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Monday, February 23, 2009

Genesis - Selling England By The Pound

This was the album that meant a lot for me when I was in high school in my freshman year. It was the year 2000; my family went to New Orleans (pre-Hurricane Katrina) to visit my sister for Yom Kippur in October. It was a cold and freezing day. After we left synagogue, we headed back to the Hotel, got dressed in our casual clothes and headed to the Virgin Record Store. I was completely amazed of what I saw. The CDs I wanted to buy with my pocket money and spend a fortune on all of them. One of them was the Rock section. I looked up the name Genesis and I bought three albums from them; Nursery Cryme, Trespass, and Selling England By The Pound. It was the Peter Gabriel-era of Genesis that meant the world and I knew that I was about to go into more of the waters of Progressive Rock. I was discovering a lot of discoveries of Prog besides Pink Floyd. Bands like; ELP, Yes, Rush, VDGG, and of course Genesis. Never mind the Phil Collins bullshit, here’s the real sound of Genesis of Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett.
When I first heard it in its entirety, I was completely blown away by the production, Gabriel’s lyrics about England’s downfall, and of course the wondrous magic of how Genesis was so amazing between each other.
The album begins with Dancing with the Moonlit Knight which starts off with Gabriel singing alone for 15 seconds and then it becomes a moving groove of epic proportions with its medieval beauty while Hackett and Banks compete in a driving force between Guitar and Keyboards. I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) which was their hit single in the British and American charts at no. 17, has a comedic rock beatlesque tempo quality to it almost as if Genesis were becoming more of an homage to the Livepuddlians in a sort of a John Lennon fashion by mowing the lawn and daydreaming to become the biggest star in the world. The 9-minute suite, Firth of Fifth is the centerpiece of Prog Rock suites. It begins with Tony Banks classical piano introduction for 1 minute and 32 seconds and then it becomes a Christian Rock sound as Peter sings about the Shepherd living inside the fence and the five rivers flowing inside the mouth of his madrigal. And then in the midsection, Steve Hackett takes over doing his virtuoso solo on the guitar and delivering a magical statement while More Fool Me becomes more of an eclectic acoustic ballad from Phil Collins. The 11-minute story Battle of Epping Forest which almost has a TS Eliot meets King Arthur edge to it which almost reminds of this crossover between Ragtime music going Yes on your ass. After the Ordeal is Steve Hackett’s genuine opus just him on acoustic guitar as it goes from Folk and Classical while The Cinema Show has an erotic Greek-like tale of Romeo and Juliet making sweet love before heading off to the movie theater for a couple of chocolates and drinks as the band do a swirling improvisation. Aisle of Plenty is actually a sequel from the opening number and then it becomes a pre-shopping list of scrambled eggs.
All in all, this one of the most hands-down best album from the music of Genesis that redefined their sound and more of their turning point and moving away from their underground status to a little bit more mainstream. Selling England is a classic and you need to buy it. And they know what they like in their wardrobe.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stud - Stud

Coming out of the rises of three bands from England; Blossom Toes, Rory Gallagher’s Taste, and Family from the sounds of Blues, Jazz, Proto-Hard Rock, and Psychedelic music, a trio in the later year of 1970 changed the way of the underground scene. Stud had a cross between the roots of heavy prog and jazz-orientated meets folk music which you could definitely see on this magnificent reissue which was part of the Deram label and now finally gets a light of its own on Mark Powell’s Cherry Red Prog Label, Esoteric.
Only 6 tracks on the album with a lot of arranging and compositions, this here is a no holds bar raging and melodic boutique/meaningful album. All of the guitars, bass solos that almost sounded like an earlier take of Weather Report meets Yes in 1969, and wild drums going off the roof as they go off like a raging thunderstorm. For guitarist and lead vocalist Jim Cregan, bassist Richard McCracken, and drummer John Wilson, they were ahead of their time to come up something that was fresh and almost like an explosion that hit the bricks in the wall and crumbling down of this work between the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s first two albums. Now imagine that the 12-minute arrangement of 1112235 was almost an avant-garde jazz fusion groove of King Crimson while the country folk fiddlers fiddle on Turn over the Pages, The 7-minute virtuoso orientated proto-metal meets Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way of Harpo’s Head and the 11-minute epic that almost could have been a part of either Tolkien’s Ring trilogy or the Simarillion with another jazz fusion acoustic almost Comus number, Horizon. The most amazing thing about it during the number after the acoustics on Here (Part One), it becomes a free-for-all Hendrix cowbell routine as the band take turns to come up with a chugging sound on There (Part Two).
In the last 4 minutes of the part two, it slows down a bit almost a psychedelic bebop sound then heads back into the rocking roar of Cregan’s voice. The eclectic acoustic ballad of Song is basically a take on an earlier homage to the british folk scene. The centerpiece of their only debut album is the opening track of Blind Faith meets Traffic meets Led Zeppelin on screamers and laughers of Sail On – a piece of the pie that could have been a part of the Heavy Metal 5-CD box set in which people would definitely get their guitars going to hear this mind-boggling rocker in a heavy proportion.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nektar - A Tab In The Ocean

