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Phideaux — Snowtorch
(Bloodfish 8 26677 00459 8, 2011, CD)

Phideaux — Infernal
(Bandcamp no#, 2018, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2022-05-31

Snowtorch Cover artInfernal Cover art

After reviewing 71319 Live at Monforti Manor, it occurred to us here at Exposé that we had somehow missed reviewing not one, but two, Phideaux albums. So we’re here to look at Snowtorch (2011) and Infernal (2018). For listeners familiar with previous Phideaux albums, especially the last few, these continue in the same vein: complex but accessible music that is impeccably performed and recorded, with touches of classic progressive rock. “Snowtorch” (the composition) is divided into two lengthy tracks, each of which could fill an LP side. Functionally, it’s a suite comprising many sections that probably could have been presented as individual tracks. This is of course the structure pioneered by Procol Harum (“In Held ‘Twas I”), Jethro Tull (“Thick as a Brick”), Genesis (“Supper’s Ready”), and many more. Some of the sections are quite melodic and vocal-oriented, others are primarily instrumental, though extended solos aren’t part of the picture. Quite often, keyboards are the basis of the arrangements, though variety rules the day, so there are no absolutes. The vocals, both lead and backing, are shared between several singers, both male and female, and the arrangements are augmented by strings and woodwinds at times. Some of my favorite touches involve the interplay between piano and organ. The Snowtorch album is filled out with two shorter tracks, one of which is titled only with a dot (“.”). All in all, it’s an excellent album that has everything a progressive rock fan should want, whether they lean towards the melodic side of the genre or not.

Infernal is very much the same, only more. The 19 tracks total nearly an hour and a half, and many of them run together into side-long suites, and the album is the long-awaited conclusion of the trilogy that began with The Great Leap (2006) and Doomsday Afternoon (2007). (Two intervening albums, Number Seven (2009) and Snowtorch were unrelated to the trilogy.) The overall theme of the trilogy involves death and destruction and the end of the human race, but the music is generally upbeat and melodic, similar in sound to Snowtorch. Phideaux’s core ensemble has remained quite consistent for many years, with the leader on acoustic guitar, keyboards, and vocals, Rich Hutchins (drums), Matthew Kennedy (bass), Gabriel Moffat (guitar), Ariel Farber (violin), Mark Sherkus (keyboards), and Johnny Unicorn (sax, keyboards), along with vocalists Valerie Gracious, Linda Ruttan Muldawsky, and Molly Ruttan; Farber and Unicorn also sing. The album is a shining example of epic prog that doesn’t come off as overly pretentious and hits a perfect balance between big ambition and a sly wink at life’s absurdities. Music is not a competition, but in the category of American artists doing large-scale progressive rock, Phideaux is one of the best, and any fans of the genre who aren’t already on board should check out these albums (or any of the others going back to at least The Great Leap).

Filed under: New releases, 2011 releases, 2018 releases

Related artist(s): Phideaux, Johnny Unicorn, Valerie Gracious

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