Clive Nolan's career as composer, arranger, orchestrator, musician and producer of progressive and symphonic rock, as well as being a stalwart member of Pendragon and Arena among others, has been prolific as well as successful.
The teller of many tales, in collaboration with his Norwegian musical and record label interests, he decided it was time to embrace his inner Viking and create his own version of the Old English epic poem Beowulf which features Prog's favourite monster, Grendel!
With the help of a stellar cast of musicians and a 200 strong choir singing in Anglo-Saxon, Nolan's Song Of The Wildlands is a feast for ears and emotions, a secular oratorio, which grabs you from the first few bars and, by the end, leaves you shaking with delight and wonder.
Narrator Ross Andrews has one of those Stentorian voices whose storytelling keeps you rivetted as Nolan introduces the lush tones of the keyboard-led overture The Story Begins. This sets the overall tone of the tale, its tribal drums courtesy of Scott Higham (Pendragon and Oliver Wakeman), during which the Wildland Warriors Choir makes its first appearance.
There's A Threat is a more operatic sounding piece, the narrator contrasting the merriment in the mead hall as Grendel makes his first move. Vocalists Christina Booth (Magenta), Gemma Ashley and Natalie Barnett, together with Higham providing a pounding beat, really ramp up the drama.
The sound of the sea and the swelling male voices on a longship can be heard on Crossing the Ocean, together with Ryan Morgan's muscular vocals as Beowulf.
From here on, the authenticity of the Viking sound is further enhanced by Vicki Swan on the nyckelharpa, a stringed instrument played with a bow.
There are so many highlights to enjoy, among them Grendel Attacks, a suitably folkish and menacing piece with the female voices back stronger than ever.
Tinkling bells begin Celebration, a high energy piece with the nyckelharpa at its heart. The story unfolds as Beowulf then does battle with the now dead Grendel's mother in The Hag's Return, during which the “there's a threat” theme is reprised. The chorus sings in Old English to give it even more atmosphere.
The adventure continues in the fast-paced Journey that has some interesting Gregorian chanting in the background. Once Beowulf has dispatched the mother monster in the cinematic Underwater Cavern, there's the triumphant Rewards-but the story is far from over.
Another incredible musical moment is the Choir singing Dragon Fire's chorus in Anglo-Saxon while the sorrow after Beowulf's death is beautifully captured in the mournful lament The Funeral Pyre.
It's bold, dramatic, daring, and downright brilliant. Put it on your Christmas wish list if you have not already got it.
****+ Alison Reijman
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