Elephant9 with Reine Fiske - Silver Mountain. 2015 Norway

Elephant9 with Reine Fiske - Silver Mountain. 2015 Rune Grammofon 2xLP

CD issue: 2015 Rune Grammofon

For the opener ‘Occidentali’, take 1969 era Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Soft Machine. Roll them up tight in a ball, and then have Wolfgang Dauner’s Et Cetera play that imaginary music. Get your attention, did I? Not sure I’ve ever heard those 4 names tossed together in the same breath. This is followed by a Stevie Wonder cover tune, as driven by the same above parameters. OK then. Not that you’ll actually recognize the tune, as it’s about as psychedelic interpreted as it can possibly get. There’s also this strange 1971 vintage Tangerine Dream quality about these two compositions. Like a long form ‘Ultima Thule’ if that makes sense. As the ladies of HGTV like to often say, these 2 songs are ahh-MAY-ZING. ‘Abhartach’ is a bit too much though, and ear fatigue begins to set in. It reminds me of those modern Japanese bands where they never seem to know when to quit. Redlining it all the time is tiresome. Though experience tells me there's a contingent of those who feel "too much of a good thing, is a good thing", so you'll probably love this track too. ‘Kungsten’ starts out similar, and it’s time to find the fast forward button. But by the 7 minute mark, the band slows it back down to atmospheric keyboards,  psychedelic moods, and jam sequences. This is clearly where Elephant9 shines, on this effort anyway. The last 2 minutes brings back the energy of the prelude, though its placement here is far more effective. Finale ‘The Above Ground Sound’ recalls ‘Occidentali’ mixed with ‘Kungsten’. Once again Dungen’s guitarist Reine Fiske is on board, and his decidedly acid guitar tone adds much to the overall psychedelic stew. Vintage keyboards, primarily organ, electric piano, and mellotron, are still the focus here. Overall, Silver Mountain is certainly Elephant9’s most experimental album to date, though no less worthy. Four albums in, and Elephant9 have yet to disappoint. They are by far, IMHO, the best band on the Rune Grammofon label.

Puppet Show - The Tale of Woe. 2007 USA

Puppet Show - The Tale of Woe. 2007 ProgRock (CD)

Recently on the Kaipa Da Capo review, I mentioned a certain aversion to the modern commercial wing of progressive rock. The Flower Kings / Spock’s Beard sound was always lost on me – too much 80s and 90s styled radio ballads and anthems interspersed among the more thoughtful progressions. ProgRock Records specializes in just this sound. And despite numerous releases, almost none of them have been invited into my home. I don’t consider them terrible mind you, just on the margins of my personal interest area. And given the label’s long run, I would say they knew their market well.

So it took me aback to see a band like Puppet Show obtaining release on ProgRock. I’ve been in possession of their debut Traumatized for many years now, and recall it being a cut above the ordinary neo prog dreck. Still, I can see the intersection of the 2 styles here, and took a chance. Well it wasn’t much of a chance since sealed copies of the CD can be had for less than a pack of chewing gum…

It’s been many a year since I heard my CD copy of Traumatized, but if memory serves, The Tale of Woe is very much in line with it. Puppet Show are one of the few modern bands to reach back to the progressive era of Genesis (strange as that might seem, but most go for the Marillion variation of said sound). Not quite as Foxtrot obsessed as say Simon Says or Cliffhanger, more towards the last throes of the famous band’s progressive rock leanings. Like Wind and Wuthering. And Puppet Show also look toward the original neo prog emulators – namely IQ – especially around the time of Ever, for further guidance. And there you have your table of contents for this audio book. Mid 70s Genesis meets early 90s IQ. At times, Puppet Show can get a bit wordy, and begin to slow down to a crawl, as does IQ on occasion. But just at that point of reaching for the remote, in comes some fantastic keyboard/guitar/complex rhythm musical progressions, and thus giving context to the lyrical portions. I won’t go so far as to call this an instant classic, but I do find albums such as this maintaining staying power. And for the price it’s going for, it makes no sense not to take a chance if what I say above resonates.

Impeccable - Live on the Rox. 1979 USA


I originally published this on June 19, 2009. But the CD is just blowing me away. I have to bump this forward!

Impeccable's Live on the Rox is an amazing artifact from another time and place. We’re talking Lubbock 1979... Roughnecks and Longnecks, spur cuts... sawdust floors. Tall Texans with black hats - walking in lockstep. Beautiful cover girl models who work on Daddy's ranch in towns with names like Happy and Muleshoe. Uh Johnny! I wouldn’t lose sight of that Lone Star can and drink it! Probably contains Billy Joe’s Happy Days chew and spittle. This is a cowboy crowd too wasted and pissed off to know that destiny has them strapped to a mechanical bull while supposedly enjoying them some George Strait. No sir Mr. Urban Cowboy, not here, not now. No John Travolta here sonny - he's a weeny disco boy anyway. Rather have some of that bad ass hard rock and roll, which incidentally Marshall Stacks nicely with their Midwest brethren in places like Michigan and Ohio. Album cover even says “Disco Sux”, Johnny Travolta punk. Disagree with me? Wanna take your beef to the parking lot? Hell, let’s just fight anyway.

Guitarist Darren Welch absolutely shreds (riffs and solos) on this monster of underground rock. Vocalist Don Allison selected Geddy Lee as a influence circa Fly By Night to obtain just the right high pitch, to soar over the hoots and hollers of this rodeo crowd. There’s even an intelligent break or two to add to the Rush metaphor. One track is even called Lizzy, so now you know. 

Bored tonight? Join Willie, Danny, Bubba, Gary, and me while we head to The Rox and check out those tight jeans on those sexy West Texas mamas. We’ll even buy another round for our boys in Impeccable. See the hazy smoke. Smell the broken beer bottles. For tomorrow is another day at the cotton mill.

Personal Collection
CD: 2016 Rockadrome

This may have been my very first "obscure discovery". Not that I knew it at the time. See, I was a student at Texas Tech in Lubbock in the 1980s. Believe me, what I said above is not merely fantasy, but what I actually observed! The bins of one local store were filled with sealed copies of the album for about $2 each (easily more than 100 they had). A few years later in 1992, when I knew more of what I was doing (if I ever knew what I was doing), I swooped back through West Texas and bought the remaining ones, but that's after a few other folks had done the same. The CD on Rockadrome is excellent, with liner notes from guitarist Darren Welch, and a rare single from their original incarnation as Axxe from 1978. The liner notes inform us that GBC stands for Great Big Con. LOL. Like a dope, the only copy I kept was the water damaged one. So I've decided to part with it. The CD is fantastic and will suffice for now.

