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Saracen - 2006 Vox In Excelso

ARTIST: Saracen
ALBUM: Vox In Excelso
LABEL: Escape Music
YEAR: 2006


LINEUP: Steve Bettney - vocals * Rob Bendelow - guitars * Paul Bradder - keyboards, synths * Richard Bendelow - bass * Mark Cross - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Lament * 02 Meet Me At Midnight * 03 Exile * 04 The Order * 05 Militum Christi * 06 Mary * 07 Vive Dieu.. Saint Amour * 08 The Power And The Glory * 09 Chain Reaction * 10 Vox In Excelso * 11 Where Was Their God? * 12 Priory Of Zion



Just as the Davinci Code peters out at the Box Office, British band Saracen come along and continue the story of Mary Magdelene, segueing into the history of the Knights Templar. It's a theme that is well read with the band, and if you've investigated their past works you'll know about their pre-occupation and fascination with all things to do with the Knights Templar. In 2003, Glory Daze did a bit of investigative work with their (then) studio album 'Red Sky', which was much lauded by the way, plus an interview with main-man Rob Bendelow. Well we can report that things are as good as ever with Saracen. Signed to Escape Music now, the addition of special guest drummer Mark Cross, but also now sadly without the talents of longtime keyboardist Richard Lowe who has since retired. Nothing lost though - new keys recruit Paul Bradder does a great job, providing a very Magnum like sheen over the top of some very melodic sounding Black Sabbath guitars supplied by Rob Bendelow. And if Steve Bettney was ever asked to take over the vocals from Rob Halford in Judas Priest, then he is undoubtedly the man. A near carbon-copy! The story on 'Vox In Excelso' follows the timeline of the Knights Templar from the time of Jesus and Mary Magdelene, right through to the Middle Ages and their subsequent rise to power as one of the most powerful entities in Europe. Their power was usurped by the French King Philip IV, and so began the gradual slide into purgatory, based on the deceit and lies of the French Monarchy and The Vatican of the time. The Papal Decree to abolish the Knights Templar was called 'Vox In Excelso', hence the name of this album. If you love concept albums based on medieval history (and we have seen a few of them over the last few years), then this Saracen effort is right up there with the best of them.

The Songs
Each of the tracks has a spoken word intro which allows the listener to make sense of the content as the CD is navigated, much like some of the Kamelot concept albums. We'll navigate our way through the songs, and provide the storyline.

Lament - goes back to the time of Jesus, the start of the Knights Templar story.

Meet Me At Midnight - is the final meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdelene prior to his crucifixion, though Jesus has other intentions.. like staying alive.

Exile - is the time after the crucifixion and resurrection, where the couple escape to the West, effectively in exile, rumoured to be in foothills of the Pyrennes, the future stronghold of the Knights Templar. This track features some beautiful keyboard parts from Bradder.

The Order - the timeline has moved on to the 10th century. A band of French Knights have come to the Holy City of Jerusalem now under western rule, and from here, their beginnings took shape. Musically, this track is pure pomp.

Militum Christi - the Knights Templar have grown to become a mighty army, the ultimate fighting force in the (then) western world. This track is an instrumental.

Mary - The Knights Templar held the secret that the royal bloodline of Christ had survived through the centuries in France. They had come to Jerusalem in search of the key to that secret. A special event took place, whereby the mother of the bloodline - Mary Magdelene appeared to the Knights Templar in a visitation/vision.

Vive Dieu.. Saint Amour - an incredibly beautiful track, sung in French, very keyboard laden, atmospheric and choral.. all in one.

The Power & The Glory - the timeline has moved on the 14th century. The Knights Templar are one of the most powerful entities outside of the Catholic Church. Much admired, much feared and the envy of many, including the ruthless French Monarchy - led by King Philip IV. He led a conspiracy to usurp the power of the Knights Templar by arresting their leader and many of the Knights themselves.

Chain Reaction - describes the capture of the Knights, their arrest, interrogation and in some cases execution. Prince Philip persuaded Pope Clement V to abolish the order of the Knights Templar, through his papal decree 'Vox In Excelso'.

Vox In Excelso - Though considered weak, Pope Clement V seriously questioned his papal decree, and underwent some soul-searching knowing full well the lies being perpetrated. Steve Bettney's soulful vocals explores the Pope's lament.

Where Was Their God? - asks the question put to King Philip IV and Pope Clement V, who sold out the Knights Templar based on a series of lies. How could two men (of God) condemn the leader of the Knights Templar to death based upon a lie? A curse was put upon these two men, and within a year of the execution of the leader, both men were dead.

Priory Of Zion - The Order of the Knights Templar though officially abolished, moved deeper into secrecy and the shadows as the years went on. This order exists today as the Priory Of Zion, though admittedly is still steeped in mystery, with the primary goal of protecting the royal bloodline of Christ. Again, the incredible pomp rock on display here really warrants a good listen, even if the track is 9 minutes long.

In Summary
I've read a few reviews of this album, it seems some of the reviewers out there have not totally grasped what this album is about. Some short-sighted observations have panned this album unfairly. Musically, this is pristine stuff. Great vocals, guitar lines, majestic keyboards (Paul Bradder is a keyboard wizard, that there is no doubt) and having a guy like Mark Cross providing a powerful back-end all makes 'Vox In Excelso' a terrific companion piece. Arrangement wise, you don't have to dive too deeply into the album to make sense of it, as most concept albums seem to do. From my perspective, this is Saracen's finest work and I have no hesitation in recommending it to lovers of that heavier pomp rock style. The storyline of the Knights Templar is the icing on the cake.

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#1 | george_the_jack on February 11 2010 23:30:39
A work of art! Thanks for making me discover this GEM George! I've missed it since today!

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