Originally published in Gnosis, April 2, 2001 and slightly altered here.
For hardcore collectors of progressive rock music, the obscure megabuck private pressing almost always ends up being somewhat of a disappointment. The hit ratio of great quality obscurities is quite low. There are many reasons for this including low budgets, amateur musicians, lack of direction and so on. So when a pure gem like Avalanche is found while wading through the chaff, there is some real cause to take notice and celebrate.
On the mostly instrumental Perseverance Kills Our Game, Avalanche achieves all that makes a low-budget production endearing. First of all, the playing is true to the heart - an intangible that is subtle though very recognizable for those who hear these type of recordings on a regular basis. The musicianship here is superb though hardly symphony orchestra quality. And there is a real intimacy that surrounds the atmosphere - as if you're in the room while they're recording. And perhaps the fact that Avalanche have six full-time members helps keep the album from the one-dimensional nature of most private releases.
Side one is primarily a folk rock affair with wonderful acoustic guitar, piano, bass, drums and sparse (one track), but well done vocals. The real highlights, though, have to be the gorgeous flutes (various types) and the soaring and spiritual electric guitar work. For pure haunting folk, 'Cola-tik' is the embodiment of melancholy whereas the progressive folk rock number 'Maiden Voyage' displays the band's talent with extended compositions.
While the opening side is excellent, there is no foreshadowing of the brilliance to be found on the flip side. It moves beyond folk rock to a more complex prog rock sound and climaxing at the end of the album with a psychedelic space rock sequence not found since the glory days of Krautrock and bands like Ash Ra Tempel. 'Transcendence' starts this side with serene piano and is augmented by bombarde and flute. Then a powerful electric guitar enters to play the same beautiful melody. The tone gets noticeably louder until there's a dramatic break. Here, Avalanche display a ferocity that is a complete contrast to the delicate and mellow nature displayed so far. A soft, two-minute acoustic ballad is inserted to calm the nerves before the massively powerful 'Oblivion enters. This 11-minute plus opus is the high water mark for folk rock. As on 'Transcendence', the composition opens softly with a stunning acoustic guitar melody which is then offset by some dire sounding flutes followed by harmonium. It's just unbelievably pretty yet somehow very sad. Just when you're ready to cry, the electric rhythm guitar begins a simple, jazzy pattern. The bass and drums follow shortly thereafter creating a head-moving groove. Entering unannounced is a twin guitar attack which begins to pulverize your senses. The sound is heavy and acidic like that of Manuel Göttsching, and the playing has the same soul the Ash Ra guitarist has. The solo contains a number of original melodies within that add to the special quality. And this goes on for close to seven minutes to solidify one of the most intense and beautiful guitar solos in rock history. The album ends at the peak of the solo; one almost wishes for another 15 minutes to be found from the same tape. What a trip through the emotions!
LP: 1979 Starlet
CD: 2015 Guerssen (Spain)
The original LP comes in a very plain single sleeve cover, similar to many a rare private press American album. Originals have always been rare and expensive. My first encounter of this album was via a cassette tape from a well known Dutch dealer back in the early 90s. He sold dubs of rare albums for a reasonable price (after all - it did take time to do + cassettes weren't free either), and this was long before the internet and Youtube. Ah, you kids have it so easy... Anyway, I bought a few rare items from him (again, on cassette), and this was my favorite. I couldn't afford the album back then (not even close). It was fitting, then, that I did buy the original LP from the same gentleman (by this time, more of a personal friend) about 7 years ago or so. All the while hoping and pleading for a CD reissue. The main issue had been the band didn't want to go forward with a reissue because the master tapes were lost. But another old acquaintance of ours, Guerssen, must have said the right words - and with modern technology - has created a wonderful sounding reissue. There are no bonus tracks, but there are great historical notes from Richard Allen as well as some nice photos. A fine package overall.