Last update: August 5, 2017

Franklin - Life Circle. 1974 Spain (archival)


Franklin were a psychedelic group operating in Franco era Spain, and managed to get out 2 singles and off into the void of obscurity they went. Until 2007, when a small label called El Cocodrilo, who specializes in 1960s Spanish pop, suddenly showed up with a full album's worth of progressive rock. There was a minor buzz at the time about it, that I didn't pay proper attention to myself, and now Franklin is once again a forgotten entity. Fortunately one of the discount dealers I buy from had a CD copy on hand, and I snatched it, determined to give it my undivided attention. Wise move.

The CD itself is something of a disaster from an archive historian's viewpoint. There's no data in the booklet, beyond the song titles and credits, which are all misspelled - and badly at that. Was it on purpose? Well, no, because the face of the disc has everything correct. In any case, you'll have to do your own research. Not a big deal, because the music is the most important thing, and here one should not have complaints.

The opening two tracks are from the first of the aforementioned singles. Recorded in 1971, it's not surprising to know these are cover tunes. Though you'll be hard pressed to recognize for most of the duration that 'Satisfaction' is indeed the Rolling Stones' chestnut. It's by far the most creative psychedelic variation of the song I've ever heard. And it's the type of track that usually ends up on one of those cool psych comps, where you want to learn more about a particular band. 'Border Song' is the Elton John gospel ballad, and is much more straightforward.

The next two tracks are from a 1973 single. Franklin are apparently more confident now, as these are both original compositions. 'What is Wrong?' is a solid hard blues rock number. It's also the last time you'll think of Franklin as a "normal" rock band. This is followed by 'Lasidore-Mifamire', and this is your first good clue that Franklin had already moved into a progressive rock direction. It's a creative instrumental piece, far from your usual B-side afterthought (see bottom of post for both covers). More on this style to come.

The next two tracks are not documented, but are recorded live. They're somewhat jammy and incongruous with the rest of the material. The sound quality is bootleg-standard. Personally I would have appended these two tracks at the end of the disc, but I think they were striving for a chronological order. I found them enjoyable for what they are though.

And now we get to the main course. The remainder of the CD is the namesake album 'Life Circle' and was recorded in 1974. This is something quite extraordinary. It doesn't remind me of any band coming from Spain - at any time in their history. Perhaps a distant relative to Canarios' Ciclos, and even that's a stretch. I would submit that if you were to walk into the room while this was playing, you'd ask which album from Italy is that anyway? The music here is from the earliest era of Italian prog rock, around 1971/1972. The reckless abandon, the sometimes purposeless wandering of ideas. I hear groups such as Panna Fredda, Planetarium, early Il Rovescio della Medaglia, and Sognando era Formula 3. There's a lot to digest here, and I'm just getting started. And the sound quality is excellent. Maybe not quite ready for prime time, but as an archival release, especially for the time and place, one should be quite pleased. I see this as an album that is likely to rise in stature but I'll stay with a conservative 4 star grade for now.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 El Cocodrilo

The CD (and LP) are now 10 years old, and disappearing without a trace. Be sure to grab this one before it goes extinct.

Kaipa da Capo - Dårskapens Monotoni. 2016 Sweden

Kaipa da Capo - Dårskapens Monotoni. 2016 Foxtrot (CD)

CD reissue: 2016 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2017 S-Rock (2xLP)

Kaipa Da Capo is basically Version 4.0 of the band formerly known as simply Kaipa. Version 2.0 was the early 80s disaster of trying to stay "relevant" with attempts at vapid AOR and New Wave music, neither of which suited the band well. V3.0 was Hans Lundin's return after he watched his buddy Roine Stolt make a surprisingly commercial comeback with The Flower Kings. These albums are very "2000"-ish in style and are pretty similar to Stolt's own modern bands actually. And now we have Kaipa Da Capo, essentially Stolt taking back the name with a couple of older comrades in tow, with the promise of returning to the original moniker's glory.

Nope. Though it certainly opens auspiciously enough, as if Stolt accidentally discovered Anglagard instead. It was fleeting though, and it won't be long before you realize you're listening to The Flower Kings... in Swedish. Brother Michael has an interesting narrative singing style that he brings to bear on 'När jag var en pojk'. This track is probably the strongest in terms of musical content. So far into the disc, not too bad on the whole. But the next 3 tracks. Oh man. Woof. I will go to my grave never understanding the love this type of music gets from traditional progressive rock fans. It's Bic-swaying, ballad oriented, arena rock. It's everything that was wrong with the 1980s, brought forth as a nightmarish reminder. At least I don't understand the lyrics, so that probably helps. The last of these 3 tracks 'Spår av vår tid' rips wholesale off of classic early Genesis only to desecrate it further into Journey/Foreigner styled banality. Hopefully they're not singing about what love is for chrissakes.

If you can survive that journey (get it?) then the lengthy Tonerna at least makes an attempt at the early Kaipa sound, and some familiar melodies do rise to the top. There's also some decent lengthy jamming that reminded me of The Tangent, yet another Stolt vehicle. Much of the track, however, still bogs down in mid paced, simple rock. Towards the end we get some surprising bluesy guitar soloing from Stolt, and for me was the highlight of the album. The closing track did little to change my perspective. Yea, yea, there's mellotron and all that good stuff, but this an album that sounds every bit of our current century. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it's not the purported retro prog classic either.

If you like the modern commercial wing of progressive rock (if you could call it that), similar to The Flower Kings and Spock's Beard, then you'll enjoy this album. I see on ProgArchives that it's been a hit, and that would be Kaipa Da Capo's core audience right there. Hopefully I provided the right guidance here. I would imagine my negative perspective would be a positive for many of you. Wish I could join you in the praise, but just not in my interest area I'm afraid.

The CD comes in a fine digipak. Too bad I have to sell it....

November - En ny tid är här... 1970 Sweden


November - En ny tid är här... 1970 Sonet

LP reissues: 1980 Sonet; 2012 Sonet/Universal

CD reissue: 1993 Sonet

Jag fick blues, jag fick dem riktigt dålig. I plugged the English version into Google Translate, and that's what I got back. Probably lost in translation, but it does work if you translate it back to English. And while I'm goofing around with Translate, the album translates to A New Era is Here. Nice. Also predictive.

What's interesting to me, is that seemingly every band in Sweden since about 2005 or so has desperately tried to sound like this very album. What November did was basically take the UK heavy blues rock sound of Cream, Led Zeppelin, et al, added Swedish vocals (a plus as far as I'm concerned), and made it entirely their own concoction. This is guitar fronted trio (and a bit of flute) standard hard rock with a blues foundation and excellent vocals. No monkeying around with advanced structures, or avant garde ideas. Just burger and fries. This is ground zero for Swedish hard rock. And to think they would even get better from here, and beyond their namesake (Saga in particular). Classic stuff.

