Album Reviews

1996: Pendragon - Masquerade Overture

This year, until the year 2000, every week a special album will be reviewed. By doing that we're counting out time ... until 2000.

The albums which will be reviewed are either milestones in the history of progressive rock, or good examples of the catalogue of a certain band. Of course, we cannot review every special album and we cannot satisfy everyone's taste with our choices, which will be revealed over the year.

Our goal with this list of albums, is to show the quality and the diversity of different groups and different styles. So you won't find 6 Pink Floyd-albums, or 5 Genesis-albums, even though these bands have recorded many classics.

On this list, (almost) every week a new year is reviewed. For some years we will use two weeks, but at the end of December we will have reviews of every year, including the "dark" eighties...

We hope you will have lots of fun in the coming weeks with this selection of special albums that had been selected by the DPRP-team, especially for you!

About The Band

Pendragon started way back in 1977, and have the same line-up ever since 1985, something rather odd in the current music industry. In these early days, they even teamed up with another new band, called Marillion. We all know what happened to them!

Nick Barrett, playing the guitar and lead vocals, is mainly responsible for the compositions on the Pendragon tracks. Clive Nolan, playing keyboards, is well know for his involvement in other bands and projects, like Arena and Strangers on a Train, to name a few. The line-up is completed with Peter Gee on bass and Fudge Smith on drums. All in all, these guys have produced a grand total of 13 CD's, although a lot of them are either live recordings or rareties (which always makes me wonder what's so rare about them if everybody can buy the album, but anyway ;-). It most be noted though that these 'extra' releases were originally releases from the fanclub (The Mob) and only later became available for the general audience.

The style of Pendragon has definitely evolved over the years and an album like The Jewel (1985), their firstborn, can hardly be compared to The Masquerade Ouverture. The biggest change came with the album Kow Tow (1988) (of which the track "The Haunting" was the very very first symfo-track I ever heard and which prompted me to go deeper into this genre...!). At this time, Pendragon created Toff Records, their own record label. Kow Tow marks the closing of the "old" Pendragon. The World (1991), laid down the "modern" Pendragon, not only musically, but also in the artwork of Simon Williams. In this artwork, the subjects of the songs on the albums occur, together with a little elf-like man called "Toff" (hence the name of the record company of Pendragon: Toff Records). The style of The World is continued on their next album, The Window of Life, creating an even more bombastical style that is the trademark of Pendragon. The last studio album, and the peak of their carreer according to some, or the depth according to some others (personally, I am with the first group) is the choice of 1996's Counting Out Time, The Masquarade Overture.

The Masquerade Overture, The Album

Line-up: Barrett, Nolan, Gee, Smith.

After the release of the Masquerade Overture, it became quickly clear that this would become the best selling Pendragon album ever. Indeed, not only the sales were good, but also Pendragon got rewarded quite some prices at the "Classic Rock Society" night of 1996. They won the impressive range of Best Album, Best Sleeve, Best Band, Best Keyboardplayer (Clive Nolan) and best drummer (Fudge Smith). All in all a range worthy enough to be featured as the Counting Out Time choice for 1996.

The concept of the album is the eternal battle between Good and Evil, as is depicted on the sleeve as a battle between Toff on the right and Salieri, the composer who aledgedly murdered Mozart, on the left. People are wearing masks, as in the Venetian carnival (the San Marco square is featured), but also metaphorically in life.

As on all Pendragon albums, the tracks are composed by Barrett. As a bonus, a CD single is provided with the first release, containing shortened version of As Good As Gold, Masters Of Illusion and two extra tracks Schizo and The King Of The Castle (the Shadow Part 2).

The Songs

The Masquerade Overture - 3:03
A Classic Opera type opening. The beautiful Italian vocals by Gwenn Ross, Anthony PLowman and Simon Clew and the Kurzweil K-2000 keyboard work make this a really bombastic opening, setting the scene for the next song. Unfortunately my Italian is not what it used to be, but the lyrics seem to be the translation of the first verse of the next song, As Good As Gold.

