Serge Bringolf Strave - Vision. 1981 France

Strave's debut was like a Zeuhl Big Band playing jazz rock. Vision sees Strave moving closer to the Zeuhl center, where the chants are more prominent and the horn charts are tighter. Where the rhythms are more active, and the overall feel is kinetic. It's a second generation Univeria Zekt and definitely the peak for Serge Bringolf.

Personal Collection
CD: 2012 Soleil Zeuhl

It was fortuitous for me to have purchased the LP new from Musea circa 1990 or so, when they still had dead stock for sale. The Soleil Zeuhl CD is excellent as usual, with complete historical liner notes (in French and English). Great sound, though no bonus tracks. The CD suffices for me, and I decided to sell the LP.

Intra - s/t. 1976-1990 USA (archival)

Over a year ago, we featured a fantastic archival find from Pittsburgh by a band called Arabesque. Prior to that, Shroom hit gold with Intra. After years of silence, Shroom has reappeared, so hopefully they have more archival discoveries like this!

This is yet another classic progressive rock album from the Midwest USA - this time Cleveland. The UK group Yes once again plays a major role in the overall sound, though snippets of other progressive rock groups enter here and there. A bit more complex, and less radio friendly than some of their peers. Hence they never found anyone to release their material in the first place! Definitely a product of the region it comes from.

The below matrix represents the recording dates:

Tracks 1-5. 1976
6-7. 1984
8-9. 1990
9-11. 1980 live

Perhaps most remarkable is the consistency of the music quality across the 15 year duration.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Shroom

Hiroki Tamaki & SMT - Time Paradox. 1975 Japan

Certainly one of the more bizarre albums out there, Hiroki Tamaki & SMT provide plenty of sophisticated variation for the discerning progressive rock fan. Starting out in hoedown / Ennio Morricone "Spaghetti Western" fashion, the album seamlessly moves east to India, back to the west via a brass rock piece, symphonic rock, indigenous (Japanese) atmospheric music, and finally we get to the title track. It's the grand payoff, as the album culminates on a high note. A brilliant progressive horn rock composition, with loads of ideas, funky wah-wah guitar, violin shredding, gothic chanting, and heavy rocking bits. As mentioned, violin is the dominant sound throughout, and we are left to presume that Tamaki is indeed the main protagonist on said instrument (for the record - he is the violinist). But for a Westerner like me, it's pure guesswork as both the LP and CD are entirely in Kanji.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Nippon Columbia
CD: 1998 P-Vine

This is an album I traded for at a swap meet in the early 90s from a well known Japanese dealer. I had no idea what it was, but he recommended it, so why not? I wasn't paying attention when the CD came out (probably not too many people were honestly), and then when I went to look for one a few years ago, the P-Vine version was long gone and sold out. Eventually I sourced one on ebay.

Mo.Do. - La Scimmia Sulla Schiena del Re. 1980 Italy

Late era Italian progressive rock album created by a band compiled by a former member of Dalton. Other than perhaps the instrumentation (e.g. ARP String Synthesizer) and production qualities, Mo.Do. seems like a classic album from 1974 Italy. A perfectly blended mix of complex progressive rock and singer songwriter music, complete with flute. Overall, similar to maybe Formula 3 or Citta Frontale. The period from 1978 to 1986 was a boneyard for Italian progressive symphonic rock, and Mo.Do. may, in fact, be the sole representative from 1980 of this much loved style. We of course realize there's plenty of other Italian albums from this period like Picchio dal Pozzo's second, Confusional Quartet, Pepe Maina's sophomore release, etc... but none of these are symphonic rock.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 Mellow

Emerald Web - Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales. 1979 USA

The Florida based duo of Kat Epple and Bob Stohl debuted with Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales which is a nice mix of sequencer based electronic music, fluttering flute, airy female voice and acoustic/electric guitar. Excellent atmospheres and even a few heavy rocked out moments towards the end that are well placed to add some much needed spice. A quite varied album, that needs a few listens to appreciate.

The duo went on to record a few more albums, though supposedly in the new age genre. I remember seeing these 80's albums back then and avoided like the plague, but I haven't heard them to be fair.  Tragically, Bob Stohl died in a drowning accident in 1989.

Personal collection
LP: 2012 Sebastian Speaks

As you can see from the images above (original is first), the cover has been slightly altered. The back cover as well has been changed around (the original is white, the reissue black, and many other alterations with the content and layout). There are no bonus tracks, but it sounds great. There are no inserts or essay's, making this a straight reissue. This reissue is authorized by Kat Epple, the surviving member of the duo. I found this comment from her on the web, that I think is interesting: "The label “Sebastian Speaks” is the one who contacted me about “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales” re-release..... Man…….it has been a long time since I listened to this album! Some cool OLD synth sounds on this one, for sure! - Kat" This album has yet to be pressed on CD.