I believe the 1993 release is the only legit CD reissue. It's bare bones but sounds excellent.


November - Mount Everest. 1970 Sonet

As you can see, the B-Side is a track called 'Cinderella' and I don't believe it's ever been reissued on CD or LP. I heard it on YouTube. It's very much in line with the LP proper.

Novalis - Banished Bridge. 1973 Germany


Novalis - Banished Bridge. 1973 Brain

LP reissues: 1974 Brain; 1977 Brain; 1977 Brain (Japan); 1981 Brain

CD reissues: 1997 Repertoire; 2010 Victor (Japan mini-LP)

Novalis' debut has taken me a long while to digest. When I think of Novalis, I think of a band that is highly melodic, polished, superbly arranged, with sparse vocals in German. Banished Bridge is none of those things. Novalis' debut has about as much in common with the rest of their output as does Eela Craig, Scorpions, and Eloy's opening moves. I've often read that Banished Bridge sounds like early King Crimson, or even other more established UK prog bands of the era. I don't hear it myself. Maybe Wenzel occasionally sounds like Greg Lake, but with a thick German accent.

Still, what is it that we have here? I've owned this album in one form or another since the late 1980s and I couldn't tell you. Time to figure it out.

It's the title track that really throws one off the scent. So finally I decided to listen to Side 2 first. On these three tracks we have a fairly typical organ based Krautrock sound, very much what you would expect to hear in 1971. So from that angle, Novalis are behind the times, but still pleasant. Solid 3.5 material.

But the title track, this is the secret of the album. Basically it's a symphonic prog version of Dom's Edge of Time. What? Well... there are these long stretches of tranquil/drone trip-out music with mumbling downer vocals in English that do in fact recall a mold infested bridge-to-nowhere in the countryside. Out of the depths of depression rise the organ and synthesizers, which provides the perfect contrast. And so it goes between both styles for its 17 minute duration. Awesome. Had this been side 2 instead, I'm sure this album would be more highly regarded today. It sounds like a side 2 honestly.

Personally I think this album is a lot more "true Krautrock" than ever given credit for. After this, Novalis along with Eloy, pretty much defined the German variation of symphonic progressive rock. Almost the antithesis of the raw Krautrock sound we've been accustomed to.

As mentioned above, I've owned this album since the late 1980s. Almost a parallel ownership situation to the Jane Together album that we just updated. I started with the single sleeve black label, and graduated to the 1974 green label gatefold. In this case though, I did finally secure a true original with the Metronome on the insignia. As for the CD, the Repertoire version from 1997 is excellent, with a history of the band, and great sound - licensed directly from Metronome. I bought it not long after its release.

Synaptik ‎– The Mechanisms of Consequence. 2014 England

Synaptik ‎– The Mechanisms of Consequence. 2014 Rebel Tune (Germany CD)

Wow. Talk about never say die! This is the 3rd iteration of the Inner Sanctum/Fifth Season technical metal genealogy and comes 17 years after their last studio album. What we have here is basically what would constitute the 3rd Watchtower album (Alan Tecchio even guests on vocals!) but with those irresistible blazing Mekong Delta riffs propelling it all forward in an exciting way. This is technical thrash at its best. Melodic vocals, crushing riffs, mathematical impossibilities. Yee-haw!

Inner Sanctum - Knowledge At Hand. 1989-1995 England

Inner Sanctum - Knowledge At Hand. 1989-1995. Archival.

CD issue: 2013 Divebomb (USA 2xCD)

Holy Smokes! This is the good stuff right here. Fans of progressive metal meeting technical metal will be pleased with this archival compilation from Inner Sanctum (pre Fifth Season for the five people who have heard that CD). It features 6 demos, of which 5 of them sound like early Watchtower meets Psychotic Waltz. Very complex metal, yet they never lose sight of the song. And the vocals are somewhat in control, so it isn't non-stop ball squeezer shrieking. Being British, they have an inherent knack for more restraint than their American counterparts - at the points where restraint is needed. I suppose if I had to pick a favorite demo, it would have to be Sensorium (1992) which shows Inner Sanctum at their heaviest, and perhaps most technical too. First demo Fear is Life's Blood (1989), is almost a completely different lineup and the band here is more in the Slayer / Celtic Frost mold. Certainly not a bad thing, and enjoyable in its own right. Different that's all.

This is a 2 CD set and features full historical liner notes via an interview with the band - and many photos. A must own item that will for certain provide enjoyment over many repeated listens.

CD1:
Tracks 1-3: Knowledge At Hand (1995 demo)
Tracks 4-9: Questions? (1994 demo)
Tracks 10-12: Shine (1993 demo)

CD2:
Tracks 1-3: Sensorium (1992 demo)
Tracks 4-6: Static Veins (1991 demo)
Tracks 7-9: Fear Is Life's Blood (1989 demo)

Today the band has been rechristened Synaptik, and their debut turned out to be awesome as well (see next post). They have a new album coming soon too. More info can be found on Under the Radar.

Cos - Viva Boma. 1976 Belgium


Cos - Viva Boma. 1976 IBC/International Bestseller Company

CD reissues: 1997 Musea (France); 2010 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2010 Fluide

Cos' second effort is a bit of an odd duck. As an opening move, the humorously titled 'Perhaps Next Record' starts off with a short primitive mid 1970's electronics piece in the Gottsching/Pinhas mold. This is followed by yet another short piece, this time the title track, a tribal African rock work, a style which had gained some popularity in the Northern European underground during this era. Then starting with 'Nog Verder', new keys man Marc Hollander (later to form Aksak Maboul) pulls out his trusty old Farfisa, fuzzes it all out, and basically we now have introduced early Soft Machine into the mix. And yes indeed, this is the album where Cos went whole hog (hippo?) for the Canterbury thing. Once Pascale Son brings forth her unique enunciated scat vocals onto the mix, it finally become clear that this in fact a Cos album after all. Meanwhile none other than Marc Moulin is at the control desk, and oh most certainly he was an influence. There's no escaping those Placebo like deep jazz grooves. And that's your story line for Viva Boma. Somewhere between Postaeolian Train Robbery, Placebo, and National Health, one will discover this album under the blanket. It's a bit rich in sound, not overly deep in thought, and the type of album that's instantly enjoyable for even your dinner party guests.

I bought the Musea CD not long after release in 1997, and it's the only copy I've owned. Comes with their usually great historical liner notes and excellent sound. I should get an original LP at some point, though they are rarely to be found at a fetching price. The Fluide LP looks very intriguing. It appears to be their only release (I see one other cataloged actually), but it appears to be a high quality production with band involvement.

