Dateline: December 2005

Source: The Dutch Progressive Rock Page

Review: The Syn - Syndestructible

By Geoff Feakes

Tracklist: Breaking Down Walls (0:51), Some Time, Some Way (7:56), Reach Outro (3:38), Cathedral Of Love (8:58), City Of Dreams (9:38), Golden Age (8:07), The Promise (13:28)

Yes bass player Chris Squire is no stranger to band reunions, but for this album he goes back nearly 40 years to rekindle a relationship with vocalist Steve Nardelli to reform one of the pioneering classic rock bands. The Syn first came together in 1965 and gigged extensively, supporting the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Who and Pink Floyd. The band's recordings from this time have recently been re-issued on a compilation album from the same record label. After the band split in 1967, Chris teamed up with Jon Anderson the following year to form Yes, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Squire and Nardelli share writing credits for all the songs on this album, with assistance from the other band members on several tracks. The line-up is completed by Gerard Johnson on keyboards and vocals, Paul Stacey on guitars and vocals, and his twin brother Jeremy Stacey on drums. They replace original members Andrew Pryce Jackman, Peter Banks, and Martyn Adelman respectively. Andrew Pryce Jackman, who worked on solo albums by Chris Squire and Steve Howe, sadly died in 2003. Peter Banks, who joined Squire in Yes, was originally part of the reunion, but dropped out in 2004 prior to the bass player coming onboard. Banks was involved in the writing and recording of two songs, neither of which are included on this release.

The short but atmospheric Breaking Down Walls gets things underway. This is an a cappella version of the choral refrain from the albums closing track, as well as being the first in a sequence of three tracks that combine to open the album (confusing isn’t it!). It flows without pausing into Some Time, Some Way with ringing acoustic guitar and flute like keys. Crisp drumming and a fluid bass line, which doubles the songs melody, are added. The vocals sound relaxed and assured from the start, backed by layered acoustic and electric guitars. Strummed acoustic guitar and harmonic bass introduce the melodic bridge with a confident and atmospheric vocal that stands out. Melodic keys and guitar combine for the closing section where the complex vocal harmonies really shine. A sustained organ note, chiming acoustic guitar, moody synth and silky harmonies lead into Reach Outro, which develops into a spacey instrumental. As the tempo rises, abstract electric guitars, random drum fills and a commanding organ sound are a testimony to the bands psychedelic roots.

Gentle acoustic guitar and layers of relaxed orchestral keys lay the foundation for Cathedral Of Love. The mood is maintained with lyrical bass and restrained drumming, overlaid with rich sitar like guitar and plaintive vocals. As they gradually turn up the heat, spirited rhythm playing, majestic organ and a soaring guitar solo bursts into a dynamic bridge section capped with a glorious uplifting vocal. A rapid descending Trevor Rabin style guitar and bass run returns to the main choral refrain, with the addition of bombastic instrumentation and majestic harmonies to provide a grandiose ending. A 5½ minute edit of this song is the bands current single. City Of Dreams opens with a cautious vocal, and stabbing bass notes doubled by piano. As the song gets into its stride, dynamic drums, guitar and piano interplay drive the piece along with strident bass ever present. The main song succumbs to melodic rippling piano, establishing a new theme complete with a dynamic vocal section, beautiful harmonies and muted Pete Townsend like guitar chords. The main song returns, this time with a more urgent tempo, powered by soaring guitar, punctuating piano and a brisk rhythm section. Spiralling piano ushers in a more relaxed but strong choral ending, backed by flute like keys and tumbling piano.

An early 70’s rock and roll sound permeates Golden Age, complete with Rolling Stones like guitar chords, rhythm and rattle percussion. An edgy guitar sound dominates, underpinned by an insistent galloping banjo like riff (trust me, it works!). Following a short but lyrical piano interlude, superb Chris Rea style slide guitar takes over, with a driving rhythm section and organ backdrop. The Promise starts in reflective mood, with atmospheric guitar, understated string-laden keys, subtle bass lines and emotive vocals. Dynamic drums signal a brief appearance of the chorus, followed by intricate stately church like organ, with a complex martial-like drum pattern and articulate bass work. A return to the chorus with electric piano providing a moment of tranquillity, before the piece becomes edgy and restless with searing guitar, stark organ and rumbling bass. Symphonic keys and guitar flow majestically into an epic choral section, with busy drum fills that Keith Moon would be proud of. Colourful guitar with rich bass and organ dissolves into a spacey conclusion with atmospheric voice, bass, keys and percussion.

The band describes themselves as “Prog Modernists”, suggesting that they are taking the concept of progressive rock into the 21st Century. Personally, I feel that the music has a decidedly late 60’s/early 70’s sound, which is quite fitting considering the bands roots. Steve Nardelli’s voice in particular harks back to that era, with a soft and slightly husky delivery, at times reminiscent of the likes of Eric Clapton and Steve Marriott. Although each piece is quite lengthy, averaging around the 8 to 9 minute mark, the emphasis is on songs and melodies, with key changes and soloing kept to a minimum. The performances are accomplished rather than showy or overblown. Paul Stacey (The Lemon Trees, Oasis) provides a variety colours and textures, utilising an array of guitar sounds. Gerard Johnson (Saint Etienne, Peter Banks) is a classically trained keyboardist, but his playing here is restrained, often providing a supporting role, and favouring the more traditional sound of piano and organ. The professional drumming of Jeremy Stacey (Finn Brothers, Sheryl Crow) is slick without being over elaborate.

Chris Squire’s bass work unsurprisingly draws the listener like a magnet. His playing is as good as you would expect, sounding suitably mean, moody and magnificent. Paul Stacey and Gerard Johnson are both credited with the production, but generously they ensure that Squire is always prominent in the mix. His tone is earthy and gritty at times, with a sound normally reserved for his stage work. Thoughtfully, he leaves the lead singing to Nardelli, but his distinctive backing and harmony vocals are conspicuous from the start. If this gives the impression that the album has a Yes like sound, then I shall redress the situation by stating that Squire’s involvement is the only obvious link between the two bands. His forceful presence throughout does however put this album high on the recommended list for all Squire fans. For everyone else this album has a lot to offer, although you may find the bands self-styled prog tag a little misleading.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


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