It is always a difficult decision as to whether to maintain a band when a key person leaves or sadly passes away, and I am sure there were many discussions as to what to do when multi-instrumentalist Eric Bouillette passed away way too young. He was also the most high-profile member, having been involved with multiple other bands as well, but it is nice to be able to report that Nine Skies have not only kept going but have returned with a very enjoyable album indeed. It is a concept, telling the story of Rudy who is living his 1001st and final life and is retracing some of his existences through different characters and he reflects on these.
They have dispensed with saxophones, so Laurent Benhamou is no longer with the band, but the rest of Nine Skies are the same as on ‘5.20’. They have again used guests, but this time around they have used multiple singers, and since the recording have brought in a new lead vocalist themselves in Charlie Bramad (who here provides lead on “The Haunted”). There is less instrumentation and diversity than previously, and now we often have keyboards providing a backdrop for other instruments to rest against. This has actually given the band a new lease of life and their guitars are more to the fore, moving even more deeply into neo-prog. The highlight for me is “The Dreamer”, featuring Martin Wilson on vocals. Martin is of course a founder of The Room, which at one time included Eric, but I remember seeing him many times back in the Nineties fronting Grey Lady Down and here the band take a back seat and allow his emotional vocals to take centre stage, quite reminiscent of Credo. The guitar is plaintive and just right, providing the cut through.
I do hope this album gives the band enough confidence to record the next one without any guests as I would really like to hear them fully on their own, as I have no doubt there is no need for the additional help and with a new lead singer and a tour booked let us hope that is indeed the case. Even with everything the band has been going through, this is their fourth album in just six years and long may that work ethic continue. This is a very slick and well-produced neo prog album, given life with some wonderful fretless bass, keyboards providing the supporting role, complex drum patterns, guitars cutting through and vocals which are always to the fore. For those who think “neo” is a lesser form of prog need to listen to this and enjoy.