Album Review: HALO BLIND – Occupying Forces

Halo Blind -Occupying Forces

Nautical Records   [Release Date: 04.03.14]

We’ve been waiting for Halo Blind.

At long last, a British progressive rock band has put out an album to rival the fabulous stuff coming out of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia right now.

And furthermore, it sets the bar at a new level for aspiring home grown prog wannabes.

Halo Blind started life as Parade which main man Chris Johnson started as a solo project after leaving Mostly Autumn, garnering  the talents of Anne-Marie Helder (Panic Room) and Gavin Griffiths (Fish) to produce their excellent debut album ‘The Fabric’.

Following a change of name and the departure of A-MH, Johnson has recruited ex-Seahorse Stuart Fletcher, Chris Farrell (The Yards) and Andy Knights (Chris Helme) to realise his latest project, ‘Occupying Forces’.

And it’s some project.

Combining all the elements that made British progressive rock the envy of the world – an understandable, relevant concept, uber-musicianship, exquisite songwriting and a thoroughly believable libretto – Halo Blind have delivered a work that is both staggeringly intense yet positively uplifting in equal measure.

Exploring the concept of the inner journey initiated by the death of a loved one and the need to make sense of the forces at work, both spiritual and pragmatic, that shape our responses to events over which we have no control – the album is both powerful and complex, yet completely accessible.

Kicking off the 14 tracks is the magnificent opener ‘Better?’ with its nagging arpeggio guitar riff and Muse-alike breakdown, it beggars the question ‘how is this going to get any better’?

The answer is – it doesn’t. What it does do is maintain that impossibly high standard right through to the beautiful piano fade-out of closer ‘Control’.

Driven by the counterpoint of the rather Thom Yorke vocal stylings of Andy Knights and the more standard phrasing of Johnson, and very much influenced by the likes of Division Bell era ‘Floyd, early Radiohead and a soupçon of Sigur Ros, the level of intensity neither falters nor palls even with repeated listens.

This is just as well as repeated listens is what this album deserves.

The musicianship and songwriting are exceptional – check out the Fleet Foxes-like ‘Mirage’, the beautiful piano-led ‘The Puppet’, the captivating ‘Downpour’ or the sheer class of ‘Coma’ – anywhere you look there is an atmospheric, haunting beauty pervading the length and breadth of the work.

Despite its somewhat dystopian subject matter, ‘Occupying Forces’ is a significant album, not just as a throwback to the halcyon days of British progressive rock, but as a guiding template for how this sort of thing should be done.

Astonishingly good.

*****

Review by Alan Jones


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