Nine Skies are a French Progressive rock band with four albums currently under their belts so far, three studio and one live. The Lightmaker is their fourth studio opus and continues their trend of releasing originally themed concept albums. Having worked in the past with such prog luminaries as Steve and John Hackett, Damien Wilson and Clive Nolan, their past albums have been well accredited and endorsed by such Prog legends.
Nine Skies – The Lightmaker
Release Date: 18 September 2023
Words: Adrian Stonley
Like their previous outputs, The Lightmaker tells the story of a character called Rudy, who is now living his 1001st and final life. The album retraces his story through some of his different existences and through the eyes of other characters with overriding referenced commentary on mankind, our views, thoughts and emotions.
It is fair to say that this album holds a deep personal and emotional sway and much of that is likely to be due to the sad passing of guitarist Eric Bouillette in 2022. The band have clearly taken their grief, love, feelings and emotions and wrung them dry to create a quite breathtaking album.
It is a fit epitaph to Eric.
The Lightmaker is an inventive and interesting album. Musically, at times, there are some definite Marillion vibes in the guitar work, but don’t read this as a Marillion or neo-prog copyist band. There is far more to the music, the complexity of lyrical ideas and musical themes that run throughout the album.
Each song provides different musical characteristics and arrangements, sometimes soft and gentle, other times brasher, harsher or more complex, yet it all falls together to provide a beautifully balanced piece of work that shines with a soft luminosity and shows that there is enough about Nine Skies that transcends any sub-genre.
The album has predominantly a delicate pastoral and acoustic sound, almost a traditional English romantic theme about it. Yet there are clear elements that betray this at times and enable Nine Skies to show that they are a band in their own right. They have their own style, albeit it comfortably sits within the prog genre and provides everything any prog fan would be looking for in an album.
Yet there are times when the song structure and sound moves away from their more gentle progressive output and shows their diversity and technical ability as they move from hard rock, verging on a Metal and alternative take, before switching back to the more luxurious and lush progressive tones.
The album has a definite progressive rock feel to it, with longer pieces interspersed by occasional short acoustic pieces. Yet, as so typically is the case, the musicianship shows through. The songs are well structured with careful consideration of the arrangement and technique that surrounds each piece.
From the opening track, An Finai (Intro), we are invited into a gentle, atmospheric, acoustic guitar instrumental piece with lush waves of gentle breeze and wind layered with delicate acoustic guitar.
The second piece, The Explorer, starts similarly and is the perfect piece to build from the opener. Again, there is a gentility about it, with delightful interplay between keyboards and guitar, which draws out the melody. Yet slowly, in the background, you can feel and then sense the drums building as they raise the tempo of the piece before a guitar break takes the song to a higher realm.
Often, you can listen to a concept album and understand the storyline through the lyrical content. Sometimes, the music is there as a framework in the background to hang the story onto, yet it does not always enhance the piece of work. That is not the case here, with the musical performances actually enhancing the lyrical content and adding a more definitive quality to the album.
This is an album where the listener can follow the story yet soar and glide on the musical intricacies and emotive sound structures that envelope it.
The third song, The Dreamer, has already been recognised by Prog Mag as one of their tracks of the week, and it is fair praise and recognition for an interesting yet complex piece. To add to the charm of the song, it also contains a spoken word element halfway through, which is quite reminiscent of some earlier era Marillion [Chelsea Monday] in the way that it fits into the piece.
Yet, like The Explorer before it, the piece builds until it bursts open and finishes with a quite exquisite guitar break that continues some of the arrangement of the previous piece, hence producing a connection musically as well as lyrically.
In relation to the spoken word interludes within the pieces, this works well in providing additional narrative and senses around the storytelling and interweaving with the lyrical ideas. This is a very English approach to progressive music. Think Les Pennings work with Robert Reed and the pastoral elements of his work, yet this is undertaken on a greater scale and is required to hold the greater storyline together.
The fourth track, The Chaotic, like its title hints, has darker, more sinister themes at play and is a heavier piece, albeit it contains a flowing keyboard solo, courtesy of Adam Holzman, that a certain Mr Wakeman would be proud of. This song, having a harder edge to it, certainly nods to a more traditional rock feel and therefore, the format unsurprisingly rests on the driving lead and bass guitar work, although the intensity behind the piece is felt through the rhythmic drumming where the drums are as much part of the instrumental feel of the album as opposed to being used to drive a beat which the song sits on.
The fifth track, The Lost, begins, like elsewhere in the album with a gentle acoustic start. The keys provide a haunting backdrop, producing a sound like gentle woodwind, providing a soft undercurrent to the guitar work. Then, halfway through, it moves up a level for a while with crunching power chords and a heavier drum sound, giving it an almost alt-rock feel.
From the heavier centrepiece of the album contained in The Chaotic and The Lost tracks, the piece then falls back on track six. The Wanderer moves into a short instrumental interlude with soft choral soundscapes throughout, almost coming over as a musical fallback to the introduction. However, this piece works well as a musical bridge and leads into the final two pieces that close the tale.
The Haunted, once more, contains some delightful technical and complex guitar work that rides over a more storytelling style to the vocal. This piece is clearly indicative of the angst that the lead character in the storyline is being taken through, and this is communicated well in the way that it is performed, not only musically but in particular in the vocal dramatization.
The final piece, The Architect, features none other than John Mitchell (Frost, It Bites) on guitar and is itself the perfect closer to the album, tying up all the musical and lyrical themes in a progressive smorgasbord.
There are elements of the way that the album is formed and fits together that are reminiscent of Gandalf’s Fist’s Clockwork Fable album. As the storyline develops so the songs develop their own musical flow and ebb, at times emotionally matching the tale being told.
Each song piece is written as an individual musical story in its own right, yet the entire piece fits together as a perfect whole, a musical jigsaw puzzle, a number of tales within a greater tale producing a bigger picture.
Quite simply, it is French progressive rock at its very best, or, as the band have called it, Frogressive.
The Lightmaker is available from Nine Skies at Bandcamp.