Dun - Eros. 1981 France

For my tastes, Dün's Eros is most certainly a Top 75 album ever. Maybe even Top 50. There are tons of reviews out there already that will provide you all the detail you could possibly want about this album. I think it's a bit miscategorized as a Zeuhl album, which seems to be the main source of the detracting vote. While those elements are present (primarily represented in the bass work), I think the album is truly unique. Instrumental Frank Zappa, and the Canterbury scene also get call-outs, but again these are faint references rather than direct influences. It's complex, very complex in fact - but also very melodic. And it rocks hard in places, so it's not an academic snoozer. About the only album I can think of even close to Eros is Picchio dal Pozzo's 1976 debut. Not that they sound alike, but rather they both attack music composition in an entirely unique way. Music like this is wonderful to my ears, as each listening session provides a different result. Truly a brilliant work of art.

Personal collection
LP: 1981 private
CD: 2000 Soleil Zeuhl
LP: 2012 Soleil Zeuhl

For many, including myself, Dün's sole title was a highly requested candidate for a CD reissue. I was fortunate enough to buy the original LP in the early 1990s, and had long wanted a companion CD to go along with it. Musea had announced their intention to reissue the album as far back as 1991, but they apparently had trouble locating all the members. After many years of waiting, it was Soleil Zeuhl who finally stepped in and managed to release it (in a regular jewel case), with the addition of 4 bonus tracks. This release helped cement Soleil Zeuhl as a world class player in the reissue market - a badge of honor that they still carry. Over time, the original CD eventually sold out, and there was new demand for a repress. As well, Soleil Zeuhl was looking for the right album to test the LP market with - since vinyl seems all the rage again. So in 2012, Dün was reissued on CD, mini-LP (from Belle Antique in Japan), and a vinyl reissue. Typically I do not buy LP reissues of albums I already own as an original, but I made an exception here for a few reasons: It's an all-time favorite album; the cover is cool; and I wanted to support Soleil Zeuhl in their drive to perhaps reissue other albums on LP (most notably Eskaton 4 Visions that we spoke of recently). While purists scoffed, I was pleased that Soleil Zeuhl altered the look of the reissue ever so slightly, which gives the release a uniqueness about it. Some examples include: The lettering is gray instead of blue; the top "frame" line has been removed; a different photograph on the back cover; and the band name and title are now on the spine. The LP also comes with an insert, a download card (to retrieve the detailed CD booklet and bonus tracks), and is pressed on white vinyl. A great package overall.

Eskaton - Fiction. 1983 France

Quite simply a brilliant fusion of dark 1970's Magma inspired Zeuhl and early 1980's bright New Wave sounds. Our two angelic gals are joined by main songwriter Marc Rozenberg on vocals here, adding a bizarre male narration to the proceedings. Perhaps even better is the heavy use of that wonderful compressed French fuzz guitar sound, an instrument largely missing from Zeuhl music in general. Unless, of course, you've heard that incredible brilliant debut by Eider Stellaire. And there you have the storyline for Fiction: Early Eskaton meets Eider Stellaire. I will tell you this - there is no other album like Eskaton's Fiction. Not one. Nada. If the early 80's were filled with albums like Fiction, it could have well been my favorite era of music. Alas, it was not meant to be. Folks, you really need to listen to me while I shout from the mountaintops here: Eskaton were the embodiment of pure genius. Do not miss anything the band released. Buy them all. Listen to them repeatedly. You cannot go wrong here. If everyone thinks you're nuts, then you know you've found gold.

Personal collection
LP: 1983 private
CD: 2005 Soleil Zeuhl

Another typically great Soliel Zeuhl CD reissue, with excellent sound, photos and lyrics. As bonus tracks, the reissue includes 'Le Musicien', which is a rare track from a compilation called Preludes (1985). As well, the reissue contains 4 tracks from the unreleased 1985 album Icare.

Eskaton - Ardeur. 1980 France

It appears Eskaton was carefully toning down the rougher edges of the debut, and offering a slicker, more contemporary release. As such, veteran Zeuhl listeners will recall other early 80's ventures such as Superfreego and even Foehn in these grooves. Not surprisingly, the most aggressive tracks are the rewrites of two 4 Visions gems: 'Attente' and 'Eskaton'. And 'Dagon' represents Eskaton at their most creative and experimental - a direction that sadly the band never really pursued again. Overall, Ardeur features more synthesizer, Fender Rhodes, and violin with less "thrash" bass guitar, than its predecessor. The angelic voices of the two female leads still shine brightly here. I'm in the minority here, but I feel Ardeur to be the weakest of the Eskaton releases. Weakest being defined as a Gnosis 12 (RYM 4.5 stars) - perhaps underlining what a monster band Eskaton truly was.

