Marillion – An Hour Before It’s Dark (Album Review)

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Few bands have morphed as successfully as Marillion. No one in their right mind would have guessed that a band that began life as Genesis-wannabe neo-proggers  would later release albums as dreamy as 2004’s “Marbles,” or the mindwarp we call “Brave” from a decade earlier, or that those then-undreamt forays into mental anguish and sonic chill zones would impact both the band band and their rabid audience in the manner that they have. Marillion did however drop off my radar in the mid-2000s (and single parenthood is a damn good excuse for that, so don’t @ me), and even though I found 2016’s “Fuck Everyone and Run” to be compelling, I also found it mostly unmemorable.

That’s not the case with “An Hour Before It’s Dark.” A decidedly moody-sounding record, Marillion’s twentieth – twentieth – record opens with longtime front-man Steve Hogarth urging his audience to “Be Hard On Yourself,” quite the turnaround from the “Don’t Hurt Yourself” of nearly two decades ago, but whatever. This refreshingly morose song would inspire all the tension and doubt Hogarth’s lyrics convey even if he were singing the lyrics of Mr. Trololol‘s signature tune, and the very fact that these guys are able to summon any emotions at all even if they were singing absolute gibberish speaks to what a vital machine Marillion is. I can think of no other sexagenarians who have any business sounding as young, hungry, and fervent as Marillion does on “An Hour Before It’s Dark.”

Speaking of fervor, Hogarth does us a solid by absolutely not singing absolute nonsense. Covering topics such as mortality and empathy has long been one of Marillion’s strong suits, and they come through in fine fucking form on cuts such as “The Crow and the Nightingale,” Care,” and the relatively upbeat “Murder Machines.” The two former cuts deserve special mention for the subtle genius the Choir Noir adds to the mood. They display no extravagance, nor is there a need for them to do so, and that very restraint indicates that Marillion and their collaborators have matured far more than they’ve aged. You don’t add a cup of salt when all you need is a dash.

As strong as many of these songs are, it’s perhaps “Care” that deserves Instant Classic status. Yet another apex in the nouveau-Marillion era, “Care” opens with a danceable electronic-inspired groove that echo the band’s early 2000’s flirtations…

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that this is being driven by a drummer who’s pushing fucking seventy.

“An Hour Before It’s Dark” Album Artwork

Anyhow, no sooner than Hogarth concludes his opening verses, keyboardist Mark Kelly surprises us with the sounds for which early albums like “Script For a Jester’s Tear” were an unabashed love letter, followed by a lengthy crescendo of which Marillion are possibly the kings of the game. It’s all topped off by a searing, singing solo that proves that as wistful as Steve Rothery’s textures can be, the man knows exactly when and how to let his guitar scream. He does it on “Care,” he does it on “The Crow and the Nightingale,” and he never does it superfluously. The Seasons never really did End.

The handful of other understated shout-outs to the band’s past cannot be ignored. “Sierra Leone,” which is arguably another Instant Classic, also does the Freaking Perfect Extended Crescendo thing, but not before tickling our universal erogenous zones with an interlude that recalls “Splintering Heart,” which is one of Marillion’s finest moments as far as I’m concerned.

In many ways, “An Hour Before It’s Dark” is a natural outcome of a band as active as Marillion being forced to lock away. Its overall mood is uncharacteristically elegiac even for a band who wrote an entire album about a young woman contemplating suicide, and its sole cheerful ditty repeatedly mentions the act of killing. The circumstances under which “An Hour Before It’s Dark” came to life make it damn near impossible for the band to refrain from mentioning the pandemic and the role of medical science, and they do so in manners to which many of their famously fanatical fans might object. My advice: just ignore it. “An Hour Before It’s Dark” is too damn good an album for you to not suspend disbelief while enjoying it, and moments like the ass-end of “Care” will leave you feeling like there’s a sunset just over that pitch-black horizon.

Released By: earMusic / EDEL
Released On: March 4th, 2022
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Steve Rothery / Guitar
  • Pete Trewavas  / Bass
  • Mark Kelly / Keyboards
  • Ian Mosley / Drums
  • Steve Hogarth  / Vocals

“An Hour Before It’s Dark” track-list:

  1. Be Hard on Yourself
  2. Reprogram the Genre
  3. Only a Kiss
  4. Murder Machines
  5. The Crow and the Nightingale
  6. Sierra Leone
  7. Care

8.5 Excellent

“An Hour Before It's Dark” flatly refutes the adage that old dogs can't learn new tricks. Bizarrely both bleak and buoyant, it reassures fans that not only does this bunch of scraggly old dudes still have some great music in them, but that they can do so without spinning the same damn wheel,  which many of their famously fanatical fans might object. My advice: just ignore it. This album is too damn good an album for you to not suspend disbelief while enjoying it, and moments like the ass-end of “Care” will leave you feeling like there's a sunset just over that pitch-black horizon.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8
  • Production 8
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6 Comments

  1. Fred Johnson on

    Fascinating that “Splintering Heart” would get a mention in a positive review of a band that I loved so much. That album ( Holidays in Eden ) causes so much dissention in circles because while most newer converts hate that era I believe that’s when the band true creativity shown through. Creativity can grow with production values and age and being accessible should not be considered a negative. If you’re not trying to put your product in front of as many people as possible then get a real job, make music on the weekends and quit complaining when you’re not living next to Bono and Beyoncé. Both versions of Marillion have, at times, featured dark sometimes upsetting lyrics but often coupled with upbeat music, usually within a song structure. Those times have mostly been forgotten, although this album returns a few songs to that form. Now the guys seem to offer musical atmospheres leading to flowing passages but disjointed listening. Everyone is still a phenomenal musician and if this is what they’re shooting for then they have achieved maximum success. It just leaves anyone without endless free time to listen to these “opuses” out in the cold. I want to enjoy this but I just don’t. Marbles was the last semi-enjoyable release for me. It’s hard to be critical of the music itself ( although I question the muddled production…c’mon guys, it’s Secret World, why do prog bands coming out of Peter Gabriel’s studio do this? ) because it is so strong. Steve H shoulders most of the blame since, even though his voice is not what it once was, he still sounds compelling, when he’s understandable. Going full woke didn’t help, as although I don’t own a MAGA hat, I also am not a blind liberal sheep. Even though I may disagree with H I applaud his integrity to stick his beliefs out for the world to see. The flip side of this scenario is you alienate people who may not want to sing along with ideas that aren’t your own. Fish offered deeply personal lyrics that most could relate to and it felt early on in Mark II that that’s what we were getting from Steve. Not anymore. Of course there’s always a intrinsic distrust of the Government and the Military in most “deep” lyrics and that’s been evident in the catalog from the start. It just feels to me like too much. I may like “Sierra Leone” and “Care” ( the two I did actually kind of enjoy on first listen ) but they haven’t made their way to my phone yet. Maybe the next time I drive across the country. I wouldn’t want this band to put out something they didn’t want to so kudos to them. Sorry, I’m out until the next release.

    • Peter Martin Nielsen on

      i can relate to all that your`e writing, except that i stopped being a “fan“ after “this strange engine“ I miss the, build up and the climax of their music, ,but for me, that`s just gone!

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