Nine Skies –The Lightmaker (2023)

 

To be honest, so far the French band Nine Skies could not completely convince me and that despite their latest album 5.20 (2021) that received a lot of rave reviews. The melodies didn't really grab me and there was a lot of playing on the acoustic guitar. What could be clearly heard was the quality of the musicians and that is probably the paradox that made me feel confused. I thought, well done but not special, probably not quite my band.

Man how wrong I was! The Lightmaker is an absolutely fantastic album.

Unfortunately, the band had to bear the heavy loss of Eric Bouillette who played an important role as guitarist, violinist and composer within Nine Skies and died last year of cancer. The new album is dedicated to him and his playing can be heard on The Dreamer. The following band members remain:

- Alexandre Lamia / guitars, keyboards, piano, arrangements, recording, mix, mastering
- Anne-Claire Rallo / keyboards
- David Darnaud / guitars
- Alexis Bietti / bass
- Johnny Marter / drums & percussion

The Lightmaker is about Rudy who has lived many lives and is now living his thousand and first and last life. Looking back on all those lives, a number of characters recur in the tracks on this album. They have chosen different singers for all passing characters and therefore each song a different singer(s) and where that normally scares me off (allergic to musicals) it works fantastic here. Why? Because very good but also very different vocalists were chosen. The story could serve as a metaphor for all the qualities that a person has in him to a greater or lesser extent because honestly, in time we are all a Dreamer or an Explorer and we are all Lost at some point. And ultimately, mortality also makes us who we are and often determines the choices we make. The lyrics of Anne Claire Rallo are excellent and make the story easy to follow but also make you wanting to read them closely.

There are 8 tracks on the album and two of them are short instrumental pieces that do have a function. Given the nature of the album, I have to mention all of the guest musicians  because they are among the elite of  the genre.

It all starts with the intro An Fanai witch is a quiet piece with keyboard  background and acoustic guitar. The tracks The Explorer, The Dreamer and The Architect could be heard in advance of the album and they are all stunning tracks.

The Explorer is a swirling piece of  neoprog with playful keys and great guitars and the beautiful, emotional voice of Riccardo Romano. He will be the lead singer during the upcoming tour in France. Not an easy task.

Than my favourite track of the album (of the year maybe?), The Dreamer, a midtempo neoprog song with a very nice guitar solo by David Darnaud and an absolute stunning one by Alexandre Lamia who towards the end plays one of the most beautiful guitar solos ever in two minutes. So cool, really goosebumps. Singer Martin Wilson is challenged to deliver the vocal performance of his life and he does so with gusto. It couldn't be better.

With The Chaotic, things are changing. As the title suggests, it is a complex song with a somewhat unusual melody. Sung by Laura Piazzai and Arnaud Quevedo who complement each other but also challenge each other. Not the most easy song to follow but applicable. And then, a fantastic keyboard solo by none other than Adam Holzman follows. Wow how good this guy is. (We knew of course)

The Lost is the darkest song and certainly the most heavy with Kristoffer Gildenlöw on vocals and bass. The dramatic vocal lines and the low voice sink into the unusual sounding music. I am reminded of compatriots Nemo who also don’t always choose the easy way. A song that I have the most trouble getting into but fits very well into the flow of the album. I’ll come back to that.

After the short Interlude The Wanderer, Charlie Bramald is called upon to do the vocals in the amazing track The Haunted and he delivers my favourite vocals of the album. This track has great melodies, a stunning guitar solo, swirling and playful keyboards and Bramald shows his diversity and really brings the track alive. An eleven minute plus track that ends with haunting (really?) keys and more acoustic guitar.

How to close such an amazing album? Well that’s easy, with The Architect of course. Another eleven minute plus track with some intricate melodies and strange vocal lines by Achraf El Asraoui, their singer on previous albums. There is a risk in getting many great singers to guest and the vocal performance of Asraoui appeals to me the least but is still good. On drums we hear Marco Minnemann and this means power and intricate rhythms. And I can’t hide my excitement regarding the long guitar solo by, my favourite, guitarist John Mitchell. He gets to show his feeling for combining melody with technique and almost matches the solo in The Dreamer. As a bit of a guitar solo freak I am so happy with the solo’s on this album.

I would strongly advise you to listen to the album as a whole. The individual songs are great but the flow of the album makes it even better as a complete work of art. As said, the lyrics are really intelligent and still leave room for individual interpretation. Great job Anne Claire!

Well, then I have to come to a final verdict and give an appreciation. That is clearly a very high rating because the French have created something very beautiful with the help of many guest artists. It is adventurous here and there and that requires something from the listener because not all melodies are immediately obvious. If you let everything sink in, and I did, then I can't help but conclude that this is a top album and that it's going to be one of the best albums of the year. (going head-to-head with Redemption by Mystery) Absolutely stunning.

I can be brief about the artwork and the cover, it is beautiful and complements the music perfectly. Each track has a kind of tarot card as a fitting image and on the cover we see Rudy in a field of flowers, looking at a dark sky and a futuristic landscape. What does he see, what has he learned and what does he know after living all those lives?

I can only say one thing, people do yourself a big favour and go listen to this album.

 

Music : 92

Cover : 94