Saturday, 10 September 2011

Osiris The Rebirth - Lost

Dave Adams and Miles Black were founder-members of Hawkwind tribute act Assassins of Silence and that made me a little cautious in approaching their regenerated incarnation of Dave's 'other' space rock project, Osiris. Now, before we all splutter coffee across our collective keyboards let's clarify that. Actually, I only managed to catch Assassins of Silence once, and that was on a night where the sound was somewhat 'challenged', but they struck me as highly entertaining and very good at what they were doing and I'm sorry that they don't seem to be playing their Hawk-covers around Oxfordshire and the Home Counties anymore as I'd certainly have liked to have caught them again. But, and here's the catch that generates just that modicum of caution in approaching Osiris The Rebirth, I do hear a lot of stuff that's so beholden to, or in awe of, Hawkwind that it fails to have its own vision and doesn't really breathe through its own lungs or beat with its own heart. I sometimes wish that there were more out there who'd take Hawkwind as a starting-point without then having to use their work as a finishing point as well; I want to hear more bands spotting where Hawkwind are on their musical map without then being rooted and routed to them as the only grid co-ordinates. So, members of a Hawkwind tribute band play their own space rock ... danger of unimaginative derivativeness ahead? As it happens ... absolutely not!

Actually, I'll give public thanks to these guys for sending over a couple of records that indeed have some themes and delivery styles in common with Hawkwind but who've very much struck out on their own path, building around the band a revolving set of collaborators and constructing a very smart brace of concept albums that owe something to you know who ... but which owe much more to these guys being excellent musicians with a keen sense of their own musical identity.

Their latest album is Lost, which I'll comment on in moment, but for perspective Milo also kindly sent me over a copy of their first, Remnants Of Life, and as we should start as close to the very beginning as possible – pausing to note that the very beginning would take us much further back, into the 1980s and Dave Adams's Osiris band from which some of his original material has been reworked here – let's think about what this part of their journey delivered, since Lost takes them off onto a different tangent in a lot of ways.

Remnants Of Life appeared in November 2009, featuring guest appearances from Nik Turner, Bridget Wishart, viper violinist Cyndee Lee Rule, and former Assassins keyboardist James Hodkinson among others. It's the certainly the more tangibly space rock of the pair, at least on first listen, kicking off with a spoken-word sequence, 'Phase Transition Initiate', that echoes 'Ground Control to Pilot' from Captain Lockheed, which appeared as the taped introduction to 'Ejection' in many Hawkwind shows, right down to 'the little white ones...' before heading out into the expansive sounds created by the busy drums and spacey guitar lead of 'Colgate Valentine'.

It's a vividly realised record, one that reminds you just how vibrant and wide-ranging this genre can be, as though Adams and Black are casting their eyes what's been done before, what could be realised in the future and what tangents and side-paths might be explored. At one point ('Siren') it seems that they've hit on a similar formula to Danny Faulkner's Pre-Med albums, all urgent keyboards and driving bass lines – dynamic, contemporary and highly charged - and at another they've let Nik Turner loose with some lovely and haunting flute music for his own 'Osiris' musings. They veer out of sci-fi and into fantasy, Kim Novak's strong and precise vocal delivery on 'Dragonslayer' repaying the sense of majesty that resonates within both its lyrics and music. 'Technology' I've tried hard to put my finger on – is it influenced by early Porcupine Tree? Perhaps in part, it has that progressive-rock feeling to it, and some ├╝ber-geek lyrics, but in its instrumental moments maybe there's also a touch of Pink Floyd.

In fact, there's a lot that's hugely exciting about Remnants Of Life, much of which is pulled together and conceptualised in the sprawling fifteen minute final track, 'End Of Something', the sort of number that cries out for replaying just as soon as it ebbs away in its final moments: arresting, intriguing and properly immense. If it were a sci-fi novel, it'd be a doorstep-sized space opera page-turner. It's an album that I've played a lot since receiving, and which I'll absolutely be playing a lot more in the future. Spot on stuff.

Lost is less immediately accessible than I found Remnants... to be, and it's also a little less space rock and a little more veering towards progressive rock with an overarching storyline that works or doesn't work according to your liking for concept works – I'm not as negative as I would have been a few years ago, though I'll confess to still not always being hugely enamoured at albums that attempt to roll-up their tracks into one opus idea, I'd guess that I've still enough punk rock running through my veins to want to be saying, "Give me a song .... Give me another song ... and again". So this one took a little longer to grow on me than its more upfront and forthright sibling did.

But, and it's a big but, it's a record that does repay putting just a little more effort into getting to know and understand it, and I'm immensely glad that I've made that effort, played it several times and learned to appreciate its quality and its qualities. You'll note, of course, my own riffing around the idea of 'quality' and it's deliberate since this album is studded with high quality work – highly professional musicianship (I love the mix of pride and frustration that seems to exist so that where more high profile players will note their sponsorship deals, that leads these guys announce "Dave & Milo exclusively use instruments and equipment bought with their own money"), brilliant vocal performances and some damned good songs.

It's a concept album, the mystery of the strange disappearance of Osiris Spacelanes flight 2317 on a routine hyperspace journey – as noted in a Stephen Hawking-styled preamble. It hangs onto that story through its nine tracks, a bit Star Trek – Voyager in conception perhaps, realised through extended pieces that the guys reflect on having "musical experimentation ... yes, there is space rock but also perhaps a heavier prog influence ... an unashamed homage to early '70s bands such as Camel, Caravan, Focus and their ilk." These are smooth pieces, with the lyrics ably delivered variously by Bridget Wishart, Underground Zero's Jude Merryweather, Tina Thomas, and, again, Remnants Of Life's simply wonderful Kim Novak, whose contributions to both RoL and here on the opus 'The Mirror Of Her Dreams' are such a compelling component.

So Lost is Dave and Miles stretching their creative legs even further than Remnants Of Life took them, reaching into a sort of space-progressive rock hybrid that also touches on pastoral moments and times when they break loose and create a genuine cacophony of sounds (again here their twenty-four-and-a-half minute 'The Mirror Of Her Dreams' with some really mad violin from Cyndee Lee Rule and equally manic saxophone from Erik Michael Shroeder). That's where I am on the need to put a little effort into absorbing this one. The sum of its parts are individually very good – the deliciously seductive 'Kneel At My Feet', the anthemic 'Look To The Future' with its vaguely Stranglers-esque keyboards, 'Brave New World' which starts as a though it's a riff on Hawkwind's 'Dreamworker' before moving through a range of moods and textures – but it's as a suite of music that it really delivers so well.

In the end, then, I've come to this band and these albums with some reservations and concerns, perhaps with some prejudices, but going back to that word 'quality' again, it's the quality that resonates throughout both of these CDs, quality of vision, quality of writing, musicianship and vocals, quality of conceptualisation, sheer quality of the end result that's going to keep bringing me back to these albums and which will keep me wanting to hear where Dave and Milo's eclectic vision is going to take them next.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. And Cyndee Lee Rule adds brilliant viper icing on this delicious feast! -David Eric.