Joji Hirota's debut album, going with the more anglicized George here, is a fascinating blend of jazz fusion, progressive rock, experimental avant garde combined with indigenous tribal Japanese elements. Plenty of flute, chanting and manic vocals, acoustic and fuzz guitar, piano, vibes, and a variety of percussion are the primary ingredients. At times, especially during the middle of side 2, it strays a bit too much toward the avant-garde, perhaps similar to J.A. Caesar in that way. Overall a very unique, but satisfying album.
There's a fine line between electric folk rock and folk influenced progressive rock. With Brittany, the majority of the bands are the former (Malicorne, Gwendal, etc...). Avel Nevez, on Service Compris at least, is probably the most clear example of the latter, at least from this most unique of French regions. There's no mistaking the patriotism and indigenous melodies that define the Breton area (the regional map in the trashcan says all you need to know politically). However the guitar, and in particular, the synthesizer work points to a deep 1970's knowledge of French and UK progressive rock. If you're familiar with the mid 90's band Kadwaladyr, then Avel Nevez is probably closest in sound to that high spirited bunch.
With a corny name like Pop Instrumental de France, one would think this was going to contain happy organ covers of 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Paperback Writer'. But this being France in 1971, insiders know it will be something entirely different. A splendid romantic instrumental rock album, with a large palette of instruments creating different moods, atmospheres, and rhythms. Somewhere between William Sheller's Lux Aeterna, Jean Cohen-Solal's two albums, and Alain Goragues La Planete Sauvage, you'll find Laurent Petitgirard's Pop Instrumental de France. A must pick up for fans of early French progressive rock. Personal collection
CD: 2006 Vadim
The CD on Vadim comes with great liner notes from Laurent Petitgirard, sports new artwork (second scan), and features an excellent sound.
(Now this is crazy. I'm working with a random number generator going through my collection, and it picked Bloodrock followed by Master Cylinder. Both from Fort Worth. Both with already penned notes, and neither in UMR until now. OK then... spoooooky)
Not much is known about this Fort Worth based jazz rock group (even though they're from my neck of the woods, their album wasn't exactly a staple of local jazz or rock radio). On the usually soulless Inner City label, Master Cylinder was anything but that. Their album has a strong melodic sense, and it seems the group must have been informed by the Canterbury groups like early Soft Machine or National Health, as well as the DC based Happy the Man. While ostensibly a jazz album, it's these rock elements that bring Master Cylinder to the next level. A very good album that time has forgot.
LP: 1981 Inner City
Ken from Laser's Edge tells me he had every intention of reissuing this album on CD when it was discovered that the master tapes were lost. Bummer.
Solid workman-like blue collar hard rock album from my current hometown of Fort Worth, with grungy Hammond and heavy guitar leads. At least 4 tracks here are total winners. Only pitfalls are 'You Gotta Roll' which is their only foray - this time - into what seemed to be the mandatory boogie/good time rock-n-roll number. And 'A Certain Kind' is the type of ballad Bloodrock should have avoided altogether. CSN&Y album closer doesn't do the band any favors either. But otherwise this one is solid hard rock fare and a must for fans of the genre. These "Cats" (residents will get it) are local boys who done real good. Makes me want to go to Kincaid's Grocery on Camp Bowie, and get a cheeseburger and a real (chocolate) ice cream shake. In a Chevy Mist Green painted grocery. And I did just that today... (I really did! On the day I wrote these notes which was Nov 7, 2015. Just never added to UMR until now).
When I think of Flying Island, I tend to categorize them as a fusion band. But this listen proved to me that's not really the case. Even though there's a little funky business (especially on their debut), I would say that Flying Island are more of an instrumental progressive rock band. The lead instruments are violin, guitar and organ, and this is definitely no chops fest. Compositions are first and foremost, while instrumental dexterity backs up the highly melodic, but complex music charts. The violin in particular will remind the listener of Curved Air and Darryl Way's Wolf. Instantly recognizable cover art, another fine trademark of the Vanguard label. I miss the days when a label could be identified in this way.
For such a relatively remote place like Idaho - especially in the early 1970s - it's hard to imagine that not only one, but two bonafide underground rock albums emerged. One is the archival Stone Garden, and the other did manage to get released on LP privately, and that's the one we're talking about today. In reading other reviews of this album, it's clear few are taking into account the remarkable progression this album portrays, given the circumstances from which it arrived. Comparing Salem Mass to Black Sabbath or any other major label British or American band from 1971 is comparing things as all things equal, when they had no chance to be. And yet Salem Mass is quite an accomplished record on its own accord. It is definitely heavy, with fuzz guitar galore, and also plenty of fat organ sounds. And I kind of like the raw vocals that fits the music perfectly. But the shocker here is the use of the Minimoog (don't forget the Minimoog went into production only in 1970). Where the heck did they get one of those? In Caldwell, Idaho? I mean it's one thing for ELP to break one out, but for a local hard rock band playing the outlaw cowboy beer bar scene? Are you kidding me? Just for this alone, the album should be held in high esteem among those who look for quality more thoughtful underground albums. What other underground hard rock band (non major label) used a Minimoog this early? The music is quite melodic, and definitely has a late psych era vibe, which was more common here in America during that time. This one is a must listen.
LP: 1999 Akarma (Italy)
This reissue comes in a fine heavy textured cover. As I stated on Discogs recently: Akarma has a checkered past, no question about it. But not this title. It was licensed directly from Gear Fab and even includes their insert! Unfortunately someone had removed the Gear Fab association without backup data and now nobody can sell the album on Discogs because of the (once) incorrect appellation (I changed it back to legal). Though to be fair, it's the label's own fault, as they had far too many questionable releases. Guilty by association I guess.
