Iskander - Boheme 2000. 1982 Germany

The CD issue contains significantly more music, much of it superb, including the magnificent full 4 part suite of 'Winterhagen', which now clocks in at over 18 minutes. Iskander's debut is a real under the radar delight, and mixes symphonic rock with psychedelic guitar and a variety of progressive ideas. The album is pretty much forgotten today, but was quite well known within those that were tuned into the "Eurock" circle back in the 1980s. I've had this CD almost since it was released, and it has passed the test of time quite well.

Personal collection

CD: 1989 Iron Curtain (as Boheme 2000)

Winterhawk - Revival. 1982 USA

Chicago based Winterhawk have quite the reputation among those predisposed to enjoying the hard rock genre. Like me. Almost all the tracks clear the 5 minute mark to allow for a few more ideas to creep in per composition. And to also allow more time for the unrelenting guitar solos - each, I might add, with a solid amount of creativity. This latter point alone would most certainly have found its way to the cutting room floor back in 1982. As well, the rawness of the production is a big part of the charm here. Makes you feel like you're in an old abandoned brewery on the South Side. Lead dude Jordan Macarus can play the strings with the best of them - and a strong nod goes to the Nuge (right down to the cow leather lace-up boots!). Every major US city had a Jordan Macarus that never got their due. In those days, you would check out Winterhawk live at the "Agora Ballroom", bring your main squeeze, and boast to the bartender you're a good friend of the band. If your girl stayed through the concert without complaining - and as an extra bonus got tanked on Pabst - she was a keeper.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Monster

The CD is awesome with liner notes, bonus tracks, and from the master tapes.

Moolah - Woe Ye Demons Possessed. 1974 USA

To put it succinctly, this is America’s Krautrock album. The real deal, circa 1974, not a revisionist history job, or a cheap hipster imitation. Moolah were the duo of Walter Burns and Maurice Roberson, who play a variety of keyboards, percussion, voices/tapes, anything that looked like an instrument, and other found sounds. And, naturally, all blown through the funz-a-poppin’ blender of studio trickery (backwards masking, phasing, filtered, you name it, it’s here). This is the type of album to compel Julian Cope to write volumes to the gods at the top of ziggurats. If I were half the writer Cope was, I would have a blast describing the imaginary movie that this soundtrack inevitably goes with. If someone blindfolded me, and said "Check out this unreleased Annexus Quam album that was to be originally issued on Ohr", I would’ve believed it! For a slice of pure underground subversive America, via Greenwich Village, you absolutely can’t go wrong with Moolah.

Personal collection

LP: 1974 Atman
CD: 2005 EM Records (Japan)

For years, this rarity was mislabeled as being on the relatively common Annuit Coeptis label (most known for US issues of German bands like Ramses and Bullfrog). The reality is the original private LP displays a dollar bill which, of course, leaves the Latin phrase intact. Though it didn't sell well in its day, most of the original pressings were preserved. The only CD is the Japanese pressing from a decade ago. At first I thought it might be a bootleg, but it was confirmed legit, and the label has no history of pirating. It's a straight jewel case reissue with good sound, and no other extras. My guess is permission was granted via e-mail.

Praxis - La Eternidad de lo Efimero. 1987 Mexico

Praxis' sole work is a solid instrumental progressive rock album from Mexico. The primary composer, Ricardo Moreno, is the same keyboardist behind Iconoclasta and the music is remarkably similar - especially the Iconoclasta albums that came after Praxis. One reason for this is that Praxis' guitarist Hector Hernandez joined Iconoclasta not long after. The other is that Praxis had eschewed the local regional Latin American influences - as did Iconoclasta in their later years. The album's faults lie in the muddy Third World sounding 1980s production, and the lack of variety in tone - especially considering the rather cheap sounding synthesizers. But the charms outweigh the negatives here. A finely crafted album, that I'm sure today would sound fantastic, especially if afforded a room full of analog gear.

Personal collection

CD: 1994 Mellow (Italy)

The CD is a straight reissue with good sound and nice historical liner notes. You really have to be a vinyl-only junkie to not want the CD for this title.