Catharsis - Pathways to Wholeness. 1995 USA

Catharsis - Pathways to Wholeness. 1995 Nordic Metal (Denmark CD)

Catharsis were an obscure prog/tech thrash metal act from San Diego that came and went without notice and this album is incredibly scarce. 1995 was a little late to dinner for this type of metal, and the fact it only managed a release on an obscure Danish imprint couldn't have helped matters. Meaning, it would have been expensive to buy one back home for the local audience, if such an audience even existed. During this time, I used to buy albums just like this from a mail order firm in Indiana, and I don't recall this title at all. Or... it was too expensive... ha! By pure happenstance I secured a new one for $8 within the last month. So what do we have here anyway?

Well, you're a band from San Diego and you play a complex form of metal. Now who could possibly have been an influence here? You can bet your sweet bippy on it - Psychotic Waltz. Which means aces from me anyway. It's a guidepost, but of course with music such as this, the possibilities are endless, and Catharsis has their own unique recipe. You'll hear other early 90s variations on this same sound (Anacrusis, Realm, etc..). The music is heavy metal that is densely complex, with undertones of thrash and jazz fusion, the latter is slipped in naturally and unobtrusively. The vocals are genre-standard higher pitch, and somehow fits the music - once your ears have adjusted to this style. 'Casting Stones' has to be heard to be believed, a labyrinthian composition that will keep you guessing throughout.

Certainly Catharsis isn't the first album you should own in this most unique of metal genres. Nor will it be given its scarcity. But for deep divers, and that's who you will be if you're reading this, it's one to buy if you see it. Experience tells me music like this tends to grow in stature over repeated listens, once your brain is able to comprehend the contents within.

Jane - Together. 1972 Germany


Jane - Together. 1972 Brain

LP reissues: 1974 Brain; 1976 Brain; 1977 Brain (Japan); 1980 Brain; 1981 Brain (Japan); 2010 Back to Black/Brain

CD reissues: 1988 Brain; 1990 Brain;

When the Hamburg based Brain first launched their famous green label, they reached a bit south to Hanover for the two bands they thought were ready to make it to the big time: Scorpions and Jane. They proved to be right on both. Jane enjoyed popularity back home and in Europe, while the Scorpions slowly built up an international audience, especially in the US and Japan. The Scorps began to distance themselves in the late 70s, and then became global superstars in the 80s. Jane meanwhile kept slumbering along, forgotten by everyone except within the comforts of Germany.

But in 1972, both bands were completely different than where they ended up. Lonesome Crow is one of the finest of the Krautrock works, an album that still manages to stick out amongst the crowded genre. Jane's entry is a bit more typical of the 1972 landscape. More blues based, with heavy organ (the one key era instrument the Scorpions somehow managed to avoid), guitars, and lost desperate vocals in English. The album is broken up into two styles across its length: Short blues tracks juxtaposed against longer, more traditional jam based Krautrock. It's the latter element that shines, and a style that Jane more or less abandoned altogether afterward (once again, similar to the Scorpions). For my tastes, Together is Jane's finest moment, even though I enjoy all of their albums through 1977 or so.

If you're a Krautrock fan, and the albums of Jane have left you disappointed, then be sure to listen to Together before giving up on them.

Together was one of the Brain albums that remained in print throughout the original label life cycle. I first purchased this album in the mid 1980s. It was the black Brain label version, which is a single sleeve with a loud advertisement in the upper right corner. Eventually I secured the gatefold green label second press from 1974, which is exactly like the original except it does not have "Metronome" on the label. I'll eventually rectify that. All the CDs come from the parent label (not even Repertoire), and are very basic, with no care given to the sound either. Even though 1990 is the last date I have listed, I believe the CD is basically "in production". Humorously they misspell the title track as 'Togehter' which I imagine is its phonetic spelling. Hopefully a label with a history of caring about the legacy of the era and sound quality will come along and improve the situation.


Jane - Daytime / Hangman. 1973 Brain

Cerebus Effect - Acts of Deception. 2005 USA

Cerebus Effect - Acts of Deception. 2005 private (CD)

2005 was one of those years. In retrospect, it will likely go down in history like 1972. One those special times when musicians around the world had a hankering to release an album. The sheer volume of releases in 2005 was overwhelming. I remember it well, because it happened to also be an extremely busy time for me in my career. I was trying to do everything, including keeping up with this music thing, which is strictly a hobby. Forget it. I can remember seemingly every day writing down what looked like an interesting album. It was an impossible task to keep up with. According to Gnosis, 2005 has the second most ratings of any year, only bested by 2007, which I attribute more to the burgeoning download culture that had just exploded onto the landscape, and some of the ratings junkies couldn't resist the new free heroin. But 2005 seemed to be the peak year for real honest-to-God pressed CDs, before the return of vinyl confused everyone and killed the industry. Now we know 2005 represented the "bubble", as those of us who follow the trading markets would say.

The prelude is contained in this review because Cerebus Effect is one of hundreds of quality releases that slid under most everyone's radar. And like the music of the early 70s, much of it wasn't discovered until 15 to 25 years later. And I suspect a similar type response for the mid 2000s, except it may take even longer, past many folk's own lifetime I would imagine. So how did I end up with 'Acts of Deception'? My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I believe either Dan Britton (keyboards) sent it to me gratis, or I paid a small fee, perhaps only the postage, as a special offer through one of the chat boards. Otherwise, I would imagine it never would have entered this house - even today. And that would have been a loss for me. Like many albums from 2005, I heard it once - maybe twice - filed it (which means I liked it) with no notes, a nice grade, and had little recollection about it. It was recently chosen by the random number generator, and I finally have given it the proper listen (multiple times in fact). It's much better than I recalled. And I fear many others would say the same, but now it's too late for the band to benefit.

Cerebus Effect were a group from Baltimore (interestingly, that's where my physical office is today as I write this), who in my mind anyway, represent the American way of consolidating global progressive rock into their own vision. The meter goes to the far right "red zone" of hardcore traditional progressive rock. Very energetic, fast, complex, dense, yet still highly melodic, old school progressive rock. When I say old school, I mean its approach to composition, more so than vintage gear and 70s sounds (though there's some of that too). When analyzing 1970s American progressive rock, what you had were some groups that consolidated all they had learned from the great progressive bands of their day, mainly the big names of English progressive rock (Yes, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, et al), mashed them up, and came up with their own crazy variation. Bands like Cathedral, Mirthrandir, Yezda Urfa, and Pentwater (archival release) are great examples of this. So now it's 2005, and you have 30+ more years of musical inputs, plus a global internet culture that put everyone in touch with even the most obscure progressive rock bands from around the world. So Cerebus Effect took all of that as data points, and created 'Acts of Deception'. It's almost too much to absorb. You'll hear Genesis to Santana to Cheer Accident to Fates Warning here, and everything in between. It's not a Latin rock album, nor is it metal, but there's dash of each in here. What I like most about Cerebus Effect, is that they blend their influences together like the masters used to do, rather than genre hop, a trap many modern bands fell into. The latter is akin to eating each ingredient on its own, rather than the final concoction. Britton himself would take a similar approach on his next two progressive rock ventures Birds & Buildings and Deluge Grandeur.

