Planetarium - Infinity. 1971 Italy

Not the first album mentioned when talking classic Italian progressive rock, and yet it was one of the very first chronologically. Mostly an atmospheric, instrumental (with wordless voice), and "quite lovely" album as the Brits would say. It is indeed cinematic in its approach, and very lush. And yes, speaking of lush, Mellotron is all over this for fans of the tape sampler keyboard instrument. Clearly a concept album of enormous proportion going from the beginning (of everything?) to Infinity... all in about 35 minutes (hey! - not bad considering what it could have been... Yes would have done the same in 9 hours over a 12 album deluxe set...). The music has this certain "looking out over the sea" quality that Italian bands seem to inherently possess. I'm reminded of Era di Acquario in their instrumental moments, and on the rare occasion when Planetarium do rock out (in Hammond organ fueled jazzy jam mode), you'll think of Latte e Miele's Passio Secundum Mattheum when in a similar mindset in relation to their own insanely ambitious concept album.

Personal collection
CD: 1990 Vinyl Magic

An extremely rare album, though not as expensive as some of the more known Italian progressive rock classics, only because demand isn't as high. The album is housed in a textured single sleeve cover. Not that I've ever seen one mind you. This is an album I'd never even heard of when the CD hit the market 24 years ago. But I was encouraged to buy one immediately, and glad I did - though like all the old Vinyl Magic CDs, all you get is a straight reissue (but legal). Even though it's never been repressed, I believe you can still find new copies out there for the original retail price. I wouldn't wait forever though. This is one I would expect an LP reissue from BTF, as well as a Japanese mini-LP to emerge. But surprisingly, the old Vinyl Magic CD is all there is.

Skryvania - s/t. 1978 France


Complex as all-get-out symphonic progressive rock from 1970s era French teenagers. Sure, the compositions are beyond their ability; the instrumentation is cheap; the (fortunately) sparse vocals border on the atrocious, and the production isn't much better. Having said all of that, I find music like this irrésistible. The sheer audacity of these kids trying to pull this off is impressive enough. Of course they emulate their heroes Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis more than they should, but here's an album that is perfect for "relistenability". Long tracks that are very involved, twisty, crazy - and without purpose. Great stuff.

Personal collection
CD: 1990 Musea

An extremely rare album, the original run is said to be no more than 200 copies, and given the amount I've seen over the years, I would have to think that's probably true (I think these numbers are often higher than dealers like to let on - but not in this case). Musea was early to market with a CD, that comes with full historical notes (still using their old LP fonts) and bonus tracks, one of which is just as great as the album itself. This was one of Musea's earliest efforts, and already by 1990 they "did the needful" as my Indian friends like to say. I bought one immediately upon release, as the album had a great reputation even back then (and well deserved for the right type of listener).

Neo - s/t. 1980 France



The all-instrumental Neo play a style of hard hitting symphonic fusion, mixed with lighter jazz rock touches. The guitarist absolutely smokes on this record, while the saxophone provides much of the melody lines. Keyboards play a strong role in the overall atmosphere. 'Osibirsk' opens the album in pulverizing fashion. Presuming you can still sit up after that, the album has plenty more rewards, most notably the 10+ minute 'Sortie de Bain'. Neo are yet another example of the fertile French scene during this era, and will appeal to fans of Terpendre, Transit Express, Metabolisme, and Rahmann.

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Musea

Apparently the idea with the Neo album is to change the colors with each release! The colors above are true, as I've owned the last two myself (though the Omega Studio version is more pinkish than the scan above). Originals on Prodisc are pretty scarce. Omega Studio is essentially Prodisc V 2.0, and was a neat little label in the mid 80s who issued on LP a few cool items from Wapassou, WLUD, Serge Bringholf, and this album. It was this version that introduced me to the album sometime in the late 1980s. Musea completed the reissue cycle with a fine CD, with detailed historical notes, and two good bonus tracks. Given the quality of the CD, I felt no need to hold onto the LP reissue. A decision I'd still make today.

Shub Niggurath - s/t. 1985 France


When Shub Niggurath released Les Morts Vont Vite in 1986, hardcore Zeuhl fans everywhere were frothing at the mouth, dirtying their dogeared copies of Lovecraft, while frantically chanting Kobaia and envisioning a world of Magma and Univers Zero dominance. Personally, while I found the album quite good (and still do), I did feel it lacked a bit in the melody, groove, and soul departments. It was all manic depressive - all the time. And they were quite the noisy bunch if truth be told. Well a year before that, unbeknownst to but a few of the Secret Order of the Golden Fleece, there was a privately released cassette. And if you loved Les Morts Vont Vite, then this album will put you in HOG HELL. Not much variation of their classic sound, doom & gloom, and well... still a bit noisy... But, yea, that would make you happy wouldn't it?

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Soleil Zeuhl (as Introduction)

The original had only been released as a demo cassette prior to a small tour. The tape is incredibly obscure, and I didn't even know of its existence until doing research for the CDRWL. Soleil Zeuhl's CD reissue is excellent, and would be the only copy anyone would ever need, unless they insist on a vinyl copy. There's been confusion over the date, but the CD reissue clarifies this for us, and 1982 is indeed correct. A few sites still have the 1985 date attached. OK, so loyal reader Achim has further qualified this. Apparently the date inside the CD is incorrect, and this has been confirmed by the label. The band was formed in 1983, so therefore the 1982 date is impossible. 1985 is the accepted date.

Dies Irae - First. 1971 Germany

Dies Irae starts off poorly with a "mouth harp" (harmonica) blues disaster, before launching into some pretty creative heavy rock. I missed this originally, but I wonder if anyone else has caught a very strong semblance to one of Krautrock's most revered albums: The Scorpions debut Lonesome Crow. It's not near as solid as the Brain label debut album, and does have a couple of more clunkers to sit through, but there's enough here to warrant a couple of listens. And makes me wonder if the Schenker Boys hadn't lent an ear prior to waltzing into the studio for Lonesome Crow.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Ohrwaschl

Originals come in a fine gatefold, typical of the label. I traded for this album about 25 years ago, but it wasn't really to my taste then. And since I still had too much to acquire, I flipped it quickly for something more to my liking. I recently obtained the 1994 CD, after years of not thinking about the album at all. Like all Ohrwaschl releases, it's a very basic jewel box release with nothing but a copy of the original album. It is from the masters though, so it will suffice until something better comes along. The 2009 version is housed in a digi-pak, whereas the LP reissue replicates the original FOC.

