Review Summary: A hidden 70s symphonic prog gem.
The 70s were filled with quality music and one genre that included some of the best bands that have walked the face of the earth was progressive rock. Giants such as Pink Floyd, Yes, Rush, Jethro Tull and Genesis have deservedly dominated the music industry, album sales and of course our playlists. Apart from these juggernauts, a variety of other groups created some very high quality music that survived through the decades and is still mentioned in discussions among music lovers. However, do you ever wonder what happened to those bands that even though had the ability and recorded great music didn’t manage to make it “big time” like their contemporaries? Was it weak management? Bad timing? Lack of focus? Inability to combine art with business?
One of those bands was Druid. Discredited at the time due to their high similarity to Yes, they managed to release two albums and called it quits in order to pursue other projects of theirs. Originally, they began as a “power trio” in the beginning of the 70s but shortly after decided to add a saxophone player and an organist. Those of you who are familiar with British television of the 90s might know a children’s show named “Rosie and Jim”. The presenter of the show for its last three years was Neil Brewer; founding member and bassist of Druid. A major reason as to why Druid were considered as Yes clones. A more important reason though, was guitar player and vocalist Dane Stevens who joined the band shortly after it was initially formed. Unaware if it was a conscious effort or not, his voice highly resembles that of Jon Anderson.
So, what does the album sound like? Is it that similar to Yes? Well, Toward the Sun
includes several of the elements that made Yes one of the most well-known progressive rock bands of all time without duplicating an exact Yes song or album though. One fundamental difference is that their music is less complex and virtuosic compared to Yes. However musically proficient Druid are, they don’t indulge in 20 minute epics. The band’s focus is on melodic arrangements, soulful guitar licks and a mellow atmosphere. Some excellent vocal harmonies can be found all over the album and more specifically in tracks such as “Remembering”, “Dawn of Evening” and the closer “Shangri-La”. The latter, clocking at around 10 minutes, is also one of the highlights with its various twists and turns making it one of the most exciting tracks of the album. The listener will also find some sweet mellotron sounds such as in the opening track with its energetic opening sequence. The singer apart from doing a good job with his falsetto singing, demonstrates his lower registers in the title track with its Chris Squire-like bass. The guitar playing is also more soulful rather than virtuosic and this shows on “Remembering”, on the jazz influenced “Theme” and on “Dawn of Evening”. Some of the licks and the guitar tone can bring to the listener’s mind even Carlos Santana. Continuing the discussion about emotional music, the melancholic “Red Carpet for An Autumn” serves as an excellent classic passage before the closing sequence of the album and slightly reminds us of the band Renaissance. Overall, Toward the Sun
sounds lush and relaxing, poetic and romantic. Additionally, even though one can listen to specific tracks, the album can be better experienced in one listen – as a single piece of music.
In a nutshell, Druid may lack originality and Dane Stavens’ voice might be an acquired taste but that doesn’t take away much from the album’s magic. Had it been released a few years earlier it could be considered a classic progressive rock album. Those of you who dig classic Yes and symphonic prog in general, do yourselves a favor and listen to Toward the Sun