Formed in 1991, many progheads became fully aware of Ten Jinn with their second album, 1999’s ‘On A Darkling Plain’. Lead singer/keyboard player John Strauss moved to Sweden in 2001, and although Ten Jinn released their third album ‘Alone’, in 2003, that was also the year of their final live show at Draken Theater in Stockholm. John returned to the States in 2004, but then undertook a Master’s degree program for music theory/composition, and it took a long time for Ten Jinn to become operational again. But, in 2017, a mere 14 years on from their last album, Ten Jinn were back. Joining Strauss was drummer/bassist Mark Wickliffe, and guitarists Ken Skoglund and Mike Matier, so three of the quartet have been there since the debut while Skoglund was in the band for the previous album so this is very much a continuation as opposed to a brand new band trading under an old name.
‘Sisyphus’ is an eight-part programmatic work that tells the story of the founder and King of Corinth after whom it is named. Because of affronts to the gods, while alive, Sisyphus was condemned in death to spend eternity in Hades rolling a boulder to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back down each time he completed the task. It was originally conceived as a classical work (for string orchestra and piano), and was then reworked to include rock instrumentation and vocals so that it tied in with earlier albums. The band then started working on shorter songs to get it all up to album length, when the idea was mooted to undertake an instrumental mix which would be more indicative of the original concept. So the album contains just two songs, 26 minutes long each, with one being the instrumental version of the other.
Many bands have attempted, with lesser or greater success, to combine orchestra with rock music, but generally, these are approached from the rock side first, with orchestra then added to it. Here the reverse is true, as it was originally a classical piece with rock added. There is no doubt that of all rock bands, the one they have most in common with is The Enid, but there is less pomp, more piano. Also, the vocals are very strong indeed, and the result is something that is modern classical, progressive rock, singer-songwriter, symphonic metal, all these things and so much more. For all its complexity, it is also an incredibly accessible album, one that feels wonderfully light even when though there is a great deal happening within it. Strange to think that there were 14 years between this album and the previous one as the band are tight, focussed, moving through multiple styles and facets with ease.
Since this release, the band has produced the wonderful ‘Ziggy Blackstar’ album, which is a tribute to Bowie, and John tells me that he has almost completed writing “Worlds: the Four Worlds of the Hopi Cosmology” which is in four movements (worlds) total running time about 60 minutes. Whether they soon get back into the studio or hit the festival circuit, is a matter of current debate. Whatever happens, Ten Jinn is back and very much making up for lost time.
10/10 by Kev Rowland