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2022-05-04 – Anne Carlini / Exclusive Magazine (Review)

Title – Monsters From The Id [CD/DVD]
Artist – Ben Craven

For those not in the know, Ben Craven is a cinematic progressive-rock artist from Brisbane, Australia.

His 2011 album, Great & Terrible Potions, blurred the boundaries between conventional songs and orchestral soundtracks. Augmented by a stunning cover designed by legendary artist Roger Dean (Yes, Asia, Avatar), Potions was dense, complicated and unashamedly pretentious. That is, everything a good prog rock album should be!

2016’s Last Chance To Hear was a triumphant masterpiece of progressive rock. Expanding upon Craven’s one-person musical palette, the album featured legendary Star Trek actor William Shatner providing spoken-word vocals for the track Spy In The Sky. Meanwhile, the album’s opener, Critical Mass, went on to win the 2016 Australian Independent Music Award for Best Instrumental.

Monsters From The Id (due out May 6th, 2022 via Desert Comb Music) is the logical realization of Craven’s musical trajectory thus far. It’s an album of two halves, each containing a traditional progressive rock epic the length of a side of vinyl.

The two pieces comprise flowing parts and movements with both rock and Hans Zimmer-esque orchestral arrangements, punctuated by Ben’s distinctive lead guitar and vocals. Yet the album is predominantly instrumental.

Lyrics are incredibly important to me, explains Craven, but this music was not driven by words or language. It’s pure other-worldly escapism. It’s playing dress-up, wanting to make the world look much bigger than it seems right now, trying to recall the feeling that anything is possible, no matter how unlikely that might be.

Visually, the album cover is a treat, featuring breathtaking artwork by Freyja Dean adorning the triple gatefold CD/DVD wallet. Sonically, things are equally ambitious.

A 5.1 surround mix is included on the DVD, while both stereo and surround versions are available for digital download in 24-bit 96kHz high resolution.

Side 1
1. Die Before You Wake (19:32):
a. Sleeping Spectre (2:19)
b. Ancient Majesty (1:31)
c. Die Before You Wake Part 1 (3:03)
d. Warming Glow (3:55)
e. Wicked Delights (2:40)
f. Die Before You Wake Part 2 (2:01)
g. Endless Night (4:03)

Side 2
2. Amnis Flows Aeternum (19:11):
a. Amnis Flows Aeternum Part 1 (1:11)
b. Guiding Voice Part 1 (2:39)
c. Sound and Light (1:20)
d. Guiding Voice Part 2 (1:06)
e. Royal Rewards Part 1 (1:09)
f. Blessed Stream Part 1 (0:58)
g. Amnis Flows Aeternum Part 2 (2:26)
h. Earthly Dues (2:47)
i. Amnis Flows Aeternum Part 3 (3:04)
j. Blessed Stream Part 2 (0:51)
k. Royal Rewards Part 2 (1:02)
l. Guiding Voice Part 3 (0:38)

Bonus tracks:
3. Die Before You Wake (single edit) (4:57)
4. Wicked Delights (single edit) (2:40)
5. Guiding Voice (single edit) (3:31)
6. Amnis Flows Aeternum (single edit) (4:51)

Simply put, this brand new album from Ben Craven is as adventurous, as mindscaping, as musically affluent as most anything that he has done before and it is a right royal beauty from start to finish.

This quite stunningly orchestrated, wholly ambient, and tremendously effervescent new album opens on the near twenty minute, seven chapter Die Before You Wake and never looks back as it then unveils the same length for the second opus, Amnis Flows Aeternum.

Clearly structured as a directly inspiration culled from early Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Mike Oldfield, Monsters From The Id was noticeably approached a little differently here than before, this time to revolve around using a wider orchestral palette.

Incorporating acoustics with different tunings, electrics, 12-strings, baritone, lap steel, mandolin – even the coral sitar on his Variax got an outing – he also used a five-string bass for the bulk of the bottom end work, along with a Taurus pedal; but he obviously kept his beloved 4-string Rickenbacker 4001 for those special moments when he really wanted the bass to cut through. [Oh, and he has revealed that the orchestra sound you hear was actually built up from the best samples he could get his hands on from various sources, given that gatherings were still frowned upon for a while back then, of course).

It has even been noted that Craven also recorded a third epic entitled “Altaira” which ended up being held over for the next album – not for artistic reasons, but simply economic re: his dream of this new album being pressed on a single vinyl was logical with two twenty minute works attached, but not three.

Chock full of wondrously sculptured instrumentation, variations and counterpoint melodies, the bigger picture of how the pieces fit together is elegantly showcased via an organic growth from within.

In what is an ever-evolving musical jigsaw puzzle, the looping, layered, changeling aspects to the tempos and keys allow the pieces they flow through to musically become conceptual before our very ears, which makes this as masterful as anything Craven has ever done before, in my humble opinion.

Obviously, and no matter how this new album was constructed, Craven is not adverse to short songs and so, and with his curiosity abounding with regard how this new music would translate to his older way of working, circa his first album Two False Idols, the additional four single edits included here essentially form an EP of their own; a parallel universe where longer tracks do not exist, if you will.

Those begin with the emphatic rolling rock of Die Before You Wake and the sweeping AOR rhythms of Wicked Delights and then brings us the veritably translucent, at times, at others raised and fortified melodies of Guiding Voice, culminating on the euphoric stance of Amnis Flows Aeternum.

1. Die Before You Wake (audio only)
2. Amnis Flows Aeternum (audio only)
3. Die Before You Wake (single edit video)
4. Wicked Delights (single edit video)
5. Guiding Voice (single edit video)
6. Amnis Flows Aeternum (single edit video)

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