Patrick Gauthier - Bebe Godzilla. 1981 France

Patrick Gauthier's debut solo album offers up a compendium of the French underground of the late 70's and early 80's. A who's who of French luminaries grace this once in a lifetime effort, lead by keyboardist Gauthier, including Richard Pinhas (Heldon), Christian Vander (Magma), and everyone involved with those legendary groups such as the Zeuhl super band Weidorje. It seems the subversive  underground owned the French studios at the time. Too bad they lost control, or at least we think they did. If any band above registers a positive response, then Bébé Godzilla will do similar.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Seventh

Klockwerk Orange - Abrakadabra + Live at Stadtsaal Innsbruck (archival). 1975 Austria

Abrakadabra is an extremely obscure progressive album from 1975 with 3 long tracks. Very Teutonic sounding, reminding me of similar era German groups such as Pancake, Madison Dyke and Minotaurus. The unique element at play here is the use of trumpet. So you get a little Tijuana Brass meets ELP. Gotta hear 'Tijuana Taxi' collide with 'Manticore'!

Concerning the archival Live at Stadtsaal Innsbruck - The first three tracks are new compositions not found on the actual LP, and demonstrates that Klockwerk Orange were rapidly becoming more ambitious as song composers. They also introduce an earlier progressive sound, as would be found on Pink Floyd's Meddle perhaps. The highlight track is 'Vlad Zeppesch', surely a tale about Dracula, which contains many twists and turns in an almost Italian progressive rock style. Only downfall is of course the sound quality, which is of high bootleg standard. But it's good enough, and we'll take what we can get. One can only wish they had the time to lay these tracks down in a studio. Or that they reform ala Necronomicon and Alphataurus, and finish the job they started nearly 40 years ago.

Personal collection
LP+CD: 2013 Digatone

As long as I've been collecting, Klockwerk's Orange sole album has always been rare and expensive, frequently changing hands for over $800 (& more). As such, I had it on a curiosity list for as long as I've been making such lists (since the 1980s). But it wasn't until about 8 years ago I finally received a copy via CD-R, and then quickly entered it into to the CDRWL. Then out of the blue last year, a new label from Austria debuted their reissue catalog with this album! At first I was skeptical and did all sorts of background checks, suspecting a bootleg. But as we know now, that is not the case, and Digatone are fully entrenched as Austria's new bright light for quality legitimate reissues, especially given their recent release of Isaiah, an album we've already featured here on the UMR. Without a doubt, the way to go here is the 2 LP reissue (a wonderful high quality gatefold) that also includes a CD in a simple slip case. The second LP is a formerly unreleased 1975 concert known as Live at Stadtsaal Innsbruck. If you want the full concert, you'll have to obtain the LP reissue, as the (Digatone) CD only contains 3 of the 5 tracks. (Both Bas and Achim have correctly smacked me upside the head: Japan's Belle Antique has both albums in full on a 2 CD set - I knew that too. D'oh!)

Altona - s/t. 1975 Germany

Altona play a tight, energetic styled jazz rock, similar to other "Kraut fusion" bands such as Moira, Missus Beastly, and Release Music Orchestra. The vocals are gruff in that bluesy way, more akin to what you would hear in the early 1970s from similar genre bands operating in Germany and England. An excellent addition to the collection, if 70s jazz rock with vocals is your fancy.

Personal collection
CD: 2000 Disconforme (Andorra)

The original LP features an interesting contemporary single sleeve cover with manikins mocking American bus tourists (stereotyping of course) visiting the Hamburg section/town of... Altona. There is a promo version that comes with a huge poster. I first bought this album in the early 90s from a record show, but I wasn't as keen on the German jazz fusion sound as I am today. I sold the LP 20 years ago, and hadn't thought much about it until I recently scored the CD. The CD itself comes from a vinyl transfer, and could benefit from a new remaster. The liner notes appear to be translations of German newspaper articles that were added. Overall, the reissue will suffice, though I may pickup an original again if I run into one at a reasonable price.

Spontaneous Combustion - s/t + Triad. 1972 England



Spontaneous Combustion's debut sounds more like an album from 1969/70, and still has clear psychedelic overtones, especially considering the hazy vocal approach, and melodic disposition. The album is a mixture of styles that includes hard rock, pop, progressive, folk, and ballads. The last two long form tracks demonstrates that Spontaneous Combustion are an experimental bunch at heart, and the album becomes more unpredictable, progressive, and interesting. It's clear this guitar trio are very talented, and could really pack many ideas into a small window when they wanted to. A fine debut, but patchy. "Triad", released later in 1972, picks up where Spontaneous Combustion leaves off, and is more in line with that era's music. There is still some psychedelia left in the recipe, but Triad is geared more towards hard rock, as well as showcasing their progressive compositional acumen. It would seem that Spontaneous Combustion's Achilles' heel was their inability to focus on what they did best, and their albums can be confusing to listeners. Perhaps that's what they hoped to achieve, but history tells us they failed to gain an audience - and only were later discovered by curious collectors of early 70s UK underground rock. Many consider Triad the better of the two albums, and I'm inclined to agree, though they grade out roughly the same regardless. Three years later, the band reformed into the group Time, and it was there the group showed their true colors of being an all-out progressive rock outfit. Though it too never caught an audience (and given its current lack of a legit reissue, as noted on the CDRWL, it still sadly remains unknown).

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Esoteric (2 copies - a separate one for each album)

These two albums are inextricably linked to each other it appears. The debut features a fine gatefold cover and cool cartoon artwork. Of course the US version had to be altered to look worse (second photo), not to mention the easy-to-get-ringwear type cardboard cover. Triad fortunately maintained the original artwork in the US, though once again with cheaper materials. The Esoteric CDs are great as usual, with detailed liner notes, and bonus tracks for each (more on Triad than the debut).

Fermata - s/t + Pieseň z Hôľ. 1975; 1977 Slovakia



Fermata's debut is a hard hitting fusion album from arguably Slovakia's finest group. Where Fermata creates separation from many of their peers is they never take their eye off of the composition, and actually know how to craft a memorable melody. So it's not just pyrotechnics, though there's plenty of that here too. Some fine psych edged guitar, Rhodes Electric Piano, and fat 70s analog synthesizers to bathe in here. Great start for the band.
Pieseň z Hôľ sees Fermata taking the debut and amping it up a bit. A little bit more diverse this go round from a compositional perspective, but difficult to imagine fans of the debut - or of the hard hitting Mahavishnu Orchestra styled progressive fusion - being disappointed here. And 'Priadky' has one of those kind of hard driving bass riffs you're not likely to forget soon. What a groove. Great guitar and keyboard work as expected. Another splendid album from Slovakia's finest.

