REVIEW: NAD SYLVAN – “The Bride Said No”
By all accounts vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Nad Sylvan has had a very busy and successful last few years. Until recently he was best known as the vocalist and front man for Steve Hackett’s very well received Genesis Revisited project. This is fitting as his voice is an eerie blending of 70s Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Then in 2015 he released a new solo album, the well received ‘Courting The Widow,’ a vampire tale with 17th century atmosphere. This year we have his follow up album and sequel, ‘The Bride Said No,’ which makes up the second part of an intended trilogy. Other than this album, I’m not familiar with Nad’s work nor am I well versed in the overall story the albums tell, but I do know that he has put out a fine example of old school progressive rock done in a modern way.
The album starts with a short atmospheric instrumental “Bridesmaids” before the ear catching “The Quartermaster” takes off and grabs hold of the listener. It starts with a fat bass line before the vintage keyboards take over and for a brief moment the listener is sent back to the early 70s before the string section starts and the music takes on a more modern edge of heavier guitar riffs and the muscular drumming of Nick D’Virgilio and Doane Perry. Really, the very essence of the album can be found in this track. If this song works for the listener the chances are they’ll enjoy the rest of the album, as well, as everything is found here; Nad’s unique vocal style, vintage keys, and fittingly modern sounding guitar work and riffs, supplemented by the occasional string section with flute. The combination, as well as the overall style of composition throughout, is rooted in classic 70s prog, but with enough modern sensibilities to elevate it over most other artists working in this style.
The album is also a “Who’s Who” of the prog rock world. Exceptionally gifted guests abound. Along with the above mentioned Nick D’Virgilio we have prog legend Tony Levin on stick and bass, and guitarist Roine Stolt as well. But nowhere do his guests shine more than on the beautifully melancholic and quiet “What Have You Done.” This song features two guests in the form of guitarists Steve Hackett, and Guthrie Govan. Hackett is of course no stranger to fans of progressive music, and his solo work is outshined only by his work with Genesis for so many years. Govan is a modern prog and jazz virtuoso whose technical guitar work is legendary, perhaps best known for working with Steven Wilson; few guitarists are more respected. The two join together playing two distinct solos throughout the middle and end of the song, and for musicians best known for their technical fireworks, the solos are highly emotional and flowing. And while their chops are certainly evident there’s enough soul in them to make your little heart break with joy. The song is truly a highlight of the album.
The album continues with its story which, in all honesty, I can’t really tell what it is. Clearly it follows the main vampire and his search to woo a woman to be his bride. Anything deeper than that and I simply can’t supply it without a lyric sheet; and despite my great love for concept albums, for once I’m not especially concerned with the story. Whether that is due to the quality of writing or my general indifference to a story about a 17th century vampire remains to be seen. One thing for sure though is that knowing the back story and ongoing story is not necessary to enjoy the album as it stands on its own very nicely. Personally, I consider that to be a strength, and it is certainly enough to make me want to track down the first album at some point in the near future.
I’ve made much of the guest instrumentalists, but so far have said nothing of the vocalists that join Nad. There are three guest female vocalists who grace the album, mostly in the background, but Aussie transplant Tania Doko shares lead vocal duties on the album’s closer and title track. Fittingly, the climax of the album is also the longest of the album. Although it only weighs in at a little over 12 minutes, it has a fitting wide scope and Doko’s lower registering vocals complement Nad’s perfectly as the two characters argue over their eventual fate. Musically it is most notable for the aggressive and sharp string play of the main them. For being heavy in nature it lacks much of the rock based punch that much of the album had, and when the heavier rock instruments are brought back in towards the middle of the song it makes them more effective than if they had carried the entire thing. It’s really a very well balanced and paced piece of progressive rock and a fitting closer to the album.
Nad Sylvan’s ‘The Bride Said No’ will undoubtedly please any fan of the previous album, and will likely convert a few new fans as well. While not breaking any real new ground, it is head and shoulders above many other “retro” prog bands currently putting out music. Fans of classic 70s Genesis should be especially pleased with the overall sound and vocal style, as should classic prog fans in general. In short, it’s a solid and well made progressive rock album, and one worthy of repeated listens.