Tantra - Misterios e Maravilhas. 1977 Portugal

On the surface, Tantra sounds like an odd cross between Mahavishnu Orchestra and Genesis. There really isn't any other band from Portugal that sounds anything like Tantra, and with revisionist history on our side, the band have a somewhat international flavor. The fusion tracks sound like Argentina's Crucis whereas the vocal numbers recall Carpe Diem of France. The heavy use of the Farfisa Synthorchestra and the distant, sparse, and mysterious vocals add credence to this latter claim. Meanwhile, on the middle tracks, the insane bass and drum rumblings with wild soloing made me think of Los Delerios del Mariscal. As many have said, the production is lousy, and detracts from the overall immense potential for greatness here.

Personal collection

CD: 1998 Musea (France)

Note back cover of the original (scan #2). There are two pressings, and the one with 1877-1977 100 year seal is the true original. The Musea CD is excellent with detailed liner notes and photos. The sound is pretty muddy, but that's the source, and not much you can do about that I'm afraid. I didn't realize, until researching this entry, that another CD came out in Portugal at the same time as the Musea release. The newest version from 2007 comes in a digi-pak with 2 bonus tracks.

Cosmic Debris - s/t. 1980 USA

Cosmic Debris were a band from Oklahoma City that married electronic sequencer based music with rock instrumentation such as guitar and drums. Very much like a mixture of Klaus Schulze's Moondawn with Edgar Froese jamming on top. Or Wolfgang Bock's Cycles album. Side 1 is made up mostly of 'Spectrum' with only a brief introduction of Aaron Coplan's generally overused 'Fanfare'. This is the only side that guitarist Shawn Phillips appears on. And he wails wonderfully in a psychedelic manner throughout. The flip is more atmospheric, though the driving drum set is still in place, with sequencer based Moog, atmospheric sounds, and percussion, recalling perhaps late 70s Jade Warrior in places. Mixed with Heldon. Cool.

There are no reissues, however there was a time when the band was selling homemade CD-R copies, but we don't technically count those. There's some debate on the date and title of this release. The copyright date on the original LP is 1980. However there are two typed inserts (with my copy anyway - and I reprinted them below this review). One is dated 1.1981 and the other 1.1.981, so we'll presume bad editing on the latter... So the evidence is there that the album wasn't released until 1981, though I'm personally a fan of copyright dates. Depends on the discography site and their rules eh? Based on these inserts, it's pretty clear to me, that the 3.7K title that has recently been appended this album is in reality the catalog number, not the album title. This becomes even more evident once you realize their second album While You're Asleep has 4.6K as a catalog number.

----Here are the two inserts included:

Insert #1 (dated 1.1.981) says:

"Cosmic Debris Biographical Information

Cosmic Debris was founded in 1977 as an experimental synthesizer ensemble. From their first performance at the Friends Jazz Festival in July 1977, Cosmic Debris has constantly strived to bring subtlety, elegance and control to live electronic music. Cosmic Debris has expanded beyond strict electronic electronic horizons. In 1979, the ensemble performed in the fusion jazz format. Growing out of that format, Richard Bugg (founder of the Debris) and Joel Young (percussionist with the fusion jazz edition), have gone on to incorporate elements from all musical areas.  "We present the listener with a choice of ever changing perception of reality". The Cosmic Debris can be heard on Non Compos Mentis Records number 3.7k"

--- It should be noted that the above was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors which I attempted to fix (not that I'm an English ace or anything, but jeesh!)

Insert #2 (dated 1.1981) says:

"In their debut album for Non Compos Mentis, Cosmic Debris (Richard Bugg, Shawn Phillips, and Joel Young), have managed to fuse the control available to modern electronic musicians, with the freedom of expression that typifies contemporary music. The result is a true meta-language that express the positive power of emotion and mind. An intelligent sound that aggressively fuses pulsating undercurrents of raw power with an intricate interplay of sonorities."

--- This one needed little editing. But who the heck knows what it means? 

