Review Summary: The abyss giving way to hope
The last time we got a Marillion record, it displayed a band expressing sadness and despair at the state of their home country, as well as the world at large. 2016’s Fuck Everyone and Run (F E A R)
was a foreboding piece of music that spoke of the “every man for himself” mindset and how it’s become more prevalent as the years have gone by. According to singer Steve Hogarth in an interview with IM Music Magazine
"I have a feeling that we’re approaching some kind of sea-change in the world – an irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm. I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that my FEAR of what “seems” to be approaching is just that, and not FEAR of what “is” actually about to happen.”
Considering everything that’s happened socially and politically since 2016, I think it’s fair to say that Hogarth was pretty spot-on. However, given that Marillion’s latest effort An Hour Before It’s Dark
was recorded right in the middle of the “storm” Hogarth predicted, the final result exudes a surprising amount of confidence and hope compared to its predecessor.
On a stylistic level, An Hour Before It’s Dark
is your typical Hogarth-era Marillion album: dramatic neo-prog with a contemporary slant and touches of alt-rock. Opener “Be Hard On Yourself” acts as an assurance that the melancholy and world-weariness of F E A R
wouldn’t be completely absent from this project; guitarist Steve Rothery’s signature reverb-laden melodies give a haunting ambiance as Mark Kelly’s stark keyboard lines loom over the soundscape. Still, there’s a surprisingly upbeat nature about it all as well. The drums are often peppy, and Hogarth’s vocal performances are incredibly expressive and inspired, yet there aren’t any real tonal clashes. “Be Hard On Yourself” - and the album as a whole - is a delicate balancing act between despondence and hope, represented through both its lyrics and compositions. In this opening number, Hogarth is simply asking for people’s accountability in the messes they’ve created, citing how spoiled and selfish much of the population is.
It’s worth noting that the majority of the tracks on An Hour Before It’s Dark
are presented in a suite-like format, much like F E A R
. It’s a great way to construct these pieces, as each song is given several related movements to grow and develop over time. “Reprogram the Gene” is a wonderful example, as it allows the band the means to gradually move from a tense hard rocker to an optimistic anthem over the course of three separate pieces. But, as with Porcupine Tree’s The Incident
or Haken’s Virus
, you can still listen to each individual section as its own track rather than digesting the entire epic in one go. Needless to say, these suite-like tunes are the best displays of the band members’ skills as storytellers and musicians, with “Care” being the finest showing of this. This sprawling closer is the most sociopolitically-inclined track on the album, as it quite clearly details the trials and tribulations created by the COVID-19 pandemic. A compelling arc is formed, gradually switching from the perspective of the frightened, discouraged patients to the “angels” in hospital clothing caring over them. It’s a beautifully inspiring way to close out the album, and the instrumental passages carry it out incredibly well. Kelly’s keyboard work deserves a special mention, as his droning chords and colorful arrangements contribute to each tonal shift perfectly. Add to that some soaring guitar leads from Rothery, and you’ve got one of Marillion’s finest Hogarth-era pieces.
An Hour Before It’s Dark
doesn’t undo any of the darkness and anxiety of F E A R
, instead opting to expand upon it with cautious optimism. Truth be told, Marillion’s been in a perpetual state of instability - stylistically and quality-wise - since original vocalist Fish left the group. They’ve cycled through so many genres and influences trying to find an identity with Hogarth as their frontman; unfortunately, that’s just a testament to the large shadow that was cast by Fish when he departed. However, if the last few records are any indication, it seems as though we’re finally reaching a new creative renaissance for the group - one that returns to their more politically inclined work (Marillion do have punk roots, after all) while balancing melancholy and catharsis. An Hour Before It’s Dark
currently stands as the best post-2000s Marillion album, and it’ll be one hell of a difficult record for them to top.