"Guardians" and "Twilight Of The Magicians" are the second and third release from the Vermont based symphonic prog band The Winter Tree, spearheaded by talented composer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Laitres (a.k.a. Andrew Robinson).
The band's self-titled debut album (reviewed here at ProgNaut by Ron Fuchs) featured Laitres and the husband and wife team of Mark (guitar, lead and harmony vocals) and Debbie Bond (keyboards). The pair return for the 2012 release "Guardians" along with the addition of Bob Hynes (drums); while the 2013 release "Twilight Of The Magicians" is essentially a solo album and showcase for Laitres who assumes the bulk of the instrumental duties.
On the 2012 release "Guardians", The Winter Tree weaves a delicate tapestry of pastoral textures and sophisticated compositions creating an expansive sound palate which teeters between old school 70s' symphonic prog and New Age Ambient.
Mark Bonds can emote the same passion from a single sustained note as master guitarist like Steve Hackett and Andrew Latimer of Camel. His melodic leads are concise and economical, relying on mood and emotion rather than light-speed arpeggios.
With both Deb Bond and Andrew Laitres assuming keyboard responsibilities its hard to give credit where credit is due, other than say their combined contributions make for some beautiful and spirited performances. The orchestral keyboard arrangements provide a cinematic flair found in bands like The Enid or Karda Estra, while on harder-edged tracks their energetic keyboards reflect elements of bands like Kansas, Styx, and Magnum.
The track "City Of Light" begins with the arena rock fanfare of Kansas, Styx, or early Asia then transitions into something more along the lines of The Alan Parsons Project.
And on the track "The Last Morning" the ethereal keyboards smack of Tony Banks and classic 70s' era Genesis, as well as the Bank's solo project "A Curious Feeling".
Peppered throughout are introspective tracks that bring to mind the "Private Parts And Pieces Collection" of x-Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips.
Other bands that come to mind while listening to "Guardians" are Sebastian Hardie, Greenslade, Pink Floyd, Edhels, Glass Hammer, Cast, and the Par Lindh Project.
The 2013 release "Twilight Of The Magicians" sees the band moving in a different direction, away from the Camel, Genesis, and Pink Floyd nuances of their first two albums, to the well traveled path of new age artists like Vangelis, David Akenstone, Tangerine Dream, and synth guitar maestro Mark Dwane.
The loss of Mark Bond leaves a noticeable void on the album - for both his guitar work and vocals. As a result this album is mostly instrumental.
Laitres does make limited use of guest musicians which include: Eugene Uman (electric piano on tracks 3 and 7, and piano on track 5), Baiba Kranate (vocals on track 8), and Gadi Caplan (electric guitar track 5).
"Twilight Of The Magicians" is comparable to the electronic ambient music of artists like Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream, Michael Hoenig, Michael Stearns, Jon Anderson and Vangelis, Gerald Krampl, Mike Oldfield, A Triggering Myth, and Johannes Luley (who produced last year's excellent album "Tales From Shepfather's Grove").
Possibly the weakest song is "Sinking Island" - a cross between the instrumental tracks on Jeff Wayne's 1978 concept album "War Of The Worlds" and the electronic 'house music' so popular in today's dance clubs. The composition is not bad - but the repetitive 4/4 beat was a tad too disco for my liking.
Laitres credits Rudolf Steiner's writing on the lost continent of Atlantis as the inspiration for the album.
Mark Dwane also shared Laitres fascination with the legendary sunken continent for his 1993 release "The Atlantis Factor". And both "Twilight Of The Magicians" and "The Atlantis Factor" compliment each other quite well, making for a quiet evening of musical entertainment.
With mythic tales of mystery, romance, and sci-fi flights of fancy Atlantis has been a source of inspiration for a number of progressive rock bands throughout the years with albums like "The Sentinel" (Pallas), "Ocean" (Eloy), "Atlantis" (The Trip), "The Rise Of Atlantis (Akshan), and "The New View Over Atlantis" (Robert Scott Thompson) to name but a few. And lets not forget Donovan's trippy 1968 single "Atlantis".
While both albums are excellent, I prefer the collaborative ensemble of Laitres, Mark and Debbie Bonds, and Bob Hynes on "Guardians" to Laitres electronic soundscapes of "Twilight Of The Magicians". But both are well worth adding to your music library and highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on March 9th, 2014