Among those countries hit hardest by the Covid pandemic was the United Kingdom, and not all of it because of the virus itself. Rising star on the progpower sky - The Spectre Beneath - took a massive hit. They were on a rise before the pandemic, two stellar albums to back them. I needn’t extrapolate further on the virus itself, or the UK’s handling of it. Pete Worrall does so here, through thunderous riffing, solos that strike like lightning and passion like no other. The Ashen Child is released as a “mini album”, but in all seriousness it’s nigh on forty minutes, none of which is dedicated to the slightest bit of filler (and knowing what Worrall considers filler, I’d strap my buckles if I were you). No, we get six tracks of pure, unadultered Spectre; from opener Forsaken… We All Fall with its earth striking riffs and piercing vocals, to heartfelt semi ballad As Far as the Eye Can See, and through the sinister Refuse of the Past with it’s crunchy riffage and blast-off solo from Tasos Lazaris (Fortress Under Siege).
L Lockser, whose magic vocals enchanted the first two albums, has left The Spectre Beneath for medical reasons. Now that has to suck, because Lockser’s powerful pipes were instrumental in bringing the sound together. In keeping with the mystery, we know only her replacement as Stevie; and Stevie makes a commendable, powerful effort to fill the shoes of miss Lockser. The casual listener might not even hear a difference - Stevie maintains Lockser’s dramatic flair and intonations - but Stevie’s personality bleeds through especially in the more passionate moments. She gives a powerful, heartfelt performance in Time Dilation, and her crystal clear deliveries in the heavy and speedy numbers like Forsaken… We All Fall prove her a great fit for the Spectre sound. The two ending tracks are prequels of sort to the story told on half of their first album, The Downfall of Judith King (2019), and stand out as being part of a larger narrative - the previous two albums were both half concept albums - and these two songs do bring about a feeling like that on the first album.
The Ashen Child is shorter than it might need to be to release the full power of The Spectre Beneath, but is still a diverse and electric affair that continues and expands upon the formula. Worrall’s mighty songwriting blends dark melodies with twisting, progressive riffs and, towering solos and heaps of speed intermingling with spine chilling slower affairs. He brings it together with dramatic lyrics, sinister plots abound, brought to life by Stevie’s magnificent pipes. On the rhythm section we again find Consta Taylor’s towering, thunderous drums (just listen to that speed and precision in closer The Ashen Child: Falling off the World) and Worrall’s own bass, thick as plots of sinister deeds in the night. The guitars are where Worrall really brings it though; the riffs are tasty and brutal all while the solos (with guest spots from Tasos Lazaris, Vini Assis and Paul Dutton) are electrifying and powerful, all while maintaining the deep sense of drama and musical storytelling. The Ashen Child is a perfect expansion, all in all, to The Spectre Beneath’s discography which by now should demand some attention; these guys are a shining, revolutionary star on the progpower heavens and with The Ashen Child prove themselves masters of the craft.
Standout tracks: Forsaken… We All Fall, Refuse of the Past, The Ashen Child: Falling off the World