After their previous album Traces (2010, see review), which was then one of my favourites, founding member and guitarist Adrian Jones started to work on a new album. Living in the Netherlands, Adrian Jones gathered some new musicians around him to form the backbone of Nine Stones Close. Drummer Pieter van Hoorn, known from the Dutch progressive band Knight Area, and the Dutch bassist Peter Vink (Finch, Ayreon, a.o.), a very experienced musician, joined him. The line-up of Nine Stones Close was completed by keyboardist Brendan Eyre and super vocalist Mark Atkinson, who both participated on the previous album as well. However, Atkinson won't be able to do live shows with the band due to commitments to his own projects like Riversea. Nevertheless, I'm very happy to hear his voice on One Eye On The Sunrise; his exceptional and recognizable vocals are a major part of the band's sound.
The album starts with Faceless Angel, an almost instrumental song with only soft voices in the background. This short piece has a well-known sound to those who are familiar with the previous album. The guitar sound of Jones has become a trademark; it helps him to distinguish from other guitarists. After I heard A Secret it was obvious to me that Nine Stones Close is a very recognizable band. Thanks to the emotional and magnificent voice of Marc Atkinson it's easy to rise above mediocrity. The Dutch rhythm section does a great job with steady drumming and the bass sound in the forefront of the mix makes this song a real gem. However, the combination of Jones's guitar solos and Atkinson's voice are the icing on the cake.
Fine keyboard layers lead to Janus, an instrumental composition with a majestic guitar and piano part having a retro feel. …And Dream Of Sleep continues with a short acoustic interlude. The piano and the guitar sound perfectly together while a bit of an orchestration provides for the fine atmosphere. The title track has a running time of more than ten minutes. It starts nice, easy and acoustically driven; the emotional vocals slowly build up the song. Then all of a sudden the power chords join in; the electric guitar and the Hammond sounding keyboards prove that these musicians really know how to rock! In this piece Marc Atkinson's voice differs from the softer and more passionate vocals of the previous songs, drifting more to alternative rock. The title track also has a fine soft cello part in the middle, just before the power increases and end in a metal atmosphere. To me this is definitely a highlight.
Eos returns to an emotional atmosphere with a strong solo in the vein of Pink Floyd. It proves again that you don't have to play a thousand notes per minute to create a perfect song. A beautiful guitar part leads to the next song Weight, which is built up perfectly: an acoustic guitar and Atkinson's passionate voice on top of a seemingly fretless bass. The overall sound of this piece is just perfect; the instruments well-balanced. The Distance starts with a guitar sound that gave me a slight oriental feel, although it also holds a kind of singer-songwriter style. I'm really stunned by the way these guys blend the instruments with a brilliant voice. Frozen Moment is the second song that runs over ten minutes. After a heavy start with double bass drums, Atkinson's voice takes over with his characteristic way of singing and after a more relaxed middle-section this song ends very powerful reminding me a bit of Tool. With the instrumental and tranquil piece Sunset consisting of a cello and piano you'll get your feet back to the ground. Don't forget to push the repeat button after this one...!
I think I was a bit spoiled by the previous album Traces. In my opinion this was an incredible record. I could hardly believe that a successor would have the same impact as Traces. But after listening to One Eye On The Sunrise a number of times, I have to conclude that the new album is at least equal to Traces, even a bit better perhaps with its well-balanced songs and a band that sound as tight as can be. Hopefully Nine Stones Close will find a proper replacement for Marc Atkinson, who'll leave the band. There's still one last comment to make: I would like to give a big hand for the way this album has been mixed and produced!
(also read the interview we had with Adrian Jones)
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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