THE GIFT – Awake And Dreaming (Cyclops)

This new five piece band from London are the latest discovery by Cyclops Records, and they have struck gold again with this superb debut album. They have been compared to early Spock’s Beard, and you can hear why in places, with the music alternating between gentle acoustic passages and full blown guitar anthems. The album comprises just two tracks – ‘Awake And Dreaming’ and ‘Fountains Of Ash’, with each track being made up of separate sections. The 45 minute title track is a condemnation of the war machine, and its epic scope is one of the things that has earned the Spock’s Beard comparisons, while musically it comes to the fore on the heavy riffing ‘Dark Clouds Gathering’, and the stunning ‘No-One Came’. However, the band are not just copyists and inject their own personality into their music, and with each member being a top class musician they produce a work that rewards many, many plays. Highlights include ‘Rooftops Re-visited’, which is a reprise of the opening track ‘Little Red Rooftops’, and gives Leroy James the chance of a great guitar solo, ‘The Dance Of Denial’ which is an upbeat guitar instrumental, the frenetic ‘Escalation’ which has some of the best guitar work on the album, and the lovely acoustic ballad ‘Nocturne’, which is Mike Morton’s best vocal performance. Every track has a great melody, confident playing, spot on vocal harmonies, and is sung by a singer with an expressive voice, resulting in a piece of music that is one of the best pieces of modern prog that I have heard. If the album just consisted of ‘Awake And Dreaming’ I would be happy, but we also get the 20 minute ‘Fountains Of Ash’, which like its predecessor comprises seven sections, of which the opening ‘Noverture’ contains some stunning guitar, and all of the other pieces are easily as good as anything that I had heard in that first track – in fact some of them might even be better as generally the band seem to take these songs at a faster pace, and so some of the instrumental passages contain some outstanding progressive rock in the classic sense, with guitar and keyboards working overtime. Already hailed as one of the finest prog releases of the year – an opinion with which I have to whole-heartedly agree.