Recent Review from "Lazland" ... lead contributing music critic for Prog Archives...
In the Last Waking Moments is a collaboration between Eric Blackwood, formerly of metal band Crimson Steele and collaborator with other major rock artists such as Al Pitrelli, and Pete Trewavas, bassist with Marillion since the band's inception, and also a founding member of prog supergroup, Transatlantic.
The project first came to my attention on the site's forum, where it was trailed as a project which featured as guest artists all members of Marillion, a first for all the band to be included on a non Marillion album. Given the enduring popularity of this incredible band, this is, of course, a massive plus in terms of potential commercial success. What, though, does need to be made abundantly clear at the start of this review is that this is absolutely not a Marillion album. Such a description would not only be grossly unfair to Blackwood, a huge driving force on the creation of the work, but would also be utterly wide of the mark in terms of its sound and direction.
Indeed, when you listen to Dusk, the album's opener, there are clear similarities with Lunatic Soul's first two sublime, and very dark, pieces of work, and such themes reoccur throughout the album. Elsewhere, Blackwood's experience of, and Trewavas' love of, what I still refer to as classic rock in the mould of Rainbow, Dio, and Sabbath shine through. Add to that influences such as Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, PFM, and some of the modern, harder sounding neo prog, and what you have is something that is unutterably unique, and, clearly deliberately, designed to appeal to as wide a range of rock (not just prog) fans as possible.
The vast majority of the instruments and vocals are handled by the duo themselves. It is a testament to the skill of these musicians that you are blown away by the bass playing of Blackwood on the opener, and then by the power guitars superbly handled by Trewavas on Fracture. Most of the lead vocals are handled brilliantly by Blackwood, but, on Outerspaced, a track which literally bursts out of the speakers with riffs that would make Tool and Opeth blush with envy, you are staggered to see that it is Trewavas screaming at you.
Of course, we have always known of his wonderful backing vocals and harmonies on Marillion & Transatlantic albums and live shows, but here, he is given free range to move right to the foreground, and sounds as if he has done it all of his life. As for Blackwood, his voice is simply remarkable. The subtle and delicate voices on In The First Waking Moments are lovely, and these move together seamlessly into a thoughtful, more commercial sounding, vocal on A Million Miles Away, backed by some remarkable harmonies of Trewavas and outstanding blues and rhythm guitars. That this song is then able to seamlessly move into the altogether darker, and industrial, Fallout (Of the 2nd Kind) shows just how well this work has been put together. A decent set of speakers also bring out the incredible synths and strings programming that set a lovely symphonic backdrop to the riffs at the fore.
A further example of the vastly varying styles on the album are when the madness of Outerspaced, featuring an intergalactic pissup amongst the pummelling riffs, ends suddenly and you are transported into the ethereal beauty of Spiraling, a track which features my favourite guitarist, Steve Rothery, on lead guitar. The track tells its story of drifting in space wonderfully. Blackwood's vocals are pitched perfectly, and Rothery is, as ever, excellent, providing one of his trademark solos. However, it is, again, a mark of the dominance of the duo that, to these ears, the highlight is the exquisite acoustic guitar lead by Trewavas backing Blackwood's vocals. This track is a real highlight.
From this, we are transported to The "Other" Other Dimension. In my interview with the band, they suggested in this track a homage to Gentle Giant's "In A Glass House", an album which I put on this morning for the first time in a long while to prepare this review. Well, it is. Think of that classic album on a touch of speed, and you are getting somewhere near the mark. The whole track is deeply dark and disturbing, with the main theme from Spiraling interspersed amongst Mark Kelly's superb keyboard work, a thundering bassline, and swirling guitars all vying for your attention with the voices of the doctors performing a weird and wonderful operation on the subject. This itself then moves into a slice of eastern promise on Across The Plains, featuring Trewavas on a VG Sitar and a gentle riff.
The themes of the opening tracks are reprised on the title track. Blackwood's vocals are, again, lovely, and the duo are accompanied here by a guest appearance by Robin Boult (who has played guitar for Fish), who provides an accomplished and haunting electric guitar solo set against some wonderful acoustic work and strings and programming.
