Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
A sparkling gem in the Progressive Rock firmament, The Blackheart Orchestra exceed the boundaries that the staid, clichéd views that some may have about the genre.
Truth be told, the multi-instrumental duo comprising Rick Pilkington and Chrissy Mostyn, paint taught yet cinematic soundscapes that soar into worlds of beauty rather than be bogged down by endless noodling.
Theirs is a craftfully constructed world that touches the heart as much as it does the senses, the effect that, whilst incredibly adept and complex, also touches your very soul.
Following two stints opening for Hawkwind on massive UK tours, including a shows at the London Palladium and the Royal Albert Hall, the pair started planning for this, their fifth release and sees them once more stretching themselves out.
Previous releases have seen the stunning and crystal clear, yet somewhat child-like in its purity, voice of Mostyn at the fore, interweaving with layer upon layer of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. ‘Mute’ removes her mesmerizing tones altogether and retools a carefully hand-picked selection of earlier tracks into a fifteen-track compendium that scales new heights and puts a twist on some fan favourites that will be sure to delight.
Starting with ‘All of Me’, its wistful and delicate patterns intersperse with moments of drama, combines drums, keyboards and strings to effect and hints at what is to come. ‘Any Shade of Blue’ shimmers and sparkles like a slowly passing river next to a summer meadow as multi-layered guitars prick the ether and the urgent rhythms of ‘Drown Me Out’ bring life to old bones.
Each track has its own narrative that, shorn of lyrics, invites you to paint your own pictures around the sonic framework. Eschewing the straightforward, The Blackheart Orchestra have always had a far-reaching ambition and, possibly more than ever, ‘Mute’ realises that by stripping away certain elements whilst adding new ones.
Certainly, ‘Rain On Me’ remains a beautiful and skyscraping piece and ‘This Romance’ is breezy, uplifting and inspiring, but the focus here can be solely on the music and what that brings to the party, letting it breathe more than ever.
‘Good Weather’ does exactly what is says on the tin and ‘In Another Lifetime’ and ‘Hypnotize’ are hugely atmospheric, both speaking of vast oceans and the power of the natural landscape. After the soothing interlude of ‘Back To Earth’, a new and extraordinary take on ‘Breathe’ swells with orchestral touches that lifts it into something reaching for the stars and ‘Falling’ closes the album with a slow burn to a dramatic and epic end.
Whilst her voice is a thing of rare character and beauty, both Mostyn and Pilkington show that there’s new depths to be found with this element removed from the equation. More than just a stop gap or an experiment, The Blackheart Orchestra have once more shown just why they went down so well with the notoriously partisan Hawkwind audiences.
Very much like Dave Brock’s pioneers, their multi-faceted and intelligent material isn’t necessarily something that the casual listener will truly ‘get’ but demands a little more time to absorb it all and, as such, is a much more rewarding experience that bears repeated plays.
Whilst there is a certain visceral feel that juxtaposes the utterly heavenly make-up of the tracks, the two work incredibly well together, just as the dual members of The Blackheart Orchestra combine their talents into a kaleidoscopic whole.
A treat for hearts and minds, ‘Mute’ is the next step in what is promising to be a wondrous and long journey for the duo. Don’t be surprised if they’re headlining The Royal Albert Hall themselves within the next few years.
Photography by Ed Fielding