Album review: STEVE HACKETT – Surrender Of Silence

Steve Hackett - Surrender Of Silence

Inside Out  [Release date: 10.09.21]

A new album from Steve Hackett is always an event to look forward to, such has been his consistency in releasing work of the highest calibre, year on year, racking up over thirty albums and counting.

And his outstanding live touring of the Genesis back catalogue in recent years has cemented his place as one of the pre-eminent guitar players of his generation in the progressive rock genre.

So, we arrive at ‘Surrender Of Silence’, which, as has been the case for most albums recently, has been assembled from all corners of the earth, electronically, and mastered by long-term band keysman, Roger King.

But what a shock this is.

I’d read a couple of press snippets about Steve “exploring his heavy side” (a phrase that invariably makes me die a little inside whenever I hear it) but I wasn’t prepared for the full-on shockwave of this.

It’s almost as if Hackett feels he’s been held prisoner doing the Genesis stuff, the (beautiful) acoustic album ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’ and bloody lockdown and has felt the need to kick some ass and exorcise his frustrations.

On first listen I hated it – its heaviness and gloomy orchestrations seemed anathema to what a Steve Hackett album usually sounds like.

But there’s the rub, it is meant to sound different. It is meant to shock. It is meant to get us to sit up and listen.

And the more you listen to it, like all great albums, the better it gets.

It’s not like Mr Hackett is averse to a bit of the heavy stuff (Shadow Of The Heirophant, anybody?) and once you realise that the comfort-blanket of his virtuosic guitar and his coterie of outstanding musicians are all present and correct – you start to listen to the songs rather than recoiling from the shock.

Opener ‘The Obliterati’ sets the scene with its ominous intro and furious fretting setting up a heavy-as-hell riff that ‘Sabbath would be proud to own.

There’s a heavy-duty Russian classical theme (Prokofiev?) running through ‘Natalia’ which has a touch of Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ and is quite an assault on the senses – but calmed by its exquisite chorus.

The instrumental ‘Relaxation Music For Sharks (featuring Feeding Frenzy)’ is exactly what you would expect with bubbling undersea noises supplanted by feverish strings, pounding drums (a la Jaws) and manic shredding from the man himself.

‘Wingbeats’ has an African feel, reflecting a trend in Hackett’s recent work to introduce a myriad of world-music and eco-themes into his music – Amanda Lehmann’s vocals being outstanding here, and ‘Scorched Earth’ expands further on this ecological thread.

‘The Devil’s Cathedral’ sounds like  the soundtrack to ‘Nosferatu The Vampire’ with heavy Bach-like organ – until the guitar kicks in. Nad Sylvan on vocals here – he loves this sort of thing…

Further highlights include ‘Held In The Shadows’ with its anthemic chorus, ‘Day Of The Dead’, where Hackett’s fretwork is just off the scale and the magnificent ‘Shanghai To Samarkand’ which takes the old Silk Road from China to Uzbekistan via an ‘Oriental zither’ and various middle-Eastern instruments including Tar and Dutar (answers on a postcard please). Exceptional drumming here from Phil Ehart too.

As you would expect from any Hackett album, the musicians and the musicianship are of the very highest standard – long term band members such as Roger King, Jonas Reingold, Rob Townsend, Craig Blundell and Amanda Lehmann are collectively brilliant as usual, as indeed is Christine Townsend on violin and viola.

As mentioned, it needs a few listens and don’t be put off by the heaviness of it all – it will repay repeated listens in spades and, who knows, might end up as your favourite Hackett album.

Apposite title too…

Staggeringly good – eventually.    *****

Review by Alan Jones

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