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Bonton 

When I started collecting in earnest in the middle 1980s, one of the best points of entry was Eastern Europe. This is because the albums could still be had for a low price, especially fusion albums from Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia. I know many bemoan the digitization of music, but if there was ever a region that the CD benefited most, it was the former Eastern Bloc. The final vinyl product usually was a disaster (cheap materials), but as we've come to find out, the recordings themselves were usually of a very high quality, and the master tapes all carefully stored by the State. So I quickly moved the LPs out once the first CD hit the market (3rd image). Unfortunately this CD compilation leaves off the 11 minute track 'Perpetuum III' from the first album. The 1999 CD of Dunajská Legenda does include this piece. And that's the way I own the first album as a whole. Not ideal for sure. All of the second album is here though. Apparently the 2009 CD (last image) is a 2 CD set that fixes this issue, but I haven't seen or heard it myself. As indicated prior, the sound quality of the first CD is fantastic - much better than any original vinyl of these titles.

Zakarrias - s/t. 1971 England

After many years of mystery, turns out Zakarrias is an alias for an obscure Austrian singer slumming in London named Bobby Haumer, and most of the material came from a former power trio known as Salt. That band featured Hawkwind's Huw Lloyd-Langton on guitar and future Steamhammer member John Lingwood on drums. After Salt fell apart, Haumer was surprisingly offered a deal with Deram, where he re-purposed the material with a makeshift band including winds player Geoff Leigh (later of Henry Cow) and Peter Robinson (Quatermass) on keyboards. There's way more to the story of course, as told in great detail with the Cherry Red CD, but in effect that's the backdrop. The album wasn't promoted, and as such it barely sold any copies, hence its incredible rarity today. The music is certainly an odd mix of folk, blues, hard rock, and progressive. Haumer's vocals really do possess a Robert Plant tone, and thus the Led Zeppelin references are credible (think LZ III). And knowing these tracks were initially written with a hard rock band in mind, the compositions do make more sense. But given all the acoustic guitars, piano, and flute, the material seems just a bit off from the presentation. And that's the charm I guess. An album I definitely enjoy and recommend, but certainly lower-tier stuff when talking 1971 progressive rock from the UK underground.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Cherry Red

This is one of the real biggies, and originals are truly scarce, with demand extremely high. Originals usually sell for well over $1K and have sold for as much as $3,500 (within the last year). Why anyone would pay that much for a good, not great, album with a single sleeve cover that looks like Howard Stern is anyone's guess. I'm kidding of course. Certainly I understand the collecting mentality, and for those who want every UK Deram release, this album will prove to be an obstacle. I didn't hear Zakarrias myself until about a decade ago, and only via a CD-R someone sent me, as even the first Japanese CD was extinct by that time. The Cherry Red CD is the definitive version to own. From the master tapes, with a much needed history to tell (see notes below). Cherry Red is the parent of Esoteric, and the material is similar to what Esoteric would normally reissue, so not sure why it wasn't to be honest.

Poobah - U.S. Rock. 1976 USA

Carrying on from the debut Let Me In, U.S. Rock adds in keyboards, and there’s a distinct move to an AOR / radio friendly sound. In fact, listening to these tracks with modern ears, it’s almost beyond belief that Poobah weren’t one of the big names of the day. Catchy melodies, powerful and technical guitars, and that sound that made every major band in the 1976/1977 a hit on FM radio. But due to a remarkable run of bad luck, they once again were resigned to releasing the album themselves (and one would presume a major label would advise against the hilariously bad cover).

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Ripple

The easiest to find and least expensive of the 3 original 70s Poobah albums. As one can see, it features a ridiculous cover, and one presumes it's honoring or making fun of the US Bicentennial that was all the rage in 1976. The CD is excellent, as is usual for Ripple. I had to laugh at the photos, which reminded me of my own high school's yearbook! There are an additional 23 minutes of fine live material added as bonus tracks. Still no liner notes though, which is a pity.

Probe 10 - There is a Universe. 1975 USA

My original review is here, and I'll leave it up. It is interesting to note that the band does indeed credit Return to Forever (the band) as motivation to record this album, after having seeing them live. Without trying to be stubborn, I really don't hear any Return to Forever in their sound despite reading the contrary from others. Probe 10 are way more psychedelic to my ears, and not near as tight, slick, and professional. And for me, that's a good thing that they aren't any of those things.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Blue Universe
CD: 2014 Lion Productions

Where to even start? I first heard about this album from a rarities catalog in the late 1980s, and it wouldn't be until about 2007 or so until I finally heard a copy via CD-R. It was rare in 1988, and it never became an affordable item. Almost all ebay auctions to date have netted between $500 and $800 for an original (some sealed). I featured this album extensively on the CDRWL and I wrote a rather "outside" review of it in 2007, which I then published on this UMR site. Despite what it might read like, I wrote it sober as a judge during my lunch break at work (can't say that about all my reviews :-) ). It was this review that got me in touch with band leader Jim McGee, and that lead to virtual introductions to Vincent at Lion. And from there, those guys did all the heavy lifting that lead to this wonderful reissue. While awaiting the reissue, I was offered an original LP at a very fair price - not cheap by any means - but much lower than going rates and I nailed it quickly. I rarely pay high dollar for albums, but this one is special I feel. As for the reissues, I picked up the CD as fast as possible. Housed in a Japanese styled mini-LP, with a booklet that contains a full history from Jim McGee and fellow band member Buzz Bachman, and the best possible sound. There are also 5 short bonus tracks that are similar in style. Without question, this is the definitive version to own. I presume the LP to be of similar quality, but since I do have the original, I haven't investigated further.

Isaiah - s/t. 1975 Austria

Isaiah's sound is more typical of what was coming from Germany circa 1971-72 with flute, guitar, and excellent vocals in the lead. It's a bit more commercialized which is common for the era. As for the second album (recorded between 1973 and 1977), this version of the band is far more bluesy than the album proper, though no less enjoyable. Very interesting group, that fits well with their German contemporaries (like a cross between Birth Control, Nosferatu, and Bullfrog), but I can't think of a similar Austrian band! While there are certainly better albums in the field, I still recommend Isaiah to fans of the genre.

Personal collection
LP+CD: 2014 Digatone

Originals are very rare and typically sell in the $300-$500 range. For years, this title was mired in the pirate world, until Digatone came to the rescue this year. In short order, Digatone have become the premier indigenous label for Austrian progressive and underground rock. The LP reissue is a 2 vinyl set that also includes a full album's worth of unique material in studio quality. The second LP had previously been reissued as a bootleg under the title of "Forgotten Records" with some slight alterations. In addition to the extra album, there are full liner notes and a CD featuring both albums. Without question, this is the de facto version to own!

