Note: This is a 2 track album, the full tracks will appear as a bonus upon purchase.
'Icesteps’ was first released on cassette in 1989, a year after Glyn’s fantastic ‘Ri’. Of the two, ‘Icesteps’ suffered most from “cassette syndrome”. Hiss, and a complete lack of dynamic extension particularly at the top end. Fans who have waited nigh on 20 years to hear this album properly can now do so. The sound quality is everything you will have hoped for.
I think I recall reading that part of the origins of ‘Icesteps’ was Glyn’s period in an unheated student flat in Edinburgh, the cold winter temperatures being a perfect setting for the glacial sound palette of ‘Icesteps’. It certainly does portray a very cold, stark feeling yet Glyn’s amazing ability with melody and sequence is infused throughout the whole album.
And no more than during the opening section of the title track. For me, this is Glyn’s high-point to date. To be honest, this is possibly my melodic EM highpoint. Period. The two separate melodies constructed in this section, then wonderfully woven together during the latter stages, are completely sensational. The infection and majesty of this piece is, to this listener, unparalleled. The high motif, synonymous with Glyn’s work, soars to unimaginable heights. The lower theme, more understated yet just as infectious, is just as glorious. I say again, in my book melodic EM just does not get any better!
If I had any complaint at all, I’d say that after such an opening where is there left for the track (or indeed the album) to go? Perhaps this stunning section should have been the finale, not the aperitif? However, the title track still proceeds skilfully to present more chilling soundscapes. The way glacial settings are portrayed is very clever indeed. The elements of the music are kept very separate, sometimes in isolation, portraying solitude and great expanse. Themes recur, tying the whole 27 minute journey together. Sequential structure emerges with 10 minutes to go and flesh out another enjoyable section which, thanks to the significantly improved sound quality, have hidden depths which are finally revealed. The melody in particular, though not soaring to GLJ trademark heights, has a mood and intensity which was absent from the cassette.
So to the second track of the album ‘Crystal Reflections’, for me the least listened to section of the album because my cassette version was particularly poor on this side. And instantly I’m struck by the quality of the sequencing which had been weighed down by lack of dynamics. I have seldom heard such melodic infection delivered through sequence techniques alone. The way a low choppy sequence melds with classic TD-style high syncopation is superb. The themes too are classic GLJ, and come to a crescendo at the 8 minute mark. At nearly 10 mins the sequences leave to allow the most beautiful bridging piece to take centre stage. It’s pure melody picked out on a variety of synth voices. The reedy synth motif which emerges at the 12.30 mark is just sheer genius and yet another stunning highlight as it climbs the octaves, cajoled by the most sublime of understated sequences which are the precursor of the next section. Pin sharp percussives start to pick out the detail, flowing themes weave around, latent energy builds. Then at the 17 minute mark, at the risk of repeating myself, another wonderfully infectious theme emerges with subtly beauty. Suddenly though the mood changes as the theme is cut short, slowly though the sequences and motifs re-emerge and that theme, cut short earlier on, graces proceedings once again. Sequencing then comes to the fore and the tempo is slowly increased to allow a reprieve of the thematics presented earlier in the track. Finally there is an extended outro portraying more of that cold, desolate isolation.
Overall ‘Icesteps’ is another great album, and benefits the most from the digital resurrection. It is a moodier album than ‘Ri’ which, for me, is a more complete work. However, ‘Icesteps’ does contain the highest of highs – that opening section. And it has hidden depths which can finally be charted. Basically, it’s another essential album!
Just a final word for Alistair Hamilton's sensational artwork which graces both this album and 'Ri'. If you want to see more, look for his web site at www.dragonflight.org.uk