Experimental orchestral collective, Tonic Fold return with their third album, ‘The Violent Language of Portraits’, a collaborative multi-genre affair that pulls in some unusual names one wouldn’t immediately associate with the music world, such as much loved comedienne Kathy Burke.

A collation of ‘portraits’ created by young composer Shane Cullinan, each song paints an individual picture, from a heartfelt tribute to the war correspondent Marie Colvin, to insights into paedophilia in the Catholic Church. This album has the feel of an epic film soundtrack, with sweeping orchestral arrangements topped off by dramatic guest vocals. The effect is distinctly cinematic and at times reminiscent of the works of Philip Glass or Michael Nyman.

Using some well-known West End musical actors (Andrew Derbyshire, Rachel Tucker) and more indie thespians (Chris New) for guest vocals, this ambitious project is something of a many headed beast, blurring the boundaries of classical and contemporary music worlds. Tonic Fold is a difficult act to describe, it is many things thrown into a big melting pot, and while it is this baffling concoction that makes it charming, at times one looks for a bit more cohesion.

Combining a 20 piece orchestra with drums, guitar, bass and piano, Tonic Fold give a modern edge to more traditional classical composition, with some stunning results. ‘Northern Lights’ ft Gavin Conder, is a beautiful piece, with an anxious, yearning piano building up to a thrilling crescendo – rounded off by floating strings. ‘Let Lay’ features the mellifluous soul singer David McAlmont showing off his pipes in full ballad mode. ‘Manaway’ ft Jess Greenfield is where one hears the strongest rock undertones, a wall of sound imbued with steely determination. This is an album best appreciated over time, sat back on a comfortable sofa, armed with the aural clarity of a decent pair of headphones.

There is a noticeable religious theme running with tracks such as ‘The Rosary Minor’, ‘Bacon’s Pope’ and ‘Cain on Cain’, that seem to speak with derision of the church and imply Cullinan’s work has both struggled against it and been influenced by it – a theory backed up by his 2009 orchestral drama, The Pieta.

Yet, in a sea of intrigue, lost lovers, soul searching, painful recoveries and theological questionings, the question on everyone’s minds is ‘where does Kathy Burke fit into all this’? And the answer is, in an unusual appearance, Burke performs ‘Skin’ – a striking, moving spoken word piece about a woman’s grief at the sudden disappearance of her lover. Peppered with pathos and full blown psychotic delusions over atmospheric strings, Burke’s performance is spine tingling and rounds off a phenomenal ride.

VIDEO: ‘Manaway’ ft Jess Greenfield