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. www.gandalfsfist.com
by Kev Rowland
Gandalf’s Fist | The Clockwork Fable | 2016 Reissue
Label : Independent Release
Release Year : 2016
Country : United Kingdom
Genre : Progressive Folk Rock/Progressive Metal/NWOBHM
Dean Marsh – Vocals,Guitars,Synths, Mandolin, Octave Mandola, Bass
(The Voice Of The People Of Cogtopolis)
Luke Severn – Lead And Backing Vocals
(The Voice Of The Nightkeepers)
Chris Ewen – Bass
Stefan Hepe – Drums, Percussion
Melissa Hollick – Female Vocals
(The Sung Words Of Eve)
Dying Seed – Backing Vocals
Guest Musicians/ Chorus & Orchestra
Dean Marsh – (The Voice of The People Of Cogtopolis)
Luke Severn – (The Voice Of The Nightkeepers)
Arjen Lucassen – (Sung Words Of Armistead)
Blaze Bailey– (Sung Words Of The Primarch)
Dave Oberle – (Sung Words Of Pastor Simon)
Melissa Hollick – (The Sung Words Of Eve)
Matt Stevens – Ambient Guitars
Dave Oberle – Bodhran/ Tan Tan
The Players – (Narrative Actors)
Mark Benton – Spoken Words Of The Lamplighter/Prison Guard/The Secretary
Zach Galligan – Spoken Words of The Steam Ranger
Tim Muro – Spoken Words of The Tinker
Alicia Marsh – Spoken Words Of Eve
Paul Barnhill – Spoken Words Of Pastor Simon
Bill Fellows – Spoken Words Of The Armistead & Nightkeeper Spy
Paul Kavanaugh – Spoken Words Of The Primarch & Nightkeeper Brethren 1
Chris Ewen – Spoken Words Of The Boy
Luke Severn – Spoken Words Of Second Secretary & The Brethren 2
YOU, The Listener – As “The Traveler”
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Growing up on a habitable part of ‘The Surface’ of the world, I kept on hearing of a mysterious subterranean world called ‘Cogtopolis.’ For some reason the city on ‘The Surface’ suffered a apocalyptic end and its inhabitants were forced to move underground and thus the city founded was ‘Cogtopolis’ . My curiosity got the best of me so I got my ticket to this mysterious yet enigmatic cavernous city. The world I had taken my holiday to was far better than any ‘Astonishing’ civilization I have ever been to in 2016.
This world is created by the much acclaimed progressive rock band called Gandalf’s Fist as they return in 2016 with The Clockwork Fable. Gandalf’s Fist have returned with a 3.5 hour melodic movie in the theater of YOU the listener. The Clockwork Fable has a all star cast much like they 2014 Forest of Fey did. This time with The Clockwork Fable, Gandalf’s Fist return with the undisputed ‘King Of Rock/Metal Opera’s Arjen Lucassen – Ayreon, Blaze Bayley – ex Iron Maiden, Matt Stevens – The Fierce And The Dead on the musical vocal side. On the narrative spoken word side the storyteller’s Gandalf’s Fist enlist the talents of actors such as Mark Benton – Dr Who, Zach Galligan – Gremlins and Bill Fellows – Downtown Abbey . This is some serious talent coming from a independent that totally self finances their projects.
Gandalf’s Fist The Clockwork Fable is a rock/metal opera, conceptual work and a progressive rock oriented musical all in one. As far as rock/metal opera’s The Clockwork Fable now joins the likes of The Who’s Tommy, Ayreon, Avantasia, Genius The Rock Opera and Leonardo The Absolute Man. As far as conceptual albums The Clockwork Fable joins on the progressive rock side Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick, Pink Floyd’s Darkside of The Moon & The Wall, Yes’ Tales Of Topographic Oceans, Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime 1&2 , Fates Warning’s A Pleasant Shade Of Grey, Dream Theater’s Metropolis 2: Scenes From A Memory and Spock’s Beard’s Snow and Pain Of Salvation’s BE in modern time. On the stage musical side The Clockwork Fable has potential to even be adapted into a musical like Hair, Cats, Rent or West Side Story.
The Clockwork Fable is broken into three separate Acts much like a stage musical or Broadway production. There is Act 1 The Day The Great Cog Failed, Act 2 Of Men And Worms and Act 3 From Burrows We Came. Every Act runs in a very congruent and fluid manner as the story is well crafted and produced. The narrative segue’s are spot on and keep the Traveler or you the listener completely engulfed in the story of the lives of Cogtopolis on The Clockwork Fable, thus commanding your full attention to listen carefully. Instead of doing a complete track by track analysis I will point out highlights off each of the 3 CD’s or Three Act’s.
Act 1 The Day The Great Cog Failed -(Tracks 1-10)
The Clockwork Fable opens up with The Traveler and The Lighter, a monologue of The Lamplighter offering The Traveler, the listener a grand tour through the great city of Cogtopolis. The Lamplighter proceeds to explain the inner workings of Cogtopolis which ironically are similar to the inner workings of a old clock that operates off cogs’ or wheels. It lays a steampunk kind of atmosphere to The Traveler. After The Lamplighter has given The Traveler basic instructions for the tour, Eve a young lady meets them with a neo progressive track titled Shadowborn.
