Artist: Lonely Robot
Album Title: The Big Dream
Label: InsideOut Music
Date Of Release: 28 April 2017
Those who know me and my style of writing will know that I never shy away from bringing personal experiences into my reviews, particularly if it helps to contextualise or explain my feelings towards an album. And this review is to be no different.
Not many people will know this about me but when I was very young, I struggled with the subject of death. I used to lie awake at night, snuggled up in my Garfield or Paddington Bear duvet and think. I’d think about dying and the fact that after I die, there will be nothing. Forever. Just as there was nothing for millions of years before I was born. For a small boy, these were deep thoughts and were thoughts that I struggled to get my head around. They would send me into a nauseous spin and it got to the stage that I even had some counselling about it.
It’s a part of my life that I’ve tried to put firmly behind me but occasionally my mind will wander and I’ll have a flash of panic, usually in the dead of night when I should be asleep. So when an aged and learned-sounding Englishman begins talking after 46 seconds of the opening track of ‘The Big Dream’ entitled ‘Prologue (Deep Sleep)’, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and my heart skips a beat.
“I have often puzzled and puzzled about what it must be like to go to sleep and never wake up. To be simply not there, forever and ever. After all, one has some inclination of this by the interval that separates going to sleep from waking. When we don’t have any dreams but go to sleep and then suddenly we’re there again and in the interim, there is nothing. And if there was never any end to that interval, if the waking up didn’t happen, that’s such a curious thought.”
It is like someone is voicing aloud my darkest fears. And the voice returns at points within the album, to make me think further and more deeply. Depending on my mood, the music on ‘The Big Dream’ is powerful enough to move me to tears. At others, I just allow myself to be enveloped in the rich tapestry of sounds, textures and moods that Lonely Robot seems able to effortlessly create, all wrapped up in a cosy progressive rock blanket.
‘The Big Dream’, which reintroduces the central astronaut character from the debut, certainly touches a raw nerve but it is also comforting to think that I am not alone in these thoughts. It makes the whole experience bittersweet to a certain extent. But ultimately, I am blown away by this album, regardless of the meaningful threads that clearly run through it.
I am a big fan of the Lonely Robot debut, ‘Please Come Home’. But if anything, I think ‘The Big Dream’ is even better. Much of this has to do with the aforementioned themes that run through this record, giving me that intensely personal attachment. But more than that, I just feel that the music itself is just that little bit stronger. It is definitely more consistent, simply because there isn’t a wasted moment, a weaker track or a let-up in the quality on offer. It takes its time to work its magic though, so if you feel uneasy or underwhelmed after a first spin, listen again. And then again, several times more. The payoff is well worth it.
In a departure from the debut, Lonely Robot is no longer Mitchell surrounded by a team of guest musicians. Instead, whilst the studio entity is very much just Mitchell with Craig Blundell (Frost*) on drums, there’s more of a ‘band’ feel this time around for the live arena. The bass is handled by Steve Vantsis (Fish) and the keys by Liam Holmes. If ever there was a case for using the word ‘underrated’ or even ‘unappreciated’, it’s here. Not only is John Mitchell involved with Arena, It Bites and Frost*, he has now crafted two excellent albums where he is driving creative force, in charge of just about everything. He needs to have a lot more coming his way in terms of praise and plaudits, because he thoroughly deserves it.
The music on ‘The Big Dream’ will be immediately recognisable as a John Mitchell product for anyone who follows his career. However, this feels a lot darker and more introspective than much of his other work. Undoubtedly prog rock at its heart, there is a much more dreamy and almost dark feel to this album, whilst the melodies feel more refined and take longer to make their mark. ‘The Big Dream’ is arguably less cinematic than its predecessor as well, but the synths remain an integral ingredient, bathing each and every composition with a sophisticated, multi-layered glow, without which the whole offering would be fatally undermined.
The precise and bold drumming of Blundell should not go unnoticed, as he acts as the perfect heartbeat for the album, whilst allowing himself a little in the way of flamboyance when the compositions allow or demand it. The very best thing about ‘The Big Dream’ however, is Mitchell’s guitar work. I know that I say this every time I review an album that features Mitchell, but it can’t be helped. The guy is a genius with the instrument, he really is. The way in which he makes the guitar sing is impeccable. But more than that, he is able to convey such emotion in his solos with a touch and feel that I find difficult to express in words. Just listen to the myriad of solos that litter ‘The Big Dream’ and tell me I’m wrong. But in particular, ‘Awakenings’ and the title track feature some of his best work to date.
It feels a little redundant to refer to individual songs such is the consistency and smooth flow that is evident here. However, ‘Sigma’ features one of Mitchell’s best ever vocal performances in my opinion, especially the urgency and power he displays in the rousing chorus. Then there’s the gorgeously bittersweet ‘In Floral Green’, featuring female vocals alongside Mitchell or the more instantly powerful and impactful ‘Everglow’. I also have to mention ‘False Lights’ because it contains what is currently my favourite chorus on the album as well as some excellent bass work in the quieter sections. And I love the reprise from ‘Please Come Home’ nestled within the poignant near-instrumental title track.
‘The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.’ These are the words that bring ‘Symbolic’ to a close and they are profound in the extreme. But, similar could be said for this record. Set aside the better part of an hour, settle down and allow yourself to get swept up in ‘The Big Dream’. Live it, experience it and fall in love with it.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day