Marillion continues their series of deluxe reissues with their 1995 album “Afraid of Sunlight.” Heading into neo-prog based on their progressive roots after Fish left the band a few albums earlier, fans will find strong moments such as “Cannibal Surf Babe” a sort of tribute to the '60s. Starting similar to the Beach Boys' “California Girls” before falling into a nightmarish tale of a cannibal woman, and assuming you survive, you may find the best moments are on the second half of the album. Therein lie tracks such as “Out of This World,” “Afraid of Sunlight,” and “King.” Keyboards stand out throughout with some very lovely melodic moments and a nice movement between calm and heavier melodies.
The first compact disc in the deluxe box features a brand new stereo remix of the album by Michael Hunter, with the second disc containing the original 1995 stereo mix of the album by Dave Meegan. The third and fourth discs showcase a live recording of Marillion’s September 29, 1995 concert at Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands, produced by Michael Hunter. Long time collectors should note that six of the live tracks first appeared in 1996 on the band’s double live album, Made Again, and the show was also released as a Front Row Club recording. However, this is the first time the entire show has been properly mixed and released, including the final encore, “Garden Party.”
Of course, for Hi-Res Edition readers, it is likely the Blu-ray which contains 48kHz / 24-bit audio of Michael Hunter’s remix of the album in stereo and 5.1 are of greatest interest. Also, fans will find on the Blu-ray promo videos for Beautiful, a new documentary about the album and early versions, outtakes, demos, and the bonus tracks from the 1999 remaster. Note that the album artwork has dramatically changed, and as is customary here on Hi-Res Edition, the original artwork is presented, and in this case fades into the new version.
Without any earlier editions on hand, I have no concrete way of determining the sound quality improvements, except for the comparison between the original 1995 mix against the 2019 mix found on the first two CD’s. I can definitively say that the new mix is a preferable improvement over the original produced and engineered by Dave Meegan. For fans that are accustomed to the original mix, the 2019 version by Michael Hunter is a dramatic change, which I find improves balance among parts by decreasing snare hits and pushing Steve Hogarth’s vocals forward, among other measurable changes. Over the years Marillion has followed high standards in recording, and these new mixes retain the tendency towards a slightly thin sound and a push in the upper mid-range. I also noticed that Pete Trewavas’ signature compressed bass digs further into the lower register and Steve Rothery’s guitars possess a golden sparkle throughout the album.
While I generally felt encompassed when listening to the surround version, it is certainly a front centric mix with Hogarth’s keyboard parts and Rothery’s delayed guitars primarily emanating from the rears. There are several rather tasteful moments filled with ear candy, which is immediately exhibited on the opening track “Gazpacho.” The core of the band spreads across the front left and right channels, with the center speaker primarily reserved for vocal parts. The discrete 5.1 mix is very deep, filling the room nicely, but sadly may only appear like an extended stereo version to Quadraholics who are accustomed to a wider spread of instrumentation around the four primary speakers.
One thing that remains consistently clear throughout the Marillion catalog is the recording quality, which is exceptionally high. This has been maintained on Afraid of Sunlight, with no noticeable distortion and an utter transparency which provides for a completely open and airy mix. I could hear no discernable difference between the DTS-HD Master Audio and LPCM 5.1 48kHz / 24-bit codec, which has not always been the case with other releases.
One of my favorite songs is the fourth track “Afraid of Sunrise,” which happens to be the shortened instrumental music used under the Blu-ray’s main menu. The laid back rock feel of this song simply has an evocative melody with synthesizers swelling from the back channels, all while Hogarth passionately sings from the center channel. Guitars, bass and drums spread moderately across the front left and right channels, creating a strong wall of sound that blends nicely with the parts in the surrounds and center speaker.
As noted earlier, the later tracks on the album take on more progressive roots, and for me the closing song “King” is simply revelatory. Its high dynamics and blistering guitar solo add amazing depth to the album, and simply could be worth the cost of entry. I like the split of the vocals in the front center speaker with the piano part in the back channel, as well as the use of echo that dramatically add space across the soundstage.
Now, this album is also equally as spectacular in hi-res stereo, and for audiophiles that are not sitting in the multi-channel camp, this new mix is a winner. An aspect that really is noticeable is how well all of the instruments blend, creating a very musical mix. Truthfully, I feel a little disjointed with the separation of the keyboards and some guitar parts when listening to the surround mix, which end up cohesively merged on the stereo version. For what ever reason, I also found the bass to be more concise, and this is an ongoing aspect I have been noting with mixes that make use of the sub-woofers. But the subs do add some deeper grounding, which for some, it is that earth shattering sensation which becomes critical to their listening experience.
The Blu-ray also contains several bonus tracks and a documentary that for long-time fans will surely be of interest. While the tracks aren’t polished, they do show the creative process and are likely worthy of your ears. Also, the live concert CD’s are a great document of their performance at Ahoy in Rotterdam on September 29, 1995.
This album could be a good place to start for new Marillion collectors with its more accessible sound. However, from the prog-rock perspective, Afraid of Sunlight is better suited for those of us who are diehard fans, surround enthusiasts who must have everything, and those seeking to discover some of the earlier sounds of the neo-prog genre.
4 CD + 1 Blur-ray deluxe edition with all new hi-res stereo and 5.1 mixes 48K/24bit DTS-HD Master Audio and LPCM..