I’ve been a fan of Steve Hackett for some time. My interest in his music tends to come and go, but it always comes back, usually with fervor. This year has seen two Hackett albums, one acoustic and one rock-based, and they are both great. The new album is called Surrender of Silence, and it released on September 10th.
Hackett does not need an introduction as of the best guitarists ever, though he might need some introduction as a prolific solo artist who has created masterpiece after masterpiece. For this new album, he brings with him several guest musicians, including the usual suspects of Craig Blundell, Roger King, Jonas Reingold, Rob Townsend, and Nick D’Virgilio, in addition to Christine Townsend, Phil Ehart, and more. He also brings vocalists Nad Sylvan, Durga McBroom, Lorelei McBroom, and Amanda Lehmann to make this one of his more diverse offerings yet.
Eclectic records that are full of human stories, world music, and progressive rock trappings mark Hackett’s solo career. This album is no different in that regard, sounding something like his 90s output to my ears. Like many of his recent works, he takes the listener on a journey through places and times, and does so with precision and gusto. And, trustworthy as ever, his signature guitar sound is sure to add its emotion and presence to the fray, but only when necessary. Hackett, being such a great guitarist, never overdoes it with guitar on his solo records.
I would note, however, that 2021 has been a great year for fans of his guitar work. His acoustic album Under a Mediterranean Sky was a triumph of, well, acoustic guitar. His acoustic playing typically mesmerizes me, and it did not disappoint. This new record has been marketed as a “rock” album, and it makes me wonder if the acoustic outing wasn’t accepted all that well, which is a shame. This rock record does have plenty of edge, too, with Hackett really laying into the technical guitar work a few times. If that is what people want from him, that is what they will get here.
But I will admit that is not all I want from Steve. I love his humble and nigh unto spiritual experiences that he brings, especially when celebrating cultures and places. For instance, “Wingbeats” on this record has African rhythms and vocals, and I love its heavy percussive sound. Yet, there are what I would call Russian flavors all over the record, too, and the track “Shanghai to Samarkand” sounds just like you might expect, transitioning between the sounds of those cultures in exciting and polished fashion.
My favorite song on this record surprised me. “The Devil’s Cathedral” is sung by Nad Sylvan, an artist I love, and there is a plethora of woodwinds and organs to create what I find to be a strange, mysterious, and Gothic track that really delivers. Nad sounds amazing, as always, and Steve’s guitars are powerful, especially in the fireworks of the second half. The galloping, kinetic instrumental near the end is some of the most exciting music Steve has created in some time, and I do believe this song is one of his best ever.
The record as a whole is definitely above average for him. He sounds great vocally, his guitars are strong and vivid, and the choruses are mostly tight and memorable. I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of the song “Day of the Dead”, as it feels a tad cheesy to my ears, though I feel like his dark guitars save it to some extent. For the most part, however, this album is simply robust and creative.
I like a good ending, and “Scorched Earth” followed by the outro “Esperanza” definitely delivers that. The former track is whimsical and thoughtful, and I love Steve’s vocals and the obvious cinematic accents he has added. “Esperanza” is basically just a lovely acoustic outro, but it feels connected to the previous track, and to the entire record, and it does a great job of “laying us to rest”, if you know what I mean.
Steve continues to produce stellar music. Surrender of Silence is a solid (and more so) addition to his body of work. Every time I think that a bad album might be on the way, he proves that he basically cannot write a bad record. While this record might not be new ground or anything like that, Steve does bestow stellar guitar work upon us that bests much of what I’ve heard this year thus far, yet he also displays his tender, melodic side without hesitation. If you like Steve’s work, you will love this album, for sure.
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