Pillars of Creation – Obsidian Tide (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

There was a time, not so long ago, when music labelled progressive was seen as being decidedly uncool. Though what is uncool about playing with broad musical visions, weaving technically dexterous musical threads together and actually having something to say through your music, I will never know. But then things began to change. Bands such as Muse smuggled the idea into the mainstream that such complex and competent music was okay after all and the likes of Steve Wilson and Porcupine Tree put the concept album back on the table. I think it is safe to say that this genre, once seen as elitist at best or geeky at worst is being embraced by a whole new set of young and cool discerning music fans.

Obsidian Tide is another band who are continuing to re-invent Progressive rock for the modern age and with one listen to Pillars of Creation it is easy to hear just why. This is an album of contrast to say the least, the two biggest ingredients being the sweet and soaring sonics that has long been a central prog sound and a heavy as hell, death metal thread. And it’s these two opposites which create real attraction, real dynamic, real diversity. But it doesn’t end there, sweeping classical elegance is paired up with aggressive, foot on the monitor hard rock, minimalist grace is countered by maelstroms of post-rock music, western forms are warped by eastern inspirations and the whole thing is as unique as it is unpredictable.

That’s a lot to work with but then if you are going to truly earn the title “progressive” you have to go beyond more predictable approaches, you have to see genres as just another tool to play with rather than a path to stick too, you have to change rules, break traditions and keep the listener from second guessing you. And that is exactly what Obsidian Tide does, and does so effortlessly. Just the opening titular slice seems to cover more ground than some bands can cover across whole albums and whilst it is enough to admire the bands ability to come up with the concepts of such music, the really clever thing is how they manage to piece it all together this smoothly. As it dances between diabolical lows and sky-scraping highs, balances aggression with ethereality, simple grooves with technical deliveries, you realise that you are listening to something rather special and you are still only one song in.

And it isn’t just the music which is exceptional, the narrative is too. This suite of songs, this album of concepts, follows a man’s quest for enlightenment, the truths he discovers along the way, the set-backs and his ultimate realisation to trust his own conscience. And it is a story told as much through the moods of the music and the sonic drama as it is from the words themselves. Seven taps hard into the bands metal-loving heart, the perfect contrast with the spiralling beauty and emotive musical lines which leads into King of a New Realm. Hireath is the perfect storm of light and shade, of tempered and understated exactitude and avalanches of noise and Magnanimous is perhaps the perfect calling card for the whole album, a snapshot of the musical extremes and the ever changing nature of the music.

The expansive nature of the music means that Obsidian Tide are likely to appeal to a broad range of listeners. Opeth and Tool are obvious starting comparisons but along the way the music plays with the sweet lulling interludes of the likes of Yes or Pendragon too. There are moments when less traditional rock instruments are being brandished that you even hear fleeting touches of Jethro Tull but mostly it is from the harder and heavier musical scene that most people will be drawn to them. Pillars of Creation not only puts progressive music back on the menu, it also raises the genres benchmark in no small way. Exciting times!

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