Some years ago I came across the debut album from Gandalf’s Fist, then lost touch with them again until I received an email one day stating that to celebrate the two year anniversary of their latest album they were providing a free download of the first act. A short flurry of emails between myself and Dean Marsh, and I soon had a copy of the three-CD set to listen to. I knew there was something very special going on here even before I listened to it, as there were guest appearances by Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon), Blaze Bayley (Ex-Iron Maiden), Matt Stevens (The Fierce and the Dead) and Dave Oberlé (Gryphon). The album also featured the voice acting talents of the likes of Mark Benton (Waterloo Road) and Zach Galligan (Gremlins) among others. Then on top of that there was the press release. If an album is self-released I am lucky to get a page of (sometimes) useful background information, at a maximum two. No, what I have here is a 16 page full colour guide to Cogtopolis, with diagrams, illustrations, a complete history of the formation of the city, how it all works plus so much more.

Yes boys and girls, what we have here is a full-blown concept album on steroids. In some ways it is mix between the concept albums of Clive Nolan and the science fiction stories with music of Hibernal. There is far more acting and drama than one would hear from the former, and far more songs and rockiness than one would get from the latter. In many ways this has moved far away from the concept album format, and into a full-blown film for the ears. I soon found that the only way to listen to the album was by giving it my full attention, as if I didn’t I soon lost track of whatever else I was trying to do anyway. The interplay between the progressive rock music and the dramatic storyline is seamless, with both providing dynamic interplay.

I kept “seeing” what was going on in my mind, and also wondering if they were ever going to publish a book to go with this, as I can easily imagine this story being greatly expanded. I am not going to give anything away about the storyline itself, apart from saying that it takes place under the earth’s surface, as due to man’s maltreatment of nature humanity were sent underground some two hundred years previously. From the very beginning, when the lamplighter comes across a traveller, I was hooked, desperately wanting to understand where the story was going to take me. That the music was heavily influenced by neo prog and contained wonderful vocals performances and great musicianship and melodies was the real icing on the cake. I was surprised just how often I was reminded of the mighty Legend, as they and Galahad have obviously been fairly important inspirations behind this mighty endeavour, as has Ayreon and IQ.

A triple CD concept album, of this depth and magnitude, is released very rarely indeed. I can honestly say that it is one of the most impressive pieces of work I have come across in the last five years, and is essential listening to anyone who loves good music.

by Kev Rowland