There are albums that deserve their polarity in opinion. Radical cutting edge music that is likely to divide the popular vote. Or an album of questionable music ability, yet has a vibe that resonates with the downtrodden. Zarathustra is none of these things. I can't for the life of me understand the negativity this album faces. This is square-on 1971/1972 German Krautrock of the hard rock variety, and sounds very similar to many other bands of its ilk - none of which I've seen get thrown under the bus like Zarathustra has here. This is the good stuff if looking for that patented heavy guitar/organ sound and rough vocals with accented English. It all goes with the territory. If you love this album, then certainly bands like Hairy Chapter, Haze, Weed, Dies Irae, Gomorrha, Vinegar, Night Sun, and countless others will delight. It's just another great album from a great scene as far as I'm concerned.
Personal collection LP: 1989 Second Battle
Fine gatefold reissue. My copy is #899 for those that care about things like that.
There are scores of psychedelic space rock bands in existence these days, and that's a good thing, but there a few that clearly are rising to the top. And Lunar Dunes is in the top tier. Superior and inventive guitar work combined with a creative rhythm section define this amazing debut. The songs are well written with actual melodies, and aren't just skeletons to launch the next jam. There's a distinct Middle Eastern exotic flair, as evidenced by the hand percussion and soaring wordless female voice. '3. Herzegovina (interpolating Le Petit Chevalier)' is remarkable in that it sounds like Tony Hill from High Tide jamming with the rhythm section of Can. The aggressive psychedelic space rock of 'The Todal Gleeps' recalls the great Omnia Opera. Personal collection
CD: 2007 private
While La Maquina Cinematica are ostensibly categorized in the avant progressive sub-genre of "rehearsal intensive" chamber music, my first reaction to their music came from an entirely different source: Anacrusa. Especially late era Anacrusa around the time of El Sacrificio and Fuerza, when they had switched from being an entirely folk oriented band to one that embraced a certain contemporary classical sound. For the most part La Maquina Cinematica focus on melody and complex arrangements, and thus create a tapestry of beautiful music. However, they do rock out on occasion, and I was again reminded of an Argentine band: Las Orejas y la Lengua. Due to the optimistic nature of the recordings, the ghost of Art Zoyd and Univers Zero are very faint, though not completely absent. A very good album and a must for fans of contemporary chamber music.
As an aside, this is definitely the first CD I own that is sponsored by Ernst & Young. Maybe there's hope for global corporations after all.
Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting are a really fantastic new band from Sweden that has completely captured the mood of the anarchic 1970 Scandinavian underground. Long instrumental psychedelic journeys filled with loud acid guitar solos, droning violin and an active rhythm section. The mystical Dark Ages folk of yesteryear provide the basis for the melodies. No doubt Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting absorbed first album Flasket Brinner as a blueprint, and further added touches of the second Kebnekaise and some of the more lucid moments from Algarnas Tradgard. It's exciting to know that there are modern groups out there exploring paths that were stopped way too soon. Orosvisor could be considered a distant cousin to Dungen's debut.
This is one of the more misunderstood of the Italian progressive rock albums. Most known for Contaminazione, this has about as much relevance to that album as Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation has to Phaedra. A concept album around that always popular topic of the Bible, this mixes studio electronics and an experimental edge with primal blues hard rock. It’s not that it’s simple music - just unrelenting. A trio with more hard guitar than you’ll find on almost any Italian album. I had forgotten there was flute interspersed in a couple of places. 'Sodoma E Gomorra' is almost like a big band swing jazz track as done by a hard rock trio. Too funny given the topic. Personal collection
CD: 2005 BMG (Japan)
MacArthur II is clearly a followup to MacArthur's debut. Recorded between 1977 and 1982, the music on II is remarkably similar, and not a surprise given the time frame. Except II is even better, thought out, and more mature. By 1982, this kind of music here in America was extinct, so it's always fun to see an album like MacArthur II appear on the landscape. Primo-era late 70s Rush remains the primary influence, though there's a distinct space rock jam element this time, which is even more unusual for the time.
LP: 1982 private
Originals of II are more plentiful than the debut, but still quite scarce. Given that the debut was reissued on LP and CD by Out-sider/Guerssen in 2016, I would look for a reissue here too shortly. Ben MacArthur was heavily involved with that reissue.
Ozric's best studio album in about a decade. Paper Monkeys seems more motivated than the last few efforts. Definitely more energy, and features some fine guitar rave-ups from Ed Wynne, similar in that way to The Floor's Too Far Away (another newer Ozric album that I'm quite fond of). Electronica continues to influence their sound - perhaps even more so than prior. There's no mistaking this is an Ozric Tentacles album, and it doesn't appear they're ever going to change the formula. But for what they do, this is one of the better ones.
CD: 2011 Madfish
LP: 2011 Madfish
Ske is the new project from Paolo "Ske" Botta, keyboardist for avant progressive rock band Yugen. It's interesting to note that Ske's album is on AltRock's "symphonic progressive" sub-label Fading. I say interesting, because to my ears, 1000 Autunni fits the avant progressive definition better.
Like some modern groups, Ske seems to have compiled the best parts of what progressive rock has to offer, and reassembles them into a hodge podge of the entire genre. So, in effect, what you get with 1000 Autunni is Progressive Rock Extract. Especially the Canterbury scene, Anglagard influenced Nordic symphonic rock, and angular avant progressive (similar to his other group Yugen).
Is there anything wrong with that? Well no, not in my opinion. It almost guarantees a pleasant listen, though I do find myself hoping for a more individual persona and style to emerge. At the time of this writing, Ske's album is #1 on Gnosis for 2011 (and remains in that position as of Sept 2017), and it's easy to understand why. Though it's almost like a perfect reproduction, rather than an original. Perhaps more listens will reveal more of what I'm looking for and my rating will go up even more. In any case, I can only see Ske improving from here. All things considered, this is a fine debut.
