Messages From Afar is Sunchild's seventh studio release and a follow up to Karfagen's earlier release Messages From Afar:First Contact (see review). I'll just pause to let you digest that. Driving force behind both enterprises, keyboard maestro Antony Kalugin originally wrote both pieces together, realising that in the variety and strength of the tracks were two separate entities which deserved to be fully developed in a complementary way. Hence two separate releases under two different outfits. Which makes perfect sense I'm sure. The even better news is that there is a third part out there somewhere.
As for the piece in hand, as with its companion piece it is a joy from start to finish. Perhaps a bit more accessible and commercial sounding than the Karfagen output - note the soaring choruses, power chords and even Supertramp style piano section in Grail And Time for example - but none the worse for all that. While this is still very much Kalugin steering the ship, there is more the sense of a crew effort. Max Velychko again provides soulful lyrical guitar work perfectly complementing Kalugin's keyboard wizardry. The music is full of textures and variety, every song taking the audience along an often whimsical journey. There is plenty of 'Alice In Wonderland' imagery, perhaps getting too close to Trick Of The Tail territory. Sometimes the influences are a little too obvious and direct, which is a shame because despite the prolific output, Kalugin is endlessly inventive. No more so than on the epic centrepiece Victory Voyager a 'dance to life' from the sunlit uplands bathed in childlike wonderment. Although this track with its multiple parts can meander, each part in itself is excellent, and when it lights up, particularly in the duetting between Kalugin and Velychko, it is an utter joy. However it is on Father that Sunchild, the symbol of wide-eyed innocence and warmth really shows its colours with Kalugin's affecting tribute to his own father. This is one of those tracks that can only be put on the end of an album as it just wouldn't work with anything else to follow. New-age type keyboards mix with more traditional neo-prog in a palpably personal paean, forming a glorious culmination to the collection.
Sunchild are full of bright-eyed warmth and wonder and this is a superb companion piece to Karfagen. It is a shame that they still haven't caught the ear of a wider audience because they very much deserve it, for the consistently prolific high-quality output without burdening the listener with filler if nothing else. And there is plenty else.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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