A Simply Incredible Performance

IOEarth’s self titled debut was a massive highlight of 2009, a sprawling epic of a work which gave the project founded by Dave Cureton & Adam Gough an excellent start to what I hope will be a long and fruitful recording career. Now, three years later, we have the “difficult” second album, one I have been looking forward to as a highlight of the year.
Has it delivered? Yes, in spades. This is the sound of an outfit (and it is very much an outfit, rather than a duo with guests) at the absolute top of their game. I would also state that in Claire Malin, who is utilised to more effect on this album than the debut, they have found a singer whose voice is to absolutely to die for. Just listen to her stunning performance on Live Your Life Part 1 for evidence. A simply incredible performance backed by the most delicate piano and guitar you can imagine in a record.
It is clear to me that the plaudits rained upon IOEarth by the prog community worldwide are fully deserved, and it is equally clear that regular touring and taking their time to push out this second LP have paid dividends.
Whereas the first album was a huge concept, the band have, on this work, managed that difficult feat of putting together a set of themes, without true “concept”, that run together to create a work that demands and deserves to be heard as a whole. If you are looking for influences, then I would cite Led Zeppelin, Steve Vai (very much present in much of the guitar lead work), more than a touch of Mostly Autumn (fans of that great band will find much to admire here, from all parts of their career), and a very healthy dose of Middle Eastern music (the title track, especially, has a strong flavour of this), together with the same symphonic wall that made the first album such a treat.
Not only this, they have created a work which is instantly and lastingly accessible. The Live Your Life segment is in two parts, and moves from the aforementioned pastoral opening piece, to an expansive and, at turns, symphonic & classic rock piece. This is quite possibly the finest thirteen minutes of diverse and full sounding rock you will listen to all year.
On Drifting, we have Gregorian chants introducing us to the main segment (I did say there were many influences!) which is deeply moving with a very catchy beat, and features an incredible trumpet solo all combining to create an almost ethereal feel to proceedings. Cinta Indah initially carries forward this mood, before becoming quite the most powerful symphonic rock piece, full of swirling keyboards, ethnic voices, and riffing guitars and rhythm section telling us the story of a beautiful, and lost, love. Quite incredible, and I can think of no better person that Malin to tell us the story.
Brothers is a wonderful mean and moody instrumental piece (the only one on the album), and is equally powerful with a heady mix of symphonic effects, flute, and saxophone (which swirls and screams to powerful effect), together with a massive performance by drummer Richard Cureton. This is followed by Come Find Love, which sees the return of our Monkish friends, accompanied by a repetitive one line vocal drenched in a trancy beat that puts me of mind instantly of more than a couple of happy nights spent in dance tent’s after imbibing a bit too much. It will not be to everyone’s tastes, for sure, but fans of high quality trance music will love this.
The final two tracks, Finest Hour and Turn Away (the latter being the only “true” epic on the album, clocking in at over eleven minutes long) feature the voice of (arguably) Great Britain’s finest leader, Winston Churchill. What is beyond all doubt is that it is easily the said man’s finest hour on a rock album since appearing on Supertramp’s Even In The Quietest Moments. Turn Away contains more of the Orbital & Ozzric trance influences used to such good effect on Come Find Love, before developing into a more traditional classic rock and expansive track, pulsating and never less than thoroughly engaging. Turn Away is a fine way to close, a track with complex layers and decidedly dark, almost funereal, in tone. You need a few listens to enjoy the contrast between the male monologue and Claire Malin’s more familiar tones, but it is worth taking the time to do so, for the vocals are backed by some incredible instrumentation, piano, string effects, synths, and others creating a wall of sound that we knew they could effect so well on the debut.
This is a superb album, and I have thought carefully about its rating. It is dark in places, certainly thoughtful, intelligent (the final tracks evocative interpretation of a Britain battered by war and led by Churchill is especially well done), very well performed and produced, and the whole is never anything less than hugely accessible and a joy from start to finish.
Given that I rated the eponymous debut a four star album, and I regard this as being far better, certainly in terms of its easier length and the massive progression the band have demonstrated, I can only rate this as a five star masterpiece. This album takes many listens, and is a work in which the discerning prog fan will find something new on each listen, I suspect, for many years to come. I most certainly will be listening to it for many years.
My final thought is this. If this incredible sound and musical journey is what this band have come up with after only two albums, just what are they capable of producing in future releases with more experience? I can only drool in anticipation.
Buy it. Utterly essential rock music for today’s progressive rock fan.