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Music Review: Eureka – Shackleton’s Voyage

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As near death experiences go Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1916 ill fated Antarctica expedition is the stuff of the legends. Now, courtesy of Hamburg’s multi instrumentalist Frank Bossert and his Eureka project the expedition is the stuff of an excellent progressive rock album.

Frank Bossert left Hamburg in the early ’90’s to build his own studio in the North Sea town of Husun. His debut album Eureka emerged in 1997 and represented a now familiar range of celtic flavoured symphonic drama. Clearly living so close to the dramatic North Sea coastline had an inspirational effect on his music.

In 2002 he released the second album The Full Circle, which was followed by The Compass Rose four years later. These albums gained many impressive reviews and it was clear that any Eureka release would be loaded with atmospheric and symphonic music. With Shackleton’s Voyage Bossert has again returned to nautical themes. The result is an absolute gem among this years prog rock releases.

When Shackelton’s crew of 28 set off with the aim of becoming the first ever expedition to cross Antarctica little did they know that they were embarking on a two year journey to hell and back. Just one day short of its destination their aptly named ship Endurance sank having been crushed by pack ice.

Shackleton and his men escaped on life boats to a nearby island. He then set off with five of his men in one of the small boats braving the ravages of the dreaded Drake Passage. That wasn’t all, they then had to cross ice covered mountains which had, up until that point, been considered impassable. He succeeded and help was sent to rescue the remainder of his crew who were saved without loss of life. The stuff of legends indeed.

Shackleton's Voyage tells the story through fifteen lavishly arranged tracks. Actor Ian Dickinson, narrates the dramatic story. Also involved is ex-Yes member Billy Sherwood who had been so impressed with Eureka that he contacted Bossert offering his help. He covers vocals on both “Going Home” and “The Challenge”. Meanwhile Yogi Lang of RPWL, mixed and mastered the album whilst also supplying the moog solo on “Heading South”.

The highly respected Troy Donockley, who has played with Iona and Nightwish, whilst still finding time to release some excellent solo albums, adds his trademark Celtic touches of bagpipes and flutes. To complete the scene the album’s artwork includes original photographs from the expedition.

This is an album so atmospheric that it will literally have you feeling the icy cold blast of the Antarctic. The album opens with a brief explanation from Ian Dickinson before “Departure” releases the joy and anticipation felt as the Endurance sets sail. Troy Donockley adds great swathes of celtic colour and as the album opens, and the ship leaves, you are literally swept away too.

“The Challenge” sees the entrance of Billy Sherwood who adds further detail to the background to a story that already has me hooked. “Grytviken Whaling Station” creates a powerful image of one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. From this point on the going would get even tougher.

By now I am wondering what type of person would even contemplate undertaking such a journey which stares death literally in the face. It is the place for heroes and there was none bigger than Shackleton who despite every conceivable setback succeeded in saving his crew.

Whilst losing yourself in the story it is easy to overlook the quality of the musicianship and song writing on offer. “Heading South” underlines both and leads nicely into the moment where the expedition suffered a near fatal disaster during the self explanatory “Icebound”. This is a track so haunting that it will literally have you shivering in the imaginary cold.

The joyful jig that is “Plenty Of Time” leaves you almost able to see the crew downing what is left of any rum that they may have saved. “Going Home” again features the excellent vocals of Billy Sherwood. The determined “Into The Lifeboats” marks the point where the crew abandon their sinking ship with little hope of survival. That word survival soon becomes the main driving force.

“Elephant Island” again underlines the unerring ability of Frank Bossert to create powerful lasting images through his music. Meanwhile “Will You Ever Return” features the voice of Kalema as a wife left back at home with the pain of not knowing.

“In Search Of Relief” takes us back onto the ice as Shackleton tries to find help to save his men. This piece is, like the album itself, beautifully constructed. Layer upon layer of instrumentation build the drama conjuring up the movement of the sea in breathtaking, seasickness-provoking reality. A sudden guitar break, slightly reminiscent of Mike Oldfield, leads us into calmer water as the dangerous Drake Passage is defeated.

“The Rescue” leads smoothly into the last track “We Had Seen God!”. Yes, they had been that close to death. This is no Hollywood epic even though this music would make a perfect backdrop to one. Instead it is a real life story of heroism beyond most of our imaginations that confirms Shackleton’s place in history.

Shackleton’s Voyage expertly brings it all vibrantly to life and allows us to touch the drama, feel the fear, shiver with the cold, and taste the grim prospect of death. It is a huge theme that needs a huge level of skill to do it justice.

 

Eureka hit every atmospheric target and successfully serve up a quality album that will have you frantically checking your toes for frostbite.

Find out more by checking Eureka's official website or their Shackleton's Voyage Myspace page.

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