CD REVIEW: STEALING THE FIRE – King of Shadows

 

I know there are jokes you can make about East Anglians, which is where Stealing the Fire come from. But really, twenty years between albums?!

To remind you, Stealing The Fire is a studio band that can trace its roots back to the Norwich music scene of the 1980’s. After working with Norfolk bands Silas and Earthstone (who had a 1994 release on the Kinesis label – remember them?) Chris Bond revived Stealing The Fire as a collective based around his studio project and called in Tim Lane and Saff Paffron to form the nucleus of the band. In 1999 they released their first album Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow – an album which, by the way, I really rated back in the day – those of you still with your CRS magazines archived, see if you can find it!

So, second album King of Shadows is the follow up to Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow. Twenty years later…..

Chris Bond said “We never intended it to take so long but life, as they say, got in the way. Through good times and bad, we have been piecing it together, on and off, all those years. It’s survived transfers through three different recording systems, two studio moves and a global pandemic, not to mention various personal triumphs and setbacks along the way.” Vocalist Saff Paffron goes on to add “We’re very pleased with the final result. We’ve all learned so much in the time that has passed and those experiences and that knowledge has all fed into the creation of King of Shadows.”

And it is a proper length album, btw. None of these itty bitty EPs that are all the rage these days. 55 minutes with three vocal tracks and two instrumentals. Joy!

So whilst the essential band is the same (see below) they’re joined by some special guests who contribute well, with plaudits going to Gary Wortley on drums and Ruth Murray on flute.

“The elements of our previous album that met with so much approval from fans and reviewers alike are still there.” says Guitarist Tim Lane. “The interweaving guitar and keyboard lines, the layering of musical textures, the lyrical imagery and of course Saff’s extraordinary vocals are front and centre as you’d expect, but there are other new influences to be heard as well. There are hints of traditional British and Irish folk, some instrumental passages inspired by the likes of King Crimson and Gentle Giant, and our shared interest in experimental electronic music can also be heard.”

StF cite their influences as Porcupine Tree, Queen, The Flower Kings, Ozric Tentacles and classic seventies symphonic prog bands like Camel, Pink Floyd and Genesis. They have also drawn on their love of folk music, synthpop and psychedelia to make each track on King of Shadows a truly kaleidoscopic aural experience. I do like musical journeys that twist and turn, rise and fall, ebb and flow. I feel at home with this album. I feel safe, secure, and transported back in time. It’s good old fashioned prog.

The title track opener, with guest vocalist Leighton Melville blends mid-seventies prog with Irish influenced folk melodies as it journeys through heavier, darker and trippier sections. Second track, Fools Parade, is a Gong-like instrumental of a more medieval yet classical bent which apparently tries to imagine a rather psychedelic dream of Lane’s. “I had a dream where I was in Stevenage shopping centre and this peculiar circus parade of Clive Barker-ish Weaveworld type characters march through the precinct in a kind wonderful, strange promenade performance, “and this track is an attempt to capture this experience.” Track three, Medusa‘s darkly ironic lyric is a stark contrast to the relentlessly catchy and hooky bitter-sweet melody with its deep and cleverly constructed complex song structure. The second instrumental, Out of Nothing is again cleverly and catchily constructed, almost improvisational and definitely retro in feel which Lane echoes, saying that it: “literally came out of nothing. I just sat down and started composing and finished up with this song; it’s quite a journey!” The closing track on the album is The Tower, at eighteen plus minutes in length a bona fide prog epic of love, loss, myth, and isolation. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of wistful acoustic to space rock to flighty pop to hard rock and gospel-tinged ballad. It’s a time-warp with plenty of retro sounds and styles that evoke happier times and climes, and rightly so in these days where escapism is the best policy.

So it may have been a lifetime, or at least a generational gap, but it is not without its merits and it’s worth saying it was worth the wait. Chris says “We’re very proud of it; if a thing is worth doing it’s worth taking the time to get it right. Chance and circumstance put all kinds of obstacles in our way but we stuck at it and we hope people enjoy listening to King of Shadows as much as we enjoyed making it!”

Do we have to wait another 20 years…..?

Stealing The Fire are:

Saffron Paffron – Vocals 

Tim Lane – Guitar, Bass, Keyboards

Chris Bond – Keyboards and Electronics

With special guest performers:Gary Wortley – Drums, Percussion

Leighton Melville – Lead Vocals on track 1. 

Ruth Murray – Flute on tracks 1 and 2 

King of Shadows is available now, exclusively from Bandcamp: https://stealingthefire.bandcamp.com/album/king-of-shadows

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