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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Heart of Cygnus - Over Mountain, Under Hill

Amen! Heart of Cygnus are back with maximum volume and made a kick-ass second album that almost has a resemblance crossover of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy meets Conan The Barbarian meets Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson doing the narration rock opera style. That and their second album, Over Mountain, Under Hill is one hell of a ride. And you know what? It’s really fucking awesome! And this is a sneak preview. The two members Jeff Lane and Jim Nahikian got this album rolling like a flaming torch that won’t burn away. I imagine them in their early teens playing Dungeons and Dragons while listening to bands and albums like; Rush's A Farewell To Kings, Uriah Heep's Demons and Wizards, Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Led Zeppelin's ZOSO to get the concept of what they were about to do. In the early days, Concept Albums were considered dull and naff. To me, it isn’t naff, it’s perfect storytelling and of course what they did, is bring it back to the dead and prove that the Concept genre isn’t going away.
It’s Heart of Cygnus’ credit that they decided to make it sound so epic and very Metal without any gigantic record companies telling them to go mainstream or go on dare I say MTV. What I’m saying is you just don’t listen to Over Mountain, Under Hill – you are watching a movie with a heavy band that you admire by putting on your headset and seeing the gorefests going one on one by duking it out and its like that either Steve Harris or Alex Lifeson are giving the dosage up to 100 and making your head explode like a motherfucker. The songs that are about 8, 9, and 6-minutes long to make it a perfect Progressive Metal album, simply kick ass!
When the songs and one instrumental pieces work, they work like a gem. Lost At Sea is Heart of Cygnus at their dramatic and dynamic moments ever, featuring Jeff Lane doing his shredded guitar and bass work and the 15th century lyrics seem to fit perfectly for lost one to be remembered (Will you say a prayer for me my love/when I’m lost, I’m lost at sea/When the waves are far too great, my love/Will you say a prayer for me?). And then it becomes an aftermath of the fallen comrades who fought tooth and nail, dies in the bottomless ocean along with the ship that becomes almost Folky thrash metal (The ship and all her men are gone, taken by the deep/And I along have tried to tell my soul still lost at sea) Now before you rip anything off as if to think that its just another prog metal band, think again, this is the real deal right here.
You’ll be surprised to hear some homage’s to Thrash and conceptual explosive pieces that will make you bang your head to. Erik is a shredded masterpiece that have has a slice of British Heavy Metal that is almost similar to the guitar sounds of Queen’s Father to Son and Ogre Battle that almost sounded to pay tribute Queen’s A Night at the Opera meets Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime. Blue Planet is almost a ballad filled with melodic guitar sounds and it’s the first time Lane sings beautifully like a god coming down from the heavens to call out her love. The Mountain King starts off as a mourning classical guitar solo and then it becomes very King Crimson meets Dream Theater like sound in a proggish way and then it becomes a beautiful mellotronic statement.
Which just leaves the bonus track of their take of Iron Maiden’s Revelation’s. If you’re looking for a tribute to the homage of NWOBHM and Viking Rock Opera’s, this is it!
Looks like Jeff and Jim want to show how much they really love Iron Maiden and paying tribute to Bruce Dickinson in a heartfelt way.
