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Music Review: Touchstone – Wintercoast

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Something extraordinary is happening in the world of Touchstone. The English band, whose last album, Discordant Dreams, had me excitedly writing in my review, ‘it commands your attention throughout whilst providing moments of sublime beauty’, have succeeded in something that I thought would be hard, if not impossible, to achieve.

Their second album Wintercoast, has somehow managed to take the music of Touchstone up onto an even higher plain. When you consider how highly they set that level, then you can see what a spellbinding achievement Wintercoast is.

Firstly though, we need a quick recap. Touchstone is a five-piece band, formed in 2003, by the combined vision of keyboard playing vocalist Rob Cottingham and highly talented guitarist Adam Hodgson. In 2006 they added bass player Paul Moorghen, and the following year drummer Al Melville. When Kim Seviour joined and added her vocals she completed the picture.

Kim’s addition proved pivotal with her captivating voice blending superbly with that of Rob’s. Together they produce what is now the trademark Touchstone sound. That sound first emerged on Discordant Dreams an album that certainly attracted a lot of attention.

As is often the case when the expectations are running high I approached my first playing of Wintercoast with some trepidation. I need not have worried. From the opening section, a spoken introduction by none other than Oscar winning actor Jeremy Irons, I was totally locked in, absorbed, and lost within the many pleasures this albums holds.

Wintercoast was, like its predecessor, mixed by both John Mitchell of It Bites, Frost*, Arena and Tim Turan who has worked with Motorhead, and Marilyn Manson, as well as Frost*.

In 2008 Touchstone was named the ‘Best New Band’ at the Classic Rock Society awards. They have also inspired Jeff Wayne of War Of The Worlds fame to describe their music as, ‘stunning’ and ‘passionate’. Meanwhile none other than Rick Wakeman of Yes confirmed that this was, ‘a really great new band’.

Opening the album with Jeremy Iron’s distinctive voice on “Prelude” is nothing short of a masterstroke. His haunting reading sets the scene and draws you like a ship to a siren into the album. The title track follows and launches you on a spectacular journey that veers from the sublime to the grandiose, the subtle to dramatic, in an ever shifting, seamless voyage of often spectacular music.

The production throughout is nothing short of excellent. Kim’s soothing vocals blend smoothly with those of Rob creating an irresistible counterbalance in the process. Adam Hodgson’s driving power chords and dramatic breaks add the drama. Meanwhile Paul Moorghen’s bass intrigues and entices locking in firmly with the impressive drums of Al Melville.

This is a band brimming with ideas and a collective creativity, and a desire to deliver music of the highest quality. That belief radiates from every well conceived note. There is simply no space for anything but the best on Wintercoast. There are so many ideas flowing from them. Touchstone describe their sound as being, ‘like prog but with a real bite’, and that is precisely what they deliver here by the shovel load.

The combination of Kim and Rob is something that was clearly meant to be with both complimenting each other perfectly. The huge opening that is the title track comes complete with Adam’s soaring guitar break, perfect harmonizing, and faultless production. It is a spectacular entry in every conceivable sense of the word.

“Strange Days” opens out into driving power chords and trademark harmonies. Shades of light and dark, power and subtlety melt together with seamless ease. “Voices” has a memorable keyboard intro from Rob Cottingham before the soothing voice of Kim Seviour adds that Touchstone counterbalance.

As if to underline all that has gone before, “Joker In The Pack” sweeps its way through a whole host of textures whilst magically and effortlessly switching between them.

“Original Sin” confirms Kim’s growing confidence in her ability to captivate the listener and do justice to the well written lyrics. Rob never overlays the effects with the result being a dovetailing of elements into a perfect circle. Quite simply there is enough thought provoking sequences to render speech redundant throughout the playing of this album.

Kim takes centre stage for the delicate “Solace”, whilst Adam launches into “Zinomorph” with pulsing guitar sitting on top of a window throbbing bass line from Paul Moorghen. Kim again shows her versatility as the track builds in intensity.

The wise lyrics of “Line In The Sand” arrive amid more excellent scorching guitar from Adam whose abrasive chords sits in balance with Rob’s subtle keys. It’s powerful stuff and with the line, ‘it’s not what it’s all about’, they leave you deeply locked in thought.

As if that wasn’t enough the two part “Witness” highlights the creative ambition, vision, and the ability to produce it, that lives within this band. As it moves towards to its finale it confirms all of the above superlatives with an ending of undeniable and now typical quality.

Discordant Dreams set the scene and now Wintercoast has fulfilled all that obvious promise with a huge album that is everything many of us already riding on the Touchstone train hoped it would be. It is little surprise that they have been touring with It Bites because that is exactly what this album does.

For details of how to buy the album, or see Touchstone play live (they have UK dates and are visiting the US later in the year) please visit their official website. Please also refer back to my review of Discordant Dreams and my Blogcritics interview with Touchstone's Rob Cottingham.

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