“Unity”, what a suitable name for Midgar’s latest release. For Andy Wilson-Taylor, the sole member of this cinematic rock band, it sounds like absolutely everything has come together for him in 2021. Released in June, “Unity” is an ambitious and larger-than-life offering that is diverse, musically intelligent, and intensely catchy. Comprising 13 tracks, Wilson-Taylor has spent the majority of the lockdown creating and painstakingly crafting a curation of vibrant sonic experiences.
After going through this album, I realized two things: Wilson-Taylor doesn’t care too much about genre, and secondly, he cares a whole lot about each genre. He dives deep into each unique style and demonstrates his substantial understanding of it. This is what I felt was lacking on his previous two albums, 2010’s “Lead Your Children to the Sky” and 2013’s “Holographic Principle”. They were two very enjoyable albums, but I felt that Wilson-Taylor only dipped his toe into the styles that he explored, leaving me feeling as if more could be done in each. It seems that in the 8 years that have transpired since “Holographic Principle”, Wilson-Taylor has greatly matured and refined his eclectic approach to composition, and I’m glad to say that I am a huge fan of “Unity”.
Cinematic rock is the umbrella term we could use to describe only part of this album; styles from classical all the way up to progressive metal find their way onto this release. Compared to the last two albums, there is a higher consideration towards big symphonic performances and arena rock-like moments. Immense orchestral sequences happen throughout the album with strings, pianos, and more to create an expansive euphonic atmosphere. On the other side, that raw and abrasive heaviness that exists in his work is still there, and it’s as active as ever.
Wilson-Taylor’s strong grasp of musical knowledge is evident through “Unity”. His use of dynamics, varying textures and structural composition creates a powerful and broad range of tracks that still tie together into an overarching framework. Furthermore, he recorded every instrument on this album and produced the album entirely on his own in his home-built Sector Seven Studios, except for the bass which was carried out by Greg McPherson of InMe. Whether all of this talent is due to his studies at the Academy of Contemporary Music in the UK, or just an impressive affinity for multi-instrumentalism, I’m not yet sure. It could well be a mixture of both.
“Unity” starts with the aptly named “Prelude”, a gentle classical arrangement that brings about thoughts of Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”, as well as Keaton Henson’s “Romantic Works”. The transition to the second track “Ascension” is about as smooth as it gets, finally introducing us to Wilson-Taylor’s voice. ‘Voice’ isn’t a great way to describe what Wilson-Taylor has. Everyone has a voice, but very few people have what he possesses.
Some tracks follow a standard structure or beat, like the gorgeously simple, yet simply gorgeous “Isle of Glass”. A waltzing 3/4 beat carries the song from front to back, and a simple rock structure is all that is needed to create the elegance coming through to the listener. In other tracks, however, Wilson-Taylor flexes his temporal muscles drastically. “Erebus” is played in a technical time signature of 11/8, but the simple staccato hits from the strings in the introduction deceive you into preparing for a relatively straightforward track in a 4/4 time signature. It’s little additions like this brooding intro for “Erebus” that show Wilson-Taylor’s deep attention to detail.
Another big takeaway from this album is that Wilson-Taylor is more than happy sitting in some ambient instrumental moments, letting them run their course with no rush whatsoever, even if the sequence itself isn’t exceptional. In “Disciple”, a long ambient moment fills the second half of the track, with the melodic instruments all expressing their own personalities over a gypsy chord-like theme, almost having an Arabian feel to it. The drums equally throw careful but eloquent percussive ideas into the mix, and you’re left in a state of enchantment. Suddenly, after a brief whisper of the words “pray with me” from Wilson-Taylor, we’re slammed with a solid progressive metal-influenced breakdown. This kind of transition from soft and atmospheric to intensely heavy is the kind of thing Sleep Token fans know and love. A similar explosive moment from that band is in the track “Higher”.
The musical exploration in “Unity” could have me writing for a while, frankly. Going through each track is a great experience as they all have their own unique personalities for you to become acquainted with. The chorus in “Sunburn” is blissful and modest in its catchiness. It really focuses on the gentleness of the melodic theme, allowing the listener to let their guard down and essentially enjoy the little moment. The title track “Unity” has this coyness and innocence that one could recognize in the nostalgia of remembering a teenage love. It’s elated and butterfly-inducing as a result of conjuring up rose-tinted experiences from your youth. “We Don’t Make the Rules” has this heavy bridge section accompanied by staccato jabs from the stringed instruments, immediately recalling ideas like the iconic symphonic motifs from “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin or “Live and Let Die” by Wings. “Go Carefully”, the final track, could sit well as a closing act to a musical, a final serenade from the protagonist as the curtains close.
