Nad Sylvan’s The Bride Said No is a sequel to 2015’s Courting the Widow, an album featuring Mr. Sylvan’s onstage persona, the Vampirate. The Bride is a melodramatic, theatrical offering that employs a virtual Prog All-Star team, featuring the likes of Steve Hackett, Roine Stolt, Tony Levin, and Nick D’Virgilio. The musicianship, as one might imagine, is outstanding.
Nad Sylvan, vocalist for Unifaun and Agents of Mercy, wrote this solo effort in “a gap from all the hectic touring with Steve Hackett [as part of the Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett tour]”. He reports that the album was written and recorded in only six months, although it does not sound rushed in any way.
The Bride Said No is clearly telling a story, but as I have a hard time hearing lyrics, I would need, at the very least, program notes to fully understand what that story might be. Even without a lyric sheet to study, however, there is plenty to admire here. There is a mix of styles and moods between songs, and in many cases, within a single song. The musicianship, as previously mentioned, is stellar. The opening track, “Bridesmaids”, is a short instrumental prelude to the rest of the album, and first introduces a quirky recurring motive that appears to be inspired by The Addams Family theme song. This is a fair indication of what is to follow for the next seven (or eight) tracks. Not that The Bride is a comedy, but it certainly has plenty of moments where it is “creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky.” In the title track, for instance, the recurring Psycho-style violins leave me wondering if Nad Sylvan has a sardonic sense of drama, or if the Bride merely wishes to follow in the footsteps of Lucia di Lammermoor.
There is a nice symmetry in the placement of the songs in The Bride. Tracks 2 and 6 put the rock in this prog rock album: heavy, but not bombastic. Tracks 3 and 7 have a kind of dreamy sentimentality to them, while tracks 4 “The White Crown” and 8 “The Bride Said No” are clever, experimental, and progressive, with moments of musical humor and drama.
These parallel three-song sets put a frame around the centerpiece of the album, “What Have You Done” in track 5. This is a lovely ballad in a gentle triple time, featuring some vocal harmonies with (what must be) the Bride as sung by Jade Ell, and epic guitar solo trade-offs by Steve Hackett and Guthrie Govan. I am assured by a guitar-playing friend that this guitar is as good as I think it is, and very likely better.
Mention should be made of the many musical flavors in “The White Crown”. There is harpsichord and Chapman stick (and is that a Theramin?) and bipolar mood swings. There are short choppy melodic phrases, big theatrical moments, and some pretty funky time changes, as well as that Addams Family motif. This is a piece where Mr. Sylvan let his freak flag fly, and then it flew a little higher. In a good way.
All things considered, this will be an album in my regular rotation. Nad Sylvan is currently working with Steve Hackett for a reason: His voice is a reasonable facsimile for Peter Gabriel’s, although not a carbon copy. This may be a turn off for some listeners, but for me the writing, the production, and the quality of the musicians is strong enough to offset any negatives.
P.S. Despite the 19:30 minute listed length of the final and title track, “The Bride Said No” is in fact just under 12:30 long. There follows about two and a half minutes of silence, and we are then treated to a musical post script which must be called “Black Sheep”, a four minute song that sounds like very intelligent pop, and could conceivably be radio-friendly. It’s a tasty little confection worth sticking around for.