I’m always impressed when a band can balance old and new, fresh and classic, ambience and rhythm. The Emerald Dawn are very good at this. Their fourth album “To Touch the Sky” released on March 20th, and I think it might be my favorite from them.
Let me just put it this way: The Emerald Dawn do their own thing. They do exactly what they want, and they don’t give a shit what you think about that. The band hails from the UK, and they often come across as eccentric virtuosos, New Age proggers, or artistic originals. Or that is at least how I perceive them. From their hand-painted artwork to their sound design choices, they craft their albums exactly so, even if they buck trends or fight the current of what is considered normal. And that is exactly why I like them. The band consists of Tree Stewart on keyboards, piano, flute, acoustic guitar, and vocals; Ally Carter on electric and acoustic guitars, tenor and soprano saxophones, keyboards, and vocals; David Greenaway on fretless and fretted bass guitars; and Tom Jackson on drums.
On their last couple albums, the band proved to me that they can truly play on a towering level. Their music is typically poetic, mostly instrumental with sparse vocals, imaginative, and atmospheric. I remember being almost overwhelmed with their musicianship on 2017’s “Visions”, yet affected on a darkly sensory level on 2019’s “Nocturne”. Between those albums, the band showed that they could compose driving, illustrious progressive rock or they could simply offer a transcendent, haunting experience. They can do it all, throwing in excellent sax, flute, and spine-tingling synth to boot.
For “To Touch the Sky”, the band have changed yet again. This time, the music feels fleeting, existential, and floating. I still hear some influence from Mike Oldfield and Hackett, though I’m surprised at how little of the biggest classic “prog” bands I hear. The Emerald Dawn comes from a different ancestry, more akin to Moody Blues and Renaissance than Genesis or Yes. This album displays this with confidence and prowess.
There are a couple things to note here. First, I think Tree’s vocals have improved greatly. She sounds evocative and otherworldly, just the way I think she wants to sound. Second, the sound design is distinctly atmospheric and even withdrawn or hazy. The drums sound like they are coming from somewhere off in the distance, and the same goes for the fantastic bass, extraordinary guitarwork, and delightful keys and flute. This sound design makes the entire album feel like music filtering through a misty, sunlit forest, or possibly more like sounds from another realm entirely. It is an interesting choice, one that some may not like, but I think it sounds different and unique.
The album only has three songs, each of them over 10 minutes. Altogether, the runtime is about 48 minutes. Each of the songs has an ethereal quality to it that I love. “The Awakening” opens and is the “short” song at 11 minutes. It has a good amount of sax and overall feelings of light, jazz, and pastoral color; and, as is the case for much of the album, it hovers right at the borders of our imagination. It sets the stage well. Next comes “And I Stood Transfixed”, a fifteen-minute track that ranges from foggy musings to spacious vocal harmonies to blistering edges that almost feel sinister. This song reminds me somewhat of the Swedish band Cross (RIP, Hansi).
The final track comes in at 22 minutes in length and is called “The Ascent”. This track has more guitar, specifically with an Oldfield bent to it. The song feels truly like climbing and entering thinner air. It feels “epic”, but in a subtle way, if that makes any sense. The last few minutes contain most of the vocals, and I absolutely love the melodies and Tree’s performance here.
The Emerald Dawn keeps getting better. Their musicianship was never in question for me, but their continued ability to produce interesting, poetic, and ethereal music is obvious on this record. “To Touch the Sky” is perfectly titled, and I find myself listening to it continuously.
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