And if this shows that there’s more coming up in the mountains of Valhalla, there’s no stopping now. Not ever and No fucking way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Egg - The Civil Surface

After releasing two albums (Egg and The Polite Force), it was time to hang it up for the Prog trio. But they decided to release one more album to give their final farewell to their underground fans with the release of The Civil Surface. Their third and final album is one of the most dynamic, strange and twisted records ever put out from these Canterbury cult heroes. Formed out of the ashes of the psychedelic band Uriel and Arzachel which featured Gong guitarist Steve Hillage in 1967, they were a part of the Canterbury circuit alongside The Soft Machine, Caravan, and Hatfield & The North, but among supporters of them including Captain Sensible, Egg were very strange but oddly normal than your typical bombastic sounds of ELP. With The Civil Surface, they just let it rip for one more go before calling it a day. It begins with Germ Patrol which starts off with the ticking clock, backwards tape, and high-sped voices along with a military horn comes in the view and then it becomes a shattering experiment between Dave Stewart’s keyboards while Mont Campbell does some jazz bass work, and Clive Brooks’ drums going all over the place to deliver an overflying statement; Wind Quartet 1 is basically a flute quartet that seemed almost coming out of the 17th century from Beethoven’s 1st symphony in a quiet classical music technique; The 9-minute Enneagram sounds almost like a resemblance of Long Piece No.3 with odd time signatures adding the Soft Machine influence in there with a taste of Mike Rateledge as if Dave Stewart was lending a heartwarming message to him plus a little bit of Keith Emerson’s Nice sound to the mix with a little bit of a crossover as if Robert Wyatt had made something like this off on his debut with Matching Mole’s debut album; A twisted instrumental, but groundbreaking, Prelude which starts off as an Avant-Garde background carousel music while the female vocalists come in to give their arpeggios to them as if they are composing gods; Wring Out The Ground Loosely Now which features guest guitarist Steve Hillage to help out with them with this Canterbury fusion sound of their early days in the psychedelic spacey but very jazzy funk sound to the core; Nearch an homage to Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat and Igor Stravinsky meets Edgar Varese in the prog tour de force; and the finale of the reprise Wind Quartet 2 which almost reminded me of Nick Mason’s composition off on the Ummagumma album, The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party and almost something that came out of Fantasia that seemed to dark and very troubling for Disney to put in the concert feature.
You get the idea – Egg’s music wasn’t JUST an antique band, but more weird and crazy at the same time with their compositions that was making this trio into almost space cadets from the planet Egg. Even though they had a following and admirer’s from Melody Maker’s Richard Williams and an underground buzz, they couldn’t beat the race along with the giants of Caravan, Yes, and Genesis. And since they split in 1974 after the release of this album, they went on various projects; Dave Stewart formed Khan in ’75 and now is a film composer along with Mont Campbell while Clive Brooks is now a drum technician for helping out with groups including Toto, Jeff Wayne’s bombastic concept of The War of the Worlds, Pink Floyd and The Australian Pink Floyd Show. Plus in 2007, a 2-CD BBC sessions and studio recordings called the Metronomical Society has fans wanting more of Egg’s music. A reunion maybe?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rush - 2112

At the time, Rush already put the first three albums in the can (Rush, Fly By Night, and Caress of Steel), they knew they were in big trouble if they’re next album was a flop, that was it for them. And the rest is history with the release of the science-fiction conceptual story set in the year 2112. The album was a mild stone for Geddy, Alex, and Neil because they were taken aback with this. It was a big hit and they knew they were hitting the home run after all with this. Neil’s lyrics paying homage to Ayn Rand and his love of Sci-Fi writers including; Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov to name a few. All in all, this is a starter for anyone who is getting into the music of Rush. The 20-minute epic self-titled track is a hard space rock opera that goes beyond the infinite with the Temples of Syrinx in favor of a Tolkien-like creature who finds a guitar in the running waters and rejected by the Roman gods and committing suicide with its key signatures, guitar work, and planets of the solar federation to assume control like there’s no tomorrow.
The band were also getting a chance to take a little sense of humor with the stoner japanese rocker featuring the famous Asian riff, A Passage to Bangkok which was almost based on a true story from drug smugglers who traveled from the United States to different parts of South America to smuggle illegal drugs of marijuana or cocaine from either Colombia, Jamaica, or Morocco you get the general idea.
