"Beyond The Shrouded Horizon" - Steve Hackett’s new album reviewed in depth by Paul Gibbon.

This must be considered to be a sequel to the last studio Hackett offering called Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth which I thought was a stunning album. The wonderful thing about Steve’s solo releases is that you never really know what you are going to get and it always takes a few listens to get into it and appreciate it properly! Now I have on listened to Beyond The Shrouded Horizon a dozen times. So I am still getting acquainted with the music and this review is based on my initial thoughts.

I am not sure how Inside Out Music can confirm this to be Steve’s 24th studio release. I make it his 22nd solo studio release, and that includes Sketches of Satie with his brother, and Metamorpheus with the Underworld Orchestra. We also have three compilations: The Unauthorised Biography from 1992, Genesis Files and the Canadian import Guitare Classique, these were both released in 2002.

If we leave the Live Archive series to one side, we also have Timelapse from 1991. Tokyo Tapes from 1997, Somewhere In South America and Hungarian Horizons from 2002, and Live Rails from 2010. Not forgetting the six Genesis studio albums (1971-77) and of course, GTR and the GTR KBFH live album release as well. There is a LOT of Hackett material to collect and we have not touched upon the guest appearances on many other artists’ work.

Anyway getting back to the new studio offering Beyond The Shrouded Horizon. If you liked the diversity of To watch The Storms and Wild Orchids, this is similar to those two albums. It is not as accessible as Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth but has everything from Blues, Classical, Pop, Rock through to Prog to simple acoustic interludes. It takes us on a journey through Hackett’s virtual musical landscape which meanders seamlessly from Cirque Du Soleil across every genre of music culminating in other worldliness. Weird and wonderful and yet Hackett’s striking guitar leads from the front. Powerful and searing yet the acoustic intermissions will bring you back to earth.

The bonus CD is also pretty interesting. The Four Winds Suite should really have been called Four Forms Of Art Rock as it goes from rock to acoustic to rock to orchestra. The only thing missing from this suite is a vocal. Some of these tracks have appeared on other albums (mainly Japanese bonus tracks from his studio albums over the last twelve years).

I am yet to see who is credited for writing each track and which musicians played on what. I am sure if I had sight of the written lyrics some of the words/ songs would be clearer to me. So, I hope this gives you an insight to what is due out to the world on Monday 26th September 2011.

Track List - Disc One (Standard CD and Bonus CD Version).

01. Loch Lomond (6:49) - (Hackett vocals).
02. Phoenix Flown ((2:07) (Electric Guitar Instrumental) (8:56)

The version I have on CD has these two songs melded together so the calm at 6:49 goes straight into a soaring solo till 8:56. My initial thoughts of the production feel is similar to that of On The Transylvanian Express from Wild Orchids but this is heavier with some awesome guitar sounds. Vocals come in at 2:08 with a Clannad/Enya feel. These charming soft vocals from Hackett with some added female backing that I imagine to be Amanda Lehmann. The vocal harmonies work well, with some quiet acoustic underlays. I think you will wish that you were at the shores of Loch Lomond and at 4:10 you get the bagpipes kicking in. This is Steve’s guitar doing what we least expect, and it starts to become somewhat haunting and sinister about being at Loch Lomond. The guitar is now soaring and crying, and the listener is treated to some great riffs and it fades out to some gentle acoustic guitar around 6:40. The drums and lead guitar blast through for some spectral guitar sounds and the Phoenix has certainly taken flight!

03: Wanderlust (0:44) (Acoustic Guitar Interlude).

This is a short calming acoustic intro for Till These Eyes. Simple, pretty and it takes us away from the brash guitar that we heard on the first two tracks.

04: Till These Eyes (2:40) (Hackett - Vocals).

The acoustic introduction takes us into the song with orchestral backing almost like a folk song) that lofts the mood of the album with a nice vocal. Tranquility before the storm arrives.

05: Prairie Angel (2:58) (Electric Guitar Instrumental)
06: A Place Called Freedom (5:56) (Hackett - Vocals)

Prairie Angel was played live on the 2010 tour so I was familiar with this song. Steve had used it to blend into Los Endos live. The song starts with the haunting guitar and some flute (similar to Serpentine Song) but it moves into a full on guitar solo/harmonica driven beast. It has a strong Americana feel that rocks on and then fades out into some open acoustic picking and then the vocal comes in. I think Steve had a “Bob Seger” vocal in mind for A Place Called Freedom. If you have heard Wild Orchids and liked the Bob Dylan cover of Man In A Long Black Coat, you will like this track. At 1:03 it slips into a Racing In A guitar solo with similar vocal undercurrents from the album Please Don’t Touch, before the vocals return with a marching drum. At 2:20 we are back to the guitar, and this returns to the Prairie Angel guitar theme, with another vocal verse and guitar solo that plays out.

07: Between the Sunset And The Coconut Palms (3:17) - (Hackett Vocals). This is one of his list songs, with gentle guitar and harmonised vocals, similar to the track Man Overboard from the Darktown album.