Following on my review of the first album, here is Black Bonzo's highly anticipated second album. While the debut represented the early 70s UK sound - anywhere from the heavy rock of Uriah Heep to the gentler tones of Caravan - Black Bonzo's second album Sound of the Apocalypse shows the band moving to top billing on the arena stage. This album has what I would call a BIG sound. Mellotrons and organ, fat bass, loud guitars, and crashing drums. From the dynamic moments of King Crimson and Yes, to the more progressive sounds of Kansas and Styx is where you'll find the music of Black Bonzo's second album. So in effect, Black Bonzo moved the needle of the time machine from 1971 to 1976. And perhaps also they sailed from England to America. I find the album lacks a distinct personality, but it's hard to root against it. This is hardball progressive rock.
New Swedish band who play an early 70’s influenced hard rock progressive sound. Think Uriah Heep mixed with some Caravan and early KC maybe? Definitely more of the former, warts and all. Opening track ‘Lady of the Light’ has the fat Hammond, driving rhythms, fuzz guitar, some progressive changes. Vocalist Magnus Lindgren even manages to nail that super cool voice that screams David Byron. Nicklas Ahlund plays an arsenal of analog keys including the aforementioned Hammond, mellotron, Moog and various other synths. ‘Brave Young Soldier’ sets a haunting tone, before breaking into a cool wah-wah bass, mellotron and Moog sequence. The vocals here even have a Pye Hastings touch and thus the Caravan connection is made. On ‘These Are Days of Sorrow’, guitarist Joachim Karlsson obtains some great wah-wah guitar sounds. ‘Sirens’ opens in heavy mellotron/organ mode, and comparisons to Anglagard are inevitable. And first era King Crimson also rings a bell. ‘New Day’ and ‘Freedom’ have more of a 70’s rock and roll feel as does ‘Jailbait’ though with a heavier, almost metallic sound. Tracks like ‘Fantasyworld’ and ‘Leave Your Burdens’ strike a balance between straight ahead rock and progressive breaks with moody acoustic guitar and the usual heavy analog ivory dose. Mellotron laced ‘Where the River Meets the Sea’ is an apt, if not melancholic, closer. Once again, the ghost of classic 70’s Uriah Heep is called for one more encore. It’s easy to do some band spotting throughout as each track has different influences, but the cool thing is they don’t really sound like anyone exactly - so they manage to open a new door. Certainly one of the best retro rockers I’ve heard. Proves there’s plenty of oil left in that well. It’s not a stoner thing either, or a tribute band. Just exploring a genre they like. I’d prefer more emphasis on their progressive tendencies, where the instrumentation and creative ideas explode with reckless abandon. Still a winning album that shows even more potential. Exciting.
Secret Saucer are an Ohio based group (not far from Cleveland), who've been around more or less for about 7 years or so. This is their 3rd album, and quite possibly the best of the lot - though they are all remarkably consistent. There's little here you haven't heard before, but a good space rock jam is still exciting to hear, that moment when it all comes together, and the fiery guitar solo sends you over the edge. All the genre's norms are on display here: Swooshing synthesizers, blazing guitars with as many effects applied as possible, constant heavy bass and drums - and with very little attention paid to meter shifting or dynamics... or melody. With Secret Saucer, you're getting exactly what you came for. When you go to In-N-Out Burger, you want a good cheeseburger, not foie gras. And Secret Saucer serves up a mean cheeseburger.
1978 was a tough year for mainstream progressive rock bands in general. And while Trettioåriga Kriget were hardly a household name here in the States, they certainly were well known back home in Sweden. To survive, the expectation was for a band to produce a hit record of some sort. It's pop, punk, and disco - and a global plague of ADD. No more long journeys into the netherworld to sit back and contemplate. And Trettioåriga Kriget's first two brilliant albums are just that, showcasing an imaginative and talented band. So what's a group like this to do? Compromise. And honestly, Trettioåriga Kriget did about as good a job as anyone in accomplishing this. Had everyone followed this blueprint, prog rock may have indeed survived longer than it did. But most were hapless at trying (and leading lights Yes and ELP certainly turned in their respective clunkers for the year). Hej På Er balances straightforward rock with deceptively complex progressive music in compact form. It's not perfect of course, and the first two tracks are pretty bland. As if they were trying to fool the coked out record execs, and hoping they'd leave before the good stuff began playing. It's not a monster album naturally, but it's accomplished and not something to apologize for. It's instantly recognizable as a Trettioåriga Kriget album, but a bit more diluted. Something akin to a double IPA being reduced to a lager.
Here's an an odd little band that crept out of Orange County, California in the late 1990s. Even in 1998, no one was talking about Heru Avenger. If Greg Walker didn't send me a copy to check out, I probably would never have heard of them - even today. I listened to New Aeon a couple of times, liked it - filed it - forgot about it. An all too common problem when one is in constant accumulation mode, something I fortunately stopped doing a decade ago. And I never bothered to check out the second Heru Avenger until recently, and Greg still has copies - so I bought one!