I bet Rush were huge fans of Rod Serling’s bizarre tales of the 1960s TV classic The Twilight Zone with two episodes that they watched as kids and almost made a sequel in this melodic ballad while Lessons which starts off as an acoustic folky upbeat ditty into almost a Fly By Night type of rocker meets an early Led Zeppelin homage’s of Ramble On and a Lord of the Rings type with Deep Purple’s early stages. Tears which was the first time to feature a Mellotron from Hugh Syme, who’s helped out with Rush on most of their artwork including the famous starman logo, is a watershed beauty from Geddy’s voice which starts out normal throughout the song while Alex comes up with some fingerpicking guitar work and Neil slows down the piece very smooth into an almost type of King Crimson ballad with Epitaph and In The Wake of Poseidon. The last track, Something for Nothing, which had become a live favorite for the fans and of course the band in their heyday in the ‘70s, which almost deals with before going to war you won’t survive for nothing if you live or die in a pool of blood – or the aftermath of a new beginning with the countless days of heaven and hell that starts like a typical acoustic number into a dynamic/explosive statement that will make your eardrums bleed. Sci-Fi epics, Smuggling Drugs, and Ballads that is almost a tearjerker for Rush to sing? Not a bad idea.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spirit of Joy: Tales from the Polydor Underground 1967-1974

This 3-CD box set is a retrospective tribute to the golden-era of bands from the Psychedelic/Progressive Rock-era from 1967 to 1974, Spirit of Joy? Definitely a cup of tea to listen to from beginning to end. The first CD opens with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s explosive Fire suite from 1967 which became a hit single in the top british charts at number 1. Almost like discovering lost treasure from listening to it, it’s a must have for any fan who is in love of the Prog/Psych genre, including the organ work from Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer’s dynamic drum solo (Pre-ELP style). You have some unknown bands of the psychedelic scene going nuts on the first disc; The Soft Machine’s proto-punk ballad Feelin, Reelin, Squeelin, Aphrodite’s Child’s garage-rock fuzztone number of Magic Mirror, and Second Hand’s music going spooky and dark with the 8-minute epic, Reality while the big names that appear before they hit the big time get a little sense of humor and sadness at the same time. Caravan’s beatleish ‘60s pop tune of mowing Grandma’s Lawn, Jethro Tull going a little jazz-blues rock with their single Sunshine Day, Eric Burdon and the Animals going Quintessence with Indian music with All Is One and melodic acoustic folk with Good Times, The Who’s comedic rocker of the dog track with Dogs, and Julie Driscoll’s gothic 5-minute ballad Road To Cairo featuring Brian Auger’s keyboard solo setting the scene along with This Wheel’s on Fire, all of these bands and artists from the Polydor label were proved to see why they were genius and masterminds.
The second CD continues at the beginning of the ‘70s when Prog and the Experimental music scene began to dominate the world. It contains the music from that era of unheard bands such as; Supersister, who were like a crossover between Frank Zappa and Egg from the Netherlands in the 1970’s. You also have got some surprising music from; Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Rory Gallagher’s Taste, John McLaughlin (pre-Mahavishnu Orchestra) who makes an appearance with the virtuoso Extrapolitation, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, Jack Bruce, and the psych-punks Pink Fairies appearing on the box set.
Disc Three covers then end of the golden-era with the experimental sounds such as Medicine Head’s Rising Sun and the Avant-Garde sounds of Krautrocker’s Faust’s Meadow Meal. Other essential beauty from Rare Bird, Barclay James Harvest, Web, and heavy metal gods who’ve reached the mountain top with Golden Earring’s 9-minute improvisation with Are You Receiving Me? and Focus’ hit single with the infamous yodeling that is perfect for a sing-along Hocus Pocus. Even though there are some amazing cuts on the set from the likes of Fairport Convention, The Creation, Pete Townshend, Cream, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Tangerine Dream, but it doesn’t disappoint. It also has a 48-page booklet from Mark Powell who gives an introduction about the Polydor label, and photos of the bands and artists who were a part of the label, There’s still more hidden for the Spirit of Joy. Even though there’s more to come to listen to.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Marsupilami - Marsupilami

If you’re interested in the gloomy side of prog rock, this is it! With the style of Edgar Allen Poe like lyrics and darker compositions – alongside screeching guitars and Transylvanian-style of the Hammond organs that came out of a horror film from the early ‘70s – this was an album that meant to scare the shit out of listeners. All of a sudden you get the feeling that the genre can be a nightmarish post-apocalyptic view of Earth than your typical boy-band bullshit. It was the future of hell. Taken their name from a Belgian cartoon comic strip by Andre Franquin, Marsupilami were one of the short-lived bands to come out of the independent music scene of the early ‘70s to make you jump and their arrangements and the key signatures would bounce like a Bat searching for its prey. On their self-titled debut album, the dark clouds combined the forces of hell.
