Artist: Ben Craven | Album:Monsters from the Id | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2022
From: Brisbane, Australia | Label: Desert Comb Music
For fans of: Yes, Pink Floyd
Yes casts a very long shadow over progressive rock. Their influence isn’t just obvious in the music, but also in the visuals frequently deployed on album covers. Roger Dean-style artwork has become a cliche of the genre, and I have developed something of an apprehension about acts that use this visual style. I’ve harped on about acts that just uncreatively wallow in the mid-70s, and flashy album covers do not make up for bland, uninspired music. Thankfully, this is not one of those albums.
Monsters of the Id is the fifth full-length release from Australian multi-instrumentalist Ben Craven. It follows in the long prog tradition of albums made up of just two long songs. (Though for all the obvious Yes-isms on this album, that band never released a record with fewer than three songs.)
“Die Before You Wake” kicks the album off on an ominous note. Strings and vocal arrangements swirl in a foreboding maelstrom. This introductory passage is reminiscent of some of the darker moments off Yes’s Magnification with the way strings are utilized. The eventual main theme which emerges is bouncy, and the use of chimes helps the melody stand out above the dark backing.
The first verse consists of just piano and vocals at first, though it soon reincorporates that dark main theme in the chorus. It’s dramatic and attention-grabbing. There’s a strong sense of drama as this movement pushes forward, and the lyrics match the tone of the music excellently. This somewhat suddenly resolves into a gentler movement, consisting of looping synths and dreamy guitar accents.
What eventually emerges is a mellow, folky passage led by acoustic guitar and warm synth. This movement drifts along for a while with some pleasant instrumental moments, but it then turns back into something anxious. Strings and guitar duel each other in an exciting passage, and it smoothly transitions back to the earlier main theme.
There is a piano passage near the end of this suite that is distractingly similar to “The Great Gig in the Sky”, and it’s topped by a guitar solo that sounds like it’s straight off The Division Bell. It’s not a bad way to end the song, but the references to Pink Floyd are so starkly obvious that it took me out of it a bit.
The second epic here is “Amnis Flows Aeternum”. Lush synths and gentle nylon guitar provide a sense of sonic continuity with “Die Before You Wake”, though the mood is considerably less dire. As the opening passage progresses, twangy guitar, low brass, and vibraphone evoke film scores.
A jumpy, Steve Howe-esque guitar line helps propel this piece into its next movement. This is a great example of Craven’s ability to artfully build up the momentum of his pieces.
Vocals finally enter around the song’s midpoint. The atmosphere is cinematic and ritualistic, being nearly chanted. Swooping choral arrangements add a nice mystique. The melody isn’t quite as striking as on the previous song, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
The verse eventually transitions to another quite-Gilmourian instrumental passage. Though a synth solo is the focus of it, it strongly evokes later Pink Floyd. After a reprise of the verse, there’s another guitar solo, and this one sounds a bit more distinctive.
Craven’s latest album does not stray too far from tried and true progressive rock tropes. The songs are epic, the playing is flashy, and the artwork is fantastical. There are some passages which crib from Yes and Pink Floyd to distracting degrees, but that is a relatively minor issue in the context of the whole.
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