1. Dominion (5:16)
2. Images (3:10)
3. One Day (2:20)
4. Harbinger (3:37)
5. Lost One (3:25)
6. Pain Map (7:25)
7. Persona (3:17)
8. Splendid Sisters (3:17)
9. Tilting at Windmills (6:11)
10. Accord (2:32)
11. Dichotomy (3:33)
12. Drama of Display (3:58)
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, ADG fretless bass, guitar, keyboards
Bill Bachman – drums
Joe Blair – guitar (10)
Gayle Ellett – mellotron, Fender Rhodes (8)
Bob Fisher – flute (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9)
Michael Harris – guitar (4)
Jeff Plant – fretless bass (12)
Tony Rohrbough – guitar (2, 4, 6, 9, 11)
Dave Streett – Warr guitar (8)
Shannon Wickline – piano (3)
The project named Spoke of Shadows was born in early 2013, when a mutual friend put Texas-based multi-instrumentalist Mark Cook (who had been writing some music of his own after completing the mixing of Herd of Instinct’s second album, Conjure) in touch with renowned session drummer Bill Bachman. After some virtual recording sessions, Mark and Bill met in person for the first time in Dallas – an essential step for taking their project to the next level. The duo’s self-titled debut album, recorded in various locations throughout the US, was finally released in February 2014 on Djam Karet’s label Firepool Records, like Herd of Instinct’s two albums.
As Spoke of Shadows features 12 relatively short, completely instrumental tracks, first-time listeners might be forgiven for expecting the third chapter of the Herd of Instinct saga, although with different personnel involved. However, Cook has stated on several occasions that the project has allowed him to branch out from his main band’s trademark Gothic-tinged, cinematic sound, and add new elements to his sonic palette – also thanks to the contribution of artists coming from a wide range of musical backgrounds. Obviously, the connection to Cook’s work with Herd of Instinct is clearly on display, but quite a few surprises await the listener throughout the 48 minutes of this sophisticated, highly eclectic album. While the obvious comparisons with King Crimson have been made, Spoke of Shadows does possess a strong individual imprint that sets it apart from so much overly derivative fare.
Unlike some musicians who seem to be in a hurry to take their distance from the “prog” tag, Cook and Bachman (who, among other things, share a love of Gabriel-era Genesis) embrace the definition, as highlighted by the prominent role given to the genre’s iconic instrument, the mellotron. Coupled with Cook’s masterful handling of the hauntingly versatile Warr guitar (an instrument that, in many ways, symbolizes modern prog, even if it has never become truly widespread), it builds lush yet deeply mesmerizing atmospheres that surge and shimmer, conveying a wide range of moods in a subtle yet clearly recognizable way.
The resemblance with Herd of Instinct emerges in the skillful blend of atmospherics and aggression of opener “Dominion”, with its polyphonic guitar chords offset by Bachman’s nuanced drumming. “Images”, however, heralds a keen change in approach – more straightforward in compositional terms, and therefore more reliant on contrasts of light and shade, Bob Fisher’s expressive flute adding an almost free-form touch towards the end. The short, jazzy mood piece of “One Day” – embellished by Charlie Daniels Band’s keyboardist Shannon Wickline’s lovely flowing piano – introduces the razor-sharp Crimsonian workout of “Harbinger”, where the haunting wail of the Warr guitar and the pastoral tone of flute and mellotron rub elbows with a “shredder” solo by Thought Chamber guitarist Michael Harris, as well as a funk-tinged one by Tony Rohrbough (formerly of West Virginia metal band Byzantine). “Lost One” brings back a gentle pastoral mood fleshed out by lush mellotron, while the 7-minute “Pain Map” (the album’s longest track) closes the album’s first half on a striking modern classical note – mellotron and evocative field recordings vying with riff-heavy passages and eerily echoing guitar.
Generally speaking, the album’s second half heads in a more low-key direction, with “Splendid Sisters” a particular highlight. Co-written and -performed by Dave Streett, another Warr guitar enthusiast and long-time collaborator of Cook’s, the wistful, elegiac track with its soothing guitar and flute, understated drumming, and solemn mellotron and electric piano (courtesy of Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett) is dedicated to talented Italian stickist Virginia Splendore, who passed away in 2011. The restrained, atmospheric “Persona” and “Accord” are conceived along similar lines, while the dramatic, cinematic sweep and doom-laden riffing of “Tilting at Windmills” hint again at Herd of Instinct, and “Dichotomy” starts out in deceptively subdued fashion before developing into another commanding, Crimson-hued number propelled by Bachman’s imperious drumming. “Drama of Display” wraps up the album by expertly mixing different styles, assertive riffs coexisting with ethnic-tinged drumming and a panoply of intriguing sound effects.
An album whose understated elegance belies its high level of technical accomplishment, Spoke of Shadows offers an ideal complement to Herd of Instinct’s two albums and Djam Karet’s latest release, Regenerator 3017. As usual, the visual aspect – with a dark grey background interrupted by a row of bright orange windows (courtesy of photographer Garth Hill) – has been carefully thought out, providing a fine foil to the music within. While the album should not be missed by devotees of the King Crimson school of instrumental progressive rock (which includes the work of Trey Gunn and Tony Levin), it also has the potential to appeal to a broader section of the prog audience (unless, of course, they object to all-instrumental music).