Longfellow Deeds Records - [Release date: 20.04.15]
Is there something in the water in France at present? For years our Gallic brothers have singularly failed to produce any progressive rock of any note, or at least any that registered on my radar.
Now, just like buses, a phalanx of interesting prog bands is showing its hand.
The likes of The Black Noodle Project, Lazuli and Demians have been making waves around the European prog scene and now here are The Last Embrace to surf that wave with their own excellent take on the genre.
In fairness, they have been around for a few years now, having been formed in 1998 – though, like our own Anathema, began their career playing what they describe as ‘atmospheric metal’.
‘The Winding Path’ is the band’s fourth full-length album following ‘Inside’ (2006), ‘Aerial’ (2009) and the all-acoustic ‘Essenta’ from 2013.
I’ve always had a soft-spot for female fronted progressive rock bands – from Julianne Regan and All About Eve right through to the likes of Mostly Autumn (Heather Findlay and Olivia Sparnenn) and Panic Room (Anne-Marie Helder), so imagine my delight when the sleeve notes ascribed the vocals to ‘Sandy’.
This delight rose still further when she cites among her diverse influences the likes of Tori Amos, Lisa Gerrard and Loreena McKennitt.
You can certainly hear those influences but I would push forward Anathema’s Lee Douglas as a touchstone here – in fact, Anathema as a band is a good place to start.
Overall, however, this is just classic progressive rock which rises well above its influences with some astonishing playing.
The guitar work by Olivier, both acoustic and electric, is peerless – as is the keyboard work of Pierre-Henri: all soaring, anthemic swells one minute, delicate soft-touches the next and keeping everyone on their toes with a few ‘devil’s intervals’ thrown in.
And soaring above all this prog loveliness are Sandy’s majestic vocals (unusually for a French band, sung in English) which really are a case of “why, Ambassador, you spoil us”.
Highlights include some outstanding fretwork on ‘Nescience’, the delicate piano then driving rock of the eighteen minute epic ‘The Field Of Minds’ and Sandy’s Amy-Winehouse-alike vocals on ‘White Bird’, though I would push forward the wonderful acoustic riff and delicious vocals of ‘The Fear Of Loss’ as the album’s zenith.
It’s about time France took a seat at European progressive rock’s top table and The Last Embrace have just made a reservation.
Great stuff. ****
Review by Alan Jones
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