Both albums are remarkably similar, and thus I lumped them together. Basically this is psychedelic chill out music. For the psychedelic, we get loads of fuzz guitar, sequencer based electronics, sax (on Magique Mistress) and real drums. For the chill out, the albums keep a constant low key and steady pace, in a jazz sort of way - like a classic early 70s Miles Davis deep groove. There are no dynamics or compositional aspects to speak of. It's pretty much long space rock jams - all the time. Definitely good background club music - except instead of synthesized techno beats - it's all organic analog rock music. If chill out music existed in 1974, then this is what it would have sounded like. The OC Weekly, in the article quoted above, nails it perfectly by stating: "The first Initiates release was 1998's New Aeon, recorded as Heru Avenger with drummer Craig Teigen of LA's Afrobeat Down. The four epic tracks evoke Hawkwind at their most cosmic and expansive, with hints of the disciplined, improvisational funk of Miles Davis' On the Corner and Get Up With It. Heru Avenger's next release, Magique Mistress (1999), contains marathon, cyclical Afrobeat funk jams with spidery, fluid Michael Karoli-esque guitar and some Agharta/Pangaea spectral jazz ambience, inducing an awestruck stasis." Personal collection
CD (New Aeon): 1998 Initiates International
CD (Magique Mistress): 1999 Initiates International
For those of you who remember when Ozric Tentacles broke out big-time in the late 1980's, then you'll probably also recall a host of other bands coming from the UK Festival scene, as well as other astral travelers from the world over. Soma's debut Epsilon was preceded by quite a bit of hype - something akin to "if you love Ozric, then you'll be blown away by Soma". Always a dangerous thing to do, and sure enough Soma's album didn't live up to such a lofty reputation. That's probably no fault of the band, but finger pointing goes to those that were trying to market it to a new, hungry, but discerning audience. However, not living up to an exceedingly high bar is not the same thing as saying the album wasn't any good. Quite to the contrary.
Fast forward to 1995, and Soma's long delayed second album finally gets released (originally recorded in 1992). By the mid 1990s, as mentioned in the Mr. Quimby review, a certain blasé attitude had penetrated the targeted audience. Whether through overexposure, redundancy, or saturation - who knows - but many of us were exhausted of the style. And to top it off, Soma's album was already 3 years in the can, and was now finally being issued by an obscure Italian label with little distribution. I gave it the short shrift back then, tossed it quickly and said "same ol' same ol'" It wasn't fair, but I was still digesting hundreds of new albums in the mid 90s, and only the best of the best were standing out. I recently received a second chance to buy the CD through a used set sale, and I jumped on it.
A revisit has been kind to Dreamtime. In reality, you can hear the band had actually matured, while expanding their sound to incorporate more sophisticated structures. As such, Soma's final album isn't so much a space rock rave-up, but rather a progressive rock album via the Hawkwind lens. Complex meter shifts, and vocal fronted rock music aren't necessarily the common tools of the jamming space rock trade, but are more than welcome to this listener anyway. Too bad Soma didn't really get their chance to shine in the spotlight. I bet a reunion, similar to what Omnia Opera just pulled off, would prove to be quite a revelation. Personal collection CD: 1995 Beard of Stars (Italy)
As mentioned on the Dreamtime review, I stated that Soma were a band that didn't live up the hype thrust upon it - that hype something akin to "better than Ozric Tentacles". But as I listen to this album for the first time in forever, I have to say the album doesn't live up to the promise of the very first sequence of tracks presented here. The near 13 minute "first track", which comprises of 'Being - Ghandarva - My Skin (Turns the Colour of the Sand)', is absolutely phenomenal. Some of the best space rock ever committed to tape, with incredible atmosphere, build up, and finally release. The middle section with the solo riffing guitar blazing out of the Moog tweets is jaw dropping in its execution. But the band couldn't keep up the intensity afterward - and it sort of peters out by the end. And the dullish, quiet mix doesn't help matters any. Seems the band could have benefited from an Ozric like production. Still, as with many of the UK festival psychedelic albums, this one has aged well for me.
Mystic Stones, along with Demi Monde, were one of the original leading lights of the creative underground space rock movement in the late 80's and 90s. Strangely the label never did put out a "monster" album, though they have plenty of really good ones - perhaps Mandragora's Temple Ball being the highlight.
4 Degrees is the follow-up to Malleus Crease. Humus is one of those bands that I really like, but there doesn't seem to be much support elsewhere to corroborate my views. They started as a rather primitive space rock group, and evolved into something highly complex, while never losing their fierce psychedelic edge. In the end, they combine two of my favorite styles: Space rock and Canterbury fusion. Like a meeting between Sensations Fix and National Health.
4 Degrees was Humus' 4th and last widely available album (Whispering Galleries came out on LP only in Italy and was always scarce). This album features only two tracks, though the first one is broken into 24 small segments and jumps all over the place. The second composition is the complete opposite, and is a rather static meditational piece. A very fine album showing a continued progression for the band - though I still prefer Malleus Crease. Personal collection
CD: 1997 Smogless
Here is my favorite Humus album. Malleus Crease is, IMHO, one of the best albums from the 1990s. This album is an amazing mixture of psychedelic space rock and Canterbury style melodies. Humus could almost be considered the second generation of prime Sensations' Fix.
For fun, I found some old notes I penned for rec.music.progressive. It's dated 8/29/1997: "Right off the bat let me tell ya - this is the most progressive album of the Loch Ness / Humus / Frolic Froth cadre. The fringe of their experimental underground Krautrock sound. There is a strong Canterbury current running through that separates this from the others - organ-flute - hell, even melodies. But, of course, that always FUZZED out guitar keeps this in the familiar barrio. I was floored." I still am.
CD: 1996 Smogless
LP: 1997 W-Dabliu (Italy)
The LP comes in a fine gatefold cover and features no less than 3 posters.
Ibis is Vildkaktus version 2.0 and sees the band moving more toward the jazz center. Featuring an enormous amount of ring modulator electric piano, one could be forgiven on thinking you were listening to a The Fourth Way or Love Cry Want album. Couple this with some fantastic guitar leads and the occasional Swedish melody, and you have quite an album to reckon with. Berits Halsband is another group that went in this direction, but they took the whole concept deeper into freaky underground waters. Sure, there are some experimental bits to wade through, and Ibis can get lost in the weeds on occasion, but overall this is a fine release. I get the feeling a CD reissue would uncover some archival jam material that some of these sketches were built on. That would be awesome.
