best considered as one piece of music in the same way as Close To The Edge is one and not four. Having said that, an edit of just the A Moment In Time section is available to hear on YouTube (see below).
Next up is Timeless which opens with a pulsating bass line from Greenaway, which along with percussion and synths forms the framework for Carter to weave a magic spell with his tenor sax. It’s a stunningly unique soundscape and it returns later to conclude the song. There are various sections between those two points, with Stewart’s lovely flute solo a highlight. I also enjoyed the lovely shimmering synths that were the backing to a guitar theme – they reminded me oddly of similar synth work on UFO’s Love To Love. The shortest piece at just over eight minutes is the The March Of Time. That marching element is clearly represented by Tom Jackson’s military drumbeat and there’s some great work again from Greenaway on the fretless bass. Stewart’s keyboards dominate proceedings, eventually moving into a strangely lugubrious mood. That though is just the preparation for the spine-tingling moment when the gloom is blown away by warm keys and lovely guitar touches, with Stewart then repeatedly singing ’As time goes marching on’. It’s a thrilling and worthy way to conclude the album.
There is just one problem with Timeless and The March Of Time: they have to share space with Out Of Time, and despite their excellence they are not at that same outstanding level. They are the equivalent of Sound Chaser and To Be Over on Relayer – two fantastic songs but overshadowed by the elephant in the room that is The Gates of Delirium in the case of Yes and Out Of Time in the case of The Emerald Dawn.
Amazingly, the remarkable abilities of these four musicians do not end with writing music and lyrics. The album is totally self-produced, and the stunning artwork has been created by Stewart. So where does In Time stand in the Emerald Dawn catalogue? To these ears, it is superior to its four predecessors by some way. Timeless and The March Of Time confirm The Emerald Dawn’s tradition of writing excellent multi-part and mostly instrumental pieces but with Out Of Time they have upped the ante, nailed the long prog format, and surely cemented their position as the darlings of the prog community.