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From Beauty to Turpitude, Pt. 2 - 70%

Xyrth, March 19th, 2016

It's been a while since I reviewed Faithful Breath's debut (or any other stuff, for that matter), so I decided to better catch up, else I will be done reviewing this band's catalogue when I'm 80 years old. Anyway, six years forward after the release of Fading Beauty the band finally released their sophomore, just at the turn of the decade. In between those years, the progressive rock movement saw a general decline in production, quality and the number of bands still true to its initial aesthetics. Great powerhouses of the golden age of prog, like King Crimson, ELP or Van der Graaf Generator became inactive right before the eighties began. Others, such as Yes, Genesis, Camel or Renaissance changed style dramatically, as the punk and heavy metal movements gained strength. One notable exception was Rush, who started the new decade by unleashing some of the best material of their career.

In the case of Faithful Breath, their second album shows them somewhat in between the shifting currents of rock music at the time; still attached to the classic prog sound while also starting to embrace a harder edge, though this change can only be noticed in minor parts of the record. The short songs from side A are mostly prog rock ballads, slow paced and placid, ridden with folksy guitars and dreamy keyboards recalling the pastoral themes of bands such as Genesis or Camel during the early/mid seventies. The sole exception is track number two, “Keep Me Away”, a punchier hard rock number that would hint at the future sound of this act. Side B is made entirely of the sixteen-minute epic titled “Judgment Day”, which is mildly similar to the three long tracks of their debut, not only in length but also in themes and mood. But this tune also showcases some powerful hard-rocking riffs and guitar soloing, not unlike what Rush had done with their 2112 album, and in particular its famous title-track. And while I certainly wouldn't consider “Judgment Day” an equal to “2112” in terms of quality or memorability, it carries the same adventurous spirit. It is also my favorite song of the disc, by far. In fact, it's the only one I'd deem worthwhile listening to.

As a whole, while this album is much less ambitious (less pretentious?) than the debut, it ends up being quite more enjoyable. The title-track and “Stick in Your Eyes” are probably some of the best prog ballads of… well, 1980… made by a German prog outfit. Not bad at all… unlike the corny “This Is My Love Song”. Some versions of this record have a bonus track, the German-sung “Die Mordebiene”, which is a decent composition, yet also another proggy ballad, but like the rest of the songs here, they showcase the most noticeable upgrade of Back on My Hill from Fading Beauty; the vocals of Jürgen Renfordt. A shame that he didn't stick with the band, as he seemed an appropriate fit. An accomplished frontman, he was capable of singing tenderly and also showing some power. The rest of the band performs ok, nothing too special, nor anything annoying or wanting. The production values are quite fine, nowadays providing an enjoyable nostalgic vintage sound. It does sounds more from the seventies than from the eighties, but I do not find anything wrong with it. It has flawless, balanced mix, all instruments clearly discernible.

The evolution would continue with this band's sound, as Back on My Hill is their last album to feature 70s prog rock elements. They would completely leave them behind for following year's Rock Lion. Jürgen Renfordt would sadly depart to try out solo, and guitarist Heinz Mikus would inherit vocal duties. If one listens to this and then picks a random Risk record without knowing it is actually the same band (minus some band members), the connection would be difficult to imagine. Still, Faithful Breath undertook one of rock's most drastic transformations throughout their career, and that is what intrigues me the most about them. For the average metalhead there won't be anything to headbang to here, but the classic prog rock fan might find Faithful Breath's sophomore entertaining, if somewhat short and unspectacular.