Review Summary: A dense, moody and atmospheric prog rock epic, highly recommended to fans of Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and similar bands.
When thinking of progressive rock, the images that come to mind are of the original bands such as King Crimson
and Van Der Graaf Generator
and the more modern 90’s and 2000’s prog rock and metal like Dream Theater
, Porcupine Tree
. Forming in 1979, Marillion managed to gain moderate success in the 80’s when prog rock was hated by much of the general public with their upbeat quirky early Genesis
-inspired sound and lively singing of vocalist Derek Dick (better known as Fish). After the 4th album in 1987 though, tensions between Fish and the rest of the band members caused him to leave the band.
The story was not over for Marillion though, as they brought in a new singer, Steve Hogarth (aka H.). While the first album with H. was very successful, Marillion could never achieve the success they previously had, releasing a poor attempt at a pop rock album, Holidays In Eden
in 1991, Brave
was released in 1994 as a return to Marillion’s progressive rock origins. Unfortunately, despite critical success, Brave
was largely ignored by the public.
is a concept album, based on a news story H. heard on the radio about a girl taken into police custody after being found wondering across the Severn Bridge between England and Wales. The girl did not know who she was or where she came from, leading H. to write the lyrics as a fictional story of how she got there. While prog rock albums are often criticised for being emotionless, Brave
stands completely against this stereotype, it’s sad lyrics and beautiful melancholic melodies creating a strong atmosphere that can easily drag you into the story.
The album is played mainly at quite a slow to mid pace with a lot of the focus placed on the bass and atmospheric keyboard sounds and a densely layered sound, creating a deep and haunting mood. To add to this, many sounds were recorded in a cave to use as background ambience (a technique later used by Radiohead in OK Computer
Despite this complex symphonic approach, Brave
is surprisingly accessible, though it still may take a few listens to fully appreciate. Producer Dave Meegen spent months going through every new tape made every day by the band, making sure that every riff and melody included would be perfect for the album. Because of this perfectionist approach, the subtle and sometimes quite sparse melodies on the album still all manage to be memorable and powerful. Most of the melodies are played on piano or guitar.
The biggest problem with Brave
is that it follows this formula with little variation, and at it’s very long running length of an hour and 11 minutes, it does end up just dragging on, especially if you’re not paying attention to it fully. There are some highlights where it breaks the formula though, such as the more electric guitar-led and faster paced tracks such as ‘Hard As Love’ and ‘Paper Lies’ which add much needed bursts of energy into the music to keep it interesting, and to stop it from becoming totally depressing, which it comes close to at times. Unfortunately there are not quite enough of these moments, and the album definitely can become dull by the end.
While not as complex or cryptic as Fish’s, H’s lyrics, focusing on themes such as child abuse, drugs and depression, are still extremely well written and work better for this style of album, making the story more gripping, easier to follow and more emotional. H’s singing is also full of emotion, always singing in a bleak tone as if he knew the girl wondering alone on the bridge personally. The singing is always excellent, easily coping with many different styles from calm, mellow but never at all weak singing throughout much of the album to near shouts at the more hectic parts.
is an excellent prog rock album and one of Marillion’s best, and it is a shame that it has been almost totally ignored in favour of early Marillion and more modern prog bands. With it’s dense, emotional and atmospheric sound I highly recommend Brave
to fans of Pink Floyd
, Porcupine Tree
and similar bands.