Pendragon - Men Who Climb Mountains,
I’m somewhat at a loss here, as I honestly thought I reviewed this album when it was released back in 2014, but as I can’t find it in any of my files I am guessing that somehow it slipped through the cracks, so it is definitely time to rectify that. Back in the Nineties, when I just dipping my toe into the progressive rock waters, not knowing that was enough to find myself either drowning or floating for the rest of my life, one of the people I contacted early on was Nick Barrett. In a very different lifetime (ok, so according to my records it appeared in Feedback #12, February 1992), Nick was the first person I ever interviewed as we discussed the amazing album which is ‘The World’. We did more interviews through the years, and a poster for “The Masquerade Overture’ was the only piece of musical artwork which ever graced the walls of our family home, and anyone walking down the stairs couldn’t fail to see it proud in place in front of them.
Like many, I felt the line-up of Nick Barrett (vocals, guitar), Clive Nolan (keyboards, vocals), Peter Gee (bass, vocals) and Fudge Smith (drums) was one that was destined to last forever. But he departed in 2006 after 20 years at the back of the band, being replaced by Scott Higham for the next two albums, although by the time of this recording he had also moved on, to be replaced by Craig Blundell. Over the years the band’s sound had changed a great deal, as one would expect from a group who had been performing for so long, and while I have enjoyed all their releases, some have made a larger impact on me than others, with the trinity of ‘The World’, ‘The Window of Life’ and ‘The Masquerade Overture’ being my personal favourites. But this album is some 18 years on from the last of these, albeit with three of the same musicians involved, so what would it be like?
Pendragon in 2014 are not the same beast as Pendragon in 1996, it is just not possible as all those involved have gained different life experiences and taken musical journeys during this timeframe. Clive, as always, has been the most prolific and diverse, but his role in Pendragon has always been to interpret Nick’s songs and what is required from him no matter what he has been doing outside the band. Peter has been the reliable sideman, providing the perfect support ever since 1978, using a fretted bass when the time is right, and also showing how much a master he is of fretless to slide in the sounds when it adds additional benefit and warmth to the sounds, while Colin sounds as if he has been there for years, sitting patiently for the right moment, concentrating on some wonderful cymbal flourishes, or dramatically pounding the drums, and there of course there is Nick. The top hat may have disappeared, along with the fancy shirts, but here is a man who is still focussed on Pendragon and what that means.
In many ways this album sounds to me to be the perfect combination of the 90’s material and the harder edge which had come through in the 2000’s, the result being something that fans can easily embrace. This allows that edge to combine with the soaring majesty of old, as the band feel full of confidence and vigour. This is a true Pendragon album, one which fully embraces the depth and breadth of their canon, yet also looking forward. How does it compare with the class albums of yore? Well, it is right up there, but possibly not quite peaking above ‘The World’. But is that due to the material, or just the feelings of an old proghead who played that album to death nearly 30 years ago and still listens to it today? Quite possibly to be fair. What I can say is to my ears it is the most enjoyable Pendragon album since ‘Not of This World’, and possibly since ‘The Masquerade Overture’.