There was a time in the mid-eighties as Generation X hijacked the scene where keyboards in hard rock and metal were considered taboo. Never mind every one of the great rockers such as Zeppelin, Sabbath, Purple and Rainbow blared their organs and synths with the same razzle-dazzle as their classical and blues-bred lead guitars and superfluous drum solos. When you stop and think how much more powerful progressive rock groups such as Yes, Nektar, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Jethro Tull sounded with keyboard accompaniment, it’s almost hard to see what the anti-key hubbub was about in eighties’ heavy metal.
Then again, masters of the keys from Jon Lord to Jens Johansson are in a far different class than some of the high-pitchedooze emissionscommercializing heavy music from once loud ‘n proud rockers such as Def Leppard and TNT. The latter band’s Tell No Tales particularly pours the synth syrup gratuitously, while another example, Fastway’s Waiting for the Roar,is perhaps the biggest keyboard rock wankfest of the day.
Don Airey, on the other hand, is perched with a different echelon of keyboard jocks. Having played with everyone from Deep Purple to Jethro Tull to Ozzy to Sabbath, Priest, Whitesnake, UFO, Uli Jon Roth, Rainbow and Gary Moore, Don Airey realizes that if you’re going to supplement hard rock with organs and keys, then you need to rock that stuff, brother. This is precisely what the finger-happy maestro does with A Light in the Sky, one of the most entertaining keyboard-driven albums put down in the modern era.
Mixing everything from hard rock to fusion to classical, Don Airey literally goes space truckin’ on A Light in the Sky with a largely-inspired set of groundless tunes varying in mood and momentum.
At times, Airey is like Bach on a speed kick with fugue-turned-rock-a-rama instrumentals such as “Space Troll Patrol.” Sometimes the pace of the songs themselves take over like Deep Purple grooves thrown into an uncut gear, such as the brisk-tempoed “Endless Night.” Going into traditional Purple rawk modes on the stamping “Shooting Star,” Don Airey has only begun to take his listeners to way-out astral planes on this album.
Airey playfully tosses out a one-minute organ blues jam with “Rocket to the Moon,” but the dominant trait to A Light in the Sky is its articulate textures and explosive prog bursts turned in elevated succession. “Ripples in the Fabric of Time” works its way methodically through a soothing rock pulse before going berserk in the second half of the instrumental with madcap organ, guitar and violin solos. “A Light in the Sky Part 2” reigns as an extensive seven-minute rock odyssey complete with vocals from Carl Sentance, who uncannily sounds a bit like Ian Gillian and Glenn Hughes. In many sections, Don Airey heaps winding organ loops atop his throbbing rock furrow ala Fragile-era Yes. Detailed beyond comprehension, “A Light in the Sky Part 2” is a new-gen prog bonanza as interpreted by a veteran keystroker who was there to assimilate it all when it was originally created.
What’s particularly special about Airey’s project is he’s unafraid to scale the note-lunacy down to a focused and textured rock ballad with “Love You Too Much.” He also changes his entire scheme by switching to chamber piano on the strict and eloquent “Into Orbit,” which features gorgeous violin accompaniment courtesy of Lidia Baich. Beforehand, Airey puts on a clinic by merging rock and cabaret with the breathtaking “Somarero M104.”
As A Light in the Sky rounds on a majestic New York Minute escape “Lost in the End of Time,” what has been revealed is a supreme composer encased in the guise of a rocker. Brilliant on many turns, Don Airey has proven, as he has recently on Judas Priest’s Nostradamus that a mindset filled with Holst, Bach, ELP and Rainbowcan equate into one hell of a headbangers’ concerto.
A Light in the Sky
review by Ray Van Horn, Jr.