Phideaux Xavier has been a creative leader in the progressive rock genre since the early part of this century. He deserves credit for producing some of the most innovative music of his generation and Infernal should be the album that solidifies his star in the constellation of progressive rock geniuses who have made this genre so much fun to listen to and explore.
Long anticipated, Infernal (subtitled The End We Saw Begin) completes a trilogy of albums started with The Great Leap (2006) and Doomsday Afternoon (2007), both of which were heralded by critics for their deeply creative images, lyrics, and music.
Infernal is a double album laid out in four parts – like a double vinyl record – with gatefold art designed and created by Molly Rutten, who lists her inspirations as Salvador Dali and Hieronymus Bosch. The artwork reminds me so much of King Crimson’s earlier works, In The Court Of The Crimson King, Lizard and In The Wake Of Poseidon, not copies by any means, just inspired by. The gatefold is a piece of art for sure.
Opening track Cast Out and Cold is like an excerpt from King Crimson’s eternal In The Court Of The Crimson King: you can almost feel the doom, the “rusted chains of prison moons” remembered in the sound of the piano beating out time, with the surrounding soundscape reverberating like a vacant marble hall. The aura is dark and mystical, like worlds of old, a mysterious dystopia permeating the stage, as Valerie Gracious sings, “In spite of all we saved, the mortal cast away…”, with drums pounding out the grinding wheel’s cadence from The Crimson King’s Court. It simply is one of the best album openings I have heard in a long while. Later, Xavier sings, “The spider sitting pretty in his web”, sounding like Ian Anderson in his ‘70s vocal prime.
“The bringer of tomorrow has been fed
The crowd is into gloom,
They worship dread.
Castaways, like flies above the dead.
Tell me cloud about the sun,
Got to stop the darkness that’s begun.
Nothing seems to make the beams come through,
Every invocation is refused.”
Welcome back to the aura of In The Court Of The Crimson King, however I’ll stop the comparison there because this is an original composition, I only compare to one of the greatest works of the progressive rock era to emphasise the power and majesty of Infernal: “What more is there to lose? To the fuse we lit and let loose…”
Bringing back memories of the past two chapters of the trilogy, The Error Lives On sees Xavier and Gracious singing, “Must the whole of civilization just collapse in to chaos and greed? Just a quick enhanced interrogation – we must find out all they know… While we’re having this chat, the question escapes: can all this be wrong? I swear the error lives on…”. One of the best moments from the early section of the album. Xavier quotes Mao’s famous speech with “Let a hundred blossoms bloom”, the expressed purpose of which was to promote thought, but which was later used as a weapon to turn all society members into the eyes of the Communist Party, watching for any freedom or independent expression that contrasted The Red Book. There is significant intrigue in Xavier’s storyline, which can be interpreted in many ways, and you may find similarities to current events throughout the lyrics. The pace of the music picks up to indicate the motion of the story, the way that Gracious and Xavier share stanzas throughout the production is perfect. No one perspective or voice is dominant as they share the stage, and the music playing around them is riveting.
A reminder of the decline of global ecology caused by a warming planet is the subject in Crumble. Valerie Gracious sings a cappella, helping to paint a dark, foreboding picture which is supplemented well in the album artwork;
“Who will speak for everything,
The world at war, the stolen spring.
Like a memory of the promise of ‘The Great War’ to end all wars – the Meuse-Argonne.
The winds that rage across the plain in silence and in pain…
Who will weep for what we’ve lost,
Glaciers melted, permafrost.
For sands that trespass far from home to choke all that we’ve known.”
The music takes a decidedly Pink Floyd, Animals, direction on Inquisitor, which is just perfect. All that’s missing are the howls of synthesized dogs. The piano and keyboards, along with the bass and lead guitar, reminds of the organ opening to No Quarter, Xavier singing, “Further on the tiger waits, he knows his meal is close to taste. The factions fighting blindly keep him smiling. And just when he may want to pounce the voice of reason starts to sound”. A little too close to home, isn’t it? I think Phideaux has captured time in a bottle, so many similarities to current events with POTUS 45. “But the debtor court is gleaming brightly. Meanwhile as the tiger smiles, we gather in a single file… and sleepwalk, sleepwalk nightly… All they want to know is what we’ve done. Abandon any hope, it has begun. No, they can’t believe we struggled on in the silence, ‘cos we were convinced that the answer was coming”. A warning to the present to take what is happening seriously, before it’s too late.
If Inquisitor brought images of Animals, We Only Have Eyes for You conjures thoughts of Run Like Hell: “You better run, you better hide, leave it all behind you, leave it all and go”, but with a much more spirited rhythm and melody. “Take it to the mountains. You gotta know there’s no compromise. Pray that they don’t find you. No time for goodbyes”.
Gabriel Moffat’s spectacular and original guitar solo in Sourdome is one of the best instrumentals here. Following this is Walk on Water, another great track, cosmic and surreal, with Ariel Farber and Valerie Gracious sharing vocals: “He walks on water ‘til the end of days. He walks on water and then he walks away. And if you’re standing close at hand. We’ll smile together as it all ends”. Simply mesmerising. Wake the Sleeper is magical; the solo electric guitar suggests Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack and the guitar of Pino Rucher, Xavier singing with powerful emotion and feeling; “Some days it takes me down. With useless conversations of things that we can’t see”. C99 on the other hand is mostly instrumental and features another deep electric guitar solo from Moffat.
