In 2015, after seventeen years of absence, the British progressive rock band Drifting Sun returned to the music scene with the release of the excellent Trip The Life Fantastic (see review). Obviously the writing skills of founding member and keyboard player Pat Sanders have started to blossom since this return, because soon after this comeback album more releases of his band could be welcomed in a very short period of time. Two EPs (Alice and Lady Night) and a single (Piano Works) saw the light in 2015 as well. And now the band's fourth full-length studio album is out there to be enjoyed. Fortunately a hard copy of Safe Asylum was sent to our office for a review!
Pat must have thought never to chance a winning team. On Safe Asylum almost the same line up that recorded its predecessor are mentioned in the credits, only with the difference that now a real bassist was recruited. Manu Michael took over bass duties from Dan Storey who did them next to his guitar parts on the former release. The rhythm tandem was completed by Will Jones on drums. And again the wonderful voice of Pete Falconer can be heard as well. As for the style of music the band stuck to the same musical formula. Again the main part on the album can be described as neo progressive rock, meaning musical references can be made with bands such as IQ, Pendragon, Arena, Pallas and early Marillion. The music they wrote in this style of music was used to tell a story. As far as I know you could say Safe Asylum is a concept album about the well known story of Alice in Wonderland with a twist.
To give you a little insight on this album I will tell you in a nutshell what to expect music wise. The first title King Of Hearts starts with Mark Kelly (Marillion) kind of synthesizer parts and is directly followed by strong vocal parts before the rest of the band joins in to kick ass with strong rhythm and guitar parts. Mellow and fast parts follow each other just like rain and sunshine on a normal Summer's day. This strong opening sets the musical standard very high right from the start. The high level of musicianship and compositions continues on The Hidden Truth. Excellent keyboard and guitar parts come and go, you can only wish for more after hearing them. One of the most catchy parts can be heard on Intruder. This is meant as a compliment, because the way the instrumental and vocal parts get together in this track are delightful. Also the excellent guitar and synthesizer parts have to be mentioned, because they send shivers down your spine. The first resting point on the album is the mellow tune Alice. Here a string and flute quartet accompany the acoustic guitar and piano in a wonderful way. The following composition Wonderland is a mix of up tempo and more mellow parts. This combination works perfectly and is therefore very enjoyable to listen to. Again here the guitar parts are done in an excellent way. Gods again starts very mellow on the acoustic guitars before the rest of the band joins in. The pace stays rather calm throughout the entire song and once again you hear how strong the vocal parts are done by Falconer. Also the guitarist gets room to shine on his instrument again. Desolation sounds rather mellow as well and occasionally gets a musical eruption when the electric guitar makes clear he has something to tell music wise. The original retail version of the album ends with Retribution. The track in a way delves into a style which you might label as classic rock. Furthermore there is a freshness in the melody that will give the listener intense pleasure.
The limited edition which was sent to me has two instrumentals to close this album. Both bonus tracks also appeared on the single version of Alice, released last year. Emphasis has a medieval atmosphere with nice piano and the electric guitar parts. Vagabond is another track on which both the keyboards and the electric guitar have the leading role. It starts as a kind of classical piece of music before it moves into a short progressive rock instrumental on which the drums occasionally sound like a kind of beating human heart. Too bad that this track is way too short, but then again it is the beautiful ending of an excellent album.
Safe Asylum gets better and better after every listening session. I really got into the album after a while and discovered the real beauty of all the compositions. Therefore I can highly recommend it to every lover of neo progressive rock and to those who love the bands I mentioned earlier. Without doubt one of the musical highlights of 2016 so far!
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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