Phew. This new Marillion album, it does get to you. Here we have a band that no longer needs to prove themselves, having become one of the pillars of modern day progressive rock. And I mean that in a good way. Progressive most certainly in what the band do, how they sound and, at the same time, having a penchant for writing tracks that might just as well have some pop credibility. So to speak. Yet, this album, it comes thundering from your speakers with the band sounding hungrier, more driven than before, even grittier than on this album’s predecessor, F.E.A.R.. Marillion don’t shy away from being critical of the world, of being critical of our behaviour towards nature and towards each other and put that into words and in their music. Of course, Marillion has been known to do so from the very early years on as songs like Forgotten Sons, White Russian, the more recent Gaza and the greater part of F.E.A.R. all go to show.
If you follow the band in everything they do, then you witnessed the revelation, bit by bit, of all the details of the album. Whether it was about the album title, song titles, the length of the songs or the cover art. And that was all there to be discovered while the band prepared their ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’-tour, while at the same time, the band asked their fans to assist in financing the tour’s insurance. With Covid around, all conditions had changed and the effects of any band member catching Covid could just not be predicted. Apart from the fact that that indeed migh lead to immense expenses. Fans were approached to help the band and thus the idea of ‘Lightsavers’ was born. A truly progressive band, not only in their music but also in the way they develop themselves adapting to whatever comes in their way. No small feat. Then again, this review should reflect, above all, on the music.
Once more it is Steve Hogarth’s voice that takes center stage, varying from powerful moments to sounding vulnerable. Pete Trewavas’s bass and Ian Mosley’s drumming are the steady pulse behind the band’s sound. Yet the way the two play on this album, it feels quite liberated. The two sound as fresh as ever and make the album feel as their playground. Mark Kelly is miles away from his widdly widdly playing of the early days and really raises the bar with refined playing, on piano and keyboards and bringing forth various soundscapes augmenting the sound of the band, gracing the album with his playing. And then there is Steve Rothery. Fitting his guitar sound to the songs, mastering his craft, all to the benefit of the songs, yet An Hour Before It’s Dark is also very much home to many a magnificent solo by the maestro. If you are a lover of Steve’s playing then this album is simply a must have.
The album’s opener is the impressive Be Hard On Yourself, the first track that the band shared with the world. It features great singing by Choir Noir of which there is plenty on this album. The song is alla bout consumerism and the effect that our behaviour has on the planet, on the climate. It is a message of urgency and a call upon all of to dare choose for less: “Be hard on yourself. You’ve been spoilt for years.” It goes without saying that lines like “The monkey wants a new toy and that’s all that it knows. Cause of death: lust for luxury, cause of death: lust for luxury, cause of death: consumption.” even put that more blundly. We haven’t got a lot of time to turn things around. An hour before it’s dark, so to speak. Yes, it does put ito us. If we are to survive, we have to take action. Be hard on ourselves. No beating about the bush, no bathing in luxury and taking things for granted. Face up to the facts. Marillion sounds quite militant in this track that simply goes beyond the 9 minute mark.
Obviously, the song clearly has different parts, a build that the band is known for, and features multiple instrumental accents.It features great keys by Mark, Pete’s bass almost sounding punishing, growling and thundering at the back and Ian Mosley’s drum playing, fairly loose. All of them making the message all the more urgent. And leading the ceremony, so tos peak, Steve Rothery, who gets a first chance to lash out with his guitar playing. This is one tight appetizer, showing the band are still relevant. That they know how to spread an urgent message. It may well be against our way of life, against our consumerism. The band is not simply joining a hype, neither is the band being sarcastic. Allow yourself to feel overwhelmed, provoked even. Take time to get the message and, apart from that, listen to all the subtleties the song has to offer. A sound quite different from anything on F.E.A.R. Thematically the song might have been one that would have fitted on there as well, yet the dynamics of the song are way, way different. Great opening track.
Reprogram The Gene starts off instrumentally and in a rather small way. But then the full band kicks in. Steve Hogarth sounds demanding, claiming, different. Militant. Commanding in his words. It is as if he is putting forward a list of demands, claims that he (or we) would want to have, would want to be. It feels like a confrontation between everything we want and the effects that our needs, dreams and wants have on the world, our wants leading to have an awful lot become extinct. Is there something we can do about our behaviour? Can we change? We have to solve that for starters, but if any, what is the solution for our behaviour? Another fine track, with Steve’s guitar again adding to the song. There clearly is hope in it expressing that if we all dare to choose to be ‘friend of the earth’, things might change. And perhaps to distance ourselves a bit or more from that friend called luxury.