Braen's Machine - Underground. 1971 Italy

Underground is simply an amazing find. Take one part instrumental film/library/exploito ala Blue Phantom, The Bigroup, Psycheground, and Fourth Sensation and complete that with atmospheres that rival the earliest Krautrock scene ala early Guru Guru and Can. Absolutely phenomenal fuzz guitar jamming throughout, with loads of studio effects to upset your inner balance and ultimately turn you into a barking mad fellow. And that's what we all are, aren't we? If not, listen to this, and join us will you?

Personal collection
LP+CD: 2014 Schema

Almost precisely the same scenario as yesterday's The Feed-Back album. Originals are off the charts rare, fetching in the $1K range. So Milan's Schema has come to the rescue again, and reissued the album on CD and LP (with a CD as a bonus). And once again I picked up the LP/CD package for a few dollars more. Don't miss these reissues! And the sound is fantastic (most assuredly from the masters), and the liner notes this time are in English providing much needed detail behind this extraordinary work. And via this reissue we learn none other than Rino de Filippi is responsible for the contents within (along with Alessandro Alessandroni and a full set of studio musicians at the ready). CDRWL regulars will recall De Filippi was behind one of the greatest mysteries on the site until it was cleared up by Italian Prog expert Augusto Croce. It's great to be able to unwind all of these identities some 43 years later!

The Group (Gruppo d'Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza) - The Feed-Back. 1970 Italy

Famous film-scorer Ennio Morricone's jazz / rock / avant garde band. This 1970 album is very wiggy for the time and place, way beyond what one normally associates with "incidental film music". And marquee name Morricone adds trumpet here. Morricone himself was 42 when this album was released and already quite a known artist, hence the major label interest in what otherwise would be an entirely unwanted avant garde annoyance to the business. Given his formal classical musical training, the overall package reminds me of those establishment French persona's such as William Sheller (Popera Cosmic), Alain Gorageur, and Jean-Claude Vannier. You'd be hard pressed to find a more creative rock outing than The Feed-Back, even if you've heard it all on the Futura and Ohr labels from the same era. It barely cracks the 28 minute mark, but otherwise an essential album that is likely to appeal to the remains of your addled left brain.

Personal collection
LP+CD: 2014 Schema

This is an album I never heard of until I started doing serious research for the CDRWL a few years ago. Originals (like the photo above) will set you back... oh.... say $1,500+. Pocket change right? So for the rest of us, it was with great pleasure to see that the Milan based label Schema has come through with both LP and CD reissues of this extremely rare classic. Since it only costs a few extra dollars, I went for the LP that comes with the CD. Definitely score this one while it's still available.

Fireballet - Night on Bald Mountain + Two, Too. 1975-76 USA



Night on Bald Mountain: Though from New Jersey, Fireballet sound like most of the progressive rock bands coming from Midwest America during the mid 70s (as I've painstakingly documented before). Yes is the major influence here, as it was for countless bands across the fruited plain. In this way, Fireballet were to the USA what Druid were to England. It's 1975, and it's time to release the followup to Relayer, because there will be one right? Right?? The long classical interpretation will of course recall ELP, another band that used to get props (though not so much in recent times). King Crimson gets plenty of cameo's as well throughout.  I'm a sucker for groups from my country going all-in progressive, even if not a single one of them ever made much headway in the Billboard charts (other than Kansas). But based on the number of copies still out there for sale in the wilds, it does appear they sold quite a many copy anyway. Maybe not one of America's best, but certainly a fine straight-down-the-middle progressive rock effort. Can't go wrong here for fans of the style. As for the bonus tracks on the Inner Knot CD, the opening one is 'Robot Salesman' from 1977, and has a fully orchestrated pop sound. Had this been their decided direction on the new album, it's highly likely not to be well received - especially now, but even back then I think. The other track is their 11+ minute live cover version (from 1974) of King Crimson's 'Pictures of a City' (pre-Night on Bald Mountain album). It's a muffled recording, so hardly essential, but a nice curio piece (perfect as a bonus track). The Arcangelo CD extra bonus track is called 'Say Anything', which I know nothing about and obviously haven't heard.

Two, Too: Perhaps predictable in retrospect, Fireballet scrubbed all the edges off their first album for an even more accessible second effort. Yet, it's really as progressive as the debut, minus the overt displays of grandeur. Tighter... more professional. As stated about Night on Bald Mountain, Fireballet have the sound of Midwest America down pat (despite their Jersey roots) - one that combines progressive rock with FM radio sensibilities. Interestingly enough, Fireballet's "commercial take on Yes" approach sounds like early Starcastle here - so once again we have parallel groups gathering similar data inputs, and spitting out a similar conclusion. For me, perhaps because I was a child within the generation, this type of music grows in stature with me as the years go by. The ridiculous original cover no doubt shaved one full star from this album for many folks right out of the gate. The band was smart enough to apply more appropriate art for the CD. Give this one a fresh pair of ears - you may be surprised. There's only one bonus track on the Inner Knot release 'In My Craft and Sullen Art / Mars' which is a (short) interpretation of the Holst classic. It's a live recording, from the same 1974 concert as the 'Pictures of a City' interpretation as found on the debut CD reissue. The Arcangelo CD adds 'Tears', a track I'm not familiar with.

Personal Collection
LP (Night on Bald Mountain): 1975 Passport
CD (Night on Bald Mountain): 2014 Inner Knot
CD (Two, Too): 2014 Inner Knot

Both albums are single covers and are common records in the US, often still found in the few used record stores that exist. With the smallest of searching you should be able to net one for under $10 - and less than $5 with a little more hustle. So one would presume LP reissues will never be needed. But on CD - now that has proven to be a challenge. Until finally this year, as announced on the CDRWL, we finally have legit CDs to buy and own, after years of watching pirate editions fly by. It's even more curious when you realize that band member Jim Cuomo is still heavily involved with the music industry. We first heard about the Japanese reissues, and while I haven't seen these, they each feature one extra bonus track not found on the US issues. The CDs are stored in a digipak, and each are adorned with embossed covers, which is a nice addition. As you can see, the second album has been redesigned (3rd scan), tastefully extracted and repurposed from the Night... cover. And who can blame them given the ridiculous original cover (second photo)? I'm sure it seemed funny at the time (to someone?), but it hasn't aged well. For purists, the Japanese CD, as is their protocol for mini-LPs, reissued the CD with the original cover. Each CD includes the lyrics and recording detail, but no history or other archival media, which is kind of a bummer. It would have been nice for them to spin their tale of woe (perhaps with some added humor) for us all. The sound is very good to my ears anyway. Good CD reissues, but perhaps they could have done a bit more. Don't want to complain though - it's way better than nothing - and certainly a step up from what you would get from Wounded Bird for example.

