Even at their commercial peak Marillion were never seen as particularly cool. In a career that’s always gone against the grain they have, like some strange species that’s been isolated for millennia, developed independently, and carved out their own unique niche. Studio album number 19, An Hour Before It’s Dark, continues in this vein and sounds fresh and new, yet strangely familiar and evidences a band refusing to rest on their laurels.
The briefest of ambient introductions might lull you into a false sense of security and get you thinking that this is a prototypical progressive rock album, but if you’re at all familiar with Marillion then you know to always expect the unexpected. If you are expecting a pleasant soundscape then your calm will be smashed by the siren’s call that shatters the still and heralds the arrival of ‘Be Hard On Yourself’. Aided by a vast, expansive production Marillion confidently commandeer the space between my speakers to deliver an epic track that swirls like leaves in an autumnal breeze. Marillion are one of those rarefied bands with the magical ability to alter the very fabric of time and the nine-and-a-half minute ‘Be Hard On Yourself’ passes in the blink of an eye. Full of sonic shifts and time changes it’s progressive in the truest sense and, while many bands of their vintage are content to settle into “heritage” status, this record reveals a band with their sights set firmly on the future.
Marillion have never had much truck with musical fads and trends and have always existed outside the mainstream and while the material trappings of success have largely avoided them this has given them a certain amount of freedom. They’ve operated outside of times and subsequently they’ve always had a timeless quality about them. However, one point where they’ve always been contemporary is in the lyrical department and ‘Murder Machines’ really hits the nail on the head. It captures the current zeitgeist perfectly and handles the whole lockdown experience in a sensitive manner. “I put my arms around her” sings vocalist Steve Hogarth while guitarist Steve Rothery in turn entwines Mr Hogarth with taut guitar lines and the two combine to create a haunting track that’ll follow you like an uninvited (though not unpleasant) guest.
As with its predecessor (2016’s F E A R) Marillion’s latest was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and it’s an environment that really brings the best out of the band. ‘Sierra Leone’, rising and falling, is a musical road trip through an arid climate that’s full of gently ululating hills and, as is always the case with Marillion, they paint a vivid landscape through words and music. One of of two elongated tracks which bookend the album ‘Care’ is a vehicle that allows Marillion to display their full palette; it’s a song of many shades and is comprised of several suites all of which interlock to create a cohesive whole. Building towards a huge crescendo it ensures An Hour Before It’s Dark ends in an ominous, grandiose manner, which is the only way a Marillion album should conclude.
- Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
- An Hour Before It’s Dark is released via earMUSIC on 4th March 2022.
- Official Website
- YouTube Channel
- Be Hard On Yourself
- Reprogram The Gene
- Only A Kiss
- Murder Machines
- The Crow And The Nightingale
- Sierra Leone