With what looks like a menacing poster for a new horror movie and a slight resemblance to the American folklore character, The Slenderman, the latest album offering from Nine Stones Close is equally as haunting as it is brilliant and a megalith of just 5 songs. Having been on the scene since their inception in 2008 with the release of the their debut Lp St Lo, NSC has been slightly under the radar and not at the same time. Again perhaps because over here in North America we are not blessed with such a rich and steep music scene as our friends around the world have been so luckily to be involved in.
Europe, Scandinavia & Asia and all other parts that aren’t North America have a massive culture that is music, it is so diverse and different from our own. Sure there are pockets of music here in N.A. that are of the culture design that the rest of the world has been submersed in for decades now but limited to actually getting “OUT” there to larger markets and audiences. It was well over 10 years ago now that the Toronto Sun newspaper ran a two page spread about Canadian artists who’ve been in the business for years but you never heard of them before… why? They’re over in Japan, Germany, Finland etc and have made their voices heard and garnered an audience in those countries where here they didn’t stand a chance at being even heard all the way through one song in their home country! But I digress and as Ier, (https://grendelhq.wordpress.com/ , Great album and show reviews from the Netherlands! Check her site out!) and I were discussing earlier that the internet isn’t all that bad because we can be introduced to a plethora of bands which is where I came across this one, Nine Stones Close from Leiden, Netherlands.
2016 saw the band released their fifth album, “Leaves” and it’s full of that delicious Neo-Prog sound along with their own uniqueness thrown in to make it truly an epic joy to listen to. Conceived originally as solo project but flourished in to much more as the creative juices began to pour like Niagara Falls the band has shaped themselves in to their own little nook of the genre and their latest and greatest album here come at no surprise that it is clearly a crowning achievement to their repertoire.
“Complicated” opens up the album and is anything but what the title suggests. The scenic sounding synthscapes make their way in with a generous well layered effect to them before the crunchy fuzz tone of the guitar, drums & bass and the vocals all drop in like the uninvited house guest that overstays their welcome. Tight and snarly as it snakes its way through the songs beginnings it rises up and slaps your face then drops back to its snarling dark overtones. A very non-contrite song as the sound is dark and menacing as the song works its way through passages of sinister guitar riffs and haunting synths with sneering drum patterns and a ominous bass line that creeps across the song like a storm waiting to just drop out of nowhere on you with furious vengeance. It maintains the tempo pretty straight through which gives it another demonizing facet with a few waves and flows to the bitter tone of the vocals which are perfect for this track. The guitar solo is terrorizing as it doesn’t have your traditional lead sound to it but more of a banshee in the distance call to it. One short start/stop near the end to just throw you off for a second before the song carries you to its indignant ending closing it off perfectly. “Goldfish” isn’t exactly what one expects for a song title unless you have a newly discovered Syd Barrett bootleg recording but the band clearly displays their wit and desire to keep things very original in their music as well as their words. What begins as a slow procession of sound in synths and guitar moans along with a softened choral vocal the song presents itself as an epic in the making and it does coming in at 12:47minutes. At the two minute mark we are graced with the rest of the band coming in and forming a full big wall of sound that fills the room fully with escalating tones and a build up of what can be heard a variety of influences in the tones presented; Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Airbag, Embassy of Silence et al but not imitating those bands but you can feel the diversity of the music coming through here. The song has the tempo/timbre changes well in place here and they utilize them well as the song displays its chapters and snippets of late 60’s and early 70’s Pink Floyd guitar licks being influenced here a la the film scores they provided; The Committee, More & Obscured by Clouds. The multiple facets of the song give it that 70’s heavy Prog epics that bands like Genesis and Yes brought to us with their storylines and imagery. You get all of that here in this beautifully crafted track where every instrument is a different player to the scene and story as they compliment each other, accentuate each other and commend each other in glorious movements all the way through this song. Classic Prog move putting as the second song and a complete 180 degree turn around from the opener. Clean and no one instrument over powers the other this track finishes off with a strain of notes then cuts right off in to nothingness leaving you hanging and waiting and wanting for the next movement in the piece but left to the next track to be heard.
