Music has always been a unifying force and that is pretty much the premise of Steve Hackett's new album, The Night Siren. After 2015's acclaimed Wolf Light, Steve returns with an album that has been recorded all over the world with musicians including Hungarian trumpet player Ferenc Kovacs, Nightwish's Troy Donockley, Arabic singer Mira Awad and Israeli Kobi Farhi. The variety of world musicians on the album is proof enough (if you ever doubted) that music is indeed a great breacher of defences.
The album was recorded in fits and starts and such a jigsaw could have easily become disjointed, but in Steve Hackett's capable hands the album becomes a masterpiece of modern progressive music. In terms of tone, it comes across very much like a concept album, with reoccurring musical motifs and themes. It's very symphonic in scale with vocals ghosting in and out of the album creating a sense of the ethereal.
Behind the Smoke is a powerful opening that is inspired by personal and universal themes of a 'ravaged world'. Drawing on his own ancestor's flight from the Pogroms of Eastern Europe the track broadens out to include the timeless travels of those fleeing and those seeking a new life. The undulating bassline and wide orchestral moments conjure up images of Bedouins in sand dunes walking towards the unknown and beginning their perilous journeys. Here the vocals are tempered with middle eastern intervals before clicking into a Kashmir inspired juggernaut of drums and guitar; it's heavy but hopeful.
On Martian At Sea, the sitar easily sits alongside western style pop rhythms and more unusual progressive textures. The track wouldn't be out of place on a George Harrison LP.
The seven-minute opus, Fifty Miles From the North Pole is inspired by a performance Steve's gave in Iceland – fifty miles from the Arctic Circle. The music creates the atmosphere of a vast landscape with a James Bond style score helping to enhance the thrills and dangerous beauty of the Arctic. A discordant saxophone (Rob Townsend) deliberately disorientates us on our journey. The conceptual overtones of the album continue as the string chords strike in El Niño. Like Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds, there is an immediate sense of foreboding and dread. The arrangement makes the track a score of suspense and air of cinematic peril. The drum work from Gary O'Toole is superb building to another conclusion with that jarring saxophone, returning to unsettle us.
The Other Side Of The Wall allows a moment of reflective romance in a tale of forbidden and lost love. Like much of the album's inner working, it's filled with beauty, even in the darkest moments. In The Skeleton Gallery comes from the nightmares of a young Steve Hackett. As the childlike staccato battle begins, the sax returns - melodic this time – offering us yet another of the album's reoccurring refrains edging towards the final musical journey. West To East focuses on peace and unity between the human race. It's an anthemic track and one of the most simplistic here in terms of form and style but then it is not a song that needs to shroud itself in unnecessary complexity.
The Night Siren is a cohesive album that is filled with enchanting travels, wonder, fear and optimism. It has some of the best modern progressive music from the man who cements the genre in musical culture. Steve Hackett's guitar cries are seducing us with tender Illicit melodies, torturing us with words, intangible refrains and possibly even claiming your soul. This is the work of a man who is still very much at the top of his game, it may very well be his best album to date. The wailing call of the guitar rings out and when the night siren calls, you will follow.
Groupie Rating 5/5