Making the most of his calendar’s dearth of live gigs, Steve Hackett has apparently stayed busy in the studio, releasing his second album of the year. By and large a complete shift from January’s classically-focused acoustic “Under the Mediterranean Sky”, this new “Surrender of Silence” is an explosive blowing away of “lockdown cobwebs”, as he puts it. With his electric guitar firmly in hand, our protagonist is ready to Hackett to bits once again with blistering solos, lush arrangements and diverse songwriting. Supported by his regular partners in crime as of late – Roger King, Jonas Reingold, Christine & Rob Townsend and many others – Hackett offers fresh attack, dark themes and occasionally somewhat too-familiar approaches. The result is a healthy handful of standout tracks alongside a few pieces that tread the same terrain as his recent solo albums, even as the quality remains engagingly high throughout. While it may be an inconsistent release stylistically, the guarantee that there’s something here for everyone also proves true, so this is one not to miss even if only part of the album proves itself to be a keeper, depending on one’s tastes.
Let’s start with the most exciting, edgy material. Two of these pieces share one consistent element: the drumming of guest Nick D’Virgilio. The wonderfully titled “Relaxation Music For Sharks (Featuring Feeding Frenzy)” is a quirky instrumental free-for-all, starting off with bubbly orchestration and quickly devolving into fretboard fury as the musicians take the chum bait. D’Virgilio particularly shines with the most impassioned drumming of the album. “Fox’s Tango” serves up a blistering commentary on the humanitarian injustices in the world, equally delivered by Hackett’s scorching guitar as by his lyrics, along with a sly title. Thanks partly to a more raw vocal production and delivery, the accompanying pre-released video had fans scurrying to ask, “Who is the lead singer?!” when indeed it’s Hackett all along, delivering one of his best lead vocal performances of recent memory. The guitar soloing and thundering Reingold bass are rightfully raging, supported by D’Virgilio’s backbone and King’s Hammond organ playing, giving that classic prog rock vibe. “The Devil’s Cathedral” hits all the right notes, too, this time with frequent lead-pipe-man Nad Sylvan making a very welcome appearance. Speaking of pipes, check out the church organ intro from King, accompanied by Townsend’s sax. A shadowy tale that could equally have been penned by Roine Stolt, this would have made an ideal lead-off single as it captures many of Hackett’s strength in one dramatic piece, from grand orchestration to classic guitar riffs and fretboard tapping to Craig Blundell’s excellent drumming.
A handful of quality songs are included which run a little closer to the approach of recent albums where Hackett sings lead under King’s production. Of these, “Held In the Shadows” is the most successful, it’s only real drawback being that it feels like we have heard Hackett’s vocal approach so many times before in recent memory, from the cadence of the verses to the layering of the harmony vocal including Amanda Lehmann. Still, by the time we reach the chorus and answering guitar lines, there’s little to argue about – it rocks. Blundell, Reingold and Hackett all sound supremely confident and rewarding. “Day of the Dead” starts off a bit corny including its descriptive lyrics which could have gone in much more adventurous directions but the second half of the song is good fun, from its almost Crimson-esque horn support from Townsend to a roaring guitar solo and boisterous finale. “Scorched Earth” carries an impassioned message of our times, as its title implies. Reingold wanders satisfyingly with his underlying bass, as the songwriting borders on an epic theme to convey the desperate state our planet is in.
Then we have the world-music infusion that Hackett has become so enamored with as of late, which here leads to mixed results. It’s not that “Wingbeats” is a bad song, it just feels completely out of place on this dark, rocking-of-an-album and gives a totally wrong impression of “Surrender of Silence” by being cast as the lead single. The wonderful McBroom sisters are done no favors by the shiny production, making their cameo hardly noticed. Hackett may do well to lean towards the earthy approach of Miriam Makeba in the future than an over-the-top arrangement as if from The Lion King. Much more interesting is “Shanghai To Samarkand”, a wonderful cross section of cultures which successfully incorporates guests Malik Mansurov on tar and Ubaidulloev Sodirkhon Saydulloevich on dutar, along with a surprise appearance from Phil Ehart on drums. Running over 8 minutes long, Hackett has space to stretch out on electric and classical runs amongst the orchestration and guest cameos. Going from one region and instrument to another, including a brief vocal section, the listener is left with the sense of having traveled swaths of the world, encountering the colorful sights along the way even if they have few photos (memorable compositions) to show for it.
The album is bookended by two short instrumental pieces, both heavily orchestrated, the former focusing on electric guitar and the latter on classical. Nice touches, both. Aside from the aforementioned “Wingbeats” and “Natalia”, which feels utterly misplaced at track number two and threatens to distract the album before it’s hardly begun, “Surrender of Silence” flows nicely and benefits from Hackett’s harder approach along with a few supporting diversions. Now in his 70s, he continues to impress with his dedication to diversity and command of the guitar. Even his vocals do remarkably well. Fans love him for resurrecting Genesis’ classic era in concert but with original solo material such as this, Hackett proves he is much more than a prog dinosaur. He’s a legend who keeps on giving.
Released by: Inside Out Music / Sony Music
Released on: September 10th, 2021
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Steve Hackett / Guitars, vocals
- Roger King / Keyboards, programming and orchestral arrangements
- Rob Townsend / Sax, clarinet
- Jonas Reingold / Bass
- Nad Sylvan / Vocals
- Craig Blundell / Drums
- Phil Ehart / Drums
- Nick D’Virgilio / Drums
- Amanda Lehmann / Vocals
- Durga McBroom / Vocals
- Lorelei McBroom / Vocals
- Christine Townsend / Violin, viola
- Malik Mansurov / Tar
- Sodirkhon Ubaidulloev / Dutar
“Surrender of Silence” Track-listing:
- The Obliterati (02:17)
- Natalia (06:17)
- Relaxation Music For Sharks (Featuring Feeding Frenzy) (04:36)
- Wingbeats (05:20)
- The Devil’s Cathedral (06:31)
- Held In The Shadows (06:20)
- Shanghai To Samarkand (08:27)
- Fox’s Tango (04:21)
- Day Of The Dead (06:25)
- Scorched Earth (06:03)
- Esperanza (01:04)
Rebounding off his classical release from earlier in the year, Steve Hackett returns with a vengeance, full of smoke and fire emanating from his guitar and songwriting. Overall, “Surrender of Silence” offers a solid collection of edgy Hackett pieces with a few global forays which provide added diversity. With five decades of memorable music making and no signs of slowing down, Hackett continues to be a true Prog treasure