The intensity heard on Outerspaced returns with a vengeance on Lifeline, featuring, again, some very heavy riffs. The duo share vocal duties, with Blackwood providing the subject's lead, and Trewavas the voice of the mysterious "others". The bass riff is, again, thundering, whilst Blackwood's lead guitar echoes and blasts in equally effective measures. We then have what can only be described as a heavy rock fan's dream track. Fallout (of the 3rd Kind) fairly rips along, and brings with it a wall of sound that simply has to be played on a surround sound system to get the full benefit. I don't think I have ever heard Trewavas this intense on bass guitar, and the pair of them bring such a huge sound on lead guitars that you simply give up at this stage, and merely sit down in sheer wonder and gawp at the sound it produces. What you also notice is just how good Blackwood is at raising the intensity of his voice to match proceedings.
Then we have the epic track of the album. The Awakening (Slow Burn) is not only a highlight of the album, it is a highlight of 2011, full stop. Clocking in at just short of sixteen minutes long, it is, perhaps, the most recognisably "proggy" track on the work. It incorporates at the start more of the instrumental themes first heard in the openers, with some mournfully sad vocals and lovely acoustic guitar work, held together perfectly by lilting and lifting strings, keyboards, with, at its heart, that magnificent rhythm section of Trewavas on bass and the excellent Ian Mosley on drums. This intensity slows to a standstill a third of the way through, with bass and acoustic guitar providing a gentle riff, before Blackwood delights us with a haunting lead guitar sequence accompanying understated and ethereal vocals (it is in this passage where the duo, in my opinion, come closest to the sound of latter period Marillion on this album). Trewavas then takes over the lead duties with an incredible acoustic guitar solo, before Blackwood steps in again to accompany this, with the track leading us in effortlessly to its denouement. And what a close it is. Grandiose, huge in scope and sound, with an array of guitars, strings, synths, drums and effects joining together with a choir featuring Steve Hogarth, the duo, and Mandy Delly in a choir announcing "The Awakening Hour". I have listened to this album many times prior to writing this review, and each time this passage leaves me virtually breathless with its intensity. My interview gives us an idea of how an initially "Trick of the Tail" type track of six minutes morphed into something this long. Staggeringly good, and a must for all prog fans to hear at least once in their lives.
The album closes with our final Fallout (of the 4th Kind), a gentle and kind comedown after the intensity of what laid before it, and it is clearly designed to tell us the end of our hero's story.
Of which?..This is a concept album. There are some concept albums where it is relatively straightforward to guess the intent of the author and the story he/she was trying to put across. One such example, I suppose, is Marillion's Brave. We all know that Steve Hogarth heard the story of a young girl throwing herself off the Bristol Suspension Bridge, and wrote a fine concept behind the lies, abuse, and emotions that led up to that fateful moment.
There are others, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway comes to mind specifically for me, where the story itself is somewhat less clear. You know there is a concept there but it leaves you as the listener/reader with a huge amount of scope with which to actually work out precisely what is the true meaning. Ask 100 people, and at least 80 of them will give you a different answer. In other words, the meaning is left to you, and its meaning is personal to you.
So it is with In The Last Waking Moments. I have seen some people describe it as the story of an alien abduction incident (a la The X Files), others as it describing an extreme psychotic moment. For what it is worth, my own personal take on the meaning of this story is one of a, yes, extreme moment, but I interpret it as describing those moments prior to death and moving onto the "other side"?our last waking moments, which can seem to be almost eternal to a mind on the threshold of death, before the transformation into?what? Where? How?
Anyway, my meditations aside, there is one reality that cannot be put aside. This is an extremely important and excellent piece of work. There are some magnificent guest performances by members of my favourite band and Robin Boult, whilst Mike Hunter has done a fantastic job of finalising the knob twirling duties. However, and it is a very important point to make, this remains at its forefront a vision and execution by two exceptional talents, one of whom I am very intimate with musically, and the other with whom I very much hope to be as time progresses.
This album is virtually flawless in its execution. I have, in the past twelve months, only awarded five star reviews to two albums, namely Introitus (Elements), and Pendragon (Passion). This album is at least the equal of these fine works, and deserves the support of all reading this review. If you can, get the CD version, because I should mention here the wonderful photography & artwork created by Wendy Farrell-Pastore.
In The Last Waking Moments is a true masterpiece, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Five stars for a masterpiece of modern progressive rock.