08: Waking To Life (4:49) - (Amanda Lehmann Vocals). This initially reminded me of a Mike Oldfield solo track from the 1980’s with Maggie Reilly. In this case we have Hackett with Amanda Lehmann. The sitar guitar gave me a strong Indian feel with proper electric guitar incorporated in at 1:33. Amanda’s vocals are strong and soon we are into a sitar/guitar frenzy around 2:00. At around 2:50 we head off into an Indian version of Please Don’t Touch/Hackett To Bits solo. Now I think I am in a curry house… Please Don’t Touch My Poppadums , which goes off and back to the theme at 4:17 and fades out. Pretty eclectic, and I have to admit the jury is out on this one at the moment. The nearest thing he has done to this in the past is Waters Of The Wild, which has heavy use of the sitar.

09: Two Faces Of Cairo (5:13) - (Instrumental). Now I don’t know if Roger King was in virtual drum world like he was on Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth. The opening has a very Eastern European feel before the guitar storms in at around 2:00. I understand the idea came from a visit to the Sphinx. It kind of reminded me of a trip to Cirque du Soleil with a strong world feel and heavy drumming.

10: Summer’s Breath (1:12) - (Acoustic Guitar Interlude). A beautiful guitar piece, that takes us down a notch or two from the heaviness of the last few tracks. It sounds familiar.

11: Looking For Fantasy (4:32) - (Hackett Vocals). A slow ballad about a girl and her past told to a relaxed musical backdrop. It is probably the only track that does not really fit with the rest of the album. It is pretty inoffensive.

12: Catwalk (5:44) - (Hackett Vocals). This has a blues feel to it and plenty of shouting/screaming and loud guitars. Sounds great in the car! Could have fitted onto Blues With A Feeling.

13: Turn This Island Earth (11:50) - (Hackett Vocals). I have listened to this a few times now and I don’t really know what to think of it! I know that this is supposed to be the “epic” of the album as it is spacey, sinister, moving, odd, clever etc. The first couple of minutes are a mixture of odd sounds which lead into the vocals cutting in and out at 1:46. I can’t make out what the vocals are trying to say but it must have something to do with aliens/invaders and the Milky Way. At 2:10 it provides a Marillion keyboard backdrop similar to Slainte Mhath from the Clutching At Straws album with the vocals saying “Turn This Island Earth”. More cutting in and out vocals that allow the music to build again to a blistering guitar solo around 4:00 for fifty seconds before orchestration comes back in to give a space feel. 5:47 sees the acoustic side shine, after Turn This Island Earth has been voiced a couple of times.. Around 6:08 we see the acoustic bridge section from Firth Of Fifth used on Genesis Revisited with several orchestral stabs (I am not sure where this is leading or going to?). It quietens to 7:00. Now we have a slow vocal, similar to The Toast from the Defector album that blends into a nice vocal from Hackett up to 8:32. The music kind of goes Harry Potteresque now until a musical box can be heard and then further stabs of orchestration until 10:16 when we hear an explosion of sorts. Feedback music continues and a vocal of Turn This Island Earth feeds into a dark hole that ends this rather weird track.

Conclusion: I like most of this release and I always have to accept that one or two tunes will not always be my cup of tea. At the moment I could leave Turn This Island Earth, but Loch Lomond, Phoenix Flown and Prairie Angel/A Place Called Freedom are great. I also love the bonus tracks as I think there are some really cool instrumentals especially Four Winds: North and East, She Said Maybe Eruption and Reconditioned Nightmare. For diversity and being a guitar god, I recommend that any Hackett/Genesis fan will get a real kick from this double CD!

Track List - Disc Two (Special Bonus CD Version only):

01: Four Winds: North (1:34) - (Electric Guitar Instrumental). Now this rocks! This must have been a contender for the album, but how many guitar instrumentals can you have on one album? I am glad that we get to hear this one. Soaring and phoenix like!! I know that Sierra Quemada was initially titled Flight Of The Condor. It is classic Hackett!

02: Four Winds: South (2:05) - (Acoustic Guitar/Piano). I can imagine Roger King and Steve side by side doing this improvised guitar/piano work - very stylish!

03: Four Winds : East (3:34) - (Electric Guitar Instrumental). Initially released in 1999 on the Darktown Japanese edition under the title; The Well At World’s End. I have always liked this, great sustained guitar with Latin type bongos that keep building. Excellent material that I believe was influenced by Peter Green.

04: Four Winds: West (3:04) - (Orchestral Suite). I can imagine this may have been recorded for Metamorpheus or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There are many sides to Steve Hackett, again breaking down the walls between all musical genres.

05: Pieds En L’Air (2:25) - (Acoustic Guitar). We are used to an acoustic track on every release. This is again reminiscent of earlier pieces from Bay Of Kings or Momentum.

06: She Said maybe (4:21) - (Electric Guitar Instrumental). An interesting guitar instrumental that is really enjoyable but probably struggled to find a home on previous albums.

07: Enter The Night (3:59) - (Hackett Vocal). A vocal version of Riding The Colossus (1996) on the Genesis Revisited Japanese edition and as Depth Charge on the Timelapse live album (1990). This works quite well and sounds quite Floydesque.

08: Eruption: Tommy (3:37) - Electric Guitar Instrumental). Initially released in 2006 on the Wild Orchids Japanese edition, this is a cover version of a track from the Focus album Moving Waves.

09: Reconditioned Nightmare (4:06) - (Electric Guitar Instrumental). Initially released in 2006 on the Japanese edition of Wild Orchids. This is a revised version of the Cured track from 1981. Played live on the 2004 To Watch The Storms tour.

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Our thanks to Paul for this exhaustive write up of Steve’s latest opus. Hope you found it interesting.