The opening Dorian Deep could have been written for an alternate rock opera version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of the Usher or Joan of Arc (maybe one of the Hasson brothers read a lot of books, then a bit of classical music) but the piece works like a charm into a proto-heavy metal guitar work that fits the project very well and some African relative music. Born to Be Free introduces some straight-forward guitar finger picking techniques, walking bass lines, wild flute solos from Jessica Stanley-Clarke, and medieval lyrics to the core, almost an homage to Jethro Tull. Fred and Leary Hasson also had a reputation to come up with some huge titles for a piece that ranked for 10-minutes that seemed strange and impossible, but worked very well. Take for example, And the Eagle Chased the Dove to its Ruin (almost sounds like a cross between Argento meets Romero, zombie style of avant-garde music!) it starts off as an operatic suite that Black Widow wished they could have written for Richard Wagner’s Rheingold and then it becomes a heavy duty spectacular statement. For listeners who admire the 23-minute suites of bombastic proportion, though, get a real kick out of the supernatural fairy tales that most prog rockers would do, take a strange approach of presaging trouble.
The 10-minute instrumental Ab Initio Ad Finem (The Opera), starts off as a children’s lullaby music for babies to go to sleep to and then the sound of the wind and vultures comes in to search for dead corpses while the Hammond organ comes in that rises from the grave as a church like arrangement and becoming more weirder by the minute as the music with the guitar, bass, flute, and drums come in almost like a showdown into the depths of the apocalypse of a machine that declares war in the entire city that is a reminiscent of introducing early Gothic Prog as if the Canterbury prog-trio Egg meets Genesis meets King Crimson’s Larks Tongues In Aspic in a conceptual album way, while the final track handles to pass the torch to the 9-minute almost mellotronic of an evil version of the Moody Blues with Facilis Descencus Averni, a magnificent jazz fusion meets symphonic hell sounds of Frank Zappa.
Even though the group disappeared after the release of their second album, Arena, this was a great start and nothing that was godawful or damned by the press. Like a soundtrack to a Disney movie that had gone horribly wrong, it was like the music had given a new life.

Marsupilami - Arena

Adding the brothers Fred and Leary Hasson, Mike Fourarce, Richard Hicks, Dave Laverock, and Jessica Stanley-Clarke, alongside rare progressive rock bands Aphrodite’s Child, Marsupilami is one of the strangest bands to come out of the UK from the early ‘70s. Formed in the late ‘60s, they took their name from a french comic book by Andre Franquin, signed with the Transatlantic label and now re-released this lost concept album in the gore fests of the battle fields of Rome in 1971. It was almost that could have been a movie for an alternate soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 classic, Spartacus.
With a blend of dark and sinister sounds of the guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums of the mystery on Arena, one of the weirdest situations that ever came about on their last and second album. Produced by the late keyboardist from Camel, Peter Bardens, who was about to ride with Andy Latimer on their self-titled debut album, in a cross between King Crimson meets Julian’s Treatment meets Genesis.