Klan - Mrowisko. 1971 Poland

Klan, like Czechoslovakia's Flamengo, were one of the pioneers of the exploratory progressive movement beginning to emerge in the Eastern Bloc, before the authorities declared this kind of music too subversive for a healthy State. I hear music like this with a bit of sadness, always wondering what could have been for those countries left to suffer behind the Iron Curtain while the rest of Europe was being "turned on". Klan's effort is a mix of psychedelic, radical progressive, horn rock, jazz, orchestral rock, and emotional vocal pop. Fuzz bass, crazy drumming, impassioned vocals, flute, and some killer swirling organ define this amazingly mature work for the time and place. An album that should be held up as a national treasure, recorded at a time of despair and little hope.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Metal Mind

One of only a handful of gatefold albums coming from the Eastern Bloc. It's still super thin (based on what I've read), but this kind of luxury item was typically frowned upon by the State. My introduction was the '87 reissue that I bought right around release time, originally coming out near the end of the regime, though now housed in a single sleeve. I quickly ditched this cheaply made reissue vinyl for the first CD to hit the market (1991 Digiton). The Digiton release is fine, and certainly suffices as the only copy anyone would ever need - especially considering it includes the sought after 1970 EP as bonus tracks. I had no intention of buying this album again, but I recently had a chance to source the lavish double CD on the fine Polish label Metal Mind for an attractive price. It comes with a full booklet with lyrics and extensive liner notes (mostly in Polish though). The extra CD only contains the 11+ minute EP and seems a bit wasteful (ironic isn't it?) considering both albums combined total only 50 minutes. I didn't really need to upgrade in this case. Interesting to note that the old state label Muza is still alive an kicking. Glad they were able to transition to Capitalism successfully it appears. I haven't seen or heard their two CD versions of the album. (Also be sure to read the comments where UMR friend Bas offers up even more CD info regarding this landmark album).

Blackbirds - Touch of Music. 1971 Germany

Blackbirds' second album is a bit more UK and Dutch oriented than the usual 1971 German organ bang fest. Now nobody likes a German organ bang fest as much as moi (especially when the organ is a Hammond), but there's always room for a band like the Blackbirds' more classically oriented styled progressive rock. And it's quite the keyboard extravaganza too. References to Trace, Rare Bird, and The Nice are necessary. And the dour atmosphere of the vocals recall bands such as Procol Harum and Still Life. Touches of violin, flute, and recorder adds much needed color to the canvas. The CD version includes the rare 1970 single, where Blackbirds prove they were quite a force in the ways of psychedelic music as well with a searing acid guitar sound and gruff vocals. Very good album.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Long Hair

Long Hair is the only label to step up on the reissue front, and they did a fine job on the CD, adding full liners, great sound, photos, and two bonus tracks from a rare 1970 single. I suspect the reissue LP to be similar (except it only features one bonus track).

Steve Linnegar's Snakeshed - Classic Epics. 1982 South Africa

What's most telling about Linnegar's album is just how out of sync the album was with its release date of 1982. The psychedelic guitar, optimistic vocals, folky acoustic guitar and violin overlays, and overall songwriting point to an album that could have been released in 1974 England. Classic Epics is a crafty mix of folk, psychedelic, progressive, and AOR. Best track is the lengthy 14 minute psychedelic space rocker 'Desert'. A wonderfully out of touch album, perhaps due to its remote location on the (then) shunned South African subcontinent. The new reissues on Guerssen really open this album up from prior bootleg copies, and even from the typically dirty South African originals. Be sure to hear this album as it was intended before passing quick judgment.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Guerssen (Spain)

Originals come in a gatefold sleeve. Albums coming from South Africa are hard enough to find, but privately pressed ones are even that much more difficult. I was first sent a cassette of this album in the late 90s, and I've had it in the CDRWL since its inception. And as first reported on that site, via Linnegar's sister Diane, we learned of these Guerssen reissues. The album sounds great (from the master tapes) - much better than my old cassette which came from the crappy bootleg LP I'm sure. The album features a detailed review from Acid Archives contributor Aaron Milenski, as well as the full set of lyrics, newspaper clippings, and photos. The LP reissue, it appears, replicates the original in every way. Don't miss these reissues if there's any interest at all in this album.

Opus III & Friends - s/t. 1970 Sweden

What strikes me most about Opus III & Friends is how much it reminds me of an American album circa 1970 as found on labels like Paramount, Rare Earth, and ABC. It actually sounds like a horn rock album - without the horns if that makes sense. But the compositions have that similar flavor about them. It's clearly a post psychedelic release and many elements of that genre are present, most fortuitously on a couple of the guitar solos spread throughout the 8 tracks here. The instrumental tracks go for a quiet introspective electric guitar trio sound. Which is a logical conclusion when you realize the band is headed up by no less a luminary than the legendary guitarist Jan Schaffer. And the "Friends" part of the moniker includes none other than Bjorn J-Son Lindh on piano and flute. This is definitely not the subversive underground Sweden of Parsson Sound, International Harvester, Algarnas Tradgard, and Flasket Brinner. Not much is unfortunately. A good album though, and well worth picking up if you see it.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Sonet / Universal

Very rare album that is stored in a basic single sleeve cover. This has been part of my CDRWL for over 4 years now, ever since The AC fed me a copy. So you can imagine my surprise when I found 2 sealed copies of the LP in a local record store recently (!?!?!). I go record hunting locally about.. ohhh.. once a year maybe? And I look for common $5 stuff that I don't feel like mail ordering because of postage costs. But Opus III? I had no idea it had been reissued in any form. The LP reissue is straight up - not even one hint of an extra, liner notes - or anything for that matter. But it is absolutely from the masters (sounds great), comes in a limited release of a 1000, and even uses the original Sonet orange and purple trumpet label. 100% legit release for the skeptical out there (and none are more so than I). However, it stays in the CDRWL as there is still no CD.

Dakila - s/t. 1972 USA/Philippines

Despite looking like the bad guys from a vintage Hawaii Five-O episode, Dakila were a band from the Filipino immigrant community residing in the Mission District of San Francisco (a generation later, another Filipino group would emerge from the SF Bay Area, and that would be the excellent thrash metal band Death Angel). But this was 1972, and given the Latino influenced culture of the area, Dakila put no less a luminary than Santana on a pedestal and made a similar go for their fortune. The music contains copious amounts of passionate sustain guitar, chunky Hammond organ, fuzz bass, active Latin percussion, and soulful vocals. The latter sung in Tagalog, Spanish, and English. Dakila definitely have that Lowrider Soul culture in their veins as well, and Carlos' brother's band Malo is also very much in play here. Personally, I cannot possibly hear enough bands in this style, and many are favorites, especially Chango. Other reference points would be Macondo, Pantha, The Antiques, Naked Lunch, Azteca, and Broth. Absolutely killer stuff.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Epic

Single sleeve major label cover that lends itself easily to ring and shelf wear, like the cover above (and my personal copy is this way too - I bought it in a local store well over 20 years ago for about a $1 and never bothered to upgrade). No legit CDs have surfaced, which is a real tragedy, and thus has been a standard feature on my CDRWL.