LP: 1974 Grammofonverket
Here's an LP I've owned since the late 1980s. No legit CD or LP reissue as of yet. As mentioned above, I would suspect a wealth of quality material awaits in a vault somewhere.
Artcane's sole album is generally regarded as nothing more than a King Crimson meets Pink Floyd ripoff, and as such is not worth pursuing. Of course students of the genre know there was far more happening in the late 70s French music landscape than mere plagiarism. The album is primarily instrumental, built on complex meters, and utilizes spacey textures. And well, if that doesn't ring a bell or two eh? For starters, Artcane certainly lent an ear to Pulsar's first two albums. But anyone familiar with Metabolisme, Terpandre, and Carpe Diem will also recognize the familiar pattern laid out here. And Artcane basically crafted the blueprint for future intrepid travelers like Nebelnest, Taal, and Priam.
Personal collection LP: 1977 Philips
An album I've owned for over 25 years, and as such has been a charter member of my CDRWL. Yes, there is a CD out there. But it comes from a pirate ship. So we await for the true merchants to show.
Deluge Grander is a group created by the ever creative mind of Dan Britton, formerly of Cerebus Effect. Cerebus Effect was crazy enough, but this takes it to the next level. Greg Walker enthused in his catalog: "One of the best American albums ever! Banco meets Anglagard meets Crimson with lots of tron and long tracks." Well, that should setup everyone for a disappointment. Or does it? August in the Urals is so far in the old fashioned progressive camp, that it will appeal to one kind of fan – the old fashioned progressive rocker. This is very much in the over-the-top 1970s American school of complex proggy prog ala Cathedral, Mirthrandir, Pentwater, and Yezda Urfa. It was bound to happen sooner or later, a band would be completely and totally influenced by obscure worldwide progressive rock. Not jazz, psych, blues, beat, classical, or anything else. Not Yes, Genesis, and ELP but rather Locanda Delle Fate, Pulsar, Dun, and Anglagard. Much like Wobbler, if you turn your nose up at it, then it’s probably time to admit you just don’t like progressive rock anymore. Or at least anything new that sounds old. It’ll be condemned as so darn uncool by the hipsters, that it’s likely to be considered interesting by a passing stranger. As for me, well this is the style of prog rock I like most, so almost anything like it will get a gushing review. Hardly an unbiased, fair, and balanced outlook I realize. Not that it’s perfect by any means, the vocals being one of the areas that could use some improvement. And it’s a little short of memorable melodies and good grooves. But no complaints from me, there’s so little of this kind of music anymore, I’ll take whatever is given me. Appropriately enough, the cover is a grandiose Thomas Cole painting, the same one used by doom metallers Candlemass on Ancient Dreams. Who’d a thunk Baltimore would end up being the center of the universe for European prog?
1. The Flickering Sky (10:27)
2. Mu-tron (6:20)
3. Osidias (5:40)
4. Ultraviolet Twilight (6:28)
5. Infiltrating Light (6:44)
6. Collective Mind Anarchy (9:43)
7. Zenta Childe (4:44)
8. Son Of Mu-tron (2:14)
9. Darkness [11/11] (6:54)
10. Zenta Childe [Slight Return] (2:04)
11. Once Before In The Future (5:02)
12. Shadow At The Gates Of Nothingness (2:02)
While THTX (primarily a solo effort of talented multi-instrumentalist Matthew Smith I should add) has tightened it up a bit, they unfortunately still have a penchant for long bouts of untamed noise. Which for this listener makes it more undesirable. The frustrating aspect of it for me is that, I feel, THTX have what it takes to put together a great album. The incredible 'Voyage into Space' from Ultimately proves that point emphatically. I was highly encouraged by 1), a track that jammed hard and is extremely psychedelic, but with a good sense of dynamics and songwriting. 2) was a backslide into the boggy morass of prior efforts. It's 3) where THTX shows real potential. Wah wah trumpet and organ create a fertile bed for the inevitable guitar solo. But in this context the guitar has some meaning, and adds firepower. Like adding a dash of sugar rather than 8 spoonfuls. Too much of the good stuff, without context, loses its allure. Unfortunately 4) and beyond shows less discipline. The exceptions are 6), by far the hardest rocking track on the album, and the use of phasing is a nice touch. But this being the modern age of space rock, they do far too much of the same thing for far too long. Like a Saturday Night Live skit that was funny for 3 minutes and tiresome for the remainder. 9) is a rework of a VDGG tune, and it's good to hear main man Matthew Smith on vocals. Taking on Peter Hammill is no small feat, and he does a fine job here. It's also a composition considerably different from the normal THTX fare, and a path they may want to consider in the future. 8) & 10) is more psychedelic overdose, but in the short time frame allotted, would be more acceptable if the placement were better, 11) & 12) close out the album with a more atmospheric base, and once again portrays THTX as more of a thinking man's space psych band then they sometimes allow themselves.
THTX are a group (though primarily a vehicle for multi-instrumentalist Matthew Smith) from Detroit who play in the space rock bag. In general, despite the rather small duo lineup (+ guest on keyboards), they avoid the usual trappings that the noise-makers of today tend to fall into. So rather than an Acid Mothers Temple wank-fest, THTX provides novelty items like structure, dynamics, texture and atmosphere. Much of this is accomplished via non-traditional instruments such as acoustic guitar and trumpet. And, oh sure, there's the electric guitar all fuzzed out and wah-wah'd to ensure you get blown to oblivion. But the latter can only happen when the stage is set properly - something the majority of modern bands don't seem, or want to, understand. Ultimately is the second album by THTX and they succeed for the most part, but there are sections that can still become nauseating with the sonic overload.
