This review concerns the latest album from French Neo-Proggers Nine Skies, a collection of twelve thematically linked songs that unfold a story of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as experienced by soldiers in wartime. Appropriately, the review was written on the day that we remember those fallen during those dreadful conflicts of World Wars One and Two, and other wars that have occurred since.
The album is a double CD with some very interesting tracks and guest musicians who lend their talents, and in doing so add significantly to make this a very well-crafted album that deals with its concepts with both dignity and sympathy.
The album opens with a brief piece called Vestige which includes the sounds of war to a gentle musical backdrop and the sound of a woman sobbing. This is a very sad piece, but it sets the tone for much of what follows, it’s not an easy listen as the album addresses the horrors and the futility of war head-on. It is best enjoyed with the lyrics close to hand so you can follow the story, I certainly found that very useful.
Burn My Brain features Craig Blundell, of Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson fame, on drums and percussion, using some complicated, almost fusion stylings to drive the song along, and that ties in very well with a stylish guitar line from Eric Bouilette. His work is spot on here, very moving, elegiac and with great feeling. The song is based on words from Lord Byron which adds some weight to its feelings, tone and mood.
The third track is The Thought Trader, featuring well-established and critically acclaimed drummer Johnny Marter, but on this occasion he shows another skill, playing guitar with some great parts that add excellent colours to the sound. All in all, this is a fine song with some interesting ideas and thoughtful lyrics; the next track is somewhat different. Catharsis is primarily a gentle acoustic song, but one that contains some soul searching lyrics as it explores the feelings of the soldier regarding what he has seen and experienced. This is an emotive and thought-provoking piece.
Alone features a spoken voice reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name. Suitably macabre in tone, it acts as a prelude to the major song on the album, the title track Sweetheart Grips, which tells of the practice whereby soldiers would take a photo of a loved one or their girl and use it as a part of their gun’s grip or the trigger, encased in plastic (usually from bomber plane’s broken windows) to create what became known as ‘Sweetheart Grips’.
This song is sung by Riccardo Romano (of Ranestrane and Steve Rothery Band fame), and it is a very emotional piece with heartfelt lyrics and an equally strong musical backdrop. Somewhere Inside Mankind is much lighter, more dreamy type song with some lovely fluid guitar work from either David Darnaud, Eric Bouilette or Alexandre Lamia. I’m not sure which it is, but I suspect it’s from Eric’s finger that this great playing originates. The stirring synths are from Alexandre Lamia though, that I can say with confidence. It’s not an overlong piece but it has lots going on throughout and it conveys a sense of emotional turmoil which adds real class to this great song, also eloquently present in the magnificent saxophone of Laurent Benhamou.
The shorter Fields of Perdition takes us into the last section of the album, more mood focused and generally instrumental in nature. Here we hear from the soldier’s mother who laments that her son has gone to potentially meet his end on a foreign field somewhere unknown, followed by the instrumental Tyrant or Nothing with some gentle acoustic guitar and a fine violin solo from Eric Bouilette. It’s again very moving with some great tones and sounds to portray the scene. Soldiers of Shame features Pat Sanders of London proggers Drifting Sun on keyboards, adding some great soundscapes to an impressive song with nice guitar work throughout, all anchored with those fabulous keyboards. The lyrics speak of the horrors he now has to live with every day, another sad song that brings the effects of war all too much into focus. The outro is gently acoustic and lighter in tone.
Flowers of Pain opens with what sounds like a jolly hunting section, but after 30 seconds it becomes somewhat darker, although the tune is subsequently repeated. This is rather a strange track and seemingly out of place – or is it? We then move to the final song, Isolation, another instrumental that showcases the fluid and skilful, not least to say tasteful, bass guitar of Bernard Hery, playing what could be a fretless. It sounds wonderful and evocative in equal measures, you can feel the atmosphere and almost picture the setting, very continental in some ways, it’s a worthy close to a very interesting and satisfying album.
The performances throughout are strong and solid and this represents a good step forward for Nine Skies. It’s an album I highly recommend and endorse as being worthy of investigation. It’s a moving listen with a sense of solemnity to it. Any proceeds will be used to help suicide prevention by supporting a charity called Ian’s Chain, a most worthy cause and all respect to the group for doing this so selflessly. So, this is a difficult subject, but it is handled with much dignity and maturity and the resulting music is very fine indeed.
01. Vestige (1:18)
02. Burn My Brain (7:00)
03. The Thought Trader (7:11)
04. Catharsis (6:00)
05. Alone (4:45)
06. Sweetheart Grips (10:13)
07. Somewhere Inside Me (7:15)
08. Fields of Perdition (3:03)
09. Tyrant or Nothing (6:17)
10. Soldiers of Shame (6:50)
11. Flowers of Pain (2:11)
12. Isolation (4:47)
Total Time – 66:50
Aliénor Favier – Vocals
David Darnaud – Guitars
Eric Bouillette – Guitars, Keyboards, Piano, Violin, Vocals
Alexandre Lamia – Guitars, Keyboards, Piano
Anne-Claire Rallo – Keyboards
Bernard Hery – Bass
Fab Galia – Drums
Laurent Benhamou – Saxophones
Penny Mac Morris – Flute
Craig Blundell – Drums (track 2)
Dave Foster – Guitar (track 8)
Johnny Marter – Guitar (track 3)
Clive Nolan – Keyboards (track 2)
Riccardo Romano – Vocals (track 6)
Pat Sanders – Keyboards (track 10)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 1st November 2019