The 'Musique Post-Atomique' single is stylistically more similar to the 4 Visions album.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 Soleil Zeuhl

Ardeur was Eskaton's first album to market, but their second recording after the almighty 4 Visions, which was released on cassette a year after this album. It was also my introduction to the band, as I picked up the original LP via Musea's mail order channel in the late 1980s. A very popular request item for a reissue, the CD finally surfaced in 2003 from the excellent Soleil Zeuhl label. The CD features photos, lyrics (with English translations) and adds the rare 'Musique Post-Atomique' single from 1979. I sold the LP when the CD came out. Maybe not the worst decision, but I could have held onto it longer I think.

Eskaton - 4 Visions. 1979 France

For my tastes, the absolute pinnacle of the Zeuhl style of music. While no doubt greatly influenced by the almighty Magma, Eskaton are really an entirely different branch off this massive tree. Those who call it a Magma clone are clearly scratching at the surface. For one, they sing in French rather than the made-up Germanic Kobian language. Secondly all the vocals are sung by two females, often in harmony or counterpoint. Thirdly, the band plays in hyper-drive throughout. Magma are experts at building up climaxes. Eskaton are experts at releasing climaxes... for the entire album! And finally, like all Zeuhl bassists, Andre Bernardi is a beast - but his style isn't the pound your senses into oblivion like Top or Paganotti, but rather one that shreds like a thrash metal act. Get your air bass guitar out when listening, you're going to need it. While all 4 compositions are brilliant, the middle two 'Attente' and 'Ecoute' possess truly sublime melodic moments that will raise the hair on the back of your neck. 4 Visions is one 40+ minute peak experience, and truly in my all-time Top 10. I would give this a 16 on Gnosis if they'd let me.

Personal collection
CD: 1995 APM (Sweden)
LP: 2013 Soleil Zeuhl

I first heard this album back in 1992 when a friend dubbed his cassette for me. I was absolutely floored by the music. It had been one of the greatest things I'd ever heard to that point (and still is frankly). But the cassette was extinct, and I wasn't about to kill myself looking for a cheap cassette anyway. The dub would have to do. So when the Swedish label APM was the first label to get this one out on CD, I bought one faster than the speed of light. Everything about the CD was better: The sound, the cover - it was just a magnificent reissue. In the 1990's APM was at the top of the best reissue (and contemporary) labels in the world. But sadly they went out of business in 1997. And, not surprisingly, 4 Visions sold out and became highly desirable again. Enter Soleil Zeuhl, one of today's greatest reissue labels. They had been successful in reissuing the other two Eskaton albums, and demand was building for a new print of 4 Visions, so they put a new one out on the market. The APM version had one bonus track, and the Soleil Zeuhl release features 4 bonus tracks - and different from the APM one. For copyright reasons, Soleil Zeuhl used different artwork, which has proven to be somewhat controversial. Many fans wanted the "blue" APM cover. As such, this has given Soleil Zeuhl pause to reissue this one on LP, which is too bad - since the album has never been on LP. I would buy one immediately if it does get reissued.

2013 update: And they finally did get the LP out - with the blue cover no less! And yes, you can see I bought it.

Hermann Szobel - Szobel. 1976 USA

An album that is complex as all get out by 18 year old prodigy pianist. Szobel has a distinct avant progressive flavor to it, though I suspect there's no intention of going for that sound per se. Instrumental Frank Zappa is an obvious influence here, with some tight wind charts, and I'm betting that Hermann Szobel may have heard a Henry Cow album or two.

So I first wrote the above sketch in 2006. I've since been told that Szobel was largely ignorant of contemporary music, which seems to be consistent with his very eccentric personality. Even today, no one knows exactly where he is. He's pretty much disappeared into the ether.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Laser's Edge

The Flatiron building is still my favorite skyscraper, and quite an engineering marvel for 1902. So any album cover that features it, I'm likely to appreciate. The album itself was a CDRWL feature until this summer. The new Laser's Edge CD is fantastic, with great sound, unseen photos, and excellent historical liner notes. Szobel is certainly one of Arista's most obscure releases. Arista started as a "progressive" label, much like Virgin did, but by 1978 they were already hopelessly signing commercial slop.

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...