Shadowborn is has heavy neo progressive/folk/progressive metal elements. The instrumental portion reminds me a lot of the NWOBHM meets today’s folk metal much like Finntroll without the grunts. Eve who is sung by Melissa Hollick basically introduces The Traveler or listener to the plight of those in Cogtopolis. Shadowborn has some killer hooks and melodies with a sprinkle of a powerful guitar solo.
The Lamplighter – (Parts 1- 8) begins with a very Pink Floydian ambient orchestral passage. The soft warmth of the vocals between male and female invite you in as part of the story or the day in the life of a resident of ‘Cogtopolis’. About the 4:00 mark the entire song takes a series of twists and turns through various folk and progressive passages. The Hammond keyboard gives it a darker depth of underworld persuasion while the folk influence remains constant. Layers upon layers of ambient atmospheres in harmony with the ambient vocals carry the listener off into this underworld universe. This also displays the urgency of what The Lamplighter’s mean to Cogtopolis. There is a killer guitar outro solo around the 13:00 mark.
In The Cavern Of The Great Cog is another in a series of segue narratives that keep the story very concurrent with continuity. The narratives serve as the backbone to The Clockwork Fable allowing The Traveler or listener to remain in the story as a character themselves. This leads to the next musical track The Great Cog.
The Great Cog opens up with a heavy bass/drum rhythm section perfectly complimenting the brief warm ambient vocals before the the vocal takes on a more Rob Halford sound. The synths remain in the vein of the old school Hammond organ keeping a darker edge to the conceptual sound. The vocals go in and out from very ambient style atmosphere to a more Rob Halford high end register. There are some great breaks where the vocal takes a half spoken word in harmony with the sung vocal.
The Shadow Rises is another in the series of narrative pieces. The band has done a great job with the continuity of narrative segue’s leaving The Traveler or the listener compelled to the story like a eyewitness character. Thus there is never a drop nor silence between the sung tracks and narrative tracks.
The Capture (Including A Song For A Fallen Nightkeeper) is definitely NWOBHM influenced with its galloping rhythm intro. The vocals have both a choral chant and a well articulate female vocal. This is the first time the instrumental section gives the listener a instrumental simulation of the steampunk inner workings to Cogtopolis. The main and lead vocals are sung through a ambient atmospheric filter.
Act 2 Of Men And Worms – (Tracks 11-20)
As rumor that ‘The Surface’ might be stabilizing and sunlight is returning so does speculation without facts. Some of the people of ‘Cogtopolis’ either become zealots or just out and out complacent. Gandalf’s Fist do a great job depicting vividly in both instrumental and lyrical of this complacency. Tracks such as Victims of Light, Ditchwater Daisies and The Lamplighter (Parts 9 – 13), all explain about some being imprisoned for questioning authority, people in Cogtopolis perhaps conspiring to go to ‘The Surface’ and the like lyrically.
On a instrumental side, Act 2 serves as a perfect melodic and rhythmic bridge towards Act 3 the final Act. A Solemn Toast for the Steam Ranger reborn is a 10 minute epic in a very Peter Gabriel fashion, particularly Solsbury Hill yet with light jazz elements and a female and male vocal. A Solemn Toast for the Steam Ranger reborn is a excellent ambient atmospheric piece with great guitar solo’s that get progressively heavier as the track moves forward. The solo’s are almost in a vein of Iron Maiden with folk elements. The music is not to heavy yet not too mellow. It is balanced just right. Their are many cohesive vocal harmonies that keep the story of The Clockwork Fable moving without boring The Traveler , you the listener.
Act 3 From Burrows We Came
Act 3 From Burrows We Came is the heavier Act both on the heavy prog side, heavy metal side and even the folky side. The Lamplighter (Parts 14-15) begin with a very heavy brooding style in both the instrumental atmosphere and rhythm section. The vocals are conducted perfectly in a brood heavy handed ambient atmosphere. The Climb explodes in a very old school NWOBHM fashion with galloping guitars and fast bass lines, yet with a modern neo progressive sensibility. About the 2:00 mark appears the choir. The band uses the choral or choir more as a ambient instrument than a vocal. The Climb reminds me a of the very heavy handed ambient vibe of Pink Floyd’s Welcome To Machine before taken another NWOBHM turn in the way of progression. Although the synths are more neo progressive about this point they still remain very heavy with the rhythm section. The Climb is the pivotal track that starts to wind up the story of The Clockwork Fable.
I think I will stop there with my analysis portion of the review. I will say this, without a doubt Gandalf’s Fist have innovated the blueprint in which progressive rock/metal conceptual albums are written, recorded and produced. The Clockwork Fable places the listener within the story as a living breathing character. The Clockwork Fable is one of those concepts that will be talked about for many generations to come. The Clockwork Fable gave me the impression I was on holiday or vacation to the very world Gandalf’s Fist created. They beautifully and perfectly painted a motion picture movie in the theater of my mind. My time in Cogtopolis was very interesting .This album will definitely show up in my Top 5 of 2016 and for all those reasons above gets a maximum of 5/5 .
Video Courtesy of (Gandalf’s Fist Official YouTube Channel)