Marillion - An Hour Before It's Dark (2022)
Apologies in advance for the long intro to this review, but I think it's important to clarify my position on Marillion so that my judgment on this newcomer is easier to understand.
I have known Marillion since the release of Script for a Jester's Tear in 1983. As can be read in my introduction on this site, this album ensured that from that moment on I knew which direction my music taste was going. I think all albums with Fish are great and after a little getting used to, I also started to appreciate the first albums with Steve Hogarth and I still think Seasons End is a very good album with only a few lesser songs. When Radiation came out I was very disappointed and the subsequent albums couldn't touch me either. After all the rave reviews Marbles brought me back a bit, but that album won't be in my top 10 either. Only after hearing Gaza, a great song, and the rest of Sounds that can't be made I am once again very pleased with the music of this top band. Personally, I also think that Fear is a very good album with ofcourse The new Kings, a great song.
There were already many wildly enthusiastic reports about An Hour before it's Dark via social media and the first two released songs, Be hard on yourself and Murder Machines, already gave rise to high expectations.
There has been a lot of talk about the release date of this album and many fans have had to wait a long time for the physical product but the download was there on March 4th. I myself waited for the CD before listening to An Hour before it's Dark in its entirety because I also think it is important how the sound quality of an album is. My first impression was that I thought it was a good album, but I didn't really understand all the superlatives (yet). When I listened more often I was more and more impressed and some pieces I now also dare to call the best the men have ever made. The Crow and the Nightingale, an ode to Leonard Cohen, is beautiful and Care is on the same level as Gaza and The new Kings but this album has a kind of flow that makes it even stronger as a whole. Hogarth's sharp and intelligent lyrics fit perfectly with the visual music and deal with socially relevant issues such as climate, care, gender and, in addition to concerns about these issues, also contain hope and love. The emotion is so clearly palpable and vocally Hogarth shows his best side and the strength lies mainly in the control. As always, Rothery knows how to impress with sophisticated playing and wonderful solos that sometimes remain just below the surface, but fortunately not always. This man can put so much feeling into his playing, just fantastic. The role of keyboardist Kelly has been shifting a bit in recent years and on An Hour before it's Dark he is also mainly the mood maker without standing out with endless solos. Very tasteful. And of course the rhythm tandem is back on track, with the occasionally almost swinging bass playing of Trewavas in line with the solid drumming of Mosley. An extra nice addition is the use of the Choir Noir, a choir that adds a beautiful layer to the vocals using modern techniques and forms an absolute added value. On a few songs the girls from In Praise of Folly are back again and this always adds something extra. This may well be the first Marillion album that has no weak tracks. As you can read, this album makes me very happy.
The cover may seem a bit simple at first, but it is very powerful and conveys the symbolism of the album's title in an extremely effective way. You can see a lot of different meanings and feel free to give it your own.
However, there are a few things that bother me that I would like to mention. There are actually seven songs (well , 6 plus the one minute Only a Kiss that serves as a kind of intro to Murder Machines) on An Hour before it's Dark and the longer songs are divided into several sections. No problem, but they have, again, decided to list all sections separately on the CD and so there are 18 tracks listed. Why? So that people can listen or download them separately on streaming services? I think this is nonsense. In my honest opinion the remix of Murder Machines should not have been an addition to Care. Fortunately this is not the case with the obtained download and you just get 7 songs. Simple and effective. (So I am happy with the download after all) As said I am always very interested in the audio quality of an album and therefore the mixing and mastering are very inportant. To be honest, I am not really impressed when it comes to this part of An Hour before it's Dark. The vocals could be more upfront in some parts and I miss some brightness and dynamics overall.
But this should not spoil the fun because An Hour before it's Dark is a very, very strong album that is certainly one of the best that Marillion has ever made. It touches me deeply!