Pendragon have been around for thirty years now, coming to the scene a few years after the likes of Marillion and Pallas. Band leader Nick Barrett has taken care of most of the music all these years, and tied the band together. Starting with music in the line of aforementioned bands, Pendragon has gone through more or less gradual changes in style from album to album. Usually with good results, but every change has lead to criticism as well, and that won't be different with their latest album Men Who Climb Mountains.
This album is the darkest I've ever heard from Pendragon, and surprisingly Nick Barrett did not only write all music and lyrics on this one, he also plays piano and keyboard on a number of tracks. This instead of, and in agreement with, long standing band member Clive Nolan, who according to the Pendragon blog had no problem at all with this set up. And to be fair, Barrett does a more than decent job here.
So what do we find on the album? First a lot of (often dark) guitar work - be it picked electric guitar in Belle Ame and Beautiful Soul, and Explorers Of The Infinite, or more (jazz) metal riffing like in the mid section of the otherwise more friendly Faces Of Darkness. There is room for less darkness as well - the track For When The Zombies Come for example starts with a (still somewhat dark) surf like guitar, but turns into a psychedelic track in David Gilmour style that reminds of early 70's Pink Floyd.
Other lighter notes on the album are the rocky In Bardo, on which Barrett plays marvelous keyboard and guitar solos, and the atmospheric Explorers Of The Infinite.
The only track that did not work for me at all is Faces Of Light. It starts as a piano ballad, and builds up to a full rock track, but for reasons I can't really put my finger on it doesn't click with me.
One thing is for sure though, it's not the skills of Barrett and the rest of the band. As usual with Pendragon, the drum, bass and keyboard work are as impeccable as the guitar work - Clive Nolan and Peter Gee are of course part of the band for years now, but new drummer Craig Blundell (nicknamed Blunders) fits in very well.
This album is as remote from early albums like Kowtow as Pendragon ever got, and even quite a step removed from 2008's Pure, which was an album not to the liking of every long time Pendragon fan. So this one will have to find its own audience, partly by means of die hard Pendragon fans, partly by attracting new souls. I enjoyed listening to it and reviewing it, despite a few weaknesses and the effort it takes to get into it at first. I'd suggest anyone interested in the old but not yet worn Pendragon taking it one step further, to have a good listen, and let the album grow on you.
***+ Angelo Hulshout (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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