Steve Hackett -
The Circus And The Nightwhale

(CD 2024, 42:23, Inside Out Music)

The tracks:
  1- People Of The Smoke(4:50)
  2- These Passing Clouds(1:35)
  3- Taking You Down(4:17)
  4- Found And Lost(1:50)
  5- Enter The Ring(3:53)
  6- Get Me Out(4:15)
  7- Ghost Moon And Living Love(6:43)
  8- Circo Inferno(2:30)
  9- Breakout(1:37)
10- All At Sea(1:46)
11- Into The Nightwhale(4:06)
12- Wherever You Are(4:18)
13- White Dove(3:15)

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Surrender Of Silence (2021, see review), the 27th solo album recorded by Steve Hackett, was again a must have album for Hackett fans. Featuring remarkably diverse, powerful, and creative songs galore indeed. Now, three years later, legendary guitar picker Hackett is back with The Circus And The Nightwhale, marking his 30th solo release overall. This new album is a rite-of-passage concept album with a young character called Travia at the centre of it and in Hackett's own words the album is: “A lovely journey that starts dirty, scratchy and smoky and becomes heavenly and divine...”

After the first spin I was really amazed as the new album contains ballads, blues, excellent prog rock, and most of all Hackett's unbelievable guitar playing; man, he can still play some “mean” guitar and some of his guitar solos here are really sublime. The line-up features some familiar faces such as Jonas Reingold (bass guitar), Craig Blundell (drums), Roger King (keyboards), Rob Townsend (saxophone) and Amanda Lehmann and Nad Sylvan as singers.

The Circus And The Nightwhale begins with People Of The Smoke, a great opener setting the trend for the rest of the album, as it is a wonderful mixture of old school prog rock and classic rock. Hackett already “delivers” some masterful arpeggios and guitar melodies here, showing his absolute unique style of handling and playing the guitar. These Passing Clouds is the first of five instrumental tracks on The Circus And The Nightwhale and it is short, not even two minutes, but rather “sweet” indeed: excellent neoclassical prog rock. Taking You Down, featuring Nad Sylvan on vocals, really reminds me of Genesis, but follow up Found And Lost is completely different, as it is a kind of bluesy, acoustic instrumental track, which does not really appeal to me very much.... However, Enter The Ring, is one of the highlights of this album and Get Me Out features some of the best guitar solos of the entire album.
Ghost Moon And Living Love, the longest song of the album, is a 100% prog rock ballad, featuring vocals by Amanda Lehmann, and that one brings back memories of one of my all-time favourite English bands, Camel. That more than splendid track is followed by two more excellent instrumentals, Circus Inferno (with fierce fast guitar shredding) and Breakout, featuring an almost headbangers riff. Into The Nightwhale sounds quite ambient, as it is a real downtempo track, but then we are treated to another highlight, the “vintage” prog rock song Wherever You Are, again with vocals from Lehmann and some stunning guitar work. The album closer White Dove, is again, just like the last track of the Surrender Of Silence album, a rather boring, mediocre acoustic instrumental one.

But, Hackett, has made and delivered another great album, featuring a couple of more than excellent songs and of course Hackett's guitar playing is second to none!
Listening tip: Enter The Ring (at maximum volume).

**** Martien Koolen (edited by Dave Smith)

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