Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Steve Hackett - Beyond The Shrouded Horizon

Steve Hackett
Beyond The Shrouded Horizon
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Alongside Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett is undoubtedly one of the more consistent and interesting members to ever emerge from Genesis in terms of solo output, with the ever prolific vocalist/guitarist/songwriter having spent the better part of the last three and a half decades since leaving Genesis producing an incredible body of exceptional solo releases. Two years after the release of ‘Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth’ (Excluding 2010’s live album ‘Live Rails’), Hackett once again returns with his 22nd solo effort ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’.
In terms of musical direction, ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’ isn’t a huge departure from what you would generally expect from a Hackett release. Over the course of the album’s thirteen tracks, Hackett delivers progressive rock, some world music, a touch of the blues, classical and a bit of pop/rock. But in terms of quality, Hackett has again excelled - delivering exactly what fans have come to expect on his latest effort.
After a slow building introduction, Hackett cranks out a heavy riff to get ‘Loch Lomond’ off to a huge start. But for all of the dark and heavy atmospherics accompanying the big guitar riffs, the song soon breaks away with some low key acoustic guitar work, and gentle vocals from Hackett and Amanda Lehmann. Of course, the heavier (Almost metallic) elements are interchanged with the gentle throughout, with only Hackett’s exceptional leads breaking up the pair. Hackett’s vocals are as strong as ever (Which hasn’t always been the case in the past), and his guitar work is first class, but it’s the song writing here that really stands out, and reinforces Hackett’s talent as a song writer.
The follow up track ‘The Phoenix Flown’ is essentially an instrumental follow-on from ‘Loch Lomond’, with Hackett providing a climatic finale on the solo front, while the short acoustic ‘Wanderlust’ is primarily an instrumental introduction to ‘Til These Eyes’ –which is a gentle and beautiful acoustic based track that is enhanced with some great use of strings, some wonderful guitar fills from Hackett and vocals that achieve their objective of creating a melancholic mood.
On ‘Prairie Angel’, Hackett turns things up once again to deliver a heavy blues rock inspired riff after a lengthy progressive rock introduction, complete with touches of saxophone and Hackett himself on the harmonica. As the song fades, ‘A Place Called Freedom’ eventually makes its way into view. It’s here that Hackett combines progressive rock, shades of folk and some picking on the twelve-string guitar that definitely brings to mind his time in Genesis. ‘A Place Called Freedom’ is a fantastic song, and typically in the vein of what Hackett does best.
‘Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms’ is a very breezy and delicate sounding track, with the choir like harmonies and the use of keyboards adding to the overall soothing effect of the song, while ‘Waking To Life’ and the instrumental piece ‘Two Faces Of Cairo’ managing to take the listener on a completely different musical journey – this time to the middle-east, and with Lehmann taking on the lead vocals.
Much in the same soothing vein of ‘Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms’, ‘Looking For Fantasy’ is another softer ballad like effort where gentle instrumentation (Acoustics, keyboards and strings) take a backseat to Hackett’s choral like vocals and subtle guitar work, while the short acoustic instrumental piece ‘Summer’s Breath’ is primarily an extension of the former track, and Hackett’s foray into more classical realms.
‘Catwalk’ picks up the pace once again with Hackett dealing out some rocking blues riffs alongside Chris Squire (Yes) on bass and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto/Derek Sherinian) in tow. This song is another album highlight and by far one of Hackett’s heaviest efforts in years. This simply rocks!
Finishing up the album is the twelve minute epic ‘Turn This Island Earth’, which is part progressive rock/part cinematic film score. While I’ll freely admit that ‘Turn This Island Earth’ doesn’t entirely work as a whole (Some pieces seem a little tacked onto each other for the sake of it, and the orchestral score in places is a little overbearing), there’s more than enough great moments contained within (Especially the Hackett/Squire/Phillips opening sequence) to keep Hackett fans pleased to no end.
Overall, while ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’ isn’t remarkably different to anything Hackett has done before; it does at least prove that Hackett remains as strong as ever, creatively.
Whether you’re a diehard Hackett fan, a devout Gabriel era Genesis freak or a complete newcomer, you’ll find plenty to enjoy within ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’.

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© Justin Donnelly