Is it live, or is it Memorex?  The tagline comes to mind when listening to the third album from the purposely elusive Battlestations.  If the first album was the prog album and the second the ambient album, the third is the neoclassical, marked by the choir and orchestra.  Are they live?  The band isn’t telling, and neither is Hidden Shoal.  We’re guessing it’s a little bit of both.

The choir is fantastic, and we’d love to see them given credit.  If these are samples, one hopes they have been cleared, as the extended choral passages dominate the album.  Their power is only enhanced by the music.  At the 10-minute mark of the 24-minute opener, piano and orchestra take over for a short period, as if sending signals from a valley to the choir in the mountains above.  Another dip occurs at the 13-minute mark, signaling a shift in choral timbre from the light to the dark.  Four minutes later, the tones thicken, descending into the catacombs.  Something heavy is going on here, indicated by the repetitions of “Holy” and chants reminiscent of Medieval monks.  If there are clues to be gleaned, they rest in the translation of vixit (“he or she has lived”,) the dedication (“for R., in loving memory”) and the cover, which appears to be a prayer flag.  Is this project an elegy, a work composed for a loved one to bear them across the great divide?

The clouds clear at the conclusion of the first piece, allowing the sun to shine directly on the piano ~ positions maintained for the brief middle piece.  As they gather again for the closer, they do so with muted power, having ceded impact to the angelic voices, against which few could stand.  Combining the aforementioned clues with the name of the Belgian act, a passage from Ephesians comes to mind:  So put on God’s armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground (6:13, TEV).  When the drums arrive in the closing minutes, the overall tone is one of spiritual struggle and triumph, the securing of a victory.  If music can be lovely enough to salvage such a soul from the ravages of hell, then this is it.  Orpheus would be proud.”

A Closer Listen