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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Renaissance

Symphony of Light

Review by Gary Hill

This is a great return to form for Renaissance. The music presented here feels like it could have come from one of their 1970s albums. This is perfect stuff for any long time fan. It would also make a great introduction to the group as it really does represent all that the best of Renaissance always was. This is a modern classic album from a great group. Combining symphonic and folk music with progressive rock that’s organic and melodic, this is just quintessential Renaissance. Of course, Annie Haslam’s voice is magical, as always. I can’t recommend this enough. If you’ve ever liked Renaissance, pick this up and enjoy. If you’ve always wanted to hear them, but haven’t, this is a great starting point in exploring their musical catalog.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Symphony of Light

This starts mellow and quite symphonic. Annie Haslam’s vocals are rather operatic as this works forward. It lends quite a classical element to it. There’s a false ending around the two minute mark. Then a pealing bell is heard. From there a more rocking, but still quite classical, arrangement emerges. Haslam’s vocals are more in a rock ballad style during this section. The piece continues growing from there. It gets more rock as it carries forward, but it’s quite organic rock. Around the seven and a half minute mark, though, it drops way down. Then piano carries the arrangement for a time. There is a shift to a different rock meets classical arrangement as the instrumental segment takes it. This keeps evolving and changing, though. There are some especially dramatic movements and a lot of energy. There are also some decidedly symphonic things. Around the ten and a half minute mark (this song is over twelve minutes in length) we get a more purely rock oriented arrangement. Around the eleven and a half minute mark it drops back down to nearly purely classical sounds for another operatic vocal treatment to take us to the end.

Waterfall
A mellow and quite pretty piece, this is a very gentle progressive rock ballad. It has plenty of folk music in the mix along with some symphonic things. It’s an effective piece.
Grandine Il Vento
Haslam’s vocals on this really soar and have an operatic element to them. Musically this is much more of a rocking song. It still has a good amount of classical music in the arrangement, though. This is melodic symphonic progressive rock. It has a good balance between mellower and more rocking music. Still, there are moments here that land pretty purely into symphonic territory. This really feels like classic Renaissance from the 1970s. The closing section of this is particularly powerful.
Porcelain
Rising up gradually, this has another great melodic progressive rock arrangement to it. Again, it would be easy to imagine this coming from a 1970s Renaissance disc. It feels exactly like the type of organic, symphonic progressive rock they always did so well. This is one of my favorite pieces here. It seems to get the balance just about perfect. It’s a diverse and dynamic number and even includes a section with spoken vocals.
Cry to the World

This is very much a folk song as it starts. At times the flute on this song makes me think of Jethro Tull. Still, it’s quite a dynamic song, especially once it works out to the more purely progressive rock oriented territory. The vocal hook is accessible and the whole song structure is inspirational.

Air of Drama

 Here we get another exceptionally dynamic tune. It has folk and classical music in its progressive rock stew mixture. There are some of the most rocking sections of the whole disc present here and this is a real masterpiece. It’s one of my favorites. Of course, it’s another that feels like it could have been lifted from the 70s. The drop to mellower music mid-track is particularly stunning.

Blood Silver like Moonlight
Classical piano opens this. The first vocals come in over the top of that kind of backdrop. In an unusual move, there are both male and female vocals on this song. That provides a great contrast and sense of drama. In fact, this song, while it has a lot of classical music and a real understated arrangement (the piano is all there is, really), is one of the most powerful and effective here.
The Mystic and the Muse
There is almost an ominous science fiction movie soundtrack vibe to the start of this. As it grows out from there it has a lot of symphonic sound. It is powerful and very cinematic. They take us out into a more purely mainstream progressive rock jam from there, though. We get some soaring prog after a time. The piece keeps evolving, though, with that soaring section ending very quickly. Then a more symphonic movement is heard and we’re taken into more classical soundtrack territory for the first lyrics (there were some non-lyrical vocals earlier) of the piece. After that vocal section they tear out into a powerhouse progressive rock jam with plenty of symphonic elements over the top. Then it drops abruptly to an acoustic guitar driven movement. Mellow prog ensues. After a time we’re brought back out into the powerhouse progressive rock. The piece continues back through various movements previously heard.
Tonight
This is very much a classical operatic piece. It has some contrast between mellower and more rocking territory, though. It’s a bit too operatic for my tastes. I’d probably pass this one by most of the time. But, that’s my personal preference.
Immortal Beloved
Organic folk meets symphonic progressive rock sounds are the idea here.  It’s a dynamic cut that again feels very much like 1970s Renaissance. It’s a strong piece that’s full of all the prog meets classical and folk elements we’ve come to love from this band.         
Renaissance Man
A ballad that’s based on piano and symphonic strings, this is evocative and powerful.
 
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