A review with Steve Hackett, Koid'9 by Marc Moigeon - August 2011
Almost two years already since the independant release of Steve's previous album, "Out of the Tunnel's Mouth" (which was to be re-released a few months later by InsideOut Music in an enhanced version with a bonus CD). A new album by one of the most versatile musicians ever - one of the most progressive too, in the wider meaning of this word -, is always a major event. "Beyond The Shrouded Horizon" means "Au-delá de l'Horizon brumeux" as is illustrated by the picture on the cover, a foggy landscape in some Far-Eastern country in the moments before the dawn. That would be wrong to conclude that the music here is dark, nonetheless - even though it can be, from time to time. What we have here is an artist at the top of his inspiration and of his technique, always willing to experiment but also to stay melodic and consistent.
It's thanks to the Internet that I was able to exchange with a happy man who's just wed with his new partner and who was about to leave for a short honeymoon befofe he pays a visit to us in the begining of October, for two concerts in Paris and Compiègne.
Steve HACKETT : Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (InsideOut Music/EMI)
It's quite clear that Steve Hackett's inspiration is not fading (See interview), even though we find in this new opus a lot of familiar elements taken from his past but with the huge stylistic diversity which is so typical of the musician.
The team around him is mostly the same as usual with Nick Beggs (bass, Stick), Gary O'Toole (drums), Roger King and Ben Fenner (keyboards and programming), John Hackett on flute, Rob Townsend (saxophones, clarinet, flute), Christine Townsend and Richard Stuart (violin, viola and cello), Dick Driver (double bass), plus Simon Phillips and Chris Squire (respectively drums and bass guitar on two tracks).
The album, in his single CD version, is almost one-hour-long and many tracks are connected together ou juste placed closely next to another, giving the feeling of a huge, multi-faceted musical suite. The guitarist stays terribly eclectic, while he succeeds in giving a certain coherence to the whole. Furthermore, those who are in love with Steve's electric guitar solos should be fully pleased as he lets himself go here, in several different styles. And we also find here some echos of an album like "Spectral Mornings", noticeably a folk side (with some acoustic 12-string guitar) mixed with orchestral elements and some progressive structures (on "Loch Lomond" and "A Place Called Freedom", for instance).
Jazz, whose influence has been more and more featured during Steve's recent concerts, isn't perceptible here. Rob Townsend is very rarely featured, and not in this style... Above all, dissonances are kept to the minimum, as on "Out of the Tunnel's Mouth". The guitarist delivers an armful of strong vocal or instrumental melodies, some dreamy atmospheres, and some rockier but accessible pieces. And as always, he isn't reluctant to blend acoustic and electric parts on the same tracks. That's once more the case with the long opening piece "Loch Lomond" (6:49) logically chained with a short electric instrumental "The Phoenix Flown", which altogether represent nine minutes of pure joy, spread between slow orchestral sections on the chorus, acoustic verses and two superb electric guitar solos.
The eastern atmospheres previously explored during these last years materialized on the rather acoustic and orchestral "Waking To Life", with sitar and various percussions, exceptionally performed by Amanda Lehmann, and also on the powerful and majestic instrumental "Two Sides Of Cairo", where electronic sequences melt with some huge drum parts and an ethereal guitar.
On the acoustic side, apart from a couple of short vignettes on classical guitar, Hackett delivers several magnificent ballads, sometimes enhanced with a delicate electric touch, souding like violin parts. The most beautiful is maybe the very symphonic "Looking For Fantasy" and its poignant atmosphere (chained with the too short instrumental "Summer's Breath"). Without a doubt, Hackett keeps getting better and better as a singer and seems to feel more assured, backed by the vocal harmonies of several members of his band, using some effects and multi-layered vocals here and there. Also, the blues is back, on the slow and heavy "Catwalk", reminiscent of early Led Zeppelin albums, with a binary tempo and heavy riff, slide guitar solo with a saturated sound, a song where the guitarist is almost belting a little bit ! The instrumental "Prairie Angel" (2:59) although pretty pastoral in its first half, turns to that style as well, creating one of those striking contrasts that the musician is fond of!
The huge last track "Turn This Island Earth" (11:51) is a very complex blend made of symphonic parts, which are occasionally somewhat modern, of vocal rock sections with magnificent vocal harmonies... To put it short, an undescribable musical journey that needs to be listened carefully many times to catch its essence.
Each album from Steve Hackett is a colourful and very varied journey. That new one is another masterstroke even though, as usual, it is asking for some broad-mindedness and an eclectism that are, finally, not so common. But the game is worth the effort!