Fusion Orchestra - Skeleton in Armour. 1973 England


Fusion Orchestra aren't a jazz, nor chamber, rock band. Rather they represent, to me at least, the swan song for the Post Psychedelic, Proto Progressive with Female Vocals sound, as I've documented via the link provided. Fusion Orchestra are a spirited bunch, and the music borders hard rock, with blazing heavy psych guitar at every turn (with some great solos). There's also a jazz undercurrent, and Jill Saward's voice (and she plays a mean flute too) is husky in that blues sort of way that was popular at the turn of the decade. This is one of the most kinetic albums of the genre, with multiple fast paced meter shifts and a wealth of ideas, and no fan of any of the genres mentioned above will walk away disappointed here. Jill Saward was just a cute teenager when she joined the band in the early 70s. Later she went onto be the professional blond bombshell leading the slick, and very popular, 80s jazz funk band Shakatak.

Personal collection
LP: 1973 EMI
CD: 2009 EMI (Japan)

UK originals come in a wonderful textured gatefold (first photo). As with a few of my albums, I actually found a new original LP copy at a local record store here in Dallas in the mid 1980s. I almost didn't buy it because of the unrepresentative name of the band. But as fortune would have it, I gave up a dinner that night, and now still proudly own that copy. As for reissues, they have been the sole proprietorship of the Asian market. Not sure why this album hasn't been treated to a UK specialist label like Esoteric with full liner notes, but these Asian reissues will suffice until then. The Japanese mini-LP I own is a perfect reproduction of the original in miniature.

Steve Maxwell von Braund - Monster Planet. 1975 Australia


Monster Planet is arguably Australia's first electronic album. Influenced by the German Cosmic Courier LPs (all of which were imported to Australia), and Braund's own time spent in the English and German underground, Monster Planet mixes both rock (including vocals, sax, bass, and drums) and electronik elements. The latter element proving to be the main characteristic of the album. The synthesizer was limited to strictly a Korg-700, so the possibilities were quite limited - and the album is a bit monotonous in places because of it. There are no sequencers, organ, or mellotron - just static and spacey electronics. Shortly thereafter Braund began to assemble a full arsenal of synthesizers, and thus the Cybotron legacy was born. All the same, the album has its charms, and is a good example of the pioneering 70s electronic music movement.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Clear Light of Jupiter
CD: 2013 Aztec

The album was pressed in a quantity of about 2000. Braund wasn't too keen on the cover design (nor the von designation), and so he had approximately 500 of the albums reprinted with a more favorable cover (to him at least), and that's the second photo you see (and the liner notes of the CD go into great detail about the issues surrounding the cover). So convincing was the German styled cover design, that when I first read about the album from a catalog in the mid 1980s, it was simply listed as Monster Planet on the Cosmic Couriers label. For many years, dealers told me such an album didn't exist. And finally the puzzle was resolved for me, and eventually I bought the LP about a decade later (original cover). Then a few years ago, it was announced that Aztec would reissue the album on CD, following on their successful reprinting of Cybotron's Implosion. Shortly after that, Aztec went bankrupt, and it appeared the opportunity had been lost. But as announced on the CDRWL, Aztec reemerged, though in a somewhat confused state. Both the Aztec and Dual Planet reissues replicate the original cover (this presumes, then, that Braund has reconciled with it). The CD also features a very telling 14 minute radio interview from back then. I did have to admit wondering why Aztec would reissue such an obscure album, especially after falling into financial trouble. And the answer is provided in the extremely informative liner notes: Label head Gil Matthews plays bass and drums on the album!

Irish Coffee - s/t. 1971 Belgium

Irish Coffee's debut is practically the definition of the Continental European rock sound of the era. Heavy guitar and Hammond organ are the main instruments, while the English vocals are delivered in a forceful gruff style. The music is deceptively complex, and a casual listen will likely result in labeling the album as "hard rock". Perhaps, but in the same way as Nosferatu or Culpeper's Orchard. Tracks like 'Can't Take It', 'When Winter Comes', and 'Hear Me' pack a lot of ideas and meter shifts into their sub 5 minute time frames. The single tracks are indeed more straightforward, and the last recordings come from 1974 where it appears the band hadn't progressed at all.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Thors Hammer / Garden of Delights (Germany)

My first taste of the album, along with dozens of other people I'm sure, came via the Voodoo CD reissue which I picked up sometime in the 90s. Over the years, this reissue had been tagged a pirate edition, but I was pretty certain it was legit. And sure enough, the band themselves reissued it in a limited edition (Voodoo was an early name for the band). It featured 7 bonus tracks and a small history. Naturally it vanished into various collections over the years, and the bootleggers hit the market hard. Fortunately Garden of Delights came to the rescue (under their non-German Thors Hammer moniker), and this is the de facto reissue. Full historical liner notes, new photos, scans of all their singles (and all 7 extra singles are here as bonus tracks), and great sound. Here we learn of the authenticity of the original CD (but points out one glaring recording error), as well as confirming the original LP release date as July 1971 (I still see 1972 appended on some discographies).

Light Year - Reveal the Fantastic. 1974 USA (archival)

Today we have a real gem. And it's been out there for 4 years now, and I'm just hearing it for the first time!(?) I discovered it the old fashioned way: Research. This is the type of album I'm usually tipped to ahead of time by my loyal friends and researchers. So perhaps today I can return the favor? I hope so. I think all of my readers will adore this one.

An extraordinary find, Light Year were a band from San Francisco circa 1974 that played a cross between heavy fusion and progressive rock, with dominant female vocals. To me it sounds like the Belgian band Cos playing the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra! Yes... I'm serious - Pascale Son fronting John McLaughlin and crew. A 6 piece of guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, vocals, and percussion (much of it tuned). Mixing a Bay Area band with an additional percussionist will call to mind who? Yes, that's right, Santana. And guitarist Randy Sellgren certainly possesses that hyper kinetic electric technique of Mahavishnu John meets Carlos type sound. The music is jazz oriented, but with ferocious rock segments, in the same manner as Santana's "Lotus". And the final track, clocking in at a whopping 20:20, has a distinct space rock element - propelling the album to its greatest height.

