The latest Touchstone single, 'Flux', is a tasty little morsel to be sure, however like all lite-bites it does not satisfy ones hunger, and so let's stuff our faces on the main course, their fourth studio album, 'Oceans Of Time'.
Are we going to enjoy a Nigella-esque sensuous feast for the soul, which will leave us smiling and satisfied, or will we be doubled up over the loo, after enduring the aural equivalent of a Fanny Cradock creation? Pull up a chair, pour the wine and your Rock & Roll waiter will guide you through the menu.
Along with the hook filled hard rock songs, and contemplative slower numbers that are the core ingrediants of the Touchstone sound, a few unexpected flavours have been added to spice up the recipe, giving this new album a refreshing flavour from the very first song onwards.
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Take opening number 'Flux' for intance; it's a lengthy prog-tinged rock song, featuring a lovely slower tempo middle section, and is the kind of quality piece that Touchstone excel at. What gives it a refreshing twist is the addition of very contemporary techno/dance influenced sounds, especially in the opening bars.
I don't expect to see Touchstone banging out choons at the next rave party, but little touches like that do give this album a sonic texture that will make it more accessible to listeners beyond the prog and metal crowd.
For another break from the norm do check out 'Fragments' which mashes Middle Eastern themes, treated vocal from Kim Seviour, metalllic guitar courtesy of Adam Hodgson, plus a drum pattern that Bill Bruford would be proud of, and it works brilliantly. Little sonic surprises like this pop up throughout the album, although the overall sound is still definitely Touchstone.
Fans of previous Touchstone albums, 'Wintercoast' and 'The City Sleeps' will be pleased to learn that the song 'Oceans Of Time' is a sequel to the title tracks of those two works, whilst previously explored themes are continued on 'Shadow's End', which is the concluding part of the Shadow Trilogy, started on debut album 'Discordant Dreams'.
It's this kind of long term view that makes their work so fascinating. The majority of acts treat each album as a self contained entity, whereas Touchstone are happy to revisit and develop themes previously experimented with on earlier albums. Each album works as a stand alone collection of songs, but listen to all four back to back, and one can hear that each album is continuation of its predecessor, despite the constantly evolving musical palette employed by the band.
In fact one song here, 'Solace', is remake of a tune previously heard on 'Wintercoast', which the cynical may say is just lazy, although I reckon it's reprised here because it's subject matter gels well with other songs here. I find it to be superior to the fine original take, having as it does a much fuller sound both in terms of production and musicianship.
The producer is John Mitchell, known for his work with likes of Funeral For A Friend and You Me At Six, who through his sumptuous production has done a superb job of highlighting the strengths of the songs, along with the individual talents of the players. The music on 'Oceans Of Time' is much more guitar driven to than on previous albums, with Adam Hodgson playing like a demon throughout, and proving himself to be one of the best players out there right now.
Hodgson might be the prominently featured musician here, but all the band play and sing superbly on this album, with bassist Paul Moorghen and drum thumper Henry Rogers combining together to bring a powerful and intelligent foundation to the music. Keys are provided by band founder Rob Cottingham, who conjures up some startling and inventive sounds, in parts reminiscent of his solo LP 'Captain Blue', especially on the more pop and techno infused influences that cheekily pop up through the course of the music.
Lead singer Kim Seviour excels herself on this album, with the most expressive singing of her career so far. She brings a haunting, chilling quality to the slightly sinister 'Solace', whilst on the heavy numbers such as 'Shadows End' she displays a range and power worthy of any Scandinavian Metal Siren.
Kim has always sung well, but on this collection she reaches new heights of confidence and emotion. The male voice heard on the album is that man Cottingham again, and he too sings excellently, both in harmony with Kim, where their two voices combine beautifully, and as a lead singer in his own right.
I've listened to this album about a dozen times (at least!) while writing this, and I have not tired of hearing any of the songs. 'Oceans...' is packed with songs, that are hook laden, intelligent and memotable, with none that could be described as weak, although obviously some tunes are proving to be real standouts, especially the hard rocking 'Through The Night', and the epicly magnificent title song.
I'd love to hear this one performed on stage, where it deserves to be their 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'Matty Groves', not that it sounds like either of those classics. That it bears comparison with records of that calibre, says a lot about the quality of this song.
I hoped that 'Oceans Of Time' would prove to be satisfying, especially after having my appetite whetted by the single of 'Flux', and I can confirm that the main course of this particular feast is as delicious as that morsel promised it to be, so it's going to be washed down with five full foaming pints! Now pass the cheese board please, Nigella. Nom, nom, nom!
3. Tabula Rasa
5. Spirit Of The Age
6. Shadow's End
8. Through The Night
9. Thunder & Crickets
10. Oceans Of Time
Kim Seviour- Lead Vocals
Adam Hodgson- Lead Guitar
Rob Cottingham- Keyboards & Vocals
Paul Moorghen- Bass
Henry Rogers- Drums