Wallenstein - Cosmic Century. 1973 Germany

Wallenstein are not an easy band to pigeonhole. Generally lumped in with the Cosmic Joker crowd, and for good reason given various band members' participation, their albums proper are nothing of the sort. Well maybe the debut Blitzkrieg has some classic Krautrock styling (and we'll cover that at another time), but by their 3rd album Cosmic Century, the band were trying their hand at 70s English symphonic rock. So the title of the album is quite misleading, not to mention their appearance on the venerated Kosmische label. Even though one can still find the Dieter Dirks phasing tricks thrown about here and there to keep it interesting. Definitely a swell album, if not particularly groundbreaking or inspiring.

Personal collection
LP: 1973 Kosmische Musik
CD: 2011 Belle Antique

Iconoclasta - Suite Mexicana / Soliloquio. 1987 Mexico

Iconoclasta were probably Mexico's #1 progressive rock export in the 1980s and a big part of the style's revival in that country. The EP was released three months ahead of the LP proper, and features traditional instruments and melodies among the usual rock instrumentation. I would like to call out guitarist Ricardo Ortegon, who puts in an exceptional performance on both these albums. '7:19' adds flute with fine results. There's also the requisite "side long" track that allows the instrumentalists to shine with longer solo sections, including guest saxophone. Iconoclastic has a distinct 80s compressed sound, that is all their own.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Art Sublime

Art Sublime was the pioneer of the LP jacket CD reissue. This is a concept that never caught on, and that's a pity. While I love the Japanese mini-LP, which is a perfect miniature of the original LP - these LP jacket reissues were the real thing, but with a specially made insert that cradled the CD. Sort of the difference between O Gauge and HO I guess. If you wanted the CD for car/portable use, you could always stick it in a slim case, or any generic sleeve. Other than close partner Syn-Phonic, no one else gave the format much notice, and the concept seems to have gone extinct. Bummer. Oh well, I'm keeping it! The Art Sublime CD also comes with a nice full sized 2 page (front and back) foldout insert, with a lengthy discussion around the LP sized jacket (in English and Spanish). Also features a beautiful black and white surreal sketching. The gatefold inner features the original cover art for Suite Mexicana as well as a brief history of the band (also in English and Spanish).

Sandrose - s/t. 1972 France

Sandrose are France's best representation of the European progressive adaptation of the post Jefferson Airplane sound. For anyone who loves groups like Earth & Fire, Julian's Treatment/Julian Jay Savarin, Goliath, Room, Nattura, Analogy and a host of others then Sandrose is an obvious choice. Jean-Pierre Alarcen is absolutely sublime on guitar. Organist Henri Garella lights it up on the organ and adds more than enough mellotron to satisfy any addict of the instrument. The rhythm section is clearly schooled in jazz improvisation, while Rose Podwojny sings her heart out in a decidedly non-sweet, shrill way. 'Old Dom is Dead' will test your tolerance of her style. Eleven minute 'Underground Session' is not just a highlight of the album, but one of the great instrumental rock tracks of our time. I'm serious.

Personal collection
LP: 1988 Musea
CD: 2016 Belle Antique (Japan)

Even when I started collecting progressive rock rarities in earnest in the 1980s, Sandrose was a rare item not be found anywhere. Like many people, I was introduced to this great album via the Musea LP reissue, which I own to this day and wouldn't consider parting with. I did go for the Korean mini to replace the original Musea CD reissue which was a bit muffled in sound. Rest assured, all of the Sandrose reissues are licensed directly from Musea. Unfortunately the Koreans left out the critical historical booklet (though I already have it in the LP version). 2017 update: I have now secured the new Japanese mini on Belle Antique as well. The Belle Antique version also leaves out the Musea booklet unfortunately, but is a much better reproduction of the original packaging.  After comparing the two for sound, I ruled in favor of the Japanese CD. It's more bass heavy, but the Korean version is distant. And I remember comparing the M2U version against the Musea CD and thinking it was better. I should compare against the Musea LP at some point. I'd love to get an original LP. I want the French one though, as the UK version has a white box on the back with the track titles, that is entirely unappealing.