And the story doesn't end there. And this is perhaps the most fascinating aspect for me; the liner notes don't mention it. And there's only one reference to it on the label's home page. And (lots of ands on this one...) this is how I discovered it in the first place: I recently bought a second LP copy of Mingo Lewis' "Flight Never Ending" which I have listed in the CDRWL. This copy, however, included a promotional insert, where it says (typing it out literally): "Mingo's band lingo (sic) is a tight, young outfit: Drummer Dave Logemen (22), bassist Eric McCann (17), plus the remains of another San Francisco band called Light Year which includes guitarist Randy Sellgren, synthesizer specialist Michael Kapitan, and keyboardist Kincaid Miller." The latter two are not mentioned in the CD liner notes (Mingo's album came out two years later) - but then again, neither is Mingo Lewis. Holy smokes - who knew??

This album is absolutely essential.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Green Tree (Germany)

The CD comes in a nice digipak and features newly written liner notes (from 3 of the members), lyrics, and photos. The sound is excellent. The LP is a gatefold, though I haven't possessed one myself. I know that Green Tree has a somewhat checkered past, but this one is clearly legit, and a superb archival album. Buy this one before it gets away. Special thanks is given to Doug Larson, who I presume had something to do with this release.

L'Orchestre Sympathique - En Concert a la Grande Passe. 1979 Canada

L'Orchestre Sympathique's jazz rock sound (recorded live, but perfect sound) is defined by flute and tuned percussion, and thus draws comparisons to Pierre Moerlen's Gong and fellow Quebecois legends Maneige very easily. And those references are certainly on the mark. One band that isn't mentioned often, but I pick up in the more intense spots, is that of Dun's Eros. There's no hints of Zeuhl here, and it certainly isn't a dead-on reference, but there are a few similarities especially on 'Houmalaya'. As with any live jazz oriented album, there are a couple of loose improvisation spots that get stuck in the mud, but in general those moments are fortunately held at bay. About 15 years after this album, the Argentine band Las Orejas y La Lengua would release a similar type effort. Highly recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 ProgQuebec

Original LP is a single sleeve cover. The album was included in their concert pricing  - a novel idea that helped fund the project. It's only been in the last couple of years that I was first introduced to the album. The CD features liner notes and wonderful sound like all of ProgQuebec's product.

Madder Lake - Stillpoint. 1973 Australia

Madder Lake's debut is a varied work, that references many of the influences of its day. Anything from the Oz standard of boogie/shuffle ('On My Way to Heaven') to catchy folk rock pop ('Goodbye Lollipop') onto Santana influenced jazz rock - it all can heard on Stillpoint. Perhaps the best track is the opening 8 1/2  minute 'Salmon Song' (wait a minute, was Steve Hillage...? Naw...), a primarily instrumental jazz rock piece that features some fantastic guitar and organ leads. Other highlights include 'Helper', which sounds like it could have fit in the middle of Blue Oyster Cult's Tyranny and Mutation album; the first half of 'Listen to the Morning Sunshine' is typical boogie, but the second half is all psychedelic goodness; and the two progressive oriented closers 'Song for Little Ernest' and '12-lb Toothbrush'. Ironically the latter track had a pop vocal motif that they filtered out for a hit single (as presented on the Aztec CD as a bonus track) - and became somewhat of a caricature sound for the band. They apparently never recovered their reputation locally because of it ("a millstone around their neck" as the liner notes put it). From my perspective, this is by far their better of two albums, and I could never reconcile with their sophomore effort Butterfly Farm despite a splendid cover.

Personal collection
LP: 1973 Mushroom
CD: 2008 Aztec

Originals come in a nice rough paper, non-laminated gatefold. Of historical interest, this was the first album on the Mushroom label, and was more or less created by the manager of Madder Lake. And of personal historical interest, this was the first album I ever bought on ebay in the late 90s. Such an odd choice, but it remains the fact. The fantastic Aztec reissue comes with 8 bonus tracks. I've spoken at length already about how great these Aztec reissues are, so I'll stop here.

Mackenzie Theory - Out of the Blue. 1973 Australia

I think the best way to describe Mackenzie Theory's debut is that of a laid back Mahavishnu Orchestra. Which sounds like an oxymoron, but when you hear Out of the Blue it will make sense. Electric guitar and electric viola are the main protagonists here, and both put in a splendid performance. Not only do they possess the necessary chops, but also achieve the most wonderful psychedelic tones. The music is clearly composed, and offers far more than the usual three note backdrop while throwing endless boring jams on top. The tight ensemble work is really where the Mahavishnu Orchestra comparison comes in, especially at the time of Inner Mounting Flame. Another element that Mackenzie Theory excels at is pacing - that is to say, their ability to slow a song down and suddenly propel it back to a blistering speed. It adds a level of unexpected excitement, and it's just these kind of surprises that make Out of the Blue a truly progressive jazz rock album. And don't miss the live version of  'New Song' as presented on the Aztec CD, as it will leave your speakers smoldering for a few hours afterward. This is a must own album for early instrumental fusion fans.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Aztec

Originals on Mushroom come in a fine gatefold. My first exposure to the album goes back to the first CD pressed over 20 years ago. The original label was still around at that point (ultimately being rolled up into the Festival brand and is now defunct), and this was sold as a "budget CD". So it's a straight transfer, right off the masters, but has little else to offer. As is often the case for me, I waited too long to replace it with the Aztec reissue, and then when the company was announced to have gone kaput, I knew I missed my chance. But the company resurfaced and their version of the CD, like all of Aztec's reissues, is magnificent. Comes in their usual tri-fold digipak complete with copious/insightful liner notes, photos, a much improved sound, and one smoking hot bonus live track. I'd like to eventually pick up the original at some point, but it's not a top priority.

The Plastic Cloud - s/t. 1968 Canada

Kingston's The Plastic Cloud - to my ears anyway - practically define what late 1960s underground psychedelic music sounds like. Look at the cover - fast forward 45+ years - and tell me they wouldn't fit perfectly into today's hipster culture. They have a strong sense of that era's light ethereal melodies coupled with credible vocal harmonies, and yet they also possess this subversive streak that shows up primarily in their heavy use of a biting "bumblebee" sounding fuzz guitar. Tracks like 'Shadows of Your Mind', 'You Don't Care', 'Face Behind The Sun', and 'Civilization Machine' are massive in their execution, and the jams can get super intense  - especially on the longer tracks (two of which go into the 9 to 10 minute mark). Imagine The Doors going "all in", as they would in their early days, but utilizing fuzz guitar instead of electric organ. And even the "straight" psychedelic tracks are memorable such as 'Art's a Happy Man' and 'Bridge Under the Sky'. If you're a fan of the underground 60s psych movement, it's pretty hard to imagine not freaking over this masterpiece. A genre defining album if there ever was one.