So if you see this CD, and what I say above resonates with you, then don't hesitate to buy it. One day, years from now, it will disappear due to a new demand, then get expensive, and many will start settling for cheap downloads, and write crap reviews due to the "sound quality of the recording". Mark my words on that one.

Gravy Train - s/t. 1970 England


Gravy Train - s/t. 1970 Vertigo

LP reissues: 1970/71 Vertigo (worldwide); 1990 Repertoire (Germany); 1993 Si-Wan (Korea);

CD reissues: 1990 Repertoire (Germany); 2005 Repertoire (Germany mini-LP);

Gravy Train's debut is often compared to as a mix of Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull, and honestly that's not an unfair assessment. Starting with the former, Gravy Train gives the Sabs a run for their money in the heaviness  sweepstakes. The feel of the music isn't as doomy, and the heavy fuzz tones aren't as pervasive, but for 1970 Vertigo Swirl albums, Gravy Train gets a 2nd place ribbon. Concerning the Jethro Tull influence, that generally comes about because Tull are (by far) the most famous of the English blues based bands with flute in the lead. However, students of the genre can point to at least a couple dozen bands where flute was a predominant instrument, if not the main focus entirely. As with any rock album coming from the 1970 UK landscape, blues is the primary theme. The hard rock and progressive elements that are added in is what makes the scene so special, even to modern ears. Personally, I was a bit late to board the Gravy Train, not having heard them until the Si-Wan LP (not listed here) arrived around 1994 or so. It was a sound that I found immediately likable. I'm not one to toss around phrases like "underrated", as that would imply that I'm the gold standard for which all things are rated , but I do feel this album is definitely overlooked and underappreciated. It does surprise me a bit it didn't catch on with the hipster crowd as other, perhaps lesser such albums, have.

Gravy Train didn't pursue the "heavy" beyond this, softening their sound for their next - also excellent - album. From there they lost the plot entirely, and disappeared without a trace. One wonders what would have happened had they followed in Black Sabbath's footsteps instead.

The album was originally released around the world, including the US. As such finding LP copies isn't too difficult, but of course UK Vertigo Swirls are expensive as usual. In addition to the Si-Wan reissue LP mentioned above, I also own the 2005 Repertoire CD, that is housed in a fine mini-LP cover and comes with excellent liner notes from long time music writer Chris Welch. CDs are plentiful in the market.


Gravy Train - The New One / Think of Life. 1970 Vertigo (France)

Nuova Idea - Mr. E. Jones. 1972 Italy


Nuova Idea - Mr. E. Jones. 1972 Ariston

LP reissue: 1978 Oxford

CD reissues: 1992 Mellow; 2011 Sony (mini-LP); 2014 Sony

Nuova Idea's sophomore release continues to show the evolution of a band caught twixt and between two distinct popular movements within Italy in 1972. On the one hand, they possess that post beat/psych pop sound you might find on an I Santoni or Capricorn College album. On the other, you'll hear the rough and ready complexities of Raccomandata Ricevuto Ritorno or Quella Vecchia Locanda's debut. Not only is the album a mix of both, but you can hear it happen within the album itself, as it starts with the former and moves towards the latter. It peaks on the middle tracks and finishes where it started. This is definitely one for those who possess a 1970s Italian prog graduate degree, as it will likely fail to impress those just getting their feet wet. But once you have the full picture, Nuova Idea is history in the making, and a pleasant listen along the way. I can accuse myself of this observation, having first heard the album via the Mellow CD in the early 90s, only to heave-ho it quickly. Not wise.

I have to say the covert art, on the other hand, is one of my favorites in a scene that has many such great covers. A striking early 60's modernist Twilight Zone vibe permeates. The album itself is apparently about the life of the dreary office clerk, better represented in the artwork than within the music I would conclude.

I currently possess the 2014 CD on Sony, which can be had for cheap. The sound quality is quite bad, and I have to think it's a poor mastering. I've been looking for the original LP for many years, but it's been prohibitively expensive, especially with the poster. I need to hear the Mellow CD again to compare. I find it strange that this album has never been reissued in Japan, nor has it received a modern LP reissue. It's been pretty much neglected by the traditional reissue market.


Nuova Idea - Mister E. Jones / Svegliati Edgar. 1972 Ariston

Mess - Sven Grunberg's Proge-Rock Group Mess. 1975-76 Estonia


Mess - Sven Grunberg's Proge-Rock Group Mess. 1975-76. Archival.

CD issues: 1995 Bella Musica (Germany); 2004 Strangiato (as Küsi Eneselt)

LP issue: 2016 Strangiato/Svart (as Küsi Eneselt) 2xLP

In 1993, yours truly left the shores of Finland by ferry boat to what seemed like another planet at the time: Estonia. A place forbidden to go for us Americans only a short while before. It had been only a little more than a year since the Soviet Union had collapsed, and this small determined country was mightily rising itself out of the ashes at a blistering pace. I could write books about that experience. And to think I hadn't even been to Latvia yet... and eventually ended up backasswards in the Ukraine, oh my... I was clinically crazy.

In my imagination, some many years before that, a copy of Finnforest made the same ferry boat journey. Contraband that is was, the album was hidden under heavy brown blankets, passed along carefully and heard by only a select few in shadowy corners, well outside of earshot of the ever present Authorities.

Finnforest, of course, were influenced by the Dutch melodic masters Focus. And here you have your story line for the "Proge-Rock Group Mess", recordings from 1975-76 that survived in good shape. And what Sven Grunberg did with this sound is nothing short of genius. There are hair raising melodies and sequences here that are entirely unique. Check out 'Küsi Eneselt' as but one amazing example. In retrospect, one can hear many similarities with the Swedish group Dice. Similar influences and similar conclusions, but different flavors. Obviously one didn't know the other, and yet the comparison holds.

These recordings never made it to Melodiya vinyl (I don't think Breshnev would have been too happy about that, no sirree). And the sonic quality is very good, but not great, as one would expect. But otherwise, this is an extraordinary recording for the time and place. I would argue that these are the best 1970s progressive rock sounds, that I've heard anyway, from the old USSR. Seriously.

The Strangiato reissues include a live set as well. Thanks to Bas and Achim for the heads up on this release!

