2019 (Anesthetize Productions)
“Sweetheart Grips” is the second studio album by French prog band Nine Skies. The title refers to the use of soldiers in World War II to place a photo of their loved ones on the butt of their pistols. This gives the album a beautiful, evocative title, but behind that lies the true concept of this twelve-song double album. “Sweetheart Grips” is about a young soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The question comes to surface of course whether the album is not heavy, very heavy.
Well, there are enough fresh moments in this neo-prog to counterbalance the dark passages of this album. These dark passages occur largely during the singing and recitation of some poems from a distant past. There are also some sound fragments added here and there, such as in opener Vestige in which, in addition to some war sounds, we are also confronted with a crying woman. In the ensuing Burn My Brain, the beautiful voice of the then new singer Alienor Favier is heard where she vocally adapts a poem by Lord Byron. The song is excellent neo-prog towards Marillion with great guest contributions from Graig Blundell (Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett, Frost) on drums and Clive Nolan (Pendragon, Arena) on keys.
On this album, variety trumps. While the privately sung Catharsis (Part II) by Eric Bouillette is a beautifully rumbling song with a lot of acoustic guitar and atmospheric keyboard playing, The Thought Traider is a heavy song with fierce Tracy Hitchings-like vocals and a jewel of a guitar solo from the fingers of Bouillette. The dark Alone (Sweethearts Grips Intro) is very different in atmosphere. It is based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe and has beautiful piano playing by Alexandre Lamia. The last part of the song shows that Nine Skies really knows how to play excellent symfo. By the way, I was sitting upside down in my chair when I first heard the song because the poem that is recited there was also used by the band I used to play in. The first CD closes with the beautifully sung title track by Riccardo Romano (RanestRane). It is an emotionally epic that in turn has a large part in the kaleidoscopic character of the whole.
“Sweetheart Grips” is with discs of 36 and 30 minutes respectively the shortest double CD I know. Fortunately, Cd2 continues the line of the first disc effortlessly. There are again strong guest contributions where it should be noted that the keyboard playing of Pat Sanders (Drifting Sun) in Soldiers Of Shame is more than sublime. That the variation on this disc is also good is evident from the nice sax in Somewhere Inside Mankind. The air always vibrates a bit when the organic instrument emits its sounds. A special song on this CD is Tyrant Or Nothing where the acoustic guitar and the fantastic bass work of Bernard Hery get all the points. Hery’s playing on the entire album is a feast anyway. I’m used to a lot but Hery is top of my list. Hear him excel in the instrumental Flowers of Pain. Incomparably beautiful. The album closes with the again instrumental Isolation. The violin in it contributes enormously to the sinister atmosphere that the band wants to create here. The still tones of the piano at the end are so penetrating that you are at least flattened.
“Sweetheart Grips” may consist of two short CDs, but the music that the French band plays here keeps you in its grip for 67 minutes. Forbidden to knock off.
© Dick van der Heijde 2022