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Album: Marillion – An Hour Before It's Dark | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Marillion – An Hour Before It's Dark

Album: Marillion – An Hour Before It's Dark

The neo-prog rockers come up short on tunefulness

Warm wet circle: alas Marillion's prismatic sound sheds little light

Though Marillion have experimented with modern rock textures, and have also cut an acoustic album (2009’s Less Is More), the group is defined by its ardent, layered neo-prog sound – given a Romantic bark and fervor by Fish when he was the singer (1981-88), and a classical drama by his replacement Steve Hogarth (since 1989). On their twentieth studio album, An Hour Before It's Dark, at least, it’s a sound in search of a form.

The record addresses subjects like climate change, the pandemic and materialism with lyrics by Hogarth that are often oblique and too frequently unctuous. He urges us to forsake luxury to save the planet. He sings that angels aren’t found on church walls but in hospital wards. He sings about the multivalence of embraces, which can kill, betray, heal. The words are well-meaning; they’re not rock ‘n’ roll. 

Yet there’s one superb parable. “Sierra Leone” asks what if the miner (a 16-year-old orphan) who unearthed the third largest diamond found in the West African country had regarded it as a non-marketable gift from God (rather than raise financial expectations for his community and himself that would become hard to fulfil)? Who has the moral and spiritual fibre to hide such a gift?

The claim in a press release that An Hour Before It's Dark is one of the most upbeat albums of Marillion’s career doesn’t preserve it from turgidness. Fuck Everybody and Run (F E A R) (2016), their last album of new material, was melancholy, and at times bleak, but it was comparatively dynamic in its songcraft.

This album's six main songs (another is merely a fragment) are not exactly tuneless, but the melodies are buried so deep in Marillion's intricate clamour they’re all but indiscernible. Much post-rock is catchier. Disconcertingly, the longer numbers seem haphazardly structured, to the extent that they’re disjointed rather than the product of inspired jamming.

Part of the problem is Hogarth’s strident rendering of his often arrythmic lyrics. His voice is a powerful instrument – comparable in its huskiness to Peter Gabriel’s and the late David Longdon’s – but it occasionally runs across or ignores the music, or vice versa, as if they are competing for attention. That wasn’t the case on, say, Brave (1994), probably the best Hogarth-era Marillion album. Only when guitarist Steve Rothery’s shimmering solos pierce An Hour Before It's Dark’s sonic fog – notably on “The Crow and the Nightingale,” “Sierra Leone,” and “Care” – do the songs ignite.

Those are the final three tracks, a mini-epic and two epics, and they rescue the album. Each should also be a live powerhouse, along with the anthemic opener “Be Hard On Yourself”, since they’ll undoubtedly acquire the same resonance in performance that Marillion diehards will hear through their Airpods after a listen or two. But then Marillion diehards – and maybe the odd convert – will make up their audiences anyway when they tour this music.

The melodies are buried so deep in Marillion's intricate clamour they’re all but indiscernible


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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It's a shame you couldn't actually get the album title correct. Shows a remarkable lack of attention to detail, a bit like the rest of the review.

I corrected the title. You were right to upbraid me for that. I understand how galling it is when someone criticises a band one likes, but I gave an honest opinion.

Maybe if you got the name of the album correct, you may have more legitimacy. Although I do find the complaints about Hogarths lyrics being a bit out there for a rock band funny given the pretentious vocabulary used in complaining about it.

I corrected the title - I've got no excuse for getting it wrong. I don't find Hogarth's lyrics "out there" - on the contrary. But I do agree with his sentiments.

I am a die hard fan. On first pass. I have to agree with much of this review. A lot of it is absolutely tuneless. I remember listening to Lennon say that if they couldn’t remember a tune the next morning it was probably rubbish anyway. I cant remember these songs the minute Ive heard them. They have no catch and much of it sounds like warbling, wandering across the producer’s notion of engineering a song by bolting bits on to each other. However. the soundscapes all sound pleasant. Ive not heard a decent Rothery solo since Sounds That Cant be Made and that was 15 years ago. I still havent. It would be ideal to dump this producer who insists on bolting jams together leaving Hogarth to somehow tie it together with lyrics. It sounds great. The end of the album is special. And there are two extraordinary lines - “I killed her with love”, and the one everyone is talking about, “ The angels in this world are not in the walls of churches.” Those lines and the entire soundscape make the album worth listening to but it won’t catch anyone’s attention. I know. I’ve tried to get newbies to listen. The wife’s first response was…sorry, but that’s tuneless. I long to hear them write some tunes like they used to . In the meantime I shall listen and relisten until I love it because that’s what we Marillion fans do

As a huge Marillion fan I wanted to like this album, but found the music boring after a half dozen listens. Your write up is very aligned with my observations; the album lacks tunefulness and the music is an ongoing mash with little dynamicism. The music on each track is similar to that of all the others — almost could be swapped with little effect. By comparison, look at the musicality of “the gold” on the prior album, the intricacy of the introduction to “invisible man” from Marbles…. List of sounds like a run-on of background music without a discernible tune/melody. The new album has a couple catchy choruses but that doesn’t carry the work.

I have now had a chance to listen to the new album a few times now, and must say that from the glowing pre release reviews, I was expecting a masterpiece. AHBID is not that, but it is infinitely better than FEAR and Power (apart from Gaza) while your opinion is just that, an opinion, it is disingenuous and somewhat cynical. The album is good, and certainly not tuneless.

Totally agree with previous posts, Massive fan from mid eighties and for possibly the first time I’m struggling with this collection of songs. It’s ok, but I don’t listen to ok, the needless repetitive lyric of H aren’t helping tbh. I love them and will continue to support them because I know they produce magic, but for this release I’m struggling for anything that goes beneath the surface that I can ‘feel’

You have summed up the essence of the problem very neatly. My overriding reaction on hearing it was "This took six years?!" It''s incredibly derivative...the first 6 minutes of the much-lauded is just a bass and drums funk jam, the sort of thing I'd expect as a warm up before a rehearsal. Elsewhere, how many times have we heard that piano arpeggio figure that opens 'Be Hard on Yourself'? (an idea that is then stretched throughout the whole song). Then there's H'ogarth's worrying loss of an ear for a much of that whispered mumbling covering where a tune should be. Or those 20 second shards of songs that begin and end in a matter of seconds without embarrassment, slamming shut or with a synth wash to join the dots. Died-in-the-wool fans convince themselves that's just how they write now but it really is a lack of songwriting craft. I don't know whether the producer, whom they now call the sixth member, can't spot just a few good ideas and develop them into full songs, or wthether the band genuinely prefer this sound. Sad to say but to these ears it sounds like Marillion are out of ideas.

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