Anekdoten - Vemod. 1993 Sweden

Anekdoten - Vemod. 1993 Colours (Norway)

CD issues: 1993 Virtalevy; 1994 Rock Symphony (Brazil); 1995 Arcangelo (Japan); 2003 Virtalevy; 2008 Arcangelo (Japan mini-LP);

LP reissues: 1996 Record Heaven (pic disc); 2011 Virtalevy; 2015 Virtalevy

I suppose if one is to review Vemod properly, they must mention it sounds like King Crimson’s Red, and then you can move on to your main point, if there even is one to move on to (don’t get me started on this Starcastle thing again…). Of course when Vemod was first released in 1993, the excitement level was very high for the new album. Anekdoten were the other band from Sweden that had all of us in a swoon at the time. Presumably I don’t need to divulge the name of that other group... Whatever the case, some of my friends were quick to declare Anekdoten as the better outfit. I never agreed with that, but basically we’re talking varying degrees of what a 5 star album is. In Gnosisland  we would characterize the two as distinguishing between a 13 and a 14. And while King Crimson entered my mind on first impact, it wasn’t all encompassing. I don’t recall King Crimson having a Swedish folkloric underpinning for example. Vocalist Jan Erik Liljeström possesses a softer, more gentle tone than John Wetton’s matter of fact singing approach. There's cello instead of violin. The driving woody bass is more from the Yes school, and then there’s the mellotron. Bassoon tapes anyone? When guitarist Niklas Berg begins his riffing, and then OK yes, Larks' Tongues in Starless Red does come to mind. No doubt Anekdoten themselves will freely admit the influence, especially from a compositional structure perspective. Many modern bands are, and forever will be, influenced by the almighty King Fripp, just as King Crimson were influenced by the classical masters of the past. There’s so much on Vemod to digest, that simple comparisons aren’t going to do it justice. I’ve now owned this album going on 24 years (hard to believe isn’t it? Seems like it was new last week…). And I will say it still raises the hair on the back of my neck.

So you’re damn right it’s stood the test of time.

All the Japanese CD releases include the very important 10 minute 'Sad Rain' track which is as good, if not better, than anything else on the album. It was years later I upgraded to one. I bought the original CD immediately. This was one of the first albums where I made a conscious to not buy the LP instead (or both). Foolish move. Now the original LP on Colours has predictably become prohibitively expensive. I now - irrationally perhaps - want one. Later reissues won't do. The ever contradictory mind of the collector within against an otherwise rational economic mind. Sigh.

Out of Focus - Not Too Late. 1974 Germany

Out of Focus - Not Too Late. 1974. Archival.

LP issues: 1999 Tripkick; 2010 Sireena

CD issue: 2000 Cosmic Egg (UK)

Out of Focus' Four Letter Monday Afternoon was a tour de force, a double album packed to the gills with invention and energy. So much so, it knocked the band themselves completely on their arse. They were spent. Or so it seemed. As we eventually found out, Out of Focus retreated to the countryside to record more material (stoned out of their mind most of the time apparently...), and played at various festivals and small gigs in obscurity. They were even spotted at one of the Umsonst & Draussen festivals in 1978, an era of the band that remains uncaptured as I write this. By 1974, one can hear Out of Focus following in the footsteps of Missus Beastly. Some of the melodies here are beautiful, and the instrumentation is fantastic. Had they spent more time arranging these compositions for proper release, I'm sure this would be a 5 star masterpiece just as Missus Beastly's Nova label album is. And that's really the only critique, is that the album meanders in jam mode for long stretches. And depending on my mood, that can be a plus too. As an archival release, it's brilliant, and captures the band at a certain time and place as they were, without editing. And the sound quality is fantastic, sounding better than many new albums did at the time. For fans of the band, an easy recommendation. Otherwise, not the place to start, as it doesn't provide the proper context.

Not Too Late is a fantastic job from Ultima Thule's then fledgling label Cosmic Egg. In 2000 (when the CD came out), this album had a lot of well deserved buzz, and I bought mine immediately upon release. It's a shame UT didn't continue in this manner. Not long after, they went back to releasing homemade CD-R's in runs of 25, or reissuing their cassette back catalog on CD-R, rather than proper CDs. As a businessman, I understand the economic issue completely. As a customer, it's not where I place my money. Anyway, Not Too Late is a fantastic job all around, with encyclopedic liner notes and great sound. Get this one! Not sure if the original LP issue on Tripkick has all the info. I never did get a hold of one.

Full Moon - Euphoria. 1992 England

Full Moon - Euphoria. 1992 Demi Monde

CD issue: 1992 Demi Monde

Now here's an interesting title. I first read about this album in Freakbeat circa 1993. And have been looking for a copy on CD ever since. While not a common title on LP, the CD seemingly disappeared without a trace the minute it was released. While by no means was I actively seeking the title out, it's one that never managed to waft under my nose either. Until 24 years later when one did flash before my eyes. And I secured it. On the cheap minimum bid presumably since no one even knew what it was!

Was it worth seeking? Oh heck yea! There's quite a bit of misinformation regarding this album, and if it were not for that Freakbeat review, which I still have, I would probably have given up search long ago. Let's be clear here, this is no heavy metal album. I believe their debut, which I haven't heard, was more geared that way, so assumptions have been made toward this release. No, this one is square-on UK Festival Psych music. For anyone that is familiar with Soma, Strobe, or early Mandragora, you will recognize the sound here immediately. Hawkwind is the main driver rather than Here and Now or Gong. There's the pulverizing space rock motif with monotone English styled vocals that was prevalent back then. In other places, there are exotic Middle Eastern psychedelic jam sequences with some splendid lead guitar. And yes, there is a bit of heavy metal, in that epic style you might associate a band like Manilla Road with. The sound isn't quite heavy enough to pull it off, but when mixed with the above psychedelia, it sounds awesome. This is not an album for fans strictly enamored with 70s music, it's very much a product of the early 90s. Full Moon's Euphoria is a bit incongruous with the festival scene of the day, making it that much more interesting 25 years later. An album that remains to be discovered.

Banco del Mutuo Succorso - Come in un'Ultima Cena. 1976 Italy

Banco del Mutuo Succorso - Come in un'Ultima Cena. 1976 Manticore

LP reissue: 1980 Ricordi

CD reissues: 1988 Virgin; 1988 Crime (Japan); 2000 Virgin; 2005 Strange Days (Japan mini-LP); 2007 Victor (Japan mini-LP)

Banco del Mutuo Succorso started their career with what many consider the greatest 3 album run in all of Italy, and one could argue for progressive rock in general, competing mightily against the likes of Genesis and Yes. Then silence. 1974 blew by, and 1975 saw only the requisite-might-break-in-the-States-probably-not English language album, that featured unique arrangements, but a bit watered down from the massive beasts they opened with. By 1976, Banco confusingly released an all instrumental soundtrack album, that has little to do with their namesake. And finally we get to Come in un'Ultima Cena, their true followup to Io Sono Nato Libero. Since still signed with Manticore, the band were obligated to do a co-release in English (As in a Last Supper). Nevertheless, that version didn't see an English language country release (until 2010!), having been dumped into Germany as an afterthought. And so this was the last hurrah for the classic Banco del Mutuo Succorso as we knew them. They had one more fantastic instrumental album left in them (Di Terra) and off the pop cliff they went, only to return during the prog revival years. But they were broken.

