You have to admire Steve Hackett. He has the stimulating ability to paint pictures with his guitar. Listening to this music is opening your mind to a plethora of images, exciting the senses as you allow yourself to be immersed in sculptures of sound. Steve brings to bear all the experience he has gained in a long musical career – his youthful time with Genesis, the collaborations with the likes of Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Djabe and his brother John, alongside his not insubstantial solo releases – on this his twenty-seventh studio album (by my elementary mathematical prowess).
His last album, Under A Mediterranean Sky, was a rather gentle acoustic beautiful affair but Surrender Of Silence is the opposite of that. “Lockdown cobwebs are blown away in one fell-swoop here”, says Steve. “With the monster rhythm section of Jonas, Craig, Nick and Phil along with Rob’s soaring sax and bass clarinet, Nad, Amanda and myself on vocals, Roger’s darkly powerful organ and my guitar, we plunge full-pelt into that wild release of energy.” The album begins on a foreboding note, with Steve’s electric guitar picking out ominous notes as the track builds with thumping primal drums on the opener, The Obliterati. This gives way to Steve’s classical side on Natalia, which has overtones of Prokofiev. Throughout the album Steve displays his interest in music from around the world. There are African songs on Wingbeats and a lyrical narrative that is bound up on that continent, whilst on Shanghai To Samarkand we are transported with Steve through changing Asiatic landscapes. There are stops off for a little commercial sounding rock, as on Foxes Tango with powerful guitars and layered vocals. The album is brought to a calming conclusion, though, with the classical guitar and string sounds of Esperanza. There is even time along the way for a little dark humour. Relaxation Music For Sharks (featuring Feeding Frenzy) is an eerily chilling threatening piece that wouldn’t be out of place on a disaster movie soundtrack, as would The Devil’s Cathedral, a powerful tune that is brought to life by Roger King’s stunning organ sound.
As usual, Steve has surrounded himself with some brilliant musicians. His touring band of Jonas Reingold on bass, keyboard player Roger King, drummer Craig Blundell, Rob Townsend on saxophones and clarinet, with Nad Sylvan providing some idiosyncratic vocals on The Devil’s Cathedral, form the heart of the album. They are excellent musicians in their own right and are a fantastic collective too. Steve’s tradition of having additional guests continues. Amanda Lehmann brings backing vocals to several tracks and blends well with Steve, whilst Durga and Lorelei McBroom, who many will know from their work with Pink Floyd, sing vocals on Wingbeats. Phil Ehart of Kansas adds some very tasteful drums to Shanghai To Samarkand, a track that sees some exotic atmosphere from the instruments of Malik Mansurov on tar and Sodirkhon Ubaidulloev on dutar. Nick D’Virgilio, best known in the prog rock fraternity for his work with Spock’s Beard and Big Big Train, appears on Fox’s Tango and provides a blisteringly intense drum performance on Relaxation Music For Sharks (featuring Feeding Frenzy). Christine Townsend plays wonderful violin and viola on some tracks. Once again though, it is one of the old hands of Steve’s band that really catches the ear. Keyboard player Roger King gives sublime performances throughout, whether it is on piano, synths, but especially organ on this release. His interaction with Steve gives the music a lot of its vitality. He is a massively under-estimated keyboard player.
Steve is at the centre of it all, of course. The full range of his styles and textures are on display. The album begins with the sort of extemporisation that Steve sometimes uses as preludes to tunes when playing live and concludes with the feel of a classical guitar/strings recital. Elsewhere there are the beguiling sounds of the oud, charango, and sitar. But Steve is after all a rock musician and it is the energy and verve of the electric guitar that shines through. He isn’t really a shredder and rarely wanders far from the melody of a tune, but when the power falls it lands with a whump! You rarely sense that Steve is out to bedazzle the listener with his soloing, nor trying to prove that he has the licks. His guitar work fits the tunes, and not vice versa. He even finds space to slip in his trusty harmonica. Steve’s vocal performance is more poised than it used to be, helped on this release by the use of multi-harmonies and effects. Steve is an assured and accomplished song writer, giving full artistic intent to his work. At times it is heaped with atmosphere, at others it is catchy and pop-ish. He is as fully adept at crunching rock, lyricism, or corporate rock (indeed, Fox Tango has elements of GTR). But it is always true to say that it is the music itself that takes precedence. It will always be a varied fare with Steve though, which is as it should be for a progressive musician. The diversity of eclecticism is always to the fore.
This is a really strong, dynamic album. Steve leads us on a musical tour through four continents, giving us distinctive flavours from each. The best journey though is into your imagination, a surreal world possibly including a seventy-odd years old man with his axe. It is a thoughtful, creative, fun, and multifarious album to be enjoyed.
1. The Obliterati (2:17)
2. Natalia (6:17)
3. Relaxation Music for Sharks (feat. Feeding Frenzy) (4:36)
4. Wingbeats (5:20)
5. The Devil’s Cathedral (6:31)
6. Held in the Shadows (6:20)
7. Shanghai to Samarkand (8:27)
8. Fox’s Tango (4:21)
9. Day of the Dead (6:25)
10. Scorched Earth (6:03)
11. Esperanza (1:04)
Steve Hackett – nylon, steel string & 12-string guitars, oud, charango, sitar, harmonica, vocals, co-producer
Roger King – keyboards, programming & orchestral arrangements, co-producer
Rob Townsend – saxophone, clarinet
Jonas Reingold – bass
Nad Sylvan – vocals
Craig Blundell – drums
Phil Ehart – drums
Nick D’Virgilio – drums
Amanda Lehmann – vocals
Durga McBroom- vocals
Lorelei McBroom – vocals
Christine Townsend – violin, viola
Malik Mansurov – tar
Sodirkhon Ubaidulloev – dutar
Release date: 10th September 2021
Available as: Ltd. Deluxe CD+Blu-ray Mediabook in hardcover slipcase, Standard CD Jewel case, Gatefold 2LP+CD & LP-Booklet, Digital Album