The Enid aren't your average '70s-era progressive legacy act. Far from abandoning experimentation and growth in their age as so many of their peers are wont to do, these guys seem dedicated to upholding a standard of quality that would be the envy of most. And though it's not their best album, their latest release, 2013's Invicta, nonetheless comes as a breath of fresh air.
The album is about as pure a classical/rock crossover as you could hope to ask for, as the pieces are carried by the orchestral elements almost entirely--the majority of the instrumentation in the album is focused around vocal, piano, and string parts. Sure, there are some guitars and drums, but their presence in the album is so muted that you don't even hear them until over ten minutes in. That's because the first ten minutes is occupied by the operatic piece "One and the Many", a slow-building aria that gradually transforms into a hymn-like choral piece.
Actually, a lot of the other pieces have that same kind of non-sequitur description to them, and it's that kind of unpredictability that keeps Invicta fresh. To wit: "Execution Mob" is an upbeat vocal tune, "Witch Hunt" turns into an unrepentant heavy metal rocker, and "Who Created Me?" and "Villain of Science" sound like tracks from completely different Broadway musicals. Sure, this can make the album feel very piecewise and scattered, even if there is some overarching thematic cohesion to be found. But it's not such a pronounced problem as to impact the quality of the album. In fact, it's very much the aural equivalent of eating a box of chocolates: every one is tasty in a different way, even if, on the outside, they're all made of the same thing.
In fact, the only real problem with the album are the problems inherent in any symphonic album. When you're working with an orchestral setup, the temptation is to just let them to their own thing--everyone instinctively loves how strings sound, even if they don't listen to classical music all the time. However, more often than not, this winds up effecting itself as a series of long, drawn-out, low tempo passages which, while cathartic in small doses, are terminally boring when over done. Unfortunately, it's really, really easy to overdo it, and The Enid fall into that exact trap, meaning that the majority of the classical-oriented sections (like the entirety of the centrepiece "Heaven's Gate") come up wanting, acting as long excursions of melody without any actual meat to them.
But don't misunderstand me; Invicta isn't a bad album. In fact, I'd highly recommend it to progressive fans and fans of symphonic rock alike. But this album only came to my attention for receiving an album of the year nod at the 2013 Progressive Music Awards, and I don't think it deserved that distinction. It's not a fantastic album, and it's far from the best of The Enid's career. But outside of that context, it is still a good album, and you'll be better off for hearing it.
Recommended if you like: Renaissance, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Yes