While the Floyd were taking the fans to the Dark Side, one band that deserves to be a part of the Floyd’s music career of their space rock stereotype is Nektar. Their music was quite epic and complex at the same time, but filled with heavy guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards techniques, just gets you filled up. So don’t expect stories based on Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky or not a guy dressed up in a sunflower anywhere out of the blue. Formed in 1969, from the ashes of several bands; The Peeps and Rainbows, featuring the space hard rock guitar sounds and roaring vocals of Roye Albrighton, keyboardist Allan Freeman, the fusion sound of the bass guitar Derek “Mo” Moore, and the explosive sound of the drums with Ron Howden along with Mick Brockett doing some heavy duty early laser light shows for Nektar concerts that would definitely please a Planetarium to do a Laser Show of their music.
They never sold their souls to the mainstream scene, but A Tab In The Ocean, their second album from their follow up to their debut album Journey To The Center of the Eye released in 1972 on the Bellaphon label, is one of the best models of their Space Rock sound and improvisations in the distant future.
The album begins with the 16-minute self-titled track which starts out as an ambient oceanic sound from Freeman’s keyboards which almost reminded me of an episode from the Twilight Zone, then it becomes faster while Albrighton’s guitar comes in like an explosion as the band do some heavy arrangements, almost like traveling to the black hole that is almost holding to attract some interests to go inside the Monolith in our solar system that is almost straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Desolation Valley/Waves, a bebop jazz blues of a taste of Robert Fripp meets David Gilmour, as the tempo goes up high with the bass and organ to create some tension while the last two minutes become a spacey time warp in a Moody Blues spoken-word homage that works really well on the finishing touches; Crying In The Dark starts off as a wah-wah guitar solo into the outer limits while the drums come in to set the time signature going and then all of a sudden becomes a hard rock movement and delivering a powerful statement while King Of Twilight in which Iron Maiden covered this track from their Aces High single in 1984, does a damn good job with its military booming sound with the background vocals soaring through the milky way. In the midsection of the piece is a roaring guitar solo which almost sounded like a spell cast upon the listener and helping to find a solution to be free from hell. You get the general idea the music of Nektar, is mind-boggling and almost a concept band who would come up with some great ideas that came out of their spaceships from a Cult band to almost Space hard rock heroes from Mars.
11 albums and a couple of decades later, Nektar’s were too different than the Floyd, but they managed to keep it going with different line-ups and perform at Prog festivals in the States and International places around the world.
Even though the music is strange, and so is the cross between an Anime Rock Opera of Captain Harlock’s adventure of the Planet Rhein, A Tab in the Ocean remains a fan favorite among prog listeners who keep the headphones up to 200.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Franco Battiato - Fetus

Among supporters including Julian Cope and Frank Zappa, he was one of the most innovative experimental artists to come out of Italy that never got the attention he received from the Italian Music Circuit of the ‘70s. A number of the Italian progressive rock music scene had a huge impact when the English bands received a huge fan base for groups that got the Italian Prog Rock bandwagon rolling, including Banco, PFM, The Trip, il Balletto Di Bronzo, and New Trolls. Only one artist who took the experimentations a bit further was Franco Battiato.
He started getting into the world of music at the beginning of 1970 in his hometown when he was part of the group Osage Tribe as a collaborator of the release of their only album Arrow Head. Battiato then left the group to persuade a solo career which was a combination of Tangerine Dream and early Popol Vuh. His music is so unique and almost Avant-Garde at the same time he was getting ready to do something that was magical.
Franco Battiato’s debut album, Fetus, which featured a controversial cover of an embryonic baby coming out like a dead flesh on an orange napkin, is one of the most compelling, stoner albums with spacey and folky psychedelic Egyptian sounds to the music. With some mysterious mythological arrangements on the opening self-titled track, Meccanica, Una Cellula, and Muatizone, including his own unique homage to the Renaissance music of Django Reinhardt meets Gentle Giant with Cariocinesi and the dramatic twisted take of the galaxy on Anafase with the Moog at the midsection almost sounding like Atari 2600 and then the angelic choir of the organ calling out to the heavens then going a little sinister on the acoustic that ends like a ballad for a funeral. Battiato was going to shy away from the Italian scene like a little kid, but taking a step further that became like a spacemen going to a strange planet and playing this music for the life forms to get a real kick out of it. The first two tracks Energia and Una Cellula were released as singles to get him notice in the top 50 Italian charts. He was also getting ready to perform at the Roundhouse in London so that he could get notice, but unfortunately he got involved in a car crash and soon he headed back to Italy and trying to make it big in the mainstream. But he’s still got the music inside him. And that’s the goddamn truth!
Fetus still sounds like a newborn baby that has been giving a new life. Its influential sounds is going on in today’s music in the electronic scene that’s going on today in the 21st century. Not bad for an artist who just took a concept about the life of birth in a futuristic bounty. Like the other Italian Prog Rock groups, its almost as if it was a ballet or an operatic cinema set in the year 2500 AD hopefully to get a word of mouth in a new adventure for a younger generation of music lovers to get into the spirit of the Italian Prog Rock scene.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pink Floyd - Meddle