'Application for Explosion of Time' is a bit much in places (non stop assault), but at less than 6 minutes, one can appreciate a sledgehammer opener. 'Voyage Into Space' is where THTX really shines. Acoustic guitar, haunting keyboards (from special guest Keir McDonald), slow burning fuzz guitar and pounding drums. It builds to a raga like intensity, recalling Ummagumma era Pink Floyd, or its many Krautrock imitators. Incredible! 'Supersonic Phoenix' has a killer groove with an infectious rhythm, but again the sonics can be a bit much towards the end and it's hard to appreciate the song textures underneath. THTX could have benefited from taking their foot off the gas for most of this. The title track wisely starts off with acoustic guitar, calming the proceedings down considerably. But it doesn't take long and the group is painting the walls with Moog swirls and guitar fuzz. Quite honestly it becomes annoying after awhile and it makes me recall the all-time wankers: Acid Mothers Temple. Finally, at around the 15 minute mark, the jam begins to take some shape and becomes listenable. It actually finishes quite strong, but it took too long to get there. A good dose of editing is usually required for bands like this, and I'd like to see THTX get the scissors out more.
CD: 2004 Cosmo-Revolution Technologies
Lysergic Sound had previously released a wonderful compilation called St. Albert's Dream. And from that we learned of many new obscure 45s and archival recordings. For me, the very best was a track called 'Catafalque' from a band named Greylock Mansion out of Tuscon, Arizona. So when the announcement came that there was a whole album's worth of material from 1969, the excitement level in the underground most surely spiked. It certainly did for me. Often times, though, these modern discoveries from the psych era are a disappointment. That is definitely not the case here.
The informative liner notes let on that Greylock Mansion were heavily influenced by both Iron Butterfly and The Doors, as well as opening for acts as obscure as Brain Police from San Diego. And there's your recipe ingredients for Greylock Mansion. This takes the best elements of all 3 bands: The heavy fuzz sinister sound of primo Iron Butterfly, the somewhat psychotic Morrison-like rantings and vintage organ of The Doors, and the cut-above psych-era songwriting of Brain Police. The Doors influence in particular shows up most prominently, and the closer 'Mars' is as heavy a long form 60s track as you will ever hear. All throughout I was reminded of another band with a similar background, but 100's of miles to the northeast and a completely different landscape - and that would be Dragonwyck from Cleveland. There are many similarities between this album and the 1970 demo recording of Dragonwyck (aka Fire Climbs).
One concern I had going in was how would the sound quality be. And while it's hardly Abbey Road, only the most finicky here will be disappointed. It's certainly no worse than the Mystic Siva album (another reference actually), and that was released real time. The only track that is less than ideal is 'Spiders', but the music will erase any annoyances you may feel.
This LP is a must pickup for fans of heavy psychedelia.
LP: 2015 Lysergic Sound
Unlike St. Albert's Dream and Devil's Kitchen from Lysergic Sound, Greylock Mansion does come with an informative history as noted above. In addition there is a deluxe lyric sheet, and a 8x11 repro of a vintage concert poster. Awesome all around.
The only strange omission was that of the track 'Amazon' (a nice psych pop tune like The Doors in a similar fashion), which was the B Side of 'Catafalque'. Perhaps that will be covered in a later comp or CD reissue.
Blue Phantom's sole album contains 10 heavy psych instrumentals, and is technically under the category of "incidental music for film and TV". That would be one hell of a film if anyone checked this one out of the "library". Apparently the trash master Jess Franco did in fact borrow some tracks for one of his sleaze-a-thons (of course he did). All the same, unlike most film music, these tracks are fully realized and not just sketches of songs. So not only do you get the cool period instrumentation - heavy fuzz guitar in particular - but the tracks are well written with memorable melodies. File Blue Phantom next to your Braen's Machine, Fourth Sensation, and Psycheground albums.
Personal collection LP: 2008 AMS/BTF
My first copy of this album goes back to the early 90s and a white label bootleg. This pirate edition took the UK Kaleidoscope cover art (second scan), which I prefer to the Italian original on Spider (of which AMS used - properly so I suppose). In any case, I sold off the boot a few years ago, and then repurchased this version a couple of years after that. The only bummer is that it does not include the historical liners like the CD does from the same label. Which is odd to say the least. I may look to pick that up and switch this out.
Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble starts with the four part, 43 minute title track - and despite the name - this isn't an academic exercise in composition studies. Nope - it's pretty much a combination of good old fashioned early 1970s progressive rock and modern avant progressive. The abundance of acoustic piano points to the classic Italian scene like Banco del Mutuo Soccorso or Metamorfosi, whereas the constant counterpoint and modern production qualities recall anyone from Japan's Machine and the Synergetic Nuts to fellow countrymen October Equus. Concerning the latter, this is no doubt a similarly dense and complicated work, though not quite as impenetrable as October Equus can be at times. Oh, and let's not forget that Kotebel is here to rock, so this isn't some charted sheet music chamber styled tedious snoozefest. The omnipresent Fripp styled guitar leads will certainly keep you awake, if not the persistent rumbling bass and energetic percussion. The "electronic keyboards", as they are credited, certainly like to emulate the mellotron as often as possible. 3 other tracks totaling 16 minutes plus a bonus from 2008 round out the disc in similar fashion. And it's Dad who plays those fancy thing-a-ma-jigs. And he's also the group's founder and main composer. And who's that playing the piano? None other than his 22 year old daughter. You know he is beaming with pride. And he should be.
Ouroboros is the middle child between Omphalos and Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble. The eldest is the capricious, vivacious one who draws you to her mysterious ways. The latter is the class Valedictorian who also happened to be the class favorite. But Ouroboros is more serious. Studied longer and harder than its siblings, but perhaps doesn't mesh as well in social circles. In musical terms, gone are the female vocals and preponderance of flute, and in its place are more jagged rhythms, cold synthesizer sounds, and angular guitar solos. Of all the Kotebel albums, Ouroboros comes closest to the avant progressive sound of October Equus, or Belgium's Present by extension. A fine record that set the stage for an even better followup.
