Canadian composer and multi-instrumentalist Rick Miller has been churning out interesting symphonic progressive albums dating as far back as 1983 when he produced his debut "Starsong".
A lapse of fifteen years followed between his debut and the 1998 release "Interstellar Passage". But once his Muse awakened Miller produced a succession of albums which included: "The One" (2003), "Dreamtigers" (2004), "The End Of Days" (2006), "Angel Of My Soul" (2008), "Falling Through Rainbows" (2009), and "In The Shadows" (2011) - leading us to his new 2012 release "Dark Dreams".
Miller's music is self-described as melancholy symphonic prog/rock inspired by artists like Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, and Steve Hackett; and to that list I would add the bands Airbag, Six Elements, later period Camel, and Steve Wilson's side project No-Man.
Strong comparisons can also be made to David Gilmore's solo album "On An Island" with one distinct difference - Gilmore added rhythmic variety, a bit of thunder, and shifting moods - Miller offers no such variety.
My main problem with this chilled-out album is exactly the same as my critique of the Airbag album "Identity" - little variation from one tune to the next. This laid-back melancholy mood is maintained throughout the disc making one track run into the other. Each haunting tune is soulful, atmospheric, expertly produced, and skillfully performed - but with nary an up-tempo track among the nine songs to differentiate one from the next. One might set a metronome at the beginning of the CD, let it run throughout the disc, and it would remain in sync at the album's end.
Yet with nine albums to his credit, and similar criticism leveled at past releases, Miller continues to embrace his sonic pallet and shows no sign of shifting gears to pacify critics. This is his niche and he is comfortable within his defined set of parameters.
After listening to the disc several times in it's entirety I decided a different approach might be in order - so I plucked out individual tunes throughout the day to review on their own merit. And low and behold a few real gems jumped out at me!
"Angels In The Forest" is a beautifully orchestrated melodic three part fairy tale with a Celtic flare and a bit of Pink Floyd - heavy on the Gilmore inspired guitar;
The fantastic instrumental "The Transcension" takes me back to the Steve Hackett's "Age Of Wands" from his debut album "Voyage Of The Acolyte" - Positively Brilliant - then seamlessly transitions into a Floydish tune "Quiet Desperation" which manages to infuse jarring snippets of crunching guitar to stir you from the musically induced Prozac trance.
"Man Out Of Time" builds to a dramatic climax complete with soaring strings and a beautiful faux Mellotron choir reminiscent of classic Genesis. Miller's orchestral keyboard work smacks of Tony Banks.
Although Miller handles the lion's share of musical instrumentation and digital keyboard orchestration he is added by fellow musicians Barry Haggarty (guitars), Kane Miller (guitar, violin), Mateusz Swoboda (cello), Nancy Foote (flute), Will (percussion), and Kristina Vowels (backing vocals).
Hopefully on his next effort Miller will branch out to include a few up-tempo numbers, or maybe even surprise us with some bizarre proggy off-beat time signatures.
Special mention to Larrissa Kulik (Ann Mei) the artist who designed the cover art. Very Cool!
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on September 20th, 2012