Personal collection

LP: 1980 Non Compos Mentis

Manilla Road - Open the Gates. 1985 USA

Nobody mixed riff based metal with psychedelic hard rock better than Manilla Road. All wrapped up with fantasy Medieval lyrics and artwork to cuddle up with. It's a big sloppy mess, but wonderfully so. Imperfection never sounded so good. At times Shelton sounds like Frank Marino, as he noodles away wildly, seemingly without purpose, with a crazy racket storming behind him. 'The Ninth Wave' is yet another perfect Manilla Road epic metal track - one that basically reiterates their invention of the style. Manilla Road are for those of you who like Hollywood leading men with scars and lots of wrinkles. If you came here looking for crisply executed, slickly produced, and perfectly played metal - then you cannot possibly be more lost.

Personal collection
LP: 1985 Black Dragon (France)
CD: 2001 Dragonheart (Italy)

Originals come in a single sleeve but with 2 LP's, one of those a 45 rpm EP.

Cos - Postaeolian Train Robbery. 1974 Belgium

Cos' debut from 1974 comes after many years of performing and writing, and as such, is a very mature opening move. The group's background, and home base as it were, is definitely from the jazz school, though they had recently broken into rock forms - influenced by the French groups Magma and Zao, and fellow countrymen Arkham. It is Zao where you find the closest comparison, though Cos are not Zeuhl in the slightest, and Canterbury is an easy backup reference, though not entirely accurate either. Truth is, Cos were their own thing, always a trait worth admiring. Pascale Son's (wife of bandleader Daniel Schell) strictly sings in the scat style, where enunciation, intonation, and pitch are key to the composition. The tracks are all well composed, and thoroughly thought out, and played to perfection. And it rocks out especially towards the end of the disc. Not a weak moment to be found, though it does lack the extreme highs a masterpiece calls for (though the UMR has one friend who states this is the greatest album ever, so file that away for reference). All the same, an exquisite work for fans of progressive jazz rock.

The predecessor group to Cos was Classroom, who contribute 4 tracks to the Musea CD. These compositions are clearly more indebted to jazz, but are certainly the same type of band in a non rock setting.

Personal collection

CD: 1990 Musea (France)

A few interesting items of note about this album's release. The original Plus album (first photo) comes in a fine gatefold cover and apparently sold out in 2 weeks, just as the label was going bankrupt (a day late and a dollar short apparently?). Shortly thereafter the better funded IBC came along with a single sleeve second press, and this is the more common one you will see (though hardly any supply in original form). The Musea CD reissue liner notes confirms that the Plus edition from 1974, with the red and yellow stripes, is indeed the original LP issue. Despite this fact, they went ahead with the IBC photo cover. Furthering the confusion, the Musea CD omits 'Karbok', apparently a more commercial effort, because of bandleader Daniel Schell's objection to it. However, as a bonus, the CD adds 4 tracks from Classroom (discussed below in the Notes). The Belle Antique CD uses the original Plus cover, but the Musea CD as the source (incl. Classroom), making that an entirely frustrating release (while no doubt leaving off Musea's excellent liner notes). It appears, finally, that the Wah Wah release gets the original LP correct (but no Classroom tracks), also with the permission of Schell, who now apparently has gotten over his objections to 'Karbok'. Surprisingly I could not find this one track online, so technically I haven't heard the original album in full! I didn't realize that until researching/reviewing this entry - 25 years after first purchasing the CD. Crazy stuff.

Hoelderlin - Rare Birds. 1977 Germany

Rare Birds follows the unique Genesis meets cosmic/space rock hybrid of Clowns and Clouds, with yet another difficult-to-pin-down progressive rock album. The compositions are increasingly more accessible, with a certain soft lens focus coloring their sound. Viola is clearly their defining instrument at this point. Vocals are airy and melodic. The songwriting is excellent, and given the right commercial backing, Hoelderlin would have been household names. From a prog fans standpoint (i.e. me), the album's highlight is the driving instrumental 'Necronomicon'. This is an album that has grown on me tremendously over the near 30 years I've been acquainted with it. Definitely not an "immediate" release, so something to consider if you're encountering the music for the first time.

Personal collection

LP: 1977 Spiegelei
CD: 2007 EMI

The EMI CD is superb, with great sound, excellent liner notes, and two bonus tracks, though the latter isn't necessary from a music perspective.