Omphalos is the album that catapulted Kotebel into a more formidable full band progressive rock operation. The addition of full-time soprano female vocals and flute greatly contributes to an entire new dimension of their sound. And while there's a bit of "progspotting" throughout the disc (in particular ELP, King Crimson, and Mahavishnu Orchestra - they all get a day in the sun), the overall package still comes across as entirely original. This is a dense work, that isn't afraid to rock out, and one that will require many listens to fully comprehend. The female vocals, piano, and flute definitely adds that Bacamarte meets Gotic esoteric reference that hardcore progressive rock fans tend to cherish. I'm guilty as charged.
The hard part about reviewing any Free System Projekt album, at least from this era, is trying to come up with something new to say. I suppose figuratively one could make a similar claim about FSP - that is, musically they have nothing new to say. But nothing new, while still being great, are not mutually exclusive comments. On Protoavis, Free System Projekt have completely zoned in on the 1974-1975 era of Tangerine Dream, where the sequences remind one of Phaedra and the overall atmosphere and style are more toward Rubycon. This is my personal favorite years of Tangerine Dream, so of course I'm going to enjoy Free System Projekt. Not enjoyment at the same level mind you - one cannot replace the magic of initial discovery in one's youth - but the familiarity makes it comfortable. A safe place to cuddle up in.
Nov 2017 update: Sold off the CD despite the high rating, as the offer was too good to pass up.
After a 5 year break, we receive Dungen's 7th studio album, though if we're to use their numbering system, I suspect they would say it's their 6th (witness album called 4). No matter as Dungen continue with their brand of Swedish psychedelic progressive... pop. The latter perhaps a bit more pronounced this time, especially on the opening trio of tracks. I still can't get over just how popular Dungen are (including a guest appearance on prime time USA late night TV). Me and about 20 other people from Sweden have a full collection of this kind of Swedish psych from 1970-1974, sung in the native tongue. Not a single album anyone would ever have heard of today. Speaking of which, it took me 10 years to figure this out, but now I know precisely where Gustav Ejstes got his main ideas from. If you're a big fan of Dungen, then you should make an effort to hear this album Till dej, one I assure you Gustav has framed on his wall at home.
As mentioned, there is quite a bit more pop this time around than prior, though there is plenty for the more adventurous listener to dig their teeth into. 'Franks Kaktus' is an absolutely stunning instrumental and among Dungen's finest compositions to date. 'En gång om året' is the mournful downer Scandinavian psych that is Dungen's signature sound. 'Åkt dit' gives us the requisite mellotron drenched sound we so crave. 'En dag på sjön' reminds us just how popular Santana's fusion era was in Sweden in the early 70s (think the live Lotus album here). 'Sova''s attempt at a psychedelic ending is admirable, though ultimately boring, and the fast forward button was looked at. More than once.
Welcome back Pierre Salkazanov (aka Zalkazanov)! If the digipak cover is any indication, it appears Zanov rediscovered his old analog keyboard toys and picked up right where he left off with In Course of Time. It's as if he walked into the basement, saw the massive equipment, and said "Hmmm... let's see if these things still work, shall we. Oh great - they do." This is old fashioned, all-fat-analog instrumental 70s sequencer based synthesizer heaven. Somewhere between Klaus Schulze's Timewind and Richard Pinhas' Iceland is the sound of Virtual Future. As if the Egg label is still with us, and we've been transported back 35 years. Even though there are a myriad of homegrown electronic artists today, it's refreshing to hear how the old masters used to do it. I can listen to this kind of elektronik musik all day.
The Black Tomato is Oresund Space Collective's third album and my personal favorite of the ones I've heard by the band. This title sounds more like a vintage Kosmische release rather than the more modern Ozric Tentacles school of space rock. Long tracks (two of the three clock over 30 minutes each in fact) that shimmer with that early 70's German vibe, but also keeps the motor running throughout, so there's no room for boredom to sit in. And high energy guitar-driven Krautrock always wins here around the UMR household.
Looking for a place to start with the vast OSC catalog? Start with this one.
Oresund Space Collective are yet another Scandinavian space rock crew, who revel in the art of the groove and the jam, and eschew any kind of arty pretension. Large ensembles are the way to go when performing this kind of exploratory music, and OSC deliver all kinds of personnel and instrumentation (including multiple guitars and an array of vintage and modern keyboards). A true international bunch, in that their very name is the bridge between Denmark and Sweden - and lead by the American scientist Dr. Space (Scott Heller). A fine beginning for the band, who were to improve greatly from here - not to mention become far more prolific.
The Trip were formed in London in the mid 60s and at one point had a young guitarist named Ritchie Blackmore in its stable. So not exactly your normal Italian prog rock pedigree. And as such, The Trip were always outliers in the evaluation of great bands from Italy. To best appreciate The Trip, one needs to take in account the western European landscape of whatever was popular at the time of release. Up-front organ rock was quite popular in Germany and England in 1971, and that's exactly the sound you'll find here on the mostly instrumental Caronte. Anywhere between Atomic Rooster and Orange Peel, one will spot the sounds found here. Hammond organ, loud guitar, experimental bits, a jammin' and a rockin'. Not entirely an unknown sound in Italy in 1971, as one could also point to the New Trolls and Le Orme for doing similar. Le Orme's Collage in particular was the band's own odd album out, with a strong Krautrock influence, though they also sung in the native tongue and had began to look inward to what was happening back at home. Not The Trip however. So if you love 1971 era hard driving progressive rock (and who doesn't?) - but foreign languages and indigenous sounds turn you off - then The Trip's Caronte will likely be one of your favorites from "The Boot".
