We receive many promos from all over the world, and sometimes I really don’t want to listen to some of them. This is often because of the description, or even the artwork, but I’m also proven wrong from time to time when I do get the chance to hear some of them. The Emerald Dawn provided one such promo recently. They released their “Visions” album on August 21st, and I have been very impressed with this album, to say the least.
At first glance, The Emerald Dawn might seem like another retro prog rock band that never made it past Yes and Genesis. You might expect cheese and prog clichés all over the place. That is not the case, however. The band plays progressive rock, pure and spiritual. They have a tone that I really haven’t heard elsewhere: It feels flowing, epic, and fantastical; but also organic, green, and gritty. The band incorporates amazingly atmospheric keys, lots of dirty sax musings, and some very cool guitar work in ways that I really haven’t heard elsewhere.
The band consists of Tree Stewart on keyboards, piano, flute, acoustic guitar, percussion, and vocals; Alan Carter on electric and acoustic guitars, guitar synthesizer, tenor and soprano saxophones, keyboards, and vocals; Jayjay Quick on fretless and fretted bass guitars, electric upright bass, electric violin, and cello; and Tom Jackson on drums and percussion. That is quite a bit to type, and the results are equally imaginative and classical in personality.
These musicians are very serious about what they offer. Alan’s guitar work, if my ears are picking this up correctly, has distinctly Oldfield and Hackett flavors. Instead of huge Gilmourish solos or the intensity of Fripp, the guitar licks here are quick and short and placed perfectly, with lots of movement that benefits the song as a whole. His sax is out of this world good; some of the best I’ve ever heard. Tree Stewart’s keys are majestic, flourishing, and beautiful, with lots of variety and some moments that will make your jaw drop. Jayjay’s bass is mixed well and has lots of personality, not to mention some momentous lines that sound amazing. Tom’s drums are more along the lines of Nick Mason from Pink Floyd: not very technical, but tried and true. Mason is one of my favorite drummers for exactly that reason, though.
I’ll be honest, though: The vocals from Tree and Ally might be the weakest part of the album, though that really doesn’t mean anything when the other elements are so strong. This is further confirmed by the fact that there aren’t many lyrics in the first place, and also that many of the vocals aren’t words at all. Now, the vocals are not bad per se: They are actually quite good. However, the way they were recorded almost sounds like they didn’t have any dampening materials in the studio or something, though the effect is pretty cool sometimes. So, yes, this is one of those albums where you’ll hear the vocalist for 30 seconds, but then not hear them for 15 minutes. “Waves” is the exception to this, and it probably contains the best performance, too.
“Visions” consists of just four tracks, and each track feels rather distinct to me. “Musique Noir” is a mind-blowing 20+ minute opening track that feels very grounded and jazzy. The saxophone is used all over the place here, expressing in very urban ways. However, the track has a very epic tone to it, as well, almost like there should be a castle in the distance, and the song features several climaxes and transitions that are outstanding. I have honestly never heard urban tones mixed with fantastical presentation, and it simply sounds awesome. The song is long, but it doesn’t feel that way.
“A Vision Left Unseen” comes next and is a synthy, glorious track that feels ominous and somewhat more psychedelic than the rest of the album. “Wave” follows and has a specifically surreal sound, like the ocean almost. The vocals, too, are more abstract and harmonizing than straightforward. Finally, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, based on the science fiction novel or not, has three movements, to my ears. The first part has a distinct Vangelis sound to it, mainly due to the sublime sax and keyboard lines. The second part of the song has a grittier, more hardened edge to it with some awesome guitars and keys, though it all seems influenced by electronic/ambient music still. The last part is more whimsical, featuring gentle flute, and feels very classical in style.
So, I was wrong. When I saw the dated artwork and the images in the promo, I wasn’t looking forward to hearing this. Obviously, the band’s artwork and graphics could use an update, but that does not diminish from the fact that “Visions” is pure gold. The Emerald Dawn has a huge, ambitious sound that absolutely floors me at times, and their sense of art, class, and melody stands with the best of the best.
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