Only A Kiss is a very short and sweet instrumental that is the perfect intro to Murder Machines, which features a bass part that somewhat recalls Sounds That Can’t Be Made’s Power. It is however a clearly different song that features great parts by both Steve’s. H’s vocals really shine and are very passionate while Steve Rothery has a very fine guitar part on this track. There is a drive to the song that makes it fantastic to be experienced in concert. There is something in the track that totally feels like the Eighties. Not Marillion in the Eighties, but guitar based new wave bands. This is Marillion, no doubt, but the overall sound harks back to those wonderful years and sounds. And listen to that ending by Mark and Steve Rothery. Simply stunning.
The Crow And The Nightingale is another track where H and Rothery shine. That is not downplaying Ian, Pete and Mark, not at all. The choir once more is there at the opening of the track, sounding heavenly, really. Then there is Mark on the keys to be accompanied soon by Steve Rothery’s guitar. This is how Marillion tell their tales. Taking us with them, it is an ode to Leonard Cohen and it really can get to you. If you are into storytelling tracks like This Strange Engine, Fantastic Place and Ocean Cloud, this must be for you. True, it is not long as those tracks, yet it once more features a very inspired solo by Steve. Unforgettable. Oh yes, the way H sounds on this one, simply wonderful, amidst violins and cello.
Sierra Leone is a wee bit short of 11 minutes and again starts quietly. A great build once more. Ask yourself how the band composed this one, yet, do find that the parts flow naturally from one to another. True, some songs in Marillion’s catalogue don’t flow as natural as this one. Sit back and enjoy H’s vocals. Yes, his lyrics again matter. A song about blood diamonds and the harsh reality behind them. It ticks all the boxes for those who love Marillion. Just find out for yourself. Go have a listen. Let the music do the talking. That is what must be said for the whole of the album as a matter of fact.
And then there is one more to go. Not just a simple closing track. Marillion closes the album with the 15 minute long Care. The song starts off rather experimental and well, you might even dance to it. Once more you get the feeling that this sounds a bit like it is from the Eighties, in a good way, and it even resembles, in a way, one of those bands from then, now still active. That comparison is something that is mostly in the song’s ambience. The band show themselves masters at tracks consisting of multiple parts. True, a lot of that must be credited to Michael Hunter, yet it works very well. It feels as if the band and Michael worked it out in a very organic way. Care takes us closer to the band, to H even more so, from experiencing a cleary intensive treatment, looking death in the eye, what that makes us feel like and, finally pointing to the immense meaning of all those involved in caring for people. H’s singing in this song, the emotion it contains, is, at least partially, centred around the experiences of a friend. Do yourself a favour and read the lyrics. They are essential tot he song. Care is a very touching song, with a finale that just may hit you and fall silent, it is really, really moving and astonishingly beautiful at the same time.
This album is very much Marillion, daring to experiment, daring to be loose, playing liberated, it seems. Steve Rothery’s guitar comes way more to the front, but all-in all, the band seems to play in a more free way. There is a lot to discover here and that takes more than just a few spins. Here we have a band that sounds both more relaxed and more energetic at the same time. There are far more time changes than on previous albums, we get uptempo tracks and then there are vocal lines that seem to give more variation to H’s singing. F.E.A.R. set the bar high, even for the band to follow, yet somehow that album was more predictable than An Hour Before It’s Dark. Unmistakenly Marillion, but at the same time very, very free and unrestrained and on the other hand energetic and on-point.
This one is a beautiful journey for Marillion lovers who get to listen to new music by their favourite band. Finally, it has arrived. Not only new tracks but hey, the band sounds refreshed and more experimental. So what about newbies to the band’s sound? Get on board, start your Marillion journey. Marillion rock, play subtly, dare to be vulnerable, varies, a lot, brings time changes tot he table and is there, in your face. The appetizer did what it had to do and drew attention. Yet you couldn’t just tell that the album would be this strong. Does it work instantly? Well, it may for you, but if it doesn’t give this one time. Listen and be entranced by what you hear. Is this a timeless masterpiece? It certainly comes very, very cloes. Marillion outdid themselves and outdid many expectations. An Hour Before It’s Dark shows the band has evolved. This album is not about repetition, making the same moves again, the same record all over again. With An Hour Before It’s Dark Marillion show that they can still surprise and record an album that is completely overwhelming: it inspires, it fascinates, it moves, it touches. So, what were these lyrics again, you say? “Strap in, get ready, foot down, push the button, blow it all up, blow it all up. Paint a picture, sing a song, plant some flowers in the park. Get out and make it better… You’ve got an hour before it’s dark.” Masterful, magisterial, Marillion.