Among supporters including John Peel and Alan “Fluff” Freeman, it seems that Progressive Rock and the Symphonic Rock sound may have an unearthed sign of hidden treasures that deserves a lot of recognition. Could there be any surprise moments from an unknown band that finally gets the re-mastered and re-mixed treatment that it deserves? Well, the answer is yes. Mandalaband’s two albums, Mandalaband and The Eyes of Wendor which is released under the 2-CD digipack, Resurrection, it give us a welcome back treatment with the help of band member and mastermind David Rohl who went back and painstakingly restored the albums at Abbey Road Studios in 2010. While some of the prog listeners may have mixed opinions on why he did, the sound is incredible and well received by representing the theatrical and operatic material.
All put aside, Mandalaband, who was formed in the early ‘70s by Rohl as he set up a tiny studio in a farm in England in the village of Cheshire and thus began the first mark of Mandalaband (Mandalaband I). The band considered Dave Durant on lead vocals, Vic Emerson on keyboards, Ashley Mulford on guitar, John Stimpson on bass, and Tony Cresswell on drums including David himself playing keyboards. And it certainly goes to show why this band were way ahead of their time and were like composers rather than rock stars with its conceptual boundaries and with the sleeves showing pictures of the making of the albums and liner notes as well describing how the band came to be.
Released in 1975 on Chrysalis, and now in the reissue format with Legend in 2010, there are 8 tracks on the first album and three bonuses including a demo, an audition of Looking In which is Chris Wright at CBS Studios in which he signed the band, and a recording at Indigo Sound. These tracks could have been classics and achieve cult status for them. Given the operatic treatment thanks Durant’s vocal arrangements, the band could have been the next ELP.
The opening 20-minute epic, Om Mani Padme Hum, which pays tribute to the Tibetan National Anthem and an homage to the Buddhist tribes of the mantra, features a middle-eastern monk introduction to get the listener in before Durant comes in and shines through his amazing voice, as guitarist Murford lets the guitar do the talking with homages to Steve Hackett and Steve Howe’s atmospheric guitar layered sound with some piano passages that is in the realm of Keith Emerson. In the second movement, the time signatures goes into various changes with ragtime, ballad, and featuring tubular bells and dramatic tension filling the void while the keyboard just takes it beyond the symphonic realm and into something that is beyond beautiful. The third movement is a 17th century baroque ballad as Durant, Stimpson, Vic, and Cresswell just make the music sound very much in a dreamland-sque soundtrack while the climatic Fourth and final movement goes into a hard rock format that really gives it a roller-coaster ride to a new dimension.
You thought that the 20-minute epic was the landmark? Well there’s more. The explosive homage to Keith Emerson turned Nektar space rock sound is at deck with Determination which starts off with a rising crescendo and then goes into a space adventure is a thrilling experience. You have the swirling futuristic guitar solo that Ash Murford does as if he’s Roye Albrighton throughout the midsection. He shines and gives a raw energetic power to have the atmosphere on the first album.
Song For a King is a rare composition of the band going into the Swords and Sorcery-era as if the number could have been written for the game, Dungeons & Dragons. One of the more surprising tracks is Roof of the World, it has a fast tempo beat as if the band are in the realms of early Progressive Metal. It has a fantasy sound as the Tibetian monks are ready to fight for their bravery and sacrificing and fighting for glory. The closing track, Looking In, has a Canterbury Prog tribute as if Caravan were moving away from the Jazz sound into something that is orchestral. Dave Durant is doing his Richard Sinclair vocalization as the band go into a laid-back groove while it has a jazzy blues atmosphere to close the first album up. The music has a bit of the mixtures of the Symphonic, Canterbury, and Jazz, and after all a tribute to the Tibetan Buddhist anthem is not a bad idea after all. It’s twisted, but it works like a charm when you get to hear it from start to finish.
The Eyes of Wendor, Mandalaband’s (Mandalaband II) second album in 1978, took about two years to finish the album. The band recorded the second album at Strawberry Studios in 1976 where Rohl took over as a Chief Engineer of the album. And with a little help from Barclay James Harvest, 10cc, Steeleye Span, The Moody Blues, and Sad Café, you can tell that this was a project that everyone enjoyed working on. This is another concept album in the realms of a heartfelt tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The story is about a magical gemstone set in the prehistory-era. The album itself is a collector’s item and now with Rohl re-mixing and re-mastering the album is a perfect match made in heaven.