Thule - Ultima Thule. 1987 Norway

I bought this from Eurock when it first came out in 1987, and to say it was anachronistic at the time, would have to considered an understatement. While certainly not as retro-prog conscious as Anglagard, Thule do seem to have fallen out of a 1970s time machine. Probably the same contraption that fellow northern Norwegians' Tangle Edge fell out of near the same time. The album is comprised of two side long compositions, that flow together as one long piece (and that supposedly tells a tale of colonizing a new continent - yea, yippee yayhoo). Without a doubt, mid 70s Pink Floyd and/or Ocean era Eloy seem to be the primary influence here, though sung in their native tongue complete with some dark narration bits. There are some 1980s references to be found though, such as the fat digital production with wide open drum beats, as well as an occasional period synthesizer sound. The album pretty much plods along at a slow to mid tempo pace throughout, and the focus falls squarely on the dark atmosphere provided. Thule probably should have experimented a bit more with complex rhythms and dynamics to allow for a more kinetic experience. While this was never what I would consider a great album - it's not one I would be willing to part with either and, in fact, it has aged quite well.

Personal collection
LP: 1987 private

Heldon - II: Allez-Teia. 1975 France

Continuing our trek through the Heldon catalog, we enter the famed number II. Of all the Heldon albums, this is by far the most mellow, with a proliferation of acoustic guitar calming down the proceedings just a little. The subversive feel of the debut is maintained throughout however, and anarchy seems just around the corner. Deep, heavy, thoughtful music. While heavily influenced by Robert Fripp, Professor Pinhas was trekking down an individual path, and is now considered a legend in his own right. A lot of name dropping in the track titles, something that became vogue in the 2000s, but wasn't as common in the 70s. Amongst the more obscure, 'Fluence' references Pascale Comelade, where Pinhas was featured heavily on the self-named album for the Pole label. While 'Michel Ettori' refers to the sometimes Heldon guitarist. A highly regarded album and rightly so. The real underground of the 70s is featured here.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Urus
CD: 2005 Captain Trip (Japan)

I bought the original LP (on Urus) in the mid 1980s, and I still own that copy.

Michel Moulinie - Chrysalide. 1978 France

One man show Moulinie crafted his sole work for the Crypto label in 1978. Perfect for the time and place, Moulinie's work is similar to other like minded French underground artists such as Phillippe Besombes and Richard Pinhas. The use of acoustic guitar gives the recording a warm touch, that can be missing from the more clinical works of the era. I would guess that Moulinie was quite familiar with some of Mike Oldfield's classic works at this stage. The violin (or as it is credited "guitare violin") has a haunting, almost mellotron-like sound. On 'L'Echo de L'Acier' and 'Lente Course', Moulinie experiments with sound on sound techniques, that recall Manuel Gottsching on Inventions For Electric Guitar. A very beautiful album, and one that has no peer in terms of sound and execution.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Crypto

A.F.T. - Automatic Fine Tuning. 1976 England

It's not easy to maintain an interesting album with dual electric (no acoustic) guitars carrying the load throughout the entire recording, but that's exactly what A.F.T. manages to do. The rhythm section is no slouch, but their primary purpose is to keep the compositions moving along, rather than act as a feature. So no boring drum solos, or acrobatic meter sections are highlighted. Just dual guitars, with occasional solos. Fortunately guitarist's MacDonnell and Cross are up to the task, and provide the listener with many exciting sections, and add plenty of tonal changes to keep it interesting. The knee-jerk reaction is to compare AFT to other dual guitar acts from the UK such as Wishbone Ash and Man, but that isn't really the case at all. In fact, you have to fast forward another decade, and look towards the California group Djam Karet for any kind of relative comparison. While the feature pieces are the lengthy tracks that opens each side, the shorter track on Side 1 is similar, and no less exciting. The final song sees the band try their hand at a more straightforward hard rock format, with vocals. And while pleasant, the 3+ minute track comes across as a bit of a throwaway. Otherwise a super album.

Personal collection
LP: 1976 Charisma

Gualberto - Vericuetos. 1976 Spain

Vericuetos is a Spanish progressive rock classic. Borrowing heavily from the music of India and regional Spain (Andalusia especially), Gualberto incorporates these sounds with a classic Anglo progressive rock perspective for a truly unique blend. Gualberto's guitar style is soulful and rocks hard in places. He also contributes quite a bit of sitar for this album. Plenty of violin and String Synthesizer as well. A must discovery.

Personal collection
LP: 1976 Movieplay
CD: 1994 Lost Vinyl / Fonomusic

My copy is the gatefold. There also exists an original pressing that is a single sleeve.

Skywhale - The World at Mind's End. 1977 England

Skywhale's sole album is one of the rare non-Canterbury UK fusion albums that sound more in line with what was happening over the Chan...