Marsupilami represented to be the Progressive Rock brothers of Black Sabbath that was evil, jazz, funeral settings, and dual one-on-one to rip their eyes out with sheering guitar licks and heavy drum work (Prelude to the Arena). But even though they had their proto-metal sounds similar to Blossom Toes, Marsupilami doesn’t make any goddamn excuses or pretend to be a bunch of alcoholic metal gods. They still have managed to pull some strings to grab you’re attention while you listen to this with a 10-minute epic in the colossus of death (The Arena), an homage to an acoustic folk music that has gone horribly wrong in a post-apocalyptic scenery with flute, organs, and horns while the drums sets the tone into a hellish nightmare that you couldn’t get out of with a harmonica setting the epilogue of the grizzly deaths of the Arena (Spring), bursts of jazz fusion Mahavishnu style of Van Der Graaf Generator (Peace of Rome), and the opening line of ‘Shout to kill/Goes on for days/a million deaths/a million ways/to start the living moments of the death’ almost the aftermath of the arena of the bloodbath between human vs. human and human vs. giant animal as it delivers a melodic mourning statement of what happens outside of the ring (Time Shadows).
In my humble opinion, I think the Transatlantic label were quite shocked when the group gave it to them on their desk and saying ‘this is our product. do something with this!’ it was almost as if the Gods were rolling in their graves thinking ‘what the fuck was that about?!’ but all in all, this remains a classic lost treasure from the Esoteric label who still keeps the genre of Progressive and Psychedelic music flowing and growing at the same time to make you go for something that is completely out of the blue. Rome’s historic landmark in Pompeii as a blood fest Rock Opera? Not a bad idea.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Pictures at an Exhibiton (Deluxe Edition)

One of the most bombastic Prog Rock groups that would put the genre on the map of all of concept and mind-boggling suites was Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer.
Throughout the golden-era of the early ‘70s, ELP’s music have become the masters of the Prog Rock genre with a huge sub-conscious feeling; A roaring dinosaur of huge bombastic concepts and flying pianos going up and down while the musical touch of classical meets heavy duty moog’s, makes the genre feel pretty damn good and more considered unrelated to any genre of music. That and the 2-CD deluxe edition reissue of Pictures at an Exhibition is one of the best and their masterpiece of taking a piece of Mussorgsky’s suite into a powerful statement. This trio did something that was completely out of the blue and ahead of their time. In using Keyboards, Bass Guitar, and Drums, screeching insanity out of nowhere from Emerson’s synths while Lake does some folky ballad on his acoustic guitar on The Sage and Palmer drums like Keith Moon meets Buddy Rich, as they played together as a team and showed musicians how they play like crazy and doing a technique that you would make you say ‘wow!’ in the world of experimental music. If the 19th century had a rock band in Italy playing about 20-minutes of Amadeus, it would be these guys breaking the wall down in an explosive heat of destruction.
What is surprisingly good when you listen to this crazy idea but beautiful music from the Free Trade Hall, Isle of Wight, and the soundtrack to the Lyceum performance in the early ‘70s on how extreme of its origins and importance it may look like a newborn baby. Looks like that Modeste Mussorgsky was rolling over his grave of his suite to be played by almost a prog version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience while they pay an homage to him on Pictures at an Exhibition, but you get the feeling that you are in the audience of the three-piece echoing the classical music taste that wasn’t a waste of time, but more of a magnificent magnum opus. Almost you can get the feeling that listening to it that they were almost tap dancing to Kim Fowley’s take of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker taste of Nutrocker in a rag time way while going sinister of The Hut of Baba Yaga, The Gnome, and The Old Castle. And hearing Emerson going pre-Wakeman on the keyboards and acting like Leopold Stokowski to Lake and Palmer to give them the right moment at the right key signature of dynamic proportions.
Each and every part of the deluxe edition quality of Pictures, remains a magnificent mastermind of the performances they give and how they would give it a thumbs up as they wowed the audience with their sound and the way they were having a grand old time to please them and enjoy their money’s worth. No wonder the music sounded good and going to the top of the mountains to play like crazy.