This premise leads to the album itself. It's important to understand the background from which Banco entered into this recording. And let's not forget the 1976 landscape in general, where progressive rock in Italy were in their last throes of survival. And that provides the story here. This is Banco neutered and ready for a domiciled life. No more hunting in the wilds for their food. Once that premise has been accepted, then the album can now enter your stereo for a proper listen. It's the name Banco del Mutuo Succorso that usually holds this album back. But a careful listen on its own, demonstrates the same intense progressive rock composition style. Di Giacomo is also in fine form here, perhaps a bit more strained than prior. But the edge of the instrumentation is gone, along with the youthful exuberance. It's progressive rock by professionals. Which means, it's an excellent album throughout. And yet, you know they can do better. My rating reflects more an objective viewpoint in this case, rather than my usual subjectivity. Perhaps 3.5 is more accurate, but I won't give up on it. I owe them that.

I've owned this album in one form or the other since the 1980s. Currently I own the Italian original which comes with a fine 16 page booklet, as well as the Japanese mini-LP on Strange Days (2005) that replicates the packaging to the finest detail. I currently do not own the English language version, and I'm not including and discography info for it,since I consider it a separate album.

Avatarium - The Girl With the Raven Mask. 2015 Sweden

Avatarium - The Girl With the Raven Mask. 2015 Nuclear Blast (Germany 2xLP)

CD issues: 2015 Nuclear Blast (Germany); 2015 Metalville (Germany); 2015 Chaos Reigns / Ward (Japan)

On paper, I could describe this as Candlemass meets my Post psychedelic, proto progressive with female vocals list. Fronted by the talented Jennie-Ann Smith, it comes as no surprise her influences are similar to the ones in that listing. The classic RnB, soul, and  early rock singers. And it certainly doesn't hurt that she (wife of guitarist Marcus Jidell) is a stunningly beautiful woman, who could still go down the runway as she approaches age 40. And the fact that Ms. Smith isn't into metal much at all, promises a great contrast in style. Especially when you consider trusty organist Carl Westholm is on board. So Candlemass meets Goliath or Room or Julian's Treatment? Oh my heart be still!

Sigh. What we get is a Candlemass album with a talented singer that sounds like she's from 1970. Still not the worst idea I've ever heard, and that alone makes the grade here. I've been a fan of Candlemass since Epicus DM, so I can live with a new album under a different moniker. This is hardly the first time Candlemass has blended keyboards into their sound. That is, if you can hear them. I have to laugh at the thought of the classic Jon Lord / Ritchie Blackmore battles. If that's what is supposed to be happening here, then Jon Lord would have been knocked off his horse in the first 10 seconds and hauled away half dead.

Edling is playing it too safe here. He's in his comfort zone and feeding red meat to his audience. Jennie-Ann Smith often times seems compelled to sound like a female Messiah Marcolin. I would have preferred more development within the compositions, and perhaps break out some new styles and genres. Not in a mishmash way, but rather blend them together in the same way the 70s masters would do. The potential here is enormous. But for now, I can accept Avatarium as the new name for Candlemass.

There exists an additional DVD with special pressings from Nuclear Blast and Chaos Reigns. My copy doesn't have that.

Dice - The Four Riders of the Apocalypse. 1977 Sweden

Dice - The Four Riders of the Apocalypse. 1977. Archival.

CD issues: 1992 Belle Antique (Japan); 2007 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP); 2016 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

In 1992, there was quite a bit of buzz surrounding Dice's pre-album work. A full album that was "in the can" and promised to be better than their sole album from a year later (that was surprisingly well known among the prog faithful in those days). I snapped a copy up without hesitation, a rather expensive venture (especially then), given that it was - and still is - a Japan only product. I was not disappointed, and in fact I enjoyed it more than the album proper at the time. I would not make such a claim today, but it's still a fine effort worthy of ownership status.

The Four Riders of the Apocalypse borrows heavily from classical motifs, and other familiar themes, and then blends that together with the melodic European progressive sounds as projected by fellow countrymen Kaipa, and especially the Dutch ensemble Focus. It is the former aspect that keeps this one from the higher echelons of enjoyment, at least for this listener. They needed to take the training wheels off, and be more bold with their own vision. One will also note that many of their proprietary compositions will later show up on the 1978 album, especially concerning the melodies.

The sound quality is very good for an archival album, though it still wasn't quite ready for prime time either, and we've heard better productions from albums not released in the 1970s. All in all, if you're a fan of the Marilla album, then this one comes as an easy recommendation, as you can hear the band fumbling through their creative thought process that lead to their next work.

AirSculpture - TranceAtlantic. 2005 England

AirSculpture - TranceAtlantic. 2005 Neu Harmony (2xCD)

Of the 3 prominent UK based Berlin School electronic revivalist groups, AirSculpture were the most purest. That is to say, they never ventured beyond the keyboard trio format. No forays into space rock, or modern electronics. No real drums, or electric guitar. Nope - just synthesizers. So for my tastes, they were the least interesting of the bunch, though I own all their works to the point of this album, as they certainly are very good at what they do.

Playing on another popular theme, this is AirSculpture's trip-to-the-USA album. Whereas fellow countrymen Radio Massacre International weighed in with Solid States, an album highly influenced by Tangerine Dream's Encore, AirSculpture's schtick was the use of acoustic piano that was procured for them onshore. Which I quite liked personally, and a rare deviation for the group. Piano is an instrument that works well in electronic music, providing the warmth and elegance missing in what can be a sterile genre if not done correctly. The album is over two hours long, and each disc opens with a lengthy piano section (I didn't time them, but they're not too long, just the right amount), followed by sequencers, and later, improvisations. That was their stated intention, and pretty much that's what these live concerts are. Two hours is a lot of music, so it's not the kind of album that captures your undivided attention for long stretches. It works better as a soundtrack to a country drive in the evening, or a quiet Sunday afternoon of introspection.

TranceAtlantic was pretty much the last hurrah for AirSculpture from a traditional release standpoint. It was their final CD release for Neu Harmony. The band is still active, releasing only downloads and CD-R albums, which is a pity (there are a couple of exceptions). I stopped here with AirSculpture as well, as it didn't seem the band were going to progress beyond the boundaries they set for themselves. Not necessarily a fair statement, since I haven't heard their albums of the last 12 years, but one based on observations of their first decade together.

