Thursday, April 1, 2021

Symphonic Prog Review: The Emerald Dawn-To Touch The Sky

Release Date: March 20, 2021

Label: World’s End Records


I have been an avid follower of the band, The Emerald Dawn, since before the release of their debut album, as I received some demo material for airplay on my radio show. With each release, the band has evolved and grown in confidence with their music and album No 4, To Touch The Sky, raises the bar yet again.

The Emerald Dawn was formed in Edinburgh in 2010 by Alan Carter (Ally) and Katrina Stewart (Tree), both multi-instrumentalists and then the band relocated to Cornwall. Joining Ally (electric and acoustic guitar, guitar synth, tenor and soprano saxophone, keyboards and vocals) and Tree (keyboards, piano, flute, acoustic guitar, percussion and vocals) was Thomas Jackson (drums) and the debut release was in 2014, Searching For The Lost Key. This first album was followed in 2017 by Visions and in 2019 by Nocturne together with some personnel changes. Under
review now is the most recent album No 4, To Touch The Sky.

The band on this newest album is Ally, Tree, Tom and David Greenaway (fretted and fretless basses) and they have produced a superbly atmospheric album. To Touch The Sky comprises just 3 tracks and has a
total playing time of just under 50 minutes (48:39), with the opening track “The Awakening” the shortest in length at 11:15 minutes and the final track, “The Ascent,” the longest at 22:17 minutes. This last track is
also split into 14 sections/parts.

The opening track, "The Awakening" (11:15), starts with a simple piano passage above some excellent bass playing and sympathetic drumming. There then follows some superb keyboard work before the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Tree enters the proceedings. This atmospheric, powerful start to the track will have drawn the listener into the world of The Emerald Dawn and the instrumental passage that follows will have transported them deeper into that realm. Some stunning guitar work by Ally carries the track along with superb support from the keyboards, bass and drums before those ethereal vocals from Tree reappear around the 7:15 minute point, and the guitar takes the lead again just after 8:00 minutes. This is the driving section towards the track finale, and the ending is reached after a short piano and guitar passage.

This has been an excellent opener to the album and should certainly have grabbed the listener by presenting them with entry into the symphonic, cinematic, powerful music of The Emerald Dawn.

Track 2, “And I Stood Transfixed” (15:07), commences with acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums and bass and continues the aural soundscapes that the opening track introduced. The feeling depicted in this piece of music is uncertainty and of meeting with the unknown. Melodic passages, interspersed with some stunning saxophone playing, those ethereal vocals, orchestral keyboard sweeps and gentle melodic flute hold the listener a little on edge as the music swirls through phases of light and dark. The way the band move from the light melodic passages to the darker more discordant themes and back shows the confidence that The Emerald Dawn now has in their music.

The first two tracks have been setting the scene for the 22:17 minute track, "The Ascent" when our imaginary group start on a climb having passed through feelings of excitement and uncertainty. With 14 parts to this epic track, ranging from “Exordium,” “In The Foothills,” “Passing Through The Final Village With Its Bustling Street Market, They Ponder The Challenges Ahead,” to “The Last Push,” “As The Wind Dies Down And The Clouds Part, They Find Themselves at The Summit,” “On Top Of The World” and “Addendum: The Dangerous Descent Commences,” the music of The Emerald Dawn continues to paint such detailed soundscapes that the listeners are there beside the group, feeling the emotions every step of the way.

The music starts gently before moving into a simple classically-styled piano passage with a flute motif appearing before the piano leads into the electric guitar passage leading to the start of the journey. These themes will be revisited throughout the length of the track. There is a change as those beautiful vocals appear after a stunning keyboard theme to explain that the travellers have glimpsed “The First Sight Of The Mountain." The band released a couple of the parts of "The Ascent" as a sampler/teaser before the pre-order date of To Touch The Sky, and these were part (vii), "While Pausing On A Steep Slope, They Watch An Eagle Soaring Effortlessly Above Them" and part (viii), "Resuming The Climb, They Feel The Wind Rise As The Clouds Close In." I was standing in my kitchen gazing into the distance at the snow-covered Red Cuillin mountains in the sunshine listening to these clips of music and the view, the music and my imagination all combined to produce the "perfect moment." "The Ascent" is a majestic track that shows the musical evolution of this band.

From the melodic to the edgy guitar, the stunning keyboards and piano, the ethereal vocals of Tree, the haunting flute and that superb melancholy, discordant saxophone all underpinned by stunning bass and excellent drumming, I think I have a contender for my “Album Of The Year 2021.” I am aware that it is only March, but To Touch The Sky is a magnificent album that seems to provide evidence that The Emerald Dawn are truly on their way. The first 3 albums showed a progressively evolving style, but this release has taken a quantum leap forward.

My simple advice is to clear a space on your CD shelves to house this masterpiece.

Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson    Prog Rock Music Talk Staff.
March 25, 2021

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