When I first heard Pendragon, they had just released Kowtow. A good album, but not all that exciting to me at the time. Years later, they made (and I heard) The Masquerade Overture, and I was more interested. In 2007, I saw them at Symforce, a festival in Tilburg in The Netherlands, and I enjoyed their show quite a bit - not in the least because the band breathed energy on stage. However, I didn't really follow them, and apparently they changed their style a bit - or rather, band leader Nick Barrett changed his style quite a bit. On 2014's Men Who Climb Mountains, the openness and energy of earlier albums has been replaced by a darker form of music that is still interesting, but very different from what I've heard in the past. Yet, I like it.
The opening track Belle Ame is a shorted electric guitar and vocal piece, with a dark touch to it. It becomes a bit more melodic near the end and functions as an intro to the follow up Beautiful Soul. At the start of that track, the tempo is increased and the other instruments join the guitar into a song that wonders about the future of a beautiful should ('Who's going to save you?'). The keyboards of Clive Nolan seem to play their own, fitting tune in the background, and the multi-layered chorus adds to the atmosphere.
On Come Home Jack, the intro is again a picked electric guitar, and the vocals are full of melancholy and emotion. This melancholic feeling flows into a guitar solo half way, with a prominent bass and drum joining in. From there, things speed up, until at 2/3 of the song we slow down again and go back to only the picked electric guitar. The keyboards join in at the end, to close up the final verse.
On In Bardo, the mood changes to a more postive, less dark feel. The track is more rocky and contains a keyboard and (Gilmouresque) guitar solo, both played by Nick Barrett himself. Actually, a lot of keyboard work on this album is played by him, with keyboard wizard Clive Nolan only filling in the remaining parts (and happily so, according to the band blog).
Faces of Light start quietly with only a piano, and gradually builds up to a full rock track. The multi-layered chorus (a Pendragon treat) works really well, but the song as a whole doesn't really stick with me. It's counterpart Faces of Darkness does, building up from keyboard and piano to a more metallic sound, with a bit of jazz metal influence in it and a few fitting guitar solos.
What is unclear is whether these Faces of Darkness are the faces of zombies, but they do appear in For When the Zombies Come. The keyboards start and are joined by a guitar lead that reminds me briefly of the 'surf'-sound, but with a less happy feeling attached. The music goes into a slighly psychedelic mode, with slow, melodic vocals. It breathes admiration for David Gilmour, one of Barret's favourite guitarists apparently. Again a track that sticks with me.
It is followed by Explorers of the Infinite which features acoustic guitar, keyboard and again a layered chorus. On this one, Barrett sings at what seems the edge of his reach, but without going out of key. The bass, a picked electric guitar and drums work really well here. The acoustic guitar comes back at the end to close things off, before we go to Netherworld. That is a slightly bombastic, almost symphonic track, with yet again a keyboard solo by Nick Barrett. Looking at the fact that the man wrote all songs, and played all important guitar and keyboard parts, this may be considered a Nick Barrett solo album - but as he says himself on his web site, it's more convenient to use the Pendragon name. After all, he co-founded that band in 1978 and stayed with it until today.
This, as I wrote in the beginning, is not what fans of The Masquerade Overture or other older works of Pendragon may expect. The differences that are present between those albums and this one apparently started appearing on 2008's Pure and 2011's Passion, which I haven't heard so far. Still, I find this a album worthy of listening and definitely a good item in the Pendragon catalog.