J. Teal Band - Cooks. 1977 USA


J. Teal Band - Cooks. 1977 Mother Cleo

CD reissue: 2012 Rockadrome

Cooks is another great moment-in-time album, perfectly representing the era from which it came: 1977 interior America. Not the effeminate sissy coasts, where the mainstream media resides. This is the part of America that same media flippantly refers to as "fly over country". Or what people here know as "the real America". Back in 1977, all the guys still had long hair, hated disco, chased chicks relentlessly, and of course had their own band - properly formed in a garage. And every one of them ended up with broken dreams. Unless you were willing to "sell out" for radio airplay - and even if you did that - odds were slim to none you would find stardom. And it was just too early for the arrival of the rebellious independent heavy metal movement that would lift the hopes of the authentic rocker. But dammit, that didn't stop anyone from playing hard night after night in dingy, smelly, smoky, and darkened roadhouses along the rural state highways that are now highly revered with rose colored glasses. But the reality was far different. The sad part is there were literally 1000's of bands like J Teal running around this fine nation. But the clueless major labels turned a deaf ear, and only a tiny fraction of these bands managed to privately release their own product. Which remained long forgotten until collectors started digging them up years later.

There is no one named J Teal in the band, who were based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Jonathan Teal was a gold prospector from the western hills of North Carolina, and yet another obscure historical figure was chosen as a band name - a very curious 70s tradition.

While ostensibly this album is labeled "Southern Rock", I would submit that is strictly because of its regional association, not its resemblance to bands more established in that genre. 'Country Girl', 'Lost Love', and 'The Cure' are brilliant hard rock numbers, with well crafted melodies, and just the right amount of jamming. Other than the rather mundane two short tracks with city-state names, the entire album is superb.

Essential piece of late 70s "real America". For fans of hard rock, this is a can't miss item.

The Rockadrome CD is taken from an old master tape. It's housed in a fine digi-pak with a short history. Originals are very scarce as to be expected.

Catherine Ribeiro + 2 Bis - s/t. 1969 France



Catherine Ribeiro + 2 Bis - s/t. 1969 Festival

CD reissue: 2015 Mercury as part of Intégrale Des Albums Originaux 1969-1980 9 CD set.

One can only wonder how a beautiful actress and fashion model ends up releasing one of the most extraordinary avant garde rock works of the late 60s. Perhaps one should not ask lest they be missing key body parts to procreate. This could not happen in America. It had to happen in France. Right there, one imagines a quick camera panning over to David Childress and he says in his uber-dork voice "It's obvious. It must be aliens...."

There are two ways to approach Catherine Ribeiro + 2 Bis. 1) As an alternate universe music choice as created by the eternal consciousness.  2) Run. Run far away. She is the single most dangerous girlfriend in the world.

Femme fatale of the unhinged psychedelic underground. Keep the lights on. Make sure your friends and neighbors know where you are at all times.

Until 2015, this album sadly remained without a CD reissue. Even though I already owned 4 of her albums on separate CDs, I had to have the box set just for the first two albums if nothing else. Originals have become scarce. I bought mine at the famous Paris Clignancourt flea market over 25 years ago for a few dollars. I saw more copies too  while there. A different era...

I just received a most intriguing e-mail from the Seine-Sanit-Denis Tourist board asking that I publish a couple of useful sites regarding record stores in the flea market area. A very reasonable request, and here they are: http://uk.tourisme93.com/record-store-owners-in-saint-ouen-flea-market.html and http://uk.tourisme93.com/saint-ouen-clignancourt-flea-market-access-and-opening-times.html

Stencil Forest - Opening Act. 1983 USA


Stencil Forest - Opening Act. 1983 Realtime

CD reissue: 2004 private

Small world time for me. One of the members of Stencil Forest is the older brother of a very good friend of mine who I met through my work in the software industry. When I first visited his brother (who had already relocated to Denver where we all lived), he stuck this album in my face and said "So you're into obscure rock music - bet you haven't heard of Stencil Forest?". He was right - I hadn't (this was back in 1995). They were from that unlikely hotbed of talent - Fort Wayne*, Indiana (Ethos, latter day Happy the Man). For those that are exceptionally perceptive, they did indeed get their name from the Happy The Man tune and apparently hung out with them quite a bit in the early 80's. So fast forward to 2004. They just re-mastered the tapes and privately released their sole album on CD. It sounds absolutely fantastic! Very professionally done throughout. Musically this is Midwest pomp/AOR with a prog twist. Think Styx, Kansas, later period Starcastle, REO Speedwagon, Shooting Star, etc… Oh you know, stuff that comes from this list. Given the progressive leanings, probably the Canadian group Saga would be the most apt comparison. What’s most interesting is how creative some of the instrumental breaks can be. Not in a flashy chops way, but very much like a Happy The Man or Genesis in their prime would do. There’s also the cringe inducing choruses and obvious play for radio, but they really were shooting for the big time, as was everyone else in those days. Had this come out a couple of years earlier, they might have made it too. The only song on here that plays it straight throughout is 'Looking Back', one that can be skipped over quickly. The title track is a Cliff Notes version of what Stencil Forest are all about. You’ll be fumbling for the remote after hearing the starting sequence with its 1980's AOR guitar chord rock and insipid chorus lines. Then, suddenly, the composition shifts to a complex and highly melodic mid-section. And back and forth it goes. This type of adventurism wasn't found on most 1980's arena rock albums. 'Celestial Voices', 'Just a Fantasy' and 'Crossroads' all have this yin / yang quality about them. 'The Pandemonium Shadow Show' is, not surprising with a title like that, the all-in progressive rock track that makes fans of the genre wish they'd just done a whole album of similar. It’s also the longest track clocking in near 9 minutes (again no surprise). The final two tracks, 'Indian Summer' and 'Five Studded Poker Player' are probably the best overall when considering the balance of melodic content and progressive interludes. In fact, the latter track would've been my surprise pick for a single, as it has the type of hook that lasts long after the album has ceased playing. Even the 1992 bonus cut ‘Five by Five’ is similar in construct. For vintage gear heads, it’s the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory with Mellotron, Hammond B-3, Mini-Moog, and Hohner D-6 Clavinet. Stencil Forest are a six member group so a lot of ideas and synergy can be heard. I can really appreciate the time and place aspect of this kind of music. And this is one of the finest examples I’ve heard – especially for the genre’s late date.

*Some of the band members were from Elkhart, but they set up shop in Fort Wayne.

The Word of Life - Dust. 1995 Sweden

The Word of Life return with their sophomore, and ultimately last effort, Dust which is somewhat different from the predecessor. There'...