Personal collection LP: 1990 RCA / Contempo CD: 2008 Sony
Quantum Fantay has always been a Masters Class course at the Ozric Tentacles University. And on their 6th studio effort, Dancing in Limbo, yet another thesis has been proposed and accepted. So much so, that the professor himself - one Ed Wynne - even guests on the album! If you're the sort that appreciates Ozric Tentacles most in full blown space rock mode with fiery guitar solos and fluttering flute, meanwhile constantly twisting and turning with jumpy rhythms, then Quantum Fantay will certainly blow your socks off. I'm of that sort, and my socks are missing. Dancing in Limbo earns Quantum Fantay yet another "A".
CD: 2015 Progressive Promotion
So exactly how would Quantum Fantay follow up the brilliant Bridges of Kukuriku? It would take 4 years to find out, but the band has finally reappeared with Terragaia, and the CD (that's right - a CD - remember those?) is housed in a fine triple fold out digi-pak. I would say that Quantum Fantay have found themselves back to their roots of Ozric Tentacles' inspired space rock. Unfortunately, there aren't any of the hair raising, head turning moments of the last two albums to be found. However, let's not get carried away and start pointing fingers as if this is some kind of failed effort. Hardly. The music here is as brilliant as "Ugisiunsi", but with a distinct Middle Eastern and Chinese theme running throughout the melodies (and some snippets of Caribbean and Celtic music too). There's so much to admire about Quantum Fantay in the studio - and their variation of the Gong "You" era is as fine as anyone as ever realized, including Ozric Tentacles themselves. So what you have is the usual fiery guitar solos, flute overlays, bubbling synthesizers, and hyperactive rhythms that you expect - and want - from the genre. Quantum Fantay are money, man. I'm already looking forward to the next release!
CD: 2014 Progressive Promotion
I've been a fan of Quantum Fantay since their first album. All are very good variations on the Ozric Tentacles sound. But I wasn't prepared for the greatness that is Bridges of Kukuriku. Everything about this album is exponentially better than prior efforts (and that's saying something). Whether it's the production (listen to the panning from speaker to speaker as if Dieter Dirks himself took the controls), the instrumental interplay (crisp and tight), the energy level (extremely kinetic) - or just the general exoticism surrounding the compositions. And this has real melodies, something you can actually latch onto and remember, rather than just a technical exercise in musical theory. The amazing transition from 'Follow the Star' (track 2) to 'Shiver Moments' (track 3) and the subsequent blitzkrieg of said track practically gave me a stroke. Music like this is truly exciting, as you never know what will happen next, and yet it still rocks hard in a psychedelic way. Ozric has never come close to fully realizing an album like this. We're in the rarefied territory of those Finnish groups Hidria Spacefolk and Taipuva Luotisuora. This album is absolutely brilliant and will most certainly be considered one of my personal favorite albums of the entire 2010 decade.
After the great success of Ugisiunsi, Quantum Fantay return with Kaleidothrope... ...and serve notice that they are serious and are here to stay. The jumpy sequencers, fluttering flute, hyperactive rhythm section, and - best of all - pyrotechnical psychedelic guitar work, are here in abundance. All of this while never forgetting that melody is truly important to a great composition. Not to mention the constant shifting of themes, meters, and dynamics. Final track 'Telepathy' is a monster and needs to be heard by all. And to think they would actually improve on their next album. Wow! If there's a criticism of Quantum Fantay, it's that they veer too close to Ozric Tentacles. And while that may hold true, one should know that it's more like Ozric extract: All the good stuff is filtered in while leaving the chaff out. Personal collection
CD: 2009 Shiver
While the debut Agapanthusterra could be considered another Ozric album, the sophomore effort Ugisiunsi utilizes to a greater extent other music vehicles like flute (in more abundance than the debut), sequencer based electronics, and haunting wordless female voice, thus adding color to the usual guitar / keyboard rave-ups. The guitarist (from Srdjan 'Sergio' Vucic, in his only stint with the band) adds some metal crunch at times, recalling the Dutch group Kong. And the solos are Ed Wynne-esque in their intensity. Like Hidria Spacefolk (Finland), Quantum Fantay also display a penchant for progressive rock themes and complexities – something that Ozric did more frequently in their past with songs like ‘White Rhino Tea’. Tracks like 'Snowballs in Ghostlands' show Quantum Fantay were capable of writing beautiful melodies as well - moving beyond the usual "if you can't find it, grind it" mentality. At this point in their career, Quantum Fantay looked to be a major force in the space rock circuit. And as it turns out, they ended up being just that.
Agapanthusterra is Quantum Fantay's most Ozric Tentacles-like album - right down to the reggae bits. That said, the compositions are entirely unique and offer one more perspective of an already great formula. On this debut, Quantum Fantay were a four piece with synthesizers, bass, drums and flute. Guitars were performed by a guest of the band (who would later join as a full time member on their 3rd album Kaleidothrope), but despite this designation his participation here remains a centerpiece to their overall sound. Best tracks are the heaviest rocking pieces 'Lantanasch' and 'Chase the Dragon'. Worth noting that the final track 'Amoevha' is hidden and not listed on the CD itself.
My comments are going to echo many you've already seen - it's clear that Wobbler has made a conscious attempt at recreating the textures, sound and compositions of 1971-1972 era Yes. Personally I think it's a style that has plenty of room to improvise and innovate in, and apparently Wobbler agrees with me, as this is a wholly original work within an obvious context. As such, I find many of the parts quite exciting, with vicious Rickenbacker bass, mellotron, organ, and loud acid guitar leads way out front. Some of the acoustic guitar work recalls other British acts of the early 70s. So the band has clearly cut ties with its Anglagard/Sinkadus early 70s retro-Scandinavian past, and migrated towards the British Isles, just as their ancestors did 1300 years ago. Works for me.
For dyed-in-the-wool old school progressive rock lovers, like me, this one is a no brainer pick up.