Locomotive - We Are Everything You See. 1970 England

Locomotive are an interesting band, with their sole album clearly released by Parlophone with big intentions for major acceptance in popular music circles. Many references can be tied to The Moody Blues and The Beatles, but with a contemporary 1970 sound, including horns and a heavy Hammond organ approach. And it just didn't happen for the starstruck band, who dissipated quickly afterward. There's really nothing wrong with the music here, it's definitely an album made up of psych/prog/pop songs geared for the hit parade. There's no artsy pretension or long flights of fancy here. Sure, there's the 3 part 'The Loves of Augustus Abbey' which is about as extreme as Sgt Peppers was, so it's still cuddly fun. In the end, since it's an album made up of structured songs, there's nothing extraordinary here - and nothing terrible either. All very well done, and certainly worth owning, but not enough to be a true cult classic for future generations. That would be reserved for Norman Haines' decidedly more extreme album Den of Iniquity, which came about a year later. And that album didn't sell squat in its day, but is more highly revered now.

Personal collection

CD: 2003 Eclectic

Original LPs are very rare and expensive. The Eclectic CD is fantastic with informative liner notes, and a raft full of bonus tracks.

Dr. Dopo Jam - Fat Dogs & Danishmen. 1974 Denmark

Dr. Dopo Jam's sophomore effort is the tale of two Frank Zappa's. Most of Side 1, and parts of Side 2, are the silly Zappa, and the goofball meter (now an app on iPhone) goes into the red zone. I'm sure 'Ode to Daddy Meatloaf' and 'Surfin' in Sahara' might be funny to someone somewhere, but comes across as ridiculous on these shores. Most of Side 2 is the serious Frank Zappa (well, serious is a relative term of course). We're talking Hot Rats era here. The affected sax sounds replete with complicated music charts and top flight jazz rock jamming. Album peaks on the middle two tracks of the latter side. Overall a very good album, that one suspects could have been so much better. Lost opportunity that.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Zebra (Germany)

No legit reissues have surfaced, though of course there's at least one pirate out there, if not more slithering about.

Ariel - Perspectives. 1985 USA

From the far south Chicago suburbs, comes the super obscure Ariel, an album that is just now making its sound heard worldwide. Early 80s Rush is the most obvious first influence, but there's more here than meets the ear as it were. All instrumental guitar, keys, and drums are the core components, and the compositions are complex and tight - with a strong fusion influence. No escaping the King Crimson sound from the era either, but also (surprisingly) Doldinger's Passport, minus the sax (imagine the sequencer heavy Moog lines for example). If we were to really deep dive here, I would compare Ariel to fellow Chicagoan's Proteus, mixed with the UK group Red (on Jigsaw). While Side 1 is impressive enough, the final three tracks do nothing short of wow the listener. And they close with their peak composition, always a hallmark of a great album. Ariel does not belie its mid 80s sound (despite the somewhat psych influenced guitar tone), and yet compared with the normal dreck from the era, the band proves the middle 80s were not a total wasteland (heavy metal genre exempted of course). This one deserves the buzz its currently receiving in the underground.

Personal collection

LP: 1985 Little Misters

Apparently the inserts feature different colors for each other. As you can see this copy is orange. My personal copy is blue, and a friend reports a green insert.

Ozric Tentacles - Erpland. 1990 England

In the mid 1980s there was a burgeoning new music scene coming out of the rural fields of England. They lived the "hippie ideal" of a lifestyle unencumbered by responsibility, and that which included many free music concerts. On the music front, many of the groups were influenced by the relatively obscure UK group Here and Now, who steadfastly held to the notion that music should be free (not to mention the musical similarities between the two bands). To sustain themselves, the various bands in the scene took a page out of the heavy metal handbook, and began to make self-produced cassettes that were traded and sold at the many various concert events. As is often the case with movements such as these, many grew tired of the lifestyle and moved on. And the bands themselves began to consolidate, where the most serious and most talented would take it forward to a more professional level (Amon Duul II anyone?). And just as Metallica represented the Bay Area thrash movement, Ozric Tentacles became the icon for the UK Festival Psych scene.