After Syd left the band, The Floyd went from being a singles psychedelic pop band to more of an sonic ambient space rock sound with David Gilmour on board to help the cadets go to where no man has gone before with his spacey guitar work to Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. Alongside their crossover between the avant-garde, film scores, and bombastic symphony orchestras with; More, Ummagumma, and Atom Heart Mother, the group pushed forward into something that was more beyond our imagination with the release of their sixth album, Meddle.
The opening One of These Days starts off with a roaring wind and then starts off with a Bass echoing the chords B and A repeatedly in an echo reverb while Rick Wright’s keyboards give a sinister tone and then David Gilmour comes in with a crunchy steel slide guitar solo and then the Bass becomes more of a helicopter sound and the voice of Nick Mason’s voice of ‘One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces!’ comes in and then BAM! The piece becomes a hellish improvisation with the drums slamming while the keyboards and guitar take turns and then ends with the wind roaring in the deserted sand. For David Gilmour’s homage to acoustic numbers helped out Floyd’s background in their influential side of music. Gilmour’s guitar work had a combination of Hendrix and of course his childhood friend, Syd Barrett, showed his folk side with the atmospheric composition A Pillow of Winds, alongside the guitar work, it fitted his vocal arrangements to infinitive melodic beauty.
The rest of the members of Pink Floyd were going into a new platform, Roger Waters keeping the bass tempo moving, Rick Wright’s bebop jazz piano work on wonderful tracks including San Tropez while the moody acoustic ballad Fearless sets the scenery of a warm and beautiful day on a sunny beach during the summer. But this is where it becomes an essential moment in Pink Floyd’s classic time in the ‘70s.
The 23-minute magnum opus Echoes is one of the most crowning achievements that’s ever been put on Meddle. Every moment on the last number is gorgeous, exhilarating, and breathtaking at the same time. With a spacey ping on the piano through a leslie speaker to an underwater guitar and keyboard instrumental pieces setting the tone of the suite and then Gilmour and Wright’s vocals coming in, just takes your breath away. The highlight is David Gilmour himself. After trying so hard to be a part of the Floyd experience, this is his breakthrough moment. His guitar arrangements, is in assumed control while the band do a jazz relative tone as he comes up with some cool guitar licks.
He uses a whammy, slide, and creating an outer space-like feel on the instrument. In the midsection, everything becomes sinister, his guitar becomes a haunting echo sound filling the thunderclouds and the late Rick’s keyboard becomes more of a surreal dark quality as the crows screech in the background. And then the heavens come up in the climax of the finale of Cloudless ambassadors, then ending into a Tangerine Dream’70s guitar work for the angels coming singing on a higher note. As this is going on in the last minute, the piano sends its final blast off and heads up into the solar system that begins on the first note of the piece.
Listening to it over a dozen times, you can tell that the Floyd were ready to go into the Dark Side and going eclectic and balancing on the biggest wave by the clouds obscuring on them.

