Album Reviews

Under a Banner – Close to the Clouds

It does good to step away from what you are comfortable and accustomed to now and again. Take in something new and different and you may be pleasantly surprised. I have found that this last six months I have become totally engrossed and absorbed in progressive rock to the exclusion of every other genre of music and, to me anyway, that is not always healthy.

Listening to a type of music that I would not normally let into my aural range can often help rubber stamp my love of progressive rock but, in some cases, it can introduce me to a whole new cornucopia of delights that may, actually, make me appreciate prog a little more.

Now, before I start, I must point out that the album I am about to talk about is from a band in which the drummer is good friend of mine. I will be level headed and not sycophantic and give you an honest appraisal of the record, on that you can be sure.

Under a Banner are setting the Midlands rock scene by storm with their fresh, poetic and dynamic approach to alternative, hard rock and folk. Formed around three years ago, they have played with New Model Army and are forming a strong following and achieving favourable reviews from websites and blogs aplenty.

The band features Adam Broadhurst (vocals and guitars), Jake Brooks (guitars and backing vocals), Simon Hill (bass), Tim Wilson (drums and backing vocals) and Kat Davis (keyboards).

The band released their first album ‘The Ragged Rhythm of Rain’ in October 2012 and followed this with ‘The Acoustic EP’ in October 2013. August 2014 saw them release their second, full length record, ‘Close to the Clouds’ and it is that album which I will be telling you all about here.

The album consists of thirteen tracks, the majority of which I would call ‘anthemic’ and there is a power and honesty that runs throughout the record, opening track Out Like a Light sets a recurring tone with pounding drums that seem to sound out a marching beat and the vocals which bring to mind an orator atop a soap box preaching to the faithful. Folk rock is how I’d describe the music and it is quite appealing and catchy with its measured tempo and backing vocals like a band of brothers. Adam’s considered and heartfelt vocals herald the beginning of Impossible Day, a track with a more subdued feel than the latter. Again that rhythm section bangs out like a marching band and the acoustic guitar adds in a touch of class. This track brings to mind a folk band belting out their tales of day to day life in a careworn bar, surrounded by hard bitten locals. Title track Close to the Clouds has a slow burning introduction ramping up the tension as a gentle acoustic guitar holds sway. The vocals begin and grab your attention immediately and Adam breaks immediately into a rendition of the earnest chorus. Perhaps the most innately anthemic track on the whole album, I can see this becoming a firm favourite live with its addictive chorus. Sincerity drips from every note as the band invest every ounce of their being into this song.

Numbers is a foot stomping song, wild and unfettered, as if the band have rocked up at a caleigh and taken over. There is a boisterous and chaotic feel to proceedings that can’t help but leave you feeling out of breath. The intense drumming and fast paced guitar riffs all add to the turbulent, unbridled atmosphere. Some impressive drumming heralds How Martyrs Are Made and a harsh guitar riff adds to the more sincere and sober aura. Deliberate and contemplative vocals compliment the feeling of determination that the song engenders. Perhaps not as expressive as some of the other tracks, it does have feel of doing it by numbers. English Soul takes that folk rock base and adds an alternative rock edge, as if the band had collaborated with Billy Bragg. The guitar riffs that flash throughout are cultured, if a little raw and really add to the harder edge of the song and Wilson’s dramatic and technically precise drumming is a joy to behold.

Almost punk rock in execution with its incredibly raw edge, Don’t Give A is totally unconstrained and with a will of its own. A breath of fresh air, it refreshes the palate and feels like a musical equivalent of giving the finger. A complete juxtaposition, City Alone is almost ballad-like with its lilting, gentle acoustic guitar and Adam delivers his most composed vocal performance so far on the album, time to break out the lighters in the audience! Deliberately laid back and slow paced it delivers pathos in spades and the solo is quite a thing of beauty and grace. Adding a hitherto unseen level of maturity Bullet Rain hits the ground running with its powerful rhythm and enduring percussion. The guitar almost speaks to you as it delivers some superbly intense licks and a low down solo that burns fiercely with pride.

I Hate This Place adds an almost funky rhythm right at the centre of the mix and the chanting vocals and repeated verses really add layer upon layer of emotion and feeling to the song. They really DO hate this place! Another serious track with some tasty guitar licks and a searing solo, it gets right to the heart of the matter. With its intricate and mysterious introduction Leviathan is another intelligent and thought provoking track that makes you think. Protest songs or just plain folk rock, there is an underlying degree of acumen and intellect at the centre of everything that happens in this album. Punchy and forthright the music may be but these songs are not just there for entertainment, there is something more going on. Me and Machine is another powerhouse track that has elements of punk about it with its frenetic pace and crashing guitar riff. Wilson goes manic again on the drums to add veneer of quality to proceedings but you could just imagine yourself bouncing around and pogoing to this song quite easily. Short sharp and compact, it is stirring stuff.

The final track on the album Festival of Light is, if taken in a folk context, a lament. Delicate and lush with a gentle acoustic guitar and Adam’s soulful vocals holding court, there is more than an element of grief and remorse at play here. The stirring flashes of guitar add to that all pervading feeling of contriteness and anguish that drips from every note. It leaves you in a pensive and reflective state of mind and is clever songwriting, a fine finish to the album.

I think that Under a Banner have delivered a fine album here, yes there is room for improvement and that is fair as that which stands still can only stagnate. Perceptive, profound and fervent, with music like this, I think this band has a long future ahead of it and would recommend that, like me, you join their journey at the beginning because they have a strong future ahead.

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