Written by James Sweetlove and Yari Wildheart
Yes, is a name that is synonymous with prog rock and a name that brings with it a certain standard of excellence. When someone thinks of Yes, they think of expertly written long-form songs, mind blowingly technical musicianship, unique and powerful vocals, and stunning sci-fi influenced artwork. Well, if you’re someone that appreciates all of those things or are an existing Yes fan, then Mirror to the Sky is going to make you an incredibly happy listener.
Mirror to the Sky is the band’s twenty third studio album (an achievement that most artists only dream of) but it certainly doesn’t feel like the work of a band of this age. The album feels fresh, exciting, and innovative, like something a newer band would release as they peak in their early career. While far younger acts like Mötley Crüe get booed off stage for not being able to even remotely perform their own songs, Yes who have been releasing albums since the late 60s have created a new masterpiece that shows just why they have a dedicated legion of diehard fans. The band’s new vocalist Jon Davison has brought new life and a fresh sound to the band, preventing them from stagnating creatively or suffering from an issue that affects numerous older acts, vocal burnout (again see Vince Neil). Is the release going to dethrone Fragile or Close to the Edge as the band’s most revered release? No, not it isn’t, but it doesn’t have to, those albums represent the band in the 1970s, their first era, Mirror to the Sky represents new Yes and it doesn’t have to compete with those earlier seminal works. So, I ask that as you listen to this album, you approach it on its own merits, rather than comparing it to those two early gems, as it has a LOT to offer to any prog rock fan, young or old. Both Yari and James are slightly embarrassed to admit it, but despite loving the band, we weren’t aware that they had been releasing albums these past few years, until James accidentally stumbled upon this release. Praise the old gods that he did,
There’s an ethereal joy with Mirror to the Sky that permeates the album and becomes immediately apparent with the opener Cut From The Stars. Bouncing strings give way to cruising bass, sending us through the hyperlanes of the galaxy on a joy ride the likes of which we haven’t been in quite some time. There are layers to this track, but at its core it’s all about that sense of awe and wonder you feel when gazing up at the stars as humans have done for tens of thousands of years. It’s lovely to have such a bass-forward track and Billy Sherwood’s work really stands out – Steve Howe should be credited for taking a step back to let Billy shine. As much as we mourn the loss of Alan White, Jay Schellen’s drum work adds a nice pacing and driving energy, doing justice to an album that is surely a masterpiece. Jon Davison’s vocals and high range are on display; unpredictable and evocative of a kind of innocent awe, an inspiring dream that’s just wonderful to witness.
The band change gears with one of the first volume’s longest tracks, Luminosity, coming in at over 9 minutes and covering an impressive amount of ground in that time. The track begins with a cheerful, somewhat whimsical, and mystical sort of feeling, that brings to mine 60s and 70s fantasy influenced psych rock. Jon’s vocals show his full range here, presenting us with a far higher and crisper base tone than on previous tracks. There’s a harmonious feeling to the track, particularly in its chorus, feeling like something that the audience could easily sing along to. Then at the six minute mark the track shifts dramatically to an absolutely stunning guitar led segment that runs for the rest of the track and very clearly brings to mind something from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (a musical masterpiece in its own right (see James’ review HERE)). The tone achieved here, the complexity of the song writing, and the skill involved in the playing, shows just why this band is so respected. Overall, the track is a fantastic showcasing of the band’s range and scope.
Then we have the epic of the album, the title track Mirror to the Sky. There are comparisons one could make here to bands like Spock’s Beard but make no mistake – this is brilliant modern prog rock by today’s Yes, showing they remain legendary. The three-minute intro is full of gumption and fire with the kind of instrumental interplay and creativity that grabs my attention immediately. Yes clearly do not conform exactly to their old style, and that suits them just fine because Mirror to the Sky is one of the best prog rock epics released in many years. It’s dense and varied, creative and exciting. It has the kind of variety that I like in an epic – fiery sections, chilled out and tranquil sections, fantastical and happy moments, where all blend together seamlessly into one majestic moment of art.
Volume 2 of the album opens with another 8-minute masterpiece in Unknown Place, a song that kicks off with a captivating introduction, featuring rhythmic chanting/singing and technical yet catchy bass work. When Jon’s vocals kick in its immediately obvious that this is a Yes song, perfectly capturing their iconic vocal and bass fusion. The use of harmonised and alternating vocals at points throughout the track adds a fantastic complexity and atmosphere. Approaching the four-minute mark the song opens up to an instrumental showcasing that allows bass, guitar and keyboard and each shine in turn. The song also stands out from the other tracks on Volume 2, which both give us far shorter, more traditionally structured rock tracks. That isn’t to say that they aren’t progressive in nature, just not in their structure.
Mirror to the Sky is an album that should inspire artists everywhere and serve as a reminder to legions of fans that Yes is here, and they have not gone away. They’re incapable of going quietly into the night with the splendour, talent, and awe in the universe that Mirror to the Sky brings out. It also clearly shows that the excuse of ‘age making poor quality releases acceptable’ holds no truth, as clearly shown by not just this release, but late career albums from Dio, Black Sabbath, Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult and countless other legendary acts. This is the sort of album that can lead to a legion of new prog rock fans – many will hear this never having listened to Yes before, and they’ll likely come away digging through the classics by Yes and others. There’ll be a little light in their life, it might spark an interest in the cosmos, and most importantly, they’ll have heard some brilliant music. So, get up. Put on Mirror to the Sky. Go outside at night, and when you do it – gaze up at the dark sky and the stars within.
We hope you enjoy Mirror to the Skies.
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