Metamorfosi - Inferno

If the English Prog Bands were writing complex pieces like Chess, Tolkien, and set it to mind-blowing time signatures, then one band from the land of Italy took Prog into a darker area based on Dante’s the Divine Comedy and that group is Metamorfosi. For their previous debut album, E Fu il Sesto Giorno, Metamorfosi went into the gates of hell from the sound of Classical and 18th century strange tales of the downward spiral. On their last and only second album, they went full circle and scaring listeners with mind-boggling horror.
The opener Introduzione could have been used as an alternate soundtrack for the Italian Horror or Hammer Films in London as an introduction as if Bram Stoker was writing a rock opera for Count Dracula. It has a beautiful piano melody while the guitar takes over and then goes into a chaotic time signature which leaves your heart pounding for the continuation of the concept album. For keyboardist Enrico Oliveri, it was a piece of cake for him. An Italian version of Keith Emerson as well as Rick Wakeman, shows his arrangement on numbers including; Porta Dell’Inferno, Caronte, and Spacciatore Di Droga, which almost sounded like a militant church funeral music that was mad, insane, and fucked up in a twisted way while lead singer Jimmy Spitaleri lends out a huge roar of his voice to get the tempo right on the target as if he was the Phantom of the Opera.
Metamorfosi also had a bit of team work in the sound, Roberto Turbitosi would come up with some ELP bass lines while Gianluca Herygers drum technique is magical with some
exerting compositions such as Lussuriosi and the political tritone against racism Razzisti. Once again, the music doesn’t suck, it a wonderous beauty of a flaming fire with sinister proportions.
Unlike other Italian Prog Rock bands, Metamorfosi were a band that were ahead of their time and sometimes paying homage to their heroes including English poet Edgar Allen Poe with the Floydian atmospheric meets Gracious! piece Violenti and the thunderstormers Malebolge and Sfruttatori as Spitaleri’s voice sounded like it was recorded in a dark cave as the band do some experiments on their instruments. And it got them word of mouth about their performances in the Italian music scene in the ‘70s than VDGG or ELP could have a huge fanbase.The group split up in 1978, but reformed in the late ‘90s to do a sequel to Inferno with Paradiso as the music still grows with a new and old generation to hear this astonishing band with a lot of potential and got you scratching your head thinking ‘What the fuck just happened?’ Listening to this, you can tell that Dante is rolling over his grave that a band would do a concept based on his glory of glories of the Divine Comedy. No wonder they were insane and having a good ol’ time playing like mad scientists from dusk till dawn

Friday, February 6, 2009

Heart of Cygnus - Utopia

For most Progressive Rock bands, when they released concept albums, the listener would get a real kick out of it, with its background of science fiction or sword and sorcery. For new bands like Heart of Cygnus who’ve released their debut album last year, just goes to show you that they can’t stop the Prog Rock/Metal train chugging. Utopia feels like a breath of fresh air, almost one of those what if moments in Rock Opera history as if Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner would have mated with the video game, Bioshock with heavy guitar and keyboard works. Following in the footsteps of early Queen, Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd, Rush, Metallica, and Dream Theater, Heart of Cygnus’s debut is essential, magnificent and dynamic. And if you have a huge Prog or Metal collection on your iTunes library and on your iPod, this is definitely going to be on your list big time as they come alive like they are the sons of Iron Maiden.
The moment that grabs you by attention is the heavy guitar work, with the sinister militant march introduction of the Prelude that gives us the feeling that War is hell for the main character of Alexander living in the corporate city of hell that is a resemblance of a true epic songwriting that is almost in your face and no turning back in the seas of hell including Lane’s guitar work that is an homage to Brian May to give you the introduction to the album. There’s no debauchery, it’s almost as if Rush is giving the torch to Heart of Cygnus whose techniques of pure Prog Rock with the Moog and the Mellotron so explosive to the music and darker qualities along with the improvisations of drummer Jim Nakihan and guitarist Jeff Lane who bring their arranging and compositions to the max. There’s also the Maiden influence on Metropolis and Elementary (the anti-education number that wants you to give the teacher the middle finger) while the warm acoustical ballads like Alexander’s Lament and Conditioning delivers a moving statement. It’s almost a prequel to Rush’s A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres – no rip offs right there.
Don’t forget though, they’re getting started. And they have the full control of another concept album and maybe one day go on the road as an opening act for the Canadian trio and you can completely tell the Neil Peart difference. On the website they give their homage to their Metal gods and some Prog heroes such as Megadeth, Rush, Zappa, and Led Zeppelin – but still taking the root of the music to go into another direction. It moves so smooth and classical at the same time with symphonic rock and the NWOBHM taste with three centerpieces including; The Knight, Before the Court, and A Call to Arms. Putting the pieces of the music on the table first is their explosive shipping and those heavy drum and guitar framework.
Some people say that PROG is dead! think again – Prog isn’t dead! This band is fresh and blowing the door completely off the wall that they can’t be dead. And if you enjoy this album, then play it to a maximum volume up to 200 volts and enjoy the ride.