These 14 tracks on the album is a strange and mystical journey as it starts off with the Overture of the title track. It has an Irish-Classical Rock dance ballad that begins the journey off with a bang. A charming opening if you like and for me, it’s very much like a film score that is quite majestic, flowing, and soaring at the same time as if they were writing their own rock musical animated film that would have Walt Disney bowed to his knees over. The cathedral beauty of Florian’s Song enters with a prog-pop flavor thanks to 10cc’s Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman that serves as a strong fairy-tale ballad while Ride To The City carries a perverse underwater instrumental thunderous storm to search for the gem as the late Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience comes up with some incredible bass lines. He wasn’t a great bass player, but what he did here was to create a moody tone on the instrumental including Rohl, Close, and the late Woolly Wolstenholme helping out as a team with intensity.
Then we get into the twisted instrumental composition, Almar’s Tower. On this you have Norman Barratt speaking in tongue on the voice box guitar to give a spooky atmosphere as the percussion sounds almost like a Tim Burton film and as if the piece was recorded in the jungle. Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span fame brings his angelic vocals on Like The Wind. Now it has this homage of the Annie Haslam-era of Renaissance Prologue sound, but the mixture of celtic and rumbling roar of the chours helping Maddy out as the group and her fly into a cutting edge of amazing electric spark. The Tempest is a snarling droning atmospheric destruction view of hell as Kim Turner sounds like he is in an psychiatric ward screaming out like a lunatic while hallucinating and playing Russian roulette as it segues into the calmness symphonic ballad as Justin Hayward sends chill down your spine with the emotional tear drop on Dawn of a New Day.
Depature From Cathilias is probably in the realm of militant rock by the drums and unique acoustical ballad. To most prog and readers, the heroes leave from their hometown by ship from carthilias and heading towards the mighty sea of Wendor. Sounds very much like Lord of the Rings to you right? It could have been easily inspired by the trilogy and have a cutting edge sound. Now we’re back into the realm of 10cc. My god! Looks like Mandalaband could have become a prog-pop band all of a sudden thanks to Graham Gouldman’s vocalization. Even the soaring keyboard mellotron beauty of Woolly and jazz fusion funk synth of David Rohl. Mandalaband really push the envelope a bit further, but they still have a shining spirit in their hands, but the spooky atmosphere keeps on going.
The Witch of Waldow Wood comes to Mandalaband’s disturbing and moody tracks and is probably in the realm of bombastic proportions in a good way. It takes two guitarists to create a mind-boggling solo thanks to John Lees and Steve Broomhead creating almost a BJH tribute. You could hear the rock opera boundaries in there, but they have guts and soul in their bodies for the field of fantasy. The classical rock punch is back in full swing with the time changing attitude on Silesandre are up with the Queen rides her horse and saving the world to return the gem and stay in the hours of twilight to head on home before all hell breaks loose.
Musically, the instrumentals come into full swing for the most part mourning and sadness. A fine orchestral score on Aenord’s Lament soars into the death of the hero as the choir mourns Aenord’s fight for bravery and into the listener’s head setting the scenery while Funeral of the King is a dramatic hard rock epic brings the procedures as Phil Chapman’s sax solo sets a funeralistic wail on his instrument on the 3/3 time signature. It’s almost a flourishing waltz as the closing finale, Coronation of Damien, lets the listener know that everything’s okay that the war is over and won and closing it with a progressive celtic dynamic yet explosive finale.
The three bonus tracks which were recorded at Indigo Sound in 1975 are demos of the three tracks. There is the orchestral waltz version of the title track while Dave Durant brings his early reminiscent of Pavarotti to The Witch of Waldow with an impressive score. Silesandre sounds very much pomp rock in this demo as Ashley Mulford just let’s it rip with the Sword and Sorcery rocker boundary. There is a lot to offer of the underrated band’s symphonic sound, although there is a chance to get your head flowing with more of the lost symphonic prog bands than Yes did in their hey-day.
What Resurrection does is to bring Mandalaband back from the dead and see what the road may lay ahead for them. Are we ever going to see maybe an animated story rock opera of The Eyes of Wendor one day in the future? Will they come back and do a reunion and create more concept albums that will have Prog fans jumping for joy? The answer, we don’t know. There is something special from underground story complex-songs in what Mandalaband have, a greater story for them to tell us in the musical boundaries. Who knows what the Eyes of Wendor have in store for us.