Three years in the making, this album is the product of a project masterminded by Rob Reed of Magenta on which there is a whole host of guest musicians. It tells the epic tale of Connor McGregor, a fisherman who took his own life in grief following the suicide of his wife, and loss of his only child. If this sounds grim, and it does, then the album is anything but. It’s a beautiful, Celtic and symphonic blend that delivers both the darkness of the tale and the emotion of emerging peace following the tragic outcome.
With vocals from Welsh singer Steve Balsamo, who is best known for his lead role in Jesus Christ Superstar during the nineties, this concept album has a distinctly West End musical sound to it. Added to that, the Celtic air of Troy Donockley’s uilleann pipes serves as a basis for the general theme, helping to tie each track together. Other guests include Steve Hackett, Nick Beggs, Nick Barrett,Francis Dunnery, John Mitchell, and Mel Collins—an impressive lineup indeed—as well as Reed’s fellow Magenta bandmates Chris Fry and Christina Booth. Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree adds drums throughout, giving the album a good, consistent rhythm.
The entire experience is wrapped in symphonic bliss provided by The London Session Orchestra, with arrangements by Dave Stewart of Egg, Hatfield and the North, and National Health fame, giving a strong orchestral sound that continues throughout. Choral backing is provided by The English Chamber Choir, who famously worked with Rick Wakeman on Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Synergy Vocals, who have featured on works as wide apart as pop music and television advertisements. The choir makes several of the tracks reminiscent of Wakeman’s Journey, whereas Synergy Vocals bring memories of Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus, on which they also featured. It’s hard not to see the influences on this album, but that is in no way a bad thing.
The album begins with a narrator introducing the story in much the same way as progressive rock epics like War of the Worlds, or Journey to the Centre of the Earth, but the similarity ends there in that the narrative is not continued until the final track. Like those albums, however, Beneath the Waves has several themes that come in and out over the course of the album, which help cement the storyline into place. The opening track Exordium acts as an overture, introducing many of the themes that feature during the rest of the album, and sets the scene for the emotional tale that follows.
With 12 tracks in total, and coming in at 67 minutes, Beneath the Waves has a good mix of tracks of varying lengths, with seven coming in at more than five minutes, but the real star of the album is The Storm, which is a good 11 minutes in length. This track really lives up to its name, conjuring up the imagery of a ship in mortal peril upon the ocean, with surging waves and strong winds wreaking havoc upon the men aboard.
From rock, to the operatic, the shortest track is Il Tempo E Giunto, which features the tenor vocals of Welsh singer Rhys Meirion, and in the context of the greater album, acts as a solemn and emotional quiet between the protagonist being the only survivor aboard the storm-struck fishing vessel, and his decision of take his own life.
The Celtic imagery provided by the uilleann pipes and tin whistles, is in places predictable and cliché, but it’s hard to imagine the tracks without those elements as without them the album just wouldn’t put your mind in the right place, and the themes represented by them just wouldn’t sound the same played on any other instruments.
My only other criticism is that neither Steve Hackett nor Nick Beggs appear enough on this album, with both of them only playing on one track each. Where they do play, both are great—Hackett on acoustic guitar makes Lilly the beautiful track that it is, and Beggs on Chapman Stick gives a real edge to the title track.
The album itself comes in a few different editions: a standard CD, MP3 download, and a limited edition CD/DVD set. The DVD in the latter contains music videos for several of the tracks, and a “making of” video from the recording sessions, but the star of the disc is the 5.1 mix of the album. The regular version on the CD is great, but to really do the music justice you just have to listen to the 5.1 mix through a home theatre system—it really is fantastic and brings the album to life. The music surrounds you, consuming you, and really pulls you into the story. If you can get hold of the CD/DVD set, it’s well worth the price.
Overall, this is a great album, and Rob Reed should feel really proud of what he’s managed to achieve putting the band together and writing this evocative piece. If you haven’t already got it, then you really should.
Electric Freedom Rating: five out of five
Beneath the Waves is available now:
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