Touchstone - Wintercoast
Progressive Metal
13 songs (1:12:16)
Release year: 2009
Reviewed by Goat

It's not every band that can get a widely-respected film legend like Jeremy Irons to provide the opening and closing narration on their rather obscure album, but rising British progheads Touchstone managed it, and from a listen to Wintercoast it seems that the praise the band have received from the voice of Scar (and other impressive figures including Yes' Rick Wakeman) is wholly deserved. Over the course of the seventy minutes-plus of the album's running time, Touchstone manage to write a better collection of songs than most of the Prog Metal glitterati have managed throughout their careers. They perfectly combine influences from the 70s greats such as Yes and Genesis and the modern Hard Rock/Heavy Metal backgrounds of several members to create a melodic yet album sure to appeal to fans of song-driven Prog Metal.

With both male and female vocals in the mix, Touchstone have the best of both worlds. Kim Seviour's light, non-operatic voice avoids Gothic Metal drama in favour of simple emotion - her and male vocalist/keyboardist Rob Cottingham's notable English accents are enjoyable to hear, too. After Irons' intro, the ten-minute title track kicks in, driven not by any one instrument or the vocals, but using all as strengths, moving between symphonic prog and Metallic riffage, before climaxing with a wonderful duet between Kim and Rob. The track length simply flies by, never feeling repetitive or dull, even the various instrumental flourishes being perfect parts of the song. It's worth taking a moment to praise guitarist Adam Hodgson, he's as skilled with Hard Rock riffing as he is with Proggy soloing - a look at his influences on the band's website reveals his appreciation for both worlds. Fans of rhythm sections will be pleased to hear that both bassist Moo and drummer Al are perfectly audible in the crystal-clear mix, and neither let the side down, the funky touches of the former and carefully considered contribution of the latter adding a great deal.

Whilst the band's instrumental skills are worthy of praise, it's the way they all come together that's of most interest, the likes of Strange Days being excellent Prog Metal songs that experiment without repulsing the listener. Amazingly free of filler, the band's respect for their source material over the course of Wintercoast is clear as you progress through the likes of the keyboard-driven Voices and Joker In The Pack, which moves between depressive rock and acoustic-tinged prog. Even the mandatory epic ballad-type song is performed well in the form of Original Sin; if there's a low point it's the comparatively dull Solace, a slow song sung by Kim to her (character's) father with rather creepy lyrics subtly addressing child abuse. It's effective in that you're left feeling slightly dirty, but it doesn't fit at all with the general mood of the album and I wouldn't at all be surprised if people ended up skipping it, as beautiful as Kim's performance is.

Thankfully, Zinomorph grooves its way onto your favourite songs of the year list soon afterwards, doing the work of a million below-par mainstream rock bands in seven brilliant minutes, complete with some wonderful piano, and the album doesn't let you down afterwards, The Witness parts 1 and 2 especially good (although the lyrics on Line In The Sand take a nose-dive into drivel - "it's not what it's all about/I just want to scream and shout" about as good as things get). Overall, although this isn't quite a perfect album, it's pretty darn good for such an unknown band, and should appeal to those in search of something nice, for whom Shining are just a bit too crazy; Touchstone ply a traditional trade, and are all the better for it.

Killing Songs :
Wintercoast, Strange Days, Voices, Original Sin, Zinomorph, Witness pts 1 and 2
Goat quoted 84 / 100
Other albums by Touchstone that we have reviewed:
Touchstone - The City Sleeps reviewed by Goat and quoted 86 / 100
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