As Good As Gold - 7:15
Opening really quiet, this song is about youth and how, in a parents' view, his/her child can do nothing wrong. Then the child grows up...
Some excellent drumming on this track, and the typical Pendragon last-beat-in-measure-accent is prominently present here. The end of the song, that dissolves into Paintbox is exquisite.

Paintbox - 8:38
A musical box-like opening, calm and with emotional vocals, followed by some stunning guitar work, and even a bass-guitar melody, like Colin Bass sometimes does. Everybody gets the chance to do a short solo in this well balanced prime example of symfonic rock. Variations in mood and tempo, while retaining the general idea of the melody is what makes this a powerfull song.

The lyrics deal with the different paths in live people can take and how one sometimes "paint" their colorful future, but nothing comes from it.

The Pursuit of Excellence - 2:36
A short intermezzo, a sort of Pastorale. A keyboard tapistry with vocals and guitar. It reminded me a bit of their song And We'll Go Hunting Deer.

Guardian of my Soul - 12:41
Opening with an almost Bongo-like rhythm, it quickly becomes clear that this is another highlight of symfonic rock, where changes in melody and rhythm are frequent and intruiging. At times this song is remniscent of Pink Floyd, escpecially some of the guitarlines, a band that Pendragon often leans to. Guitars and keyboards interact closely and the bass guitar is pounding at times, giving the song the drive it takes to keep the neccessary focus during its 12+ minutes. The mood very strongy across the song, ranging from bombast to subtlety and from happy sing-along to threatening.

The Shadow - 9:55
The song starts with a lullaby-type melody and atmosphere, quiet and calm. Then, the tempo increases slowly, sometimes falling back, but gradually gaining momentum. Again, a great guitar solo breaks the song into half. Barrett is a guitar player who is obviously influenced by a lot of guitarists, among which David Gilmour and Andrew Latimer, since his playing can vary and shift between the style of these two masters, as can be heard clearly on this particular track. The ending is of such a bombast it sends shivers down my spine. The backing vocals of Tracy Hitchings, miss prog herself, only add to that.

Masters of Illusion - 12:50
Another mini-symphony, Masters Of Illusion fearures a typical Pendragon chorus, of the type that an audience loves to sing along. Personally, I am not too fond of these types of chorusses. On the other hand, the skillful way Barrett lets the melodies flow into eachother, with Nolan in the background trying to pretent he is in Genesis, is admirable. The middle section is completely different, with many changes and different melodies. Again, strong guitarwork in this song! In the last section, the reference to Pink Floyd becomes almost too obvious: it is like the song Floyd forgot to write. Wonderful guitar solo, simple bass line and backingvocals doing "oeoeoeoehhh aaaaaahhh".

The Bonus CD

Schizo - 6:59
Schizo is a song that would have fitted well on the album. This has the same feel about it as the last part of Masters of Illusion, i.e. enormously Pink Floyd-like, with Tracy doing the backing vocals again. Pendragon at its best. Apparently, this song is one of the few bonus tracks that has been performed live last year (unfortunately I missed the show....).

The King of the Castle (The Shadow part 2) - 4:45
A reprise of the last part of The Shadow in the way Genesis used to do on e.g. Wind and Wuthering. Lovely vocal interaction between Barrett, Tracy and Gwenn Ross. Spine-shiveringly beautiful and a shame that something like this can hardly ever be performed live. The calm mystique atmosphere of this song is a worthy closing of the album (I consider these two extra tracks as part of the album as well).

Written by Remco Schoenmakers

This edition of Counting Out Time used the information and images of the official Pendragon Website. Furthermore, if you are interested in the band, read the interview Jan-Jaap and Derk had with Nick Barrett, here on DPRP. Additional info came from an interview Nick Barrett gave to Paul Rijkens of iO Pages. All opinions ventilated in this edition of CoT are stricktly the authors' own.

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