A pleasant travel through melodic and oneiric musical territories
The Minstrel's Ghost is a project lead by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Blake Carpenter. In order to make his concept-album around the Knights of The Round Table, 'The Road To Avalon' a dream come true, he asked friends to help him in his endeavour. Friends include guitarist Colin Tench (already involved in many prog-rock projects, such as Corvus Stone or Colin Tench project), drummer Zoltan Csörsz (of The Flower Kings fame), the young keyboardist Marco Chiappini, and bassist Troy James Martin.
"The journey begins" with Tangerine Dreamesque keyboards, followed by Colin Tench and his aggressive guitar soloing. It lays the ground for the main theme of the album. Colin's soloing is interrupted by a cheerful piano before going on again. Floating keyboards then take the lead. When the mellotron joins, the music slows down and together with the guitar, gives a flair of Pink Floyd to the song. Then some "whistling" keyboards provide a dreamy vibe. Soon, the music accelerates with the aggressive southern rocky guitar of Colin. Keyboard-generated choir together with acoustic guitar and violin close the track. This overture goes through the different themes, that will later be developed in the songs that follow.
In "Avalon part I", the main theme is repeated on guitar after a bizarre keyboard loop (think the short keyboard loop repeated in Lyle Mays' first movement to "Alaskan Suite"). Blake sings with accents of IQ's Peter Nicholls. Keyboards and guitars, both aerial and anthemic, punctuate Blake's chant. The repetitive keyboard layers in the background retain a Berlin school electronic music feel. The chorus that comes at the end of the song features the words to the main theme that is repeated all along the album.
"Merlin" is a slow-paced song. It starts with a gentle guitar in an andalusian way, accompanied by a sad piano. Blake starts here in a "whispering" Fish (ex-Marillion) style of his more recent material. The chorus is very floydian in its approach (think "comfortably numb"). The enchanting keyboards of Marco then accompany the piano, and Colin performs a solo in the Zappa line. Towards the end, Colin and Marco mimic each other in unison and in a cheerful way.
"The lady of the Lake" starts with an acoustic guitar like in Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", with some eerie keyboards, as if escaped from an electronic/ambient record. Aerial solo on electric guitar follows with accents of Steve Morse and Steve Vai. Keyboards then take over with solos in the tradition of neo-prog acts like Marillion's early eighties output. Colin's solos continue in an aerial way. Zoltan maintains the pace with solid and hopping drumming. The song ends with the eerie keyboards of its start.
"Excalibur" is a mid-tempo song opening with bombastic keyboards (dare I say like in Europe's "final countdown" or in Van Halen's "jump"). To this flashy soloing succeeds the whistling keyboards of a Thomas Bodin (The Flower Kings), associated with the sequenced synthesizers of an electronic prog act. In the bridge, the keyboards return to the neo-prog realm of the previous song yet with some bombastic echoes. Colin delivers guitar solos in an aerial mood.
"Avalon part II" returns to an acoustic atmosphere, with andalusian echoes in the introduction. Sad keyboards follow in the tradition of meditative works of electronic prog artist Bernd Kistenmacher. A cyclic acoustic guitar gives an hypnotic feel to the song. Blake sings very low, as if he was whispering to the ear of the listener. Colin provides some Zappa-like solos, then after Blake sings the main theme, he switches to aggressive southern rock of Allman Brothers blended with the aerial solos of Steve Morse.
"Camelot" has a cheerful overture with dancing drums, whistling keyboards and sunny guitars (one can even hear Ravel's "Bolero" at 0:47). Keyboards retain a hypnotic feel, like in the overture to Genesis' "The lamb lies down on Broadway”, and the keyboard loops remain in the background during the verses. A mellotron shows up after the second verse, and is accompanied by Colin's excited and aerial solos. Tony Banks keeps in mind after the first two verses (think the instrumental bridge in Genesis' "cinema show"). And to remain in the Genesis family, Blake even tries to sound like Peter gabriel, with some "nasal" effects in the voice. After the third verse, keyboards wander in neo-prog territories and the ghost of Mark Kelly (Marillion) floats again. Colin's cheerful solos close the track.
"A love betrayed" starts with slow and aerial guitar solo (with some slight echoes of Yngwie Malmsteen's "Black Star") together with meditative keyboards, like in the overture to Pink Floyd's "shine on you crazy diamond pt 1". Pink Floyd keeps in mind with Blake's gilmouresque intonations of the voice. However, the song turns for a short moment to country-pop when drums join. Then it becomes overtly pop with the catchy chorus, yet with a hard-rock/southern-rock approach in the guitar work. In the bridge comes a keyboard solo with some notes trying to "escape" the cohesive harmony. Blake follows the same approach in his singing, with some higher notes escaping from the regular singing.
"The Son" starts with a "galloping" overture (typical of Iron Maiden: imagine an accelerated overture to Iron Maiden's "Powerslave") followed by raging guitars and upbeat tempo. Hammond B3 replaces the keyboards to provide the atmosphere of the heavy rock songs of the seventies. The galloping theme of the start returns before the last chorus.
In "Avalon part III" the bizarre keyboard loop opening "Avalon part I" returns, Colin provides some aerial solos. The pace turns faster when Zoltan starts beating the drums. The song slows down when Marco performs his keyboard solo. Colin follows with an aerial solo. Blake then joins for the most passionate vocal performance of the whole album, very theatrical in its approach. His colleagues provide backing vocals in the chorus and then the pace goes faster again.
"Le Morte d'Arthur" (Arthurs' Death) is acoustic guitar (with once again echoes of spanish folklore between 0:49 and 1:06), with floating and echoing keyboards, a keyboard-generated choir, to accompany the throbbing voice of Blake (as if "agonizing", see the title of the song).
"The End" closes the album in a fast pace and Blake's vocal performance evoking Iron Maiden's choirs (remember the "wo-ho-ho" of Iron Maiden's "Alexander the Great"). It is a true firework with anthemic guitars and keyboards.
The musicianship is amazing all along the album: Zoltan provides creative chops, Marco explorates various keyboard sounds with an impressively wide range of references from electronic music to progressive rock, Colin provides his unique signature where David Gilmour, Frank Zappa, Al di Meola, Isaac Albeniz, Santana, Steve Vai, Steve Morse and Duane Allman coexist in harmony, Blake delivers heartfelt vocals with intonations adapted to the mood of the song, Troy provides solid bass ground. Combined with a strong sense of melody, this makes for a very enjoyable album.