You can pick out elements of various artists through this release. I heard touches of Soundgarden, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley and others amongst multiple tracks. What I really liked is that it took me a few good moments before I could actually put my finger on certain sequences and their relative derivations. Midgar has influences to work from, but really makes the songs its own. It’s also nice to know that in all of this harmony, Wilson-Taylor is happy making some big areas of dissonance and chaos. The beginning of “Disciple” has some heavy dissonant punches, whilst “Nemesis” is just an all-out sonic war, a huge change from the more beautiful moments like in “We Found Darkness in the Sun”. This is all carried incredibly well by the drums, which put a great amount of color into potentially common rhythms. The second verse to “Paradise” is a good example of this, as the drums are scattered and seemingly disorganized but still covertly emphasizing the beat.
Now, let’s talk about those vocals. Wilson-Taylor has an outstanding control over his voice, and this places him up there in the elite rank of current rock vocalists. There are hints of many different relevant voices as he charms his way through the album. I noted hints of Brendon Urie (Panic! At the Disco) in parts of “We Don’t Make the Rules” and “Nemesis”, as well as Harry Styles in “Unity”. Even the small vocal additions stand out as little offerings of Wilson-Taylor’s voice to exist in unison with the band. Again in “Unity”, there is an instrumental section which allows the instruments to breathe and express themselves. The piano and strings frequently flow down from the top of a little melody, and he matches the notes ever so softly. It’s a nice touch, and an acknowledgement of sorts that the tracks don’t always have to revolve incessantly around the vocals.
The rough vocals are also well suited to this album. They could have been a miss, but Wilson-Taylor sounds like he knows exactly when it’s a good time to throw some screams in. “Nemesis” is the best track to listen to if you want a good exhibition of his rough vocals, and it’s a trustworthy indicator of what you should expect to hear in that regard across the album.
What’s also respectable about Wilson-Taylor’s endeavors in “Unity” is that unlike singers like Brendon Urie, he isn’t all too interested in over-the-top and extravagant displays of vocal fortitude. He’s more akin to something like a race car driving down a suburban street at the speed limit. Everyone can hear the motor rumbling, and everyone knows it could scream down the street if it wanted, but it’s more than happy to just coast along, with the occasional quick acceleration to show off a little bit. The best example I can give of Wilson-Taylor revving his engine is at the end of “Ascension”, where he sings “broken pieces fall to the ground, and no I don’t blame you”. It’s a strikingly competent display of swapping from strained singing, to a cleaner melody sung from the chest, then to a melismatic ending sung in the head voice.
“Unity” is an awesome release for so many reasons. It’s a huge weight off of Wilson-Taylor’s chest, as something like this doesn’t just create itself. Blood, sweat and tears are only some of the ingredients that are present in this endeavour. His high level of multi-instrumental musicianship is praiseworthy, as is his compositional ability. It shows us that genre doesn’t have to be the thing that holds an artist back, but encourages them to explore not only the big sonic universe out there, but also the musical aspirations within themselves. This album is a victory lap of that exploration, and Wilson-Taylor is deservedly basking in the glow of it. It was a long patience-testing 8 years for fans of Midgar, but it’s safe to say that we can rely on the old adage “great things come to those who wait”.
Released On: June 25th, 2021
Released By: Year of the Rat Records
Genre: Alternative Rock/Cinematic Rock
- Andy Wilson-Taylor / Vocals, Guitar, Drums, Production
- Greg McPherson (Guest) / Bass Guitar
- We Don’t Make the Rules
- Isle of Glass
- Ira Vehementi
- We Found the Darkness in the Sun
- Go, Carefully
When you write, produce, mix and master your own 13-track release, you’re not in for an easy job. Despite this, Andy Wilson-Taylor’s efforts on “Unity” have shot Midgar straight up into the realm of bands that are worth following for years to come. His employment of numerous distinct musical styles to revolve around a principle theme or melody is intelligently and emotionally executed. Midgar is on the right path, and I can’t wait to see where this path leads.