Although his work as a solo artist (briefly under the name Tunisia) stretches back over 15 years, the clamour round Ben Craven’s latest album Monsters From The Id feels like it’s almost come out of nowhere. It’s also my first encounter with the multi-instrumentalist and on the strength of what I’ve encountered it certainly won’t be my last. Yes, symphonic prog albums are almost ten-a-penny these days but ones this good certainly are not.
Handling all of the instrumentation and production himself, Craven undoubtedly created a concoction that in the wrong hands could have spelled a recipe for disaster but thankfully the exact opposite is true. The album itself is split into two multi-section parts, both just under twenty minutes in length, and about their themes Craven states on his bandcamp page “Lyrics are incredibly important to me, 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,” So while it might not appear so from those comments, allegedly there is an otherworldly concept in play and a nod to a movie of old in the title. Musically, however, things are much less veiled, a glorious, far reaching sound lush, yet forceful as Craven builds soundscapes to crash them tumbling down once more. The CD itself doesn’t split the tracks into their sections as it spins, so telling exactly which part belongs to which section becomes virtually impossible, but the guitar solo that hits around a third of the way into “Die Before You Wake” is sublime in the extreme. What comes before and immediately after at times takes you into prime symphonic prog territory and at others veers deeper into genuinely classical music structuring, as crescendos rise and fall with breathtaking intensities. One moment a mighty riff is bolstered by darting keys, the next a piano is dragging you in a different direction altogether, but the flow from idea to idea is seamless and sublime.
And track two continues the heady mix, although with a more foreboding atmosphere and a willingness to ask different questions from that which came before. Again though, the conversation between sections is expertly crafted, with a splash of Yes busily chatting away with a Genesis led section. A hint of King Crimson also appears, and the occasional structure – but not sound – that ELP might have called their own. However, that Craven has managed to pull together these strands and much more besides into a modern setting, without landing in the same traps that a lot of the current Symph crop appear unable to avoid, is to his huge credit, and sets him apart from the pack for me – and by quite some distance.
If Monsters From The Id ended there, I’d be slobbering wildly in excitement about it, but Craven isn’t content and instead provides edits of four song sections as little stand alone bonus tracks. Yes, we’ve heard the music already, but in these settings they become something different. Obviously not so grand in scope and not, maybe, quite so breathtaking, but they are proof that Craven has not only constructed two swooping, swirling soundscapes here, he’s also written concise, hugely engaging songs within them. Very clever indeed. Add in a 5.1 DVD disc of all of the above and pretty fabulous album art and, put simply, Monsters From The Id is the real deal. It’s maybe taken him over a decade and half, but suddenly Ben Craven is a name to watch, and then some.
Added: July 21st 2022
Reviewer: Steven Reid