The word ‘epiphany’ can be overused in our modern times. It means, essentially, a sudden, intuitive perception of, or insight into, the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple occurrence or experience or a literary work or section of work that presents such a moment of revelation or insight.
We reviewers often write about musical epiphanies, moments where a piece of music or a whole song or album take us to another place and hit us with an inspiration particle that opens up the original songwriters vision to our simple minds. Now, truthfully, it doesn’t happen that often but often enough to make my continual exploration and search for music that stirs my soul into a life affirming journey.
You see, to me, music is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. To quote Confucius, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without”. Some of the music I have had the pleasure of listening to has had a serious input into my life. When I have felt down it has lifted me up on high and when I am contented and happy it has provided the soundtrack and the basis for that happiness.
These may seem like the existential ramblings of a troubled mind but, trust me my friends, there is a point to all this talk about epiphany and solace in music. Once again, I have had the joyous pleasure of listening to a piece of music that has moved me in many ways and has provided yet another epiphany for this feeble brain, Cosmograf’s ‘Capacitor’.
Cosmograf is a progressive rock project lead by Robin Armstrong, a multi instrumentalist progressive rock musician from Waterlooville nr Portsmouth UK. The sound is rooted in 70s classic rock with a contemporary and progressive twist. Influences are Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, Porcupine Tree, Muse and many others.
The proponents are quoted as being ‘Robin Armstrong and various members of the progressive rock community’ and, on ‘Capacitor’ Robin’s high standing in that community is shown by the guests that have offered their services. Andy Tillison plays keyboard, Matt Stevens contributes guitar, Nick Beggs and Colin Edwin play bass and ex Spock’s Beard and current Big Big Train stickman Nick D’Virgilio plays drums on every track. This is Robin’s project through and through with the majority of the production, engineering and mixing being done at Robin’s house with the legendary Robin Aubrey providing assistance.
To quote the website, ‘The theme for the album is the storage of the human spirit, and how the imprint of our lives is left behind both in a spiritual and technological sense. I described it to PROG magazine as ‘being seeded with a ghostly perspective’. It’s heavily loaded with cinematic atmosphere and there are plenty of dark corners in which the imagination can wander – especially for those listening in the dark with headphones.’
My first introduction to Cosmograf was the previous album ‘The Man Left in Space’ and that left an indelible impression on my musical psyche. To me, Robin is a kindred spirit to Steven Wilson in his uncompromising desire for perfection and his multitalented approach to music. An amazing lyricist, musician and songwriter, he is cultural icon for the progressive rock community. His last release was a sublime progressive album but his ambition and voracity to improve has led us to something that is as close to perfection as is possible in this age. Dealing with the Edwardian obsession for spiritualism and the afterlife, ‘Capacitor’ delves deep into the soul’s purported journey after it is set free from the human body.
Fifteen minute opening track The Spirit Capture is the beginning of an almost spiritualistic journey for your musical soul. A very low key introduction with a sleek keyboard, smooth bass line and steady drumbeat accompanying the narrative before a thunderous riff crashes in and the song takes on another dimension. Robin Armstrong is his own man but takes hints from the greats of progressive music and adds it to his already impressive mix. The complex and intelligent correlation between all the components is almost organic in nature, like a living thing it is nurtured and developed. The freeform jazz keyboard and guitar section is particularly inspiring and leaves me slack jawed at its brilliance.
The Fear Created was the first song I heard from the album and left an ineradicable impression on me. From the acoustic guitar introduction, an eerie and haunting sound, to the incredible forceful and compelling riff there is a dynamism and intensity to this track, enforced by the potent drumming and soaring keyboards. The hushed vocal delivery, almost a whisper, adds a menacing subtext to matters. The vocals are then ramped up and take on a much more forceful persona. The contrasting acoustic interludes blend smoothly with the hugely powerful resonance of the rest of the song and when the organ is added, the song becomes rapturous and the guitar fires at the heavens. The incredibly poignant and deep guitar solo strips you bare to your central core and is awe inspiring. At some points on the track Robin’s vocal takes flight and becomes something animate, full of emotion and a perfect foil for the amazing organ sound.
Robin Armstrong pays homage to the progressive way throughout the album and, on The Reaper’s Song he takes that influence a bit further. The gentle strummed acoustic guitar and plaintive vocal evoke direct comparison with some of the great progressive works from the late sixties, the harmonised vocal pieces are a delight to behold and the whole song takes on an ethereal, if not spiritual personality. The song becomes much more electric and vocal and the comparisons to The Magical Mystery Tour become much more apparent with a simple but effective guitar solo worming its way into your affections.
The Drover has a whimsical feel to it from the beginning. The gentle piano and gossamer like keyboards accompany a refined, exquisite vocal. This song has a celestial grace to it, a humbleness and honesty that speak to you. The brilliant Hammond organ adds another layer of sophistication and elegance. There is an ageless feel to this music, the vocals are mesmerising and hypnotic and leave you hanging on every word. You feel succoured in this heavenly embrace as if nothing harmful in the world can touch you.
My favourite track on this amazing album is White Car. In a Cathedral of musical excellence I kneel at the alter of this song. The subject matter is haunting and slightly disturbing but, due to Robin’s sincere empathy and superb songwriting skills, this only adds to this matchless number. The measured introduction and heartfelt vocal are accompanied by the most perfectly judged guitar that just pulls at your soul. The piano is delicate and exquisite and the guitar solo that forms the backbone is towering and awe-inspiring. The contrast of the semi-chaotic instrumental section is as brilliant as it is unexpected, the spiralling guitar a mark of genius. The vocals increase in intensity and the track builds with an ominous intensity. A subdued interlude precedes another heartrending solo. I swear this guitar is talking to my mind spellbound as I am by its overwhelming keenness and fervour. A crunching riff then brings this paragon of music to a close.
After the haunting brilliance of the previous track, what can we expect from The Ghost Gets Made? We start with a mellow orchestral introduction that plays over a muffled narrative, the drums rumbling like thunder in the background. Next we are hit by a seriously percussive riff that hits you like a hurricane. The guitar acts like a hammer, hitting you with vicious sound waves. The drums and bass are profound and the keys act like a huge wall of sound that encircles everything. It is almost violent in its vivacity. Robin gives the vocals a different timbre and a savage sounding catch. This musical mountain blows through your psyche like a maelstrom leaving a blasted wasteland behind. The guitar solo burns with the ferocity of a thousand sons, a white heat that scorches you aurally. The ambient finish to the song allows you to recover from the ferocious radiance of what you have just experienced.
It is with regret that we come to the final track on the album, Stuck in the Wood. There is a humble unpretentious sincerity to this song, it is pared right back at the start, stark and minimal. The vocals have a candidness that is matched by the modesty of the instruments. It is quite ambient in nature, definitely a song for a quiet moment in the half-light, listening with your headphones on. I love the reverential feel engendered by this track and the guitar solo performed by Matt Stevens is a refined cut of musical nirvana. It meanders through your musical world, touching and soothing your conscience and leaves you in a place of serenity, bliss and tranquillity.
This album is not just a piece of music, it is part of Robin Armstrong’s body and soul and you can tell he has put everything into this, leaving nothing back. I cannot fault this record in any way. It is musical paradise with an amazing musician as its peerless architect. If I died and went to heaven right now, I couldn’t have asked for any more, I have had the biggest epiphany, when it comes to music, in my life, ever. This is not just one of the albums of the year it is one of the best albums I have ever heard, period.