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Gandalf's Fist

Road to Darkness

Review by Gary Hill

I received this album and had little warning of the joys about to unfold. After a few listenings it’s become one of my all time favorite discs. Yes, it’s that good. It’s a safe bet to say it will be on my list of best discs of 2011. It’s progressive rock that’s based heavily in the classic tradition of prog, but with some helpings of modern sounds, too. The first impressions of the album reveal early Pink Floyd leanings. It would be easy to start and stop a review with those observations, but really, there’s a lot more here. Sure, the predominate element is Floyd, but fusion and Celtic rock, along with metallic prog, all make appearances.

This is a concept album based on The Wizard of Oz. When you consider the whole “Dark Side of the Rainbow” concept (that’s the idea that the Dark Side of the Moon album lines up perfectly with the film of the Wizard of Oz) and the similarities between the sound of this disc and Pink Floyd, there is a whole new level of connections created. All in all, this album will definitely appeal to fans of Pink Floyd. I’d go a lot further, though, and say the sounds here should be of interest to anyone who enjoys progressive rock, both modern and classic versions of the genre. I love this album, and I’ll bet if you are a prog fan, you’ll at least like it a lot.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
No Place Cyclone

The sound that opens this cut feels like jus harp, but with effects and sound reinforcement added. Keyboards and other elements are added to fill out the sound. This has a real mysterious and dramatic tone to it. This extended instrumental serves as the introduction to the album.

Emerald Eyes
Coming in like some lost cut from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, sections are added that feel closer to the Meddle disc. Still, this really does capture a Pink Floyd sound throughout. Some backing female vocals enter later that do a great job of continuing that Dark Side of the Moon element. There is a harder edge at times on this song, though, perhaps a bit like Radiohead. An acoustic guitar driven section takes it later.
Conjurer of Cheap Tricks
Starting mellow, this turns dark and mysterious rather shortly. Then it fires out to some of the hardest rocking music we’ve heard thus far. A spooky voice is heard in a little drop back, then it becomes hard rocking again. A little clip from the movie The Wizard of Oz, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too,” closes this short instrumental.
Into The Dark (Containing Emerald Eyes Reprise)
A metallic riff leads this off and as it pounds along more traditional progressive rock elements come in over the top. This shifts and changes in a great fashion as it continues. Around the minute and a half mark it becomes mellower and then the vocals come in over the top. There are hints of Pink Floyd here, but this resembles modern progressive rock like Porcupine Tree or Marillion more than it does Floyd. The vocal hook is rather catchy and there are some cool instrumental hooks, too. Past the three and a half mark it shifts out to a pounding, nearly metallic jam. There is an almost Iron Maiden like riff that comes in after the four minute mark, yet there is still enough progressive rock in the arrangement to keep it from slipping into metal territory. This is a twisting and turning number that’s among the strongest of the set. It does a great job of combining both modern and classic progressive rock leanings. There’s a melodic movement at the end of the piece that’s more Pink Floyd like and again calls to mind that Dark Side of the Moon period.
Twilight at The Gates of the Prism Moon
Spacey sound effects open this number. More songlike structures enter after a time and a guitar solos over the top of some nice keyboard music. The guitar seems to capture the spirit of Hendrix and Satriani at the same time. Still, the music that backs it up lends a fusion-like air to the piece.
The Sulfur Highways of Io
A melodic progressive rock arrangement brings this in the cut works through in instrumental fashion. There’s arguably as much Yes and Genesis on display here as there is Pink Floyd. Once more the guitar soloing brings with it some Satriani. An interlude features some bits of spoken word and some definite Floydian textures. When it resolves out to the vocal section those Pink Floyd leanings are all over this.
Untrodden Ways
This comes in quite folk-like and Celtic elements are on display. When the first vocals join, that sound is linked with some psychedelia. A bit before the three minute mark they pound it out into a hard edged jam. It really resembles Tempest during that section because it’s crunchy and completely Celtic in nature.
Road to Darkness
They start this off tentatively with something a bit like the jazzy side of early Pink Floyd. Then a progression rises up that’s closer to Supertramp. As the guitar solos overhead, though, we’re back into decidedly Floydian territory. This piece keeps changing as different segments come and go. A little before the three minute mark it shifts to a cool, more stripped down jam and some processed, spoken vocals are heard overhead. From there it turns into a Floyd-like jam. It modulates back to the spoken vocals again.
The Council of Anderson
Melodic progressive rock leads this off. The keyboard sounds that soar over the top feel closer to something from Yes than the Floydian elements that are heard along much of the disc. The section that serves as the backdrop for the vocals feels a bit like a cross between early Pink Floyd and The Who. After that segment they take it into a soaring instrumental movement that’s got some inspired keyboards and guitar. A dramatic staccato jam comes in after that. Then they take it to a melodic, almost fusion-like movement. That turns to a harder rocking prog jam that’s got lots of energy. That motif takes it out, feeling a bit like Satriani at times.
Assorted Lunatics
This comes in with melodic progressive rock that revisits earlier themes. The number fits more in the moody styled mellow prog territory. It’s got Floyd leanings, but also features a lot of more modern sounds like Porcupine Tree.
 
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