Closing out disc one is Tumbleweed – and it is deeper than Crater Lake. I will not give it all away, but by this point in the album you should already be convinced, like me, that not only is this a profound album, but maybe the best of a decade… maybe longer. If not, Xavier’s singing of the emotional heart of the story on this track will convince you. It is unforgettable. The piano, keyboards and lead guitar create a dynamic and profound soundscape.
The second disc opens with The Order of Protection (One), full of deep piano key strokes, violins and orchestration, with Farber, Xavier and Gracious singing in unison. The synths and keyboards that follow are unique and spellbinding, echoing the electric guitar, a perfect addition. Metro Deathfire has some wonderful guitar and sitar sounds of its own, the orchestration, bass and perfect drum timing throughout the album reaching its pinnacle here, concluding with soothing strings.
In Dissonance We Play repeats the theme of the album with Xavier singing like he’s on top of a mountain; “We came down from the stars and into light, we came unto this world from out of night”. Farber, Xavier and Gracious singing together is magic every time it happens, and this is no exception. Continuing, The Sleepers Wake opens with Foxtrot-like acoustic guitar: you just don’t want it to end. Keyboards play between the guitar strings perfectly, Gracious singing with harpsichord-like support, “The battlefield is set with pieces of an endgame in dissonance of mind we all play, we all play…” Orchestration galore, there is so much going on musically that you will need to go back several times to try to separate each instrument out and squeeze the last morsel of enjoyment from it.
The Order of Protection (Two) is a return to the earlier instrumental, this time with Farber and Gracious decorating it with their voices. The building orchestration later in the piece may bring Supper’s Ready to mind, Xavier reminding us, “I believe we are witness to reprieve, once forsaken, now in league, and I’m here to guarantee there’s nothing else you need but me!”. Where have I heard that before? There are Biblical dimensions to this message, as well as the early days Trump’s presidency.
Opening the final part of the double album set is From Hydrogen to Love, at over 14 minutes the longest and maybe the most important piece here. With all the destructive power of Supper’s Ready or IQ’s Harvest of Souls, it’s full of buildups, towering orchestration, references and majesty that a song of this calibre invites. The penultimate track, Eternal is a wonderful synopsis of all we must learn from the story, sung with beautiful calm by Gracious first, then Xavier whispers with her, before Farber joins in to form a trio: just beautiful, despite the hard reality of which they sing: “Rain, carrying the ocean – rage carrying the day. Rain, showering emotion – rage. Bring down the rain”. Yes, of course, let Love Reign O’er Me. And finally Endgame – An End closes the album with Johnny Unicorn on ‘high destroyer’. Xavier and Gracious speak and sing the final verses, the backing guitar reminding again of the films of Sergio Leone… just where I was hoping it would end, harnessing the power and majesty of both the Crimson and Leone’s classics. Epic throughout.
Phideaux Xavier has captured the emotions and majestic music of past masters, and he now stands on the shoulders of those who created such celebrated works as The Court of the Crimson King, Harvest of Souls, and of course the monumental Supper’s Ready. He has climbed to the peak of Mount Doom and, like Frodo, holds the magic ring of prog posterity.
The question remains… will others see it? Much thought and preparation were included in the planning for this conclusion of the trilogy. Drones, government interference, deception, and all the preparation a dictator would relish. There are many ways this story can be interpreted: Good vs evil, human vs alien invasion, government corruption, etc. Infernal includes all the classic scenarios, false prophets, inquisitors, evil henchmen and deceivers, along with modern warfare techniques and mind control. A gripping story filled with turns and some of the best and most original music I’ve heard in a long while.
01. Cast Out And Cold (5:32)
02. The Error Lives On (7:15)
03. Crumble (0:56)
04. Inquisitor (8:21)
05. We Only Have Eyes For You (4:00)
06. Sourdome (1:31)
07. The Walker (4:39)
08. Wake The Sleeper (1:30)
09. C99 (3:25)
10. Tumbleweed (4:58)
Time – 42:07
10. The Order Of Protection (One) (4:35)
11. Metro Deathfire (4:58)
12. Transit (1:14)
13. In Dissonance We Play (2:49)
14. The Sleepers Wake (5:22)
15. The Order Of Protection (Two) (4:33)
16. From Hydrogen To Love (14:04)
17. Eternal (5:46)
18. Endgame – An End (3:29)
Time – 46:50
Total Time – 88:57
Phideaux Xavier – Vocals, Piano, Various Guitars
Valerie Gracious – Lead Vocals
Gabriel Moffat – Dobro, Electric Guitar, Production & Engineering
Ariel Farber – Vocals, Violin
Molly Ruttan – Vocals
Linda Ruttan-Moldawsky – Vocals
Johnny Unicorn – Saxophone, Keyboards, High Destroyer
Mark Sherkus – Keyboards
Matthew Kennedy – Bass Guitar
Rich Hutchins – Drums, Low Destroyer
Andy Camou – Trumpet
Stefanie Fife – Cello
Frank Valentini – Handclaps
Doug Moldawsky, Nina Moldawsky, Caroline Oster, Mary Kelly Weir – Backing Vocals
Record Label: Bloodfish Music
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 9th September 2018