“Lie” begins with a discordant guitar tone that’s fuzzy and disturbing as it makes its way through the waft of equally haunting synth notes till it draws in the rest of the band and takes off in to a soaring track of hammer down proportions and just lets it rock. A few start/stop segments and and it’s on its way. With a great vocal that could have easily been on any Dream Theatre or Queensrÿche album this one is all their won adding in the raw power of the rest of the band that just drops its blitzkrieg tones on your ears as it slams through the speakers then pulls back to make you worry where and when the next strike will be at. The middle of the song shifts its gears but in a step by step what is going on way where you can’t tell what is happening besides the fact that your mind is being assaulted with the changes and total Prog shuffle of the guard around the song’s demeanor. Coming in just under 10minutes it’s all well worth the price of auditory admission as it ebbs and flows through the sea of sound it is creating in this tremendous collage of colourful sounds as the band strips away the skies and lets the track soar in to the stratosphere as the synths push it ever higher along with the guitar solo that stretches the limits of the fretboard and begins to burn the rosewood under the strings. The drums charging like Pegasus in flight and the bass thunders up its roar from the clouds to rain down upon us then its upsurge brings us to the end of this prodigious track.
“Spoils“, the longest track on the record at a grand 16:35minutes brings us back to the glory days of Prog in the 70’s when entire sides of albums were one song and the kind of songs that took hours to finish listening to and you would occasionally look at your turntable wondering if it ever ends and really you didn’t want it to. A quiet guitar intro calls us to the steps of this masterpiece of ziggurat proportions. It builds and builds and builds in to a grand scale of a song that would be an intense listening to live because it’s so involved. With a heartfelt emotional vocal to segue the song deeper in to the realm of its hold on us the flange effect on the guitar becomes a trigger in our nervous system that the song has many faces and is extending out as we’re pulled in to the vortex of vocals repeating on us before the song crashes in to a full scale audio assault that snaps you out of your lull the beginning had you paused in. The song has the monstrosity of “Kashmir” and the ferocity of a Metallica song but also the calm wavy passiveness of Pink Floyd and complexity in spots of a King Crimson piece from ’73. The mid section is where they pull back and grace us with a pastoral passage in the quiet movement facet of the piece. We are truly spoiled by this track no doubt with its multi-faceted segments and multi-effects throughout making it a brilliant piece of music that peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows and regales their story to us. The song then falls back on to its heavy feet and storms off on us as we shift gears and the tempo/timbre changes take us to another chapter leading to the guitar solo that snaps, strikes, swings its razor sharp notes out at us as we dodge the bombardment of the pounding drums that are like throwing boulders at our heads from some giant in the distance. The song collapses in to a dream sequence as the vocals call upon the psychedelic era of the UK underground and the acoustic guitar pulls up and out of the fields where we fell and lost contact with reality. The song forms its compositions and returns to the aggressive charge from before and takes us back in to battle one last time before we get to the end of our journey and see our spoils of this epic piece of musical warfare. Brilliance. “Leaves” the title track closes out the album in classic Prog manner and does so in 13:45minutes. The opening reminisces on Indian ragas on the guitar before the drums shuffle in to the song. Another slow opener but not without ear pleasing tones and curiosities as it sways on through deeper and deeper in to the track as the luring vocal and the calm musical background draws you nearer and nearer to the song. The flange effect on the guitar is the siren song of the instrumental aspect of the track. The drums are very film noir dark jazz in style and the bass walks with a stroll as the synths over shadow it all with its ghostly electronic waves. The song keeps us in the eerie loop even still by the halfway mark leaving us to wonder if we are going to experience things like we have in previous songs or are we being taken on the ferry ride by Charon to the underworld here.The guitar solo rips away at our very beings as it comes out of nowhere and the vocals harmonize up and the song comes more alive from its dark depths and takes on another form calling upon the light of the musicianship that has been waiting in the wings to explode and go forth. Chanting “have you ever really lived your life and seen the light” makes one sit back and think about those very words and you question that very phrase over and over in your head if you are doing what you really want to do or are you a slave to corporatocracy? The epilogue to the song is a chilling piano refrain and some stunning views of Rotterdam taken by a drone flyer because the views are breathtaking and brilliant but then it goes back to the beginning and the forest scene as the song fades away leaving you speechless.
Nine Stones Close are an amazing example of how music like theirs doesn’t come over here to North America because they have songs that aren’t cookie cutter commercialism or the “pop tune” that one hears ad nauseum on radio, television and music video channels, MTV and Much Music. Their music is deep and complicated to audiences over here for the most part. It’s too long for the average listener to even comprehend as their albums are ten songs in the length of one of theirs! Nine Stones Close has once again graced us with a brilliant Prog album and their music is just getting better and better all the time. Here’s to another album in the future where auto-tune is never once used and instruments are played as they should be and as always the band’s hard work pays off in the way of fans like us who appreciate what they do and their sound and contributions to the world that is Prog. Enjoy.