Review Summary: The spark that left Genesis.
Steve Hackett is one of the most influential guitarists in the history of progressive rock. His technique and innovative approach in the use of a guitar are praised by many classical guitar fans; his acoustic playing style and signature finger-tapping technique that he used quite frequently was later taken by quite a few famous guitarists, including Eddie Van Halen. One cannot feel anything but awe as this musician plays his soul out...
Hackett joined Genesis in 1971, after the departure of original guitarist Anthony Phillips. In the same sense that Chris Squire’s solo album Fish Out of Water
was called the lost Yes album, Voyage of the Acolyte
became the missing Genesis record. Surrounded by the presence of the band’s rhythm section, namely Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford, it bears many hallmarks of the classic Genesis sound, the major difference being the absence of Tony Banks’ dominant synths. While not providing the virtuosic creativity Banks gave to Genesis, John Acock delivers dreamy mellotron and warm synthesizer tones throughout the album. Hackett is also helped by his brother John, an accomplished flautist who would go on to appear on most of Steve’s solo albums.
The process of this hauntingly beautiful album started during Genesis’ hiatus following the departure of Peter Gabriel, prior to the release of A Trick of the Tail
. On Voyage of the Acolyte
, Hackett finally experienced the artistic freedom he was never allowed in Genesis. His fluid, melodic style of lead playing is featured well throughout; guitar has now literally moved to the front, and the keys mostly accompany the instrument, rather than the other way around. Acolyte
’s trademark is the alternation between the mellower pastoral passages (evoking Harmonium), the light-hearted, loud symphonic prog, and the electrically-charged tracks, sharing the soundscape with equal comfort and confidence.
The album is largely instrumental, with only three vocal tracks featuring three different vocalists; Hackett’s first attempt The Hermit
, then Phil Collins on Star of Sirius
, and Mike Oldfield’ sister Sally on Shadow of the Hierophant
. The titles of both the album and the songs indicate an unexpected New Age influence, as they are linked to tarot cards, and the music proves the perfect soundtrack for this theme.
The biting, powerful Ace of Wands
makes an abrupt entrance, its multiple segments reminding of Yes when not downright flirting with jazz-rock. Being more down-to-earth, the two Hands of the Priestess
parts are sublimely haunting, beautiful interludes, containing a delicate, ethereal and graceful mix of flute, acoustic guitar over mellotron, and a tender electric guitar. Sandwiched in between is A Tower Struck Down
, a tense song with a King Crimson-esque harshness, disrupting the peaceful atmosphere; a menacing instrumental with anger-filled riffs, accompanied by peculiar and distorted bass parts and clever, nervous use of synthesizers. The Tower is one of the most destructive and negative cards in the tarot deck, and it is hard to believe that anything could grow from it again. And yet Hackett’s interpretation drifts back to the loveliness of Hands II
, briefly before going into The Hermit
, reservedly sang by the guitarist. The track plunges into a Trespass
-like mood and carries the same subdued passion that Andrew Latimer (Camel) has, who has a lot in common with Hackett as a guitarist, composer, and singer.
Stars of Sirius
is clearly reminiscent of Genesis, and would not have sounded out of place on A Trick of the Tail
or Wind and Wuthering
. It builds up from a dreamy mood to a powerful chorus, sung wonderfully by Collins. Hackett shines with his signature flashing electric guitar leads, his playing both delicate and adventurous.
The short acoustic piece The Lovers
serves as an introduction, in line with Horizons
, and paves the way for the epic closer Shadow of the Hierophant
, the eleven-minute masterpiece of symphonic prog that features inventive chord progressions. The mellotron perfectly complements Hackett’s thick sustain guitar tone; he is the master when it comes to that eerie, mystical sound that he has been creating since Genesis. Hierophant
’s closing section features a progressing theme build, advancing from delicate xylophone to a bombastic, majestic conclusion with a full-blown orchestral sound; this accomplishment is perhaps closest instrumentally to what Genesis were doing at the time, something that Gabriel-led Genesis could have brewed.
Voyage of the Acolyte
is an album firmly stationed in the upper echelon of progressive rock. It is more likely to please progressive fans than anything that Genesis recorded after Hackett’s departure following 1976’s Wind and Wuthering
, precipitated by the refusal of the band to record more of his invaluable material, with especially Tony Banks growing more dominant creatively. Voyage
ultimately gave Hackett the impetus he needed to break off from Genesis and strike out on his own. It only became apparent just how much he brought to the table as a musician and composer for Genesis when he left. Even with Collins’ and Rutherford’s precious contributions, few could have expected a progressive rock gem of this magnitude as Hackett’s first work. It became the beginning of a prolific and fascinating solo career, spawning three decades during which Hackett has never grown tired of producing high-quality music with his own team of musicians, and remains incredible even after 35 years after its release.