Solstice - Silent Dance. 1984 Equinox (LP); 1991 Brainworks; 2007 F2
Solstice - New Life. 1993 Progressive International; 2007 F2
Solstice - Circles. 1997 A New Day; 2007 F2
Solstice - Spirit. 2010 F2 + DVD
Solstice - Prophecy. 2013 Esoteric Antenna
All of the F2 (Festival Music) reissues feature significant bonus material. I've put in bold the versions I personally own.
I'm probably one of Solstice's biggest fans. They have maintained their positive musical disposition throughout a distinguished, but sporadic, 30 year career.
"Silent Dance": Though typically lumped in with the New Wave of British Progressive Rock crowd (or the more common, but dreadful, "Neo Progressive" tag), Solstice were really the odd band out. No Genesis influences here. Perhaps some Renaissance due to the female vocals or even perhaps Yes, because of the generally positive vibes. Solstice play a very beautiful and relaxing progressive rock, with violin, female voice, and searing electric guitar. On this latter point, I could listen to band leader Andy Glass all day. He plays in an expressive way like no one else I've ever heard. Recommended.
I've written about "New Life" before on the UTR, though this post will replace that one. I still consider this title their masterwork, though I know I'm in the minority here.
With a cleaner production than their debut from nine years earlier, New Life sees Solstice at their height. Andy Glass is in top form here, with some truly majestic guitar leads. He doesn't play fast or technical, it's all pure emotion unlike anyone else I've ever heard. "Guardian" is one of the most beautiful tracks I've had the pleasure of listening to. Plenty of wonderful violin and female vocals as well. A rich, beautiful album.
On "Circles", I found that Solstice had disintegrated a bit too much towards the twee, and definitely pales compared to its predecessors. Bordering on pure new age music here. It's not a bad album, mind you, but lacks the energetic spirit of their other work. I eventually parted with it.
Perhaps my comment about "spirit" on the previous album "Circles" is exactly what Glass was thinking, since he shut the band down (more or less) for about 13 years.
"Spirit": This is really all I could have hoped for from a new Solstice album. Picking up where "New Life" left off, but avoiding the hippy dippy tweeness of "Circles", "Spirit" is a fine collection of beautiful songs from Andy Glass and company. All the trademarks of classic Solstice are here, including the soaring violin and the sweet female vocals. And, of course, Glass' superb guitar leads. And there's a bit of rough edge this go round, showing that Glass isn't all about peace and love after all. I'd like to see him explore his more aggressive and psychedelic side in the future. Overall, a splendid effort from one of the UK's most unappreciated progressive rock bands. There's also a DVD attached, which I haven't seen yet, but I'm sure to enjoy.
And that gets us to the new album "Prophecy", in a quick turnaround (by Solstice standards) of 3 years. There are 5 new, and lengthy, tracks for Andy Glass to explore his emotional progressive style, as first laid out on "Silent Dance" - and as a shrewd move, three of those tracks have been added as bonus material, having received the Steven Wilson mix, and are included here for reflection and comparison. "Prophecy" finds Solstice right down the middle of their various styles. A selection of the best - and worst - Solstice has to offer (in my mind anyway). As such, "Prophecy" is almost certainly not the album that will change minds about them. The album artwork, and overall atmosphere, call out the American West - that of the Native American. There really isn't a more appropriate topic when considering the music of Solstice. It's an interesting anecdote then, that "New Life" first started sending chills up my spine while driving in Northern New Mexico on my way to Santa Fe from Denver (this was in 1994). So perhaps I was having the same musical visual that Glass himself was. Let's get to the problematic parts, and then we'll focus on the positive. Solstice, again for my tastes, always had a tendency to retain too much "praise to the heavens" in their music. You can just picture the female singer with her head up, eyes closed, slowly swiveling her hips, palms open and arms sweeping upwards, while howling to the moon in that annoying American Idol way. Pan the camera for a profile shot in a misty light. Not for me I'm afraid, sorry. On this album, you can definitely envision this scenario on tracks like 'Keepers of the Truth' and 'West Wind'. On the flip side, when Glass and company add a little muscle, and the soaring violin and electric guitar begin to lay out the sustain chords, the entire mood shifts from quasi-religious to pure emotional ecstasy. Now in this setting, the crystal clear female voice is heavenly rather than temporal. For this style, we get 'Warriors' and especially the rousing closer 'Black Water' which is absolutely Solstice at their best. The opening track 'Eyes of Fire', like the album itself, straddles both sides of the fence. In any case, I'm a huge Solstice supporter, and would recommend this highly to fans. Otherwise, you may want to start with "Spirit" if curious.
On my original post of "New Life", our good friend Spyros had the following observation about Solstice, that I wanted to ensure remained public. He had a boots-on-the-ground perspective, so it's always great to get these first hand accounts: "SOLSTICE were a weird affair. Though by their sound one could easily label them as a neo-prog band, they belonged to the festival scene (being regulars to the most famous free festies of the times with bands like OZRICS, HERE & NOW, HAWKWIND etc). Sonically however, they had nothing in common with the festival bands by being a pure progressive rock combo.
They had also little to share with the pomp rock neo-prog clan as they deviated towards Renaissance's folkier edge and the 60s psych prog style. Add to this the fact that in their beginnings they had a late 60s hippy image. Probably the reasons of their limited success; no scene really embraced them as their own...
Great band Tom. Count me among their loyal followers."