Unruh, Steve - Out Of The Ashes

Year of Release: 2004
Label: Independent
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 52:09:00

Out Of The Ashes is the fifth solo album from prog rock artist Steve Unruh, an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist who has been creating albums independently since 1997. While still unmistakably Unruh, there's an edge to this album which makes it sharper than prior works. It was written in response to Unruh's personal anger at the violence inherent in today's society. Somewhat controversial, it carries war as its theme. While his lyrics have often been somewhat cynical, it has been an introspective cynicism, directed at the self. On this album the bitterness is directed outward, at a violent society which seems to trap all people - willing or not - in its struggles both large and small.

It starts with similar sound and feel to prior works, but the anger and bitterness of its theme is soon manifest in the music. Discordant, biting elements make the picture more harsh; production-wise, the sound is not as crisp as I've heard from him and lacks the clarity of prior work. In some ways this is not a bad thing, as the slightly raw edge brings an extra sense of urgency to the music. Some things have not changed; Unruh's characteristic cleverness of lyric and composition is definitely still here. His use of differing instrumentation and recurring themes is masterly, and he uses this talent to create a true musical story which weaves throughout the album.

The title piece is a four-part suite of forty minutes. It begins with "Miracle Mile," and an air of disbelief that one's personal, peaceful world - our Eden - can be shattered at any moment by forces we cannot control and may not even agree with. We hear anger at the attitudes which allow this to happen over and over again. Then follows "Battle," perhaps the largest surprise on the album. It's a program instrumental which offers a telling on the story of war, using different instruments to represent struggling combatants and the underlying currents of war itself. Quite heavy and almost psychedelic in places, this is very different to what we're used to; its blend of roiling discordancy and oddly-juxtaposed instruments is highly immersive and I love it. The second part of this track is the "Aftermath," adding vocals, which expresses a deathly weariness as the hypothetical world struggles to emerge from its own ruins. The final chapter of the suite is "Breaking Free," as the disillusionment gives way to determination to survive, to have hope that it's possible to stay sane despite all that's happened. It's not a happy ending. Rather it's a realisation that life must go on, even if its illusions of safety, fairness and continuity have been stripped away.

The final two tracks are lighter. The jazzy "Slowly As The Lights Go Down" is gentler, both musically and conceptually - a nice contrast to the intensity of the "Ashes" suite. Finishing the album is an unnamed instrumental solo on violin and drums, recorded during a live gig with his band Psynapsis, which features some clever use of a loopstation and allows us to hear Unruh accompanying himself on different instruments.

Steve Unruh is an exceptional musician in contemporary prog rock, one of the most clever composers I've discovered, and even more extraordinary because all of his work is independent. This disc is definitely to be investigated by fans of the genre.

Similar to: Neal Morse

[This review originally appeared May 2004 at the ProgPower Online review site -ed.]
Out of the Ashes: I. Miracle Mile - II. Battle/Aftermath - III. Breaking Free / Slowly As The Lights Go Down / Violin/Drumkit solo

Steve Unruh - vocals, acoustic, electric, classical, and electric classical guitars, electric bass (5-string), acoustic drumkit & misc. percussion, acoustic & electric violin, flute, and a little electronic percussion & synth

Sign Of Saturn - Sign Of Saturn (1996)
Believe? (1997)
The Beginning Of A New Day (1998)
Egeria Jazz Trio - Egeria Jazz Trio (2000)
The Dayfly - Album (2000)
DT & BW Records Sampler (2001)
Two Little Awakenings (2001)
Invisible Symphony (2002)
Out Of The Ashes (2004)
Instrumental Retrospective (2004)
Song To The Sky (2005)
The Great Divide (2007)
Songs From The Flowered Chair (2008)
Challenging Gravity (2010)

Genre: Progressive Folk

Origin US

Added: December 18th 2004
Reviewer: Karyn Hamilton
Artist website: www.steveunruh.com
Hits: 842
Language: english


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