Fantasia - s/t. 1975 Finland

1. Pilvien takaa 4:27
* 2. Unikuva 3:36
** 3. Huutokauppa 2:51
** 4. Suihkuliidolla 3:45
5. Hautausmaani rannoilla 3:06
* 6. Tulen pisara 5:49
* 7. Aggressio 2:39
* 8. Härmä jazz 1:27
* 9. Depressio 6:50

Right away, the first thing I noticed is how much better the CD sounds than the original LP (I had the opposite experience recently with Aquarelle's debut from Belle Antique). This version is bringing out the instrumentation as it was meant to be. Guitar and violin are the primary lead soloists, with some tasteful Moog, Rhodes, sax and flute as accompaniment. I want to quote my CDRWL site, as after hearing this album a few times in a row, this still encapsulates my thoughts: "They possess the instrumental dexterity of Finnforest combined with the songwriting talents of the Swedish band Atlas (who arrived later, but I feel there are similarities here). Contains 9 short tracks, each packed with many ideas. Fantasia is not an album that lends itself to easy comparisons, yet it's all vaguely familiar. Definitely Scandinavian from a compositional and melodic perspective." Of course, one cannot ignore Camel or King Crimson here, as no doubt these more familiar bands were an influence on Fantasia, as were the big stars from their homeland: Wigwam.

1), 5) and 6) are the only vocal tracks, and as you can see, two of them are the only ones I didn't star. But the good news is these are still fine progressive rock tracks, with plenty of changes, but not quite up to the same standard as the instrumental ones. 2) recalls the great Secret Oyster, primarily due to the soprano sax holding the melody line, coupled with some delicious wah wah guitar soloing. I feel 3) represents the highlight of the entire album. The deep throbbing bass line, with the melancholic guitar melody, is so very Scandinavian in its approach. Perhaps Fjärilar I Magen era Ragnarök is a good reference here. The guitar solo over the wah wah rhythm is exhilarating. It's not even 3 minutes long, but it seems as if they packed 7 minutes of material in there. 4) starts pleasant enough, with some fine synthesizer overlays over the funky rhythm, definitely playing off the ominous atmosphere. And then there's this wicked Italian progressive rock style meter break, which is really surprising in this context. The track closes masterfully with a wonderful violin solo. Another brilliant track. 5) is about the only song on here that could be called a "throwaway", and even at that, it's pretty good. 6) starts off with that dark narrative singing that is popular in Finland (just listen to Nimbus Obus sometime). This is followed by an outstanding Rhodes break which leads to some more excellent guitar soloing. Closes somewhat similar to the opening. A fine work, and proves Fantasia could work a vocal tune into their repertoire without ruining the song. 7) & 8) are two short instrumentals, that are both highly melodic and rock hard. Would love to here both of these stretched out a few minutes more each. 9) is just that - an extended instrumental showing that Fantasia is not just content to sit on a groove and solo endlessly, but rather they pack many ideas and textures into one song. And they are all related musically, not a pile of disparate ideas that go nowhere. Splendid album!

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Hi-Hat
CD: 2010 Rocket Records

Originals come in a fine single sleeve, and has always been sought after and expensive (at least since I've been collecting). I traded for my personal LP copy in the mid 1990s. It took many years, but the first CD as finally arrived! Rocket Records has become the de facto leader in Finnish progressive rock obscurities. They focus on other genres, but fortunately they cover what the UMR loves - and they seem to have no regard for popularity. And, best of all, they do a GREAT JOB at mastering. I was blown away by how much better Fantasia sounds than the original LP (which I will continue to own regardless). Only bummer is the lack of bonus tracks. Liner notes in English translated below.

Translation of the booklet kindly provided by Kai from Finland. Thanks a million for this Kai!

"Fantasia's roots lie with the St. Marcus Blues Band, which was formed in Pietarsaari in 1967. As their music became more experimental, the group changed their name to Fantasia in 1973. Bassist Markku Lönngren took the name from Amazing Blondel's 1971 album Fantasia Lindum. Early Fantasia described their music as a mixture of hard rock and progressive rock. To prove their commitment, the band members told that they had invested FIM 40 000 into musical equipment and were practicing almost every night.

Early Fantasia comprised Hannu Lindblom (vocals, guitar), Jukka Halttunen (guitar), Markku Lönngren (bass), Paavo Osola (keyboards) and Karl-Erik Rönngård (drums). However, musical differences caused rifts, and in 1973 only Lindblom and Rönngård were left. Fantasia became a quartet with the addition of Harri Piha (bass) and Roul Helantie (keyboards, guitar, violin).

The new Fantasia took part in the Finnish Rock Championship contest, which was held at Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki in December 1974. The decision to take part had not been unanimous. It was only reached after some members threatened to leave the group if Fantasia skipped the contest.

It was a good move in retrospect, for the jury liked Fantasia's style and the group won the contest. Their poor gig situation improved considerably as a result. In 1975 they were signed by Hi-Hat, a new record company set up by Finnlevy. [Finnlevy was one of the few large record companies dominating Finnish record industry at the time. Hi-Hat was their attempt to capture a piece of the young, progressive music market, which had been largely Love Records' domain.]

Fantasia's eponymous album came out in late 1975, as the new company's seventh LP release. The album was produced by [Wigwam drummer] Ronnie Österberg and Mikael Wiik. It was recorded at Finnlevy's studio in Helsinki. Additional musicians were Mikael Wiik, who played the guitar solo on "Depressio", and saxophonist Pekka Pöyry [of Tasavallan Presidentti, among others].

University of Turku's student magazine described the album: "Influenced by Wigwam, but with an honest and idiomatic approach. Fantasia want to create impressions, raise social awareness and make people listen and develop their relationship to music."

Wigwam comparisons were unavoidable. Waldemar Wallenius [one of the founding fathers of Finnish independent rock journalism] wrote in the Soundi magazine: "Some nitwit may fault the album for being too monotonous, but I for one enjoy its cohesion and harmoniousness. Some other blockhead probably spots clear Wigwam or even Tabula Rasa influences, which again I don't mind, because the album sounds pure and pleasing - and not too derivative of anyone. Yet another lamebrain might take offense on the lyrics, which may feel a bit pretentious. But the lyrics are mercifully few and they don't call much attention to themselves. And while not fantastic, they are not too bad."

Fantasia sold about 2000 copies, which fell well short of what the record company had expected from this rising new group. Hi-Hat may have been open-minded and ambitious in signing new artists, but the company was less patient about the artists' commercial success. Hence Fantasia and most of the other early signings never got to make a second album. After 1976 Hi-Hat's activity was heavily curtailed and the company soon shrunk into Finnlevy's sub-label that had to heavily rationalize its release policy.

With the album's failure and the public's ebbing interest in progressive rock, Fantasia's line-up began to change. First to leave was bassist Harri Piha. Roul Helantie took over bass duties, while keyboard player Paavo Osala re-joined the band.

In 1976 Fantasia toured the Soviet Union, with concerts in Leningrad, Moscow and Riga. Afterwards their line-up went into flux, while their music allegedly became more danceable. After various stylistic and line-up changes, Fantasia was buried at the turn of the decade and the St. Marcus Blues Band resurrected. The group is still touring and recording music today, but that is a different story."

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