Humans are instinctual storytellers, it is the one trait that more than any other gave rise to our present state of being. What began as a survival tool to teach the coming generations methods of hunting and farming morphed into the very backbone of our culture. Through written story, poetry, stage play, spoken word, and music, we pass on the tales of the epic and the mundane, both teaching crucial lessons to those who are to take the helms of humanity. Of course, we will be talking about music here, that of an artist who for my adult life I have considered a bard unsurpassed in his genre, Fish. Originally with Marillion, he embarked on a brilliant solo career that encompassed nine studio albums, one cover album, and a list of live albums that seems endless. His last studio offering, Feast of Consequences, was over five years in the making, and finally hit the desperate ears of this most grateful fan.
For Feast of Consequences, Fish is backed by Steve Vantsis on bass, Robin Boult on guitar, Foss Paterson on keyboards, and Gavin Griffiths on drums. With the assistance of these gentlemen and a slew of other talented folk, Fish delivers one of the strongest albums of his career. The trademark lyrical genius that he is best known for is coupled perfectly with the brilliantly subtle musical stylings to bring together a total package that left me breathless and yearning for a deeper look.
In one of the many promotional pieces he did for the album, Fish states that he did more research for this work than for any previous one, and that Feast was a very personal and intimate work. This shows from the opening of the first track, Perfume River, and shines throughout the album. Perfume River opens with somber and mournful bagpipes and soft vocals from Fish, giving the tone of a leave taking, a sense of finality. Feast is a conceptual album, portraying the wide array of consequences that have availed themselves from centuries of humanity growing blindly and with little real conscience. Perfume River is a dark song, not the darkest on the album, but enough to set the perfect mood for what’s to come. They do this in the beginning with a slow and ominous beat coupled with soulful guitar. Building on this, Fish adds his harrowing vocals as the music flares up slowly in intensity. Lyrically, as always, Fish is brilliant. His portrayal of sinking into bitter isolation is stunning, “I missed the wake up, slept through the dawn, the world’s a stage but I’ve declared these curtains drawn.” When his facade is complete, the song picks up with a catchy yet simple acoustic riff that serves as a base for a truly upbeat midsection. It moves sublimely to a close with an ominously spoken “The truth I don’t want to know” as the song sinks to a close. As a listener, I feel ready for any level of spiritual intensity from the music at this point, but I couldn’t be more wrong.
The next track, All Loved Up, is a lively and sprite number, thematically focusing on how we mask our real life pains in a delusional unreal realm of internet life. This flows into Blind to the Beautiful, an achingly beautiful ballad mourning the state of our environment. Though a bit cliché in lyrical tone, it’s more than effective in reaching the heart strings and playing a quick game of cat’s cradle with them, though in reality, he is just loosening them up for what’s to come. We then move into the title track, Feast of Consequences. I feel there is a double meaning to the title, one pertaining to general tone of the album, and one specific to this track. This is a gritty, almost bluesy number, centering on the theme of love gone wrong, and we all know how the consequences build up as love breaks down. Having gotten us thinking a bit deeper, but still on an upside for the most part, Fish then goes for the throat, with the five song High Wood Suite.
The High Wood Suite is centered on the World War One Battle of Somme in Northern France, which took place in a forest known as High Wood. The tally of the injured and dead from this battle, which spanned four months was over a million soldiers, and is one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The suite opens with High Wood, which seems to be a present day passing over High Wood, looking to what horrors might lay beneath the monuments for the fallen. As he wanders deeper into the wood, the spirits of the fallen creep into him, the repeating war drum signifying no escape from the past horrors, they are an intrinsic part of the land now. From here he steps back in time with Crucifix Corner. This, more any other track on the album, showcases Fish’s storytelling perfectly. Crucifix Corner is an area of the wood where, though so much was lost, a lone crucifix survived all the battles. The song tells of the last cavalry attack of the battle, though only the beginning of the real horror to come. This song comes from a folk heart, with a strong Celtic folk vibe running through it. Opening with “In a cornfield speckled poppies glow…” he delves into this horrific account of the battle. His Scottish accent is a bit thicker here, which is perfect for the atmosphere he is portraying, as the slow piano notes and ambient background tone serve as a perfect page for his words. Tension is thick, and getting thicker, a few hard chords break through, settling into more gentle words. Here though is where he uses all the tools at his disposal, bringing in a musical intensity that perfectly imagines the insanity of a battle on horseback and foot. Structured and scattered at the same time, the listener has nowhere to go but deeper in. Through song he runs the battle to its end, leaving it “In a cornfields ripening corpses, sweet in a sunrise moving shadows. From the High Wood the Reaper walked to a harvest duly gathered…” Stunning, brilliant, painful, I feel almost sickened by what we can be capable of.
The next two songs serve as an interesting dichotomy of the battle and of war itself. The Gathering is the spirited, patriotic moments before war. The triumphant horns that start the song morph into an uplifting number filled with hope and promise. The next track, Thistle Alley, is the stark, cold reality that their journey really holds. Thistle Alley is about as thematically dark as music can get. The Battle of Somme was the first time the tank was used in a live setting on top of the planes and rockets, and I feel this is what Thistle Alley is portraying, that cold mechanical death of this new element of warfare. The song starts off brutally dark and deep, and just goes down and down. No matter what shades of color we try to put on war, Thistle Alley, through Fish’s most brutal lyrics ever, gives it its face. The hidden tones of guilt, and more so of shame, as they are “Praying for the darkness to return and hide the graves of the living.” The High Wood Suite finishes off with The Leaving, a final mourning look over the remnants of the battle. Once again, he brings it all lyrically. I personally am shocked, stunned, I honestly have no more words to write about this one. It has dug deeper than my vocabulary is capable of going, a telling sign of a perfectly told tale. Unfortunately, this tale happened, and most likely will keep happening, the final consequence of humanity living without care for itself.
Two songs finish out the album, two that try to bring a bit of hope to the baneful picture painted so far. The Other Side of Me is a perfectly beautiful ballad about finding the lost inner self, and contains a stellar guitar solo from Boult. The final track, The Great Unraveling, dives into the deep end of the spiritual realm. It talks of undoing all the binding factors of life that lead us down, and letting the love unravel us and set us free. Fish and female vocalist Elisabeth Antwi pair wonderfully in this one, and closes the album on a slightly positive, though very somber note.
Lyrically Fish does his usual thing, he is a master wordsmith. Musically, he and the other musicians set the tone perfectly for those words to be matched with. The two aspects blend together to give a final product that at times is a solid piece of progressive rock to points where I am utterly lost in the world they have laid before me. Fans of Fish, this is a must have, quite possibly the best of his career. Those who are unfamiliar with his work, come down to the fireside, grab a drink, and settle in. Uncle Fish has a story to tell you…