Personal collection
CD: 1990 Laser's Edge (USA)
LP: 1999 Void (USA)

The original is a single sleeve cover with insert. Original copies can get way up there, and frequently sell for well over $1K. My original discovery came via a new upstart label called The Laser's Edge way back in 1990. I'd never heard of the group, and I was myself only in about Year 3 of having disposable income for buying albums when I felt like it. So I took a chance, and was rewarded in a big way from a music perspective. The CD comes with a fold out insert and replicates the original liner notes. Many years later I picked up the Void LP reissue - and it's probably superfluous to own this version given it's a straight reissue with the same original insert. But since it's such a favorite album of mine, it's nice to have a vinyl copy - especially since originals are pretty much out of reach. The Lion reissues include - according to their website - "The accompanying twenty-page booklet has all the lyrics, thanks to Don Brewer, the man who wrote them, as well as rare photos and a replica of an original press release that must be seen to be believed". And their edition of the LP is a gatefold.

Wolfgang Dauner's Et Cetera - Knirsch. 1972 Germany

A mixed effort, Knirsch combines the higher key heavy fusion of Mahavishnu Orchestra with Dauner's own affliction towards experimental free jazz. On board for this excursion are noted jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, Colosseum's Jon Hiseman (drums), and long time Dauner contributor (and future Exmagma member) Fred Braceful on hand percussion - the all-star cast proves up to the challenge of mixing these diverse styles. Dauner himself provides a nice variety of keyboards from traditional Clavinet, piano, Mini-Moog, and Rhodes onto off-key analog electronik instruments for the most "out there" segments. Some of the experimental bits go on for too long, as was common from this era of jazz rock, but still a very worthy addition for any underground fusion collection. Final piece 'Yin' is the best track and closes the album in fine fashion.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 MPS / BASF
CD: 2010 HGBS

Knirsch comes in a mighty fine thick and sturdy gatefold, and as with every MPS album, is pressed on excellent vinyl. I bought my personal original LP copy on ebay about 15 years ago and added it to the CDRWL immediately. Dauner's albums are being reissued slowly, and on different labels, so it was with great delight that a new label HGBS (which stands for original MPS founder Hans Georg Brunner-Schweremerged) reissued Knirsch on CD. And so I purchased one as soon as it became available. It comes in a nice digi-pak and sounds fantastic (surely from the masters). Unfortunately there are no historical liner notes or bonus tracks.

Poliphony - s/t. 1973 England


Poliphony is a very nice instrumental jazz psych record. Not too far from some of the Italian film library bands like Fourth Sensation or Psycheground - or even the UK group Hungry Wolf. Some pointed fuzz guitar leads and flute forays add volume. Elsewhere, there's some jazz-tone guitar and plenty of Rhodes, typical of the genre. I think a little more fire in the belly would have lead to a better experience overall, but it's still worth hearing, and perhaps then getting the CD. This Poliphony is not to be confused with the more well known US band Polyphony.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Audio Archives

Housed in a standard single sleeve, and looking all the studio jam session album that it purports to be. My introduction to the album was about a decade ago while visiting Heavyrock's house. And he was kind enough to burn the LP onto CD-R for me for the ride back home. The recent CD reissue on Audio Archives definitely took me by surprise, as I would suspect demand to be very low. It's a fine reissue with very good sound (I suspect a vinyl transcription, but well done), with unique liner notes and clear participation from the band. Audio Archives decided to change the color from the original beige to a pinkish hue - perhaps to its advantage.

The Mandrake Memorial - s/t + Medium + Puzzle. 1968-1969 USA



Philadelphia based The Mandrake Memorial began their career as a psychedelic pop group, with the distinction that all the songs here feature distant "lost" vocals and electric harpsichord. There's a certain sameness to their sound throughout. The music is every bit of its era, practically defining 1968 for us. The best tracks, naturally enough for a group existing in the psych world, are those that feature biting fuzz guitar licks such as heard on 'Here I Am', 'Dark Lady', and 'Strange'. Closer 'Sunday Noon' sounds like The Mandrake Memorial covering The Doors. And it's just as great as that might sound.

Medium: Side 1 sees The Mandrake Memorial taking a step back as they try to define their sound to a finer point. There's more of a downer folk blues sound going on, though its still psych based, and there's phasing and fuzz guitar here, along with the prevailing electric harpsichord. Side 2 definitely takes the straightjacket off, and the band spreads their wings further into longer compositions and creative instrumentals - peaking on the 6 minute instrumental 'Barnaby Plum'. A mixed album, with a much greater discrepancy - both at the top and from the bottom.

Puzzle: Side 2 of Medium was a harbinger of things to come for The Mandrake Memorial. Gone is the trademark electric harpsichord and its place is the guitar trio - with a fully staffed choir and orchestra in tow. The conventional psychedelic songs are undoubtedly The Mandrake Memorial of the first two albums, but the other tracks show the band pushing the boundaries of rock into exciting new directions, oddly reminding me some of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother' suite that had yet to appear. Guitarist Craig Anderton's growing interest in electronics is given a test drive on 'Bucket of Air' - a splendid display of proto Kosmiche Krautrock if there ever was one. Overall, it's definitely an experimental record, and one that did not result in commercial success for the band. The subsequent 45 single sees The Mandrake Memorial heading back towards the middle - not sure where else they could have gone honestly - and then decided to hang it up, having accomplished a great deal in only 2 short years.

Personal collection
CD (The Mandrake Memorial): 1996 Collectibles
CD (Medium): 1996 Collectibles
CD (Puzzle): 1996 Collectibles

The first album is housed in a standard thick single sleeve, whereas the other two are gatefolds. And, if you're lucky, you might find the circular insert for Puzzle. I first bought the debut LP almost 25 years ago, appropriately enough, while in Philadelphia. I replaced that, and picked up the others, as soon as the CDs hit the market in the mid/late 90s. The debut sold well (over 100,000 copies according to the CD liner notes), especially within the local Northeast Philly/NYC/Boston market, and thus finding an original isn't too hard. Puzzle features a fetching Escher cover (House of Stairs from 1951), and comes with a cool insert. All 3 CDs feature full liner notes (the same liner notes for each unfortunately, though Puzzle adds in the original liners which are in Dutch and likely come from Escher himself). Puzzle comes with both sides of their final 45 single as a bonus, though they inexplicably "colored in" the Escher sketch (who knows why?). All of these are taken from vinyl copies, and only the debut sounds decent. I think they could have done a better job, though it didn't bother me much until I heard them intently with headphones. Watch out carefully for pirate editions, as they have proliferated the marketplace.

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