Yoke Shire - Masque Of Shadows

Year of Release: 1999
Label: self-released/Zygo Records
Catalog Number: 30002-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 40:20:00

The imagery evoked by the music and lyrics left me with a thought, that of Beltane, oft mentioned druidic festival held in early May (often referenced in Arthurian literature, but certainly elsewhere as well). With that thought, I did a little digging into my resources, in this case Bulfinch's Mythology. Given the jack o' lantern imagery on the album's booklet and back cover, I didn't think that Beltane was the festival referenced here in Yoke Shire's Masque Of Shadows. This leaves us with the October festival Samh'in, held on Hallowseve (actually November 1). So, it seems appropriate to preface this review, briefly, with some contextual background, as this is a concept album.

Samh'in was, as I said, a druidic festival and the term means "fire of peace." At this time, the Druids would not only "discharge the judicial functions of their order," but it was also a time when "the kindling of the sacred fire, from which all the fires in the district, which had been scrupulously extinguished, might be relighted."

Beltane, or the fire of god, is when a "large fire was kindled on some elevated spot, in honor of the sun, whose returning beneficence they thus welcomed after the gloom and desolation of winter." This latter festival provides the majority of the lyrical/musical imagery, rather than Samh'in (of course, lesser festivals can be referenced, too). But, I don't want be misleading - the songs aren't about this festival and the goings on, but it does form a backdrop the music.

At any rate, with this medieval context in the back of your mind, you can imagine, to some extent the music contained within. While Yoke Shire aren't as acoustic based as Tempest say, or mid-period Red Jasper, there is a decidedly folk feel to the arrangements. I'll admit that I didn't hear this before in listening to the two track sampler, but here, in the fuller scope of the album, it is apparant.

Having already reviewed "A Foreshadowing" earlier this year, I thought I knew what to expect - an album full of thick, heavy rhythms like that disk's "Maiden Voyage" and "Shape Of A Dancer." But, those only show one facet of Yoke Shire, as only four of Masque Of Shadows' ten tracks contain vocals - the two on the sampler, "Black Tower" and the title track.

Instead, this is some of the most interesting, complex prog rock I've heard in a while. It is quiet varied showing the influence of Jethro Tull and Iron Butterfly, I think, if only in the way it's thickly chorded. Yet, "Black Tower" closes out sounding a bit like Santana - there being a slight latin feel to the guitars ... maybe it's just that guitar tone is similar to Carlos Santana's. Rolling percussion closes out "Shape Of A Dancer" like thunderclaps ... no, the echo of thunder on wood ... in the dark, as sound carries (ah, this must be the glockenspiel).

The Tull influence is probably most obvious in the fact that Herlihy plays flute, but it is more because of the medieval folk element to the music.

Craig Herlihy's vocals are unique, at least to progressive rock - I can't make an immediate comparison - he doesn't sound like Anderson, Sorbye, or Dowd in any way. His voice is rich, deep at times, and he's on key, thank goodness (at least more often than not). A full bodied voice is the best way to describe it.

This is heavy rock, not metal heavy, but ... dark, lower register heavy. If you could weigh the sound it would tip the scales. And yet, it also has a very earth quality, gritty.

I find I like the instrumental tracks and the instrumental parts of the vocal tracks more than I do the vocal sections, but as I listen to this over an over, and become more acustomed to Herlihy vocal style, the degree to which that is true is less and less. Meaning, that I am coming to like the vocal tracks as much as the instrumental.

There is some really great playing here, from all the members involved. Craig Herlihy is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitars, keys, and bass of the traditional rock instruments, but also dulcimer, marimba, and something called a melodihorn, which is a new one to me. Brad Dillon provides the solid and textured drumming - some very impressive work, as mentioned above. Brian Herlihy handles the guitar duties as well. I don't who is playing which part ... I'm guessing most of the lead lines are Brian, and he is a tremendous player.

Based on my initial impressions of the sampler, I honestly didn't expect to like this as much as I do. As I write this review, as I listen to the disk again and again, I keep finding little things that I hadn't heard before. All of which means that this has gone from the doubtful pile to the top o' list contender. The only drawback to this very recommended disk is that it's way too short.

The Three Welcomes (0:59) / Black Tower (5:40) / Shape of a Dancer (4:52) / Magic Circle (3:44) / Maiden Voyage (5:10) / The Brook, the Mirror, and the Maiden (9:21) / Return Voyage (2:11) / Ghost Notes (2:13) / Masque of Shadows (6:41) / Magic Dust (1:29)

Craig Herlihy - lead and backing vocals, flute, guitars, keyboards, bass, harmonica, dulcimer, mandolin, bass pedals, theremin, marimba, and melodihorn
Brad Dillon - drums, percussion, backing vocals, and glockenspiel
Brian Herlihy - guitars

Yoke - Yoke (1995)
"A Foreshadowing" (1998)
Masque Of Shadows (1999)
A Seer In The Midst (2002)
"Solar Solstice" (2004)
The Witching Hour (2007)
Awakening Celtic Spirits (2011)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: October 4th 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.yokeshire.com
Hits: 1136
Language: english


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