In April 2012 I witnessed a concert of the British band The Enid at the first edition of the Progdreams Festival. During this excellent performance (see review) band leader and keyboard player Robert John Godfrey introduced a new band member to the audience. The Enid used to have a lead singer when they started in the mid-seventies. Godfrey told the audience that this singer passed away much too young; his death was the reason why they continued as an instrumental band with occasional vocalized songs. Almost four decades later they'd finally found a lead singer who's able to change the band's music drastically. Well, he made me curious to find out whether the addition of the new vocalist Joe Payne would accomplish a different sound on Invicta, the thirteenth studio album by the band. The Enid already had a unique sound of their own by creating a kind of music that cannot be compared to other bands. Their mixture of prog rock and classical music made them a one of a kind adored by a loyal fan base, but also hated by others.
The new album Invicta is the second album of a trilogy; its predecessor Journey's End (2010, see review) was the first one. This could mean that they remained by the very orchestral sound created on the keyboards that was already present on their latest studio album. However, on Journey's End the melodic lead guitar still had a prominent role; vocals and modern dance beats could be heard from time to time. It could also mean that Invicta would sound totally different. Well, by playing the album a number of times I certainly got an answer.
Right from the start it's obvious that the vocals have a dominant role. Compared to Journey's End a different kind of singing can be heard. Guitarist Max Read still does some vocal parts, but more as a backing vocalist. I think his role as a guitarist has become larger on Invicta. It's most of all Joe Payne's voice that's in the forefront. He sometimes sounds like an opera singer as can be heard on One And The Many. At other times he sounds like the late Freddie Mercury (Queen). Good examples are Execution Mob and Villain Of Science and also music wise you sometimes get the impression of listening to Queen mostly due to the strong choral singing and to Jason Ducker's melodic guitar sounds that reminds me of the bombastic guitar playing of Brian May.
Undoubtedly Joe Payne appears to be a very gifted singer. Like a chameleon he's capable of adjusting his voice to the song in whatever style is needed. Sometimes he even sings like a regular rock singer. Invicta still contains the overall orchestral sound of the albums The Enid recorded in the past. The classical connection is never far away. And just like a real orchestra Godfrey manages to create different moods on his keyboards; sometimes very mellow, at other times rather aggressive.
Listening to the rhythm section consisting of Dave Storey (drums, percussion) and Nic Willes (bass, percussion), I notice that they still have the same drive as on Journey's End. Especially Storey's style of drumming is very recognizable; he sometimes takes me back in time to the days when he played on albums as In the Region Of The Summer Stars (1976) and Aerie Faerie Nonsense (1977). The nine compositions on Invicta don't reveal their beauty immediately, but that's something I expected. The music of The Enid has always been very complex and it always took a few spins to appreciate the content. If you give the songs the time to grow, you'll discover that the level of musicality on all tracks is very high. The excellent sound of the album is also due to the way they recorded and produced the music. According to the band most of the material has been recorded in the traditional analogue format. By doing so they were able to achieve that vintage sound on the albums although the differences between analogue and digital recordings are marginal.
Invicta marks a new era for The Enid, but between the lines you could read that the overall sound of this new album undoubtedly reflects The Enid's style. The new singer Joe Payne hasn't drastically changed their unique sound. I guess that most fans of the band were not waiting for this to happen.
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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