RETURNED TO THE EARTH – Stalagmite Steeple (Album Review)

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June 14th is turning into a watershed day for ambient prog-rock album releases. Not only does Norway’s Airbag unveil their sixth album, but the UK’s Returned To The Earth follows closely with album number five. Both bands are rooted in melancholic, atmospheric art rock but up to this point Returned To The Earth have kept a lower profile. Their signing to G.E.P. Records last year is fortunately changing that situation and the new release “Stalagmite Steeple” promises to take the band to the next level. 

Robin Peachey is the principal architect of the band, his songwriting, vocals, and multi-instrumental performances provide the main driving force. Brother Steven Peachey contributes additional synths, as does drummer Paul Johnston. Peachey’s compositions carry the gravitas of a sonic meditation. Seemingly simple progressions build and repeat, entrancing the listener until a new chord progression is organically introduced at just the right moment. Sweeping synths smooth the chord transitions while the bass and Johnston’s drums subtly support the dynamics. An occasional guitar solo lends additional color to the arrangements, but above all Peachey’s vocals command the proceedings. Brandishing a vocal tone hauntingly similar to that of IQ’s Peter Nichols, it’s Peachey’s minor-key melodies that establish the strength of each piece, ultimately working an addictive groove into the listener’s mind. 

As becomes apparent, the two qualities that are hallmarks of the band are the simple but ingenious key changes throughout each song and Peachey’s vocal melodies. Opener “Dark Morality” is a fine example of these techniques, its intriguing arrangement finding a winning balance between measured repetition and unexpected progression. Peachey’s guitar solo halfway through rings true, followed by an unexpected new rhythmic section that phases out in the final minute. 

Written during the pandemic, all the songs on the album take their inspiration from the virus’ caustic impact on individuals and society as a whole. Fortunately, the music is so dreamy and flows so well that the listener doesn’t feel too weighed down by the subject matter. Take, for example, “The Final Time”: “The final time you closed your eyes and faded from my touch as I wait by your side, the pain it was too much for me…was too much for me.” Yet the melody is so beautiful – coupled with longing and sadness – that we can’t help but be enraptured by it all.

“Stalagmite Steeple” Album Artwork

The title track is Peachey’s personal favorite so far and it’s easy to see why. Taking its time with simple yet sensitive piano and vocals for the first couple of minutes, the grandeur of the guitar, bass, and drums entrance is perfectly arranged for maximum impact, followed by an exquisitely delivered guitar solo. The second half of the song follows a slightly unexpected chord progression – very cool and methodical but perhaps a little too drawn out as the song reaches the 10-minute mark. 

Steven Wilson’s impact is felt in the arrangements and production of several songs, including subsequent “Meaningless To Worth” and “Die For Me”. For those who love earlier Porcupine Tree, this is a welcome element at play. Finally, “The Raging Sea” brings in a bit of a shift, letting acoustic guitar come to the fore as opposed to the other keyboard-drenched pieces. This turns out to be a good move, closing out the album with a bit more of an uplifting vibe even as the refrain repeatedly calls out to “consume me”. Ultimately, the listener does indeed feel consumed by Peachey‘s songwriting and arrangements, in such a way that we might need to start the whole album over again. 

For music fans who enjoy the more brooding artistic approach of Marillion, Airbag, Blackfield, IQ, or the ambient side of Porcupine Tree and Riverside, this band is a must. Be sure to get their previous album “The Fall of the Watcher” as well. Beautifully produced, mixed, and mastered, “Stalagmite Steeple” goes down smoothly and easily but not without an emotional impact on the listener. Recommended. 

Released By: Giant Electic Pea
Release Date: June 14th, 2024
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Robin Peachey / Vocals, Guitar, Synths, Piano
  • Paul Johnston / Drums, Guitar, Synths
  • Steve Peachey / Synths

Stalagmite Steeple” Track List:

1. Dark Morality
2. The Final Time
3. Stalagmite Steeple
4. Meaningless To Worth
5. Die For Me
6. The Raging Sea

Order Stalagmite SteepleHERE

8.4 Great

Attention all fans of Marillion, Airbag, Porcupine Tree and Blackfield: Returned To The Earth is the one band you must discover this year. Beautifully arranged and performed, "Stalagmite Steeple" entrances the listener with clever simplicity in these keyboard-drenched pieces. Robin Peachey knows how to deliver atmospheric bliss through his measured songwriting and vocal delivery, don’t miss it

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 9.5
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