Pendragon - The History: 1984-2000 Review
by Daniel Walker
We all know and love Mark as one of the great masterminds of thrashpit.com and the one who feeds us stuff, as we, like Oliver Twist, wait eagerly to receive it. As souls starving for music, we're usually open to trying anything he cooks up, but even the best of us are prone to pickiness at times. This is the second rejected prog album that I've received, and it's true that what's one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Pendragon's latest release, The History: 1984-2000, is similar to Soundgarden's last output A-Sides in the fact that it's not a best-of, but an anthology of what may be considered by fans and/or critics as the best tracks from each of their respective albums. In fact, if anyone claimed this was a best of, I think the band and many others would be upset. Beginning with 1985's The Jewel through 1991's landmark The World and then some, there is eighty minutes of beautiful, nighttime prog here that sifts through your body as effortlessly as blood runs through your veins.
The band hails from the UK, but for some reason this album was specifically created for their Polish fans, for reasons I can't ascertain exactly. No matter who this might be dedicated to, it's a real treat. I say that it's nighttime prog because it's best listened to at night when the tedium of the day has winded down and all that exists is you and your mind. It's obvious that none of these songs are concerned with overt flashiness or heaviness. The guitar never stands out and says "Hey, look at me!"; actually the real stars of the show are the huge backing vocals and the keyboards. This is not to say that this is derivative of power metal in the sense that the keyboards are these sugary, overbearing instruments. Instead, the focus is on creating soundscapes which make you feel like you're traversing the infinite clouds to a heaven unknown. Since this is prog rock instead of prog metal, the guitars skimp on distortion(while still having some) and also have some classical/acoustic sound to them. The drums are very quiet during portions of certain songs, such as "Total Recall", and even the bass takes a backseat sometimes to the atmosphere created by the keyboards. It almost sounds 80s sometimes, not to mention the fact that Nick Barrett's vocals have a British twang to them that reminds of new wave occasionally.
The cover art for this is great: there's some well-dressed gentleman in a purple suit flicking playing cards into the wind. He's standing right outside of a marble archway and behind him is a battalion of flying rowboats, a flying horse, an ocean, and a bridge. Actually, all of the band's albums have this fantastic imagery on the cover art that perfectly conveys the imaginary journey you feel when listening to their music. It's interesting that the cover for this was done by an individual named Graal. If there's a black metal musician who appreciates prog rock, I would be elated.
There's no mistaking this for anything but progressive rock, since tracks 1-6 are all over 7 minutes long. However, the last three tracks(and the video for "The Last Waltz") all are under that time. Fortunately, none of these songs really drag; the worst part is probably the beginning of "The Walls of Babylon" where you think that Floydish intro will never develop.
There's one oddball track here which I'd like to point out, which is none other than "And We'll Go Hunting Deer". Stylistically, there's nothing abnormal about it. It's just that the title sticks out like a sore thumb. Whereas most of the other tracks have a fantasy name or what have you, this truly sounds like the title of a country song.("And we'll go hunting deer...up in the mountains where...the air is so clear) Who knows.
The other track I'd like to point out is "Paintbox", which I consider the best song on the album. It's actually an acoustic version of the original from "The Masquerade Overture" and it outshines everything else I think because it's simple and to the point. There's a nice solo in it, and I like the way it was chosen to end the album. Ending acoustically is such a good idea, and I think more bands should do it.
So, I've taken you on the journey through this album. Sure, I've left out some wonders along the way, but if you like sweet, mellow music you'll like this. Also, when mentioning all the album titles and history of the band, I don't mean to sound like I'm a huge fan who follows their every footstep. In fact, I'm new to this band, which makes it all the better.
1. The Walls of Babylon
2. The Shadow
3. Total Recall
4. The Voyager
5. The Black Knight
6. And We'll Go Hunting Deer
7. Am I Really Losing You?
8. The King of the Castle
10. The Last Waltz(video)
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