Personally I had no idea any of this was going on in the 1980s. Even though I had plugged myself into the various mail order catalogs of the day, most notably England's Lotus Records, I must've looked past these items that were for sale. Or not, I'm not entirely sure. "Erpland" was my introduction to the band, and I bought the LP as it had just been newly released in 1990. I quickly snapped up the prior "Pungent Effulgent" as well on LP (Demi Monde). To my ears, Ozric Tentacles is a very easy band to get into. In fact, to this day, when someone wants to hear a few notes from "something in your collection", I'll pull out Ozric. It never fails to satisfy the guest. Sure, I could also pull out Magma's Mekanik, and have everyone screaming from the room. And for the rare person who doesn't go screaming, I begin to worry about the safety of my family. Anyway.... Ozric Tentacles has an instantly likable sound, that also happens to rock hard. Of course it must be stated that Ozric didn't create the wheel. To say they were heavily influenced by Hillage era Gong would be an understatement. But what Ozric did do successfully is to distill certain elements of that sound, perhaps the most popular ones for many a Gong fan, and take it in different and exciting directions.

Some 20 years on from "Erpland", nothing has changed, and Ozric has well over a dozen more studio and live releases. This has been the most common criticism of Ozric Tentacles. That there has been no progression, no experimentation with other sounds, instrumentation and ideas. The term "Ozricitis" was born and now applies to other bands who follow a similar path. But it's not entirely fair either, as each album, when heard on its own, does possess a unique quality. It's just a tight window frame that they operate in, that's all. The key with listening to Ozric Tentacles is to not listen to many of their albums at once. Take one in, absorb it over time, wait a few weeks or months, and then do the same with a different album. It does alter the way you hear the band. The irony in saying all of this is that "Erpland" is Ozric Tentacles' most diverse album. And is probably the ideal place to start.

If I were to recommend one track from this album, and perhaps recommend one track from their entire discography, it would the album's opener 'Eternal Wheel'. It has all the elements of a great Ozric composition - the psychedelic ambiance, the trippy progressions and the ferocious guitar lead climaxes.

Personal collection

LP: 1990 Dovetail
CD: 1990 Dovetail

Sebastian Hardie - Four Moments. 1975 Australia

Sebastian Hardie is one of those groups that draws polarizing opinions from those in the progressive rock community. Truth of the matter is that bandleader, guitarist, and primary composer Mario Millo is a true romantic at heart. Which instinctively rubs the male oriented and testosterone fueled prog rock fan base the wrong way. I am one of these myself, and have zero tolerance for phony baloney dainty antics, as performed by many an arena rocker looking for an easy score. And yet I adore Sebastian Hardie, especially Four Moments, which is as pure an emotional album as you will find. When people talk about lush symphonic progressive, they mean this album. For those who think 'And You and I' is the pinnacle achievement for Yes, then I assure you that Four Moments will be something you will swoon over. As if to prove they can also rock out, be sure to stick it out for the last 4 minutes or so, where they light the album on fire, for a truly sublime closing. Only the most hardened and grizzled out there won't find a soft spot for Four Moments.

Personal collection

LP: 1975 Polydor
CD: 2004 Polydor (Japan)

Australian originals are housed in a wonderful glossy gatefold cover, and is by far the most desirable copy. All the other country releases feature an annoying blue border and are single sleeves (though the French is a FOC I believe). As for CD's, the Japan office has been incredibly busy. Given the number of presses from there, it's quite apparent this album is hugely popular in Japan. I just recently sourced the Musea CD on the cheap, and much to my disappointment, there are no liner notes, or any other bonus either. The Belle Antique release contains one bonus track.

The Greatest Show on Earth - The Going's Easy. 1970 England

Greatest Show on Earth's second album demonstrates a musical maturity towards songwriting, but in retrospect, I like both albums about the same regardless. The blues element is brought forward, whereas the pop oriented horn charts are left behind. One step forward, one step back. 'Magic Woman Touch', the album's great hope for a single sees the band heading towards folk rock territory with mixed results. And closer 'Tell the Story' is probably their worst composition to date. Clear highlight for me is the multi-part jazz rock suite 'Love Magnet' which is GSOE's shining moment of their entire career - and a direction I would have liked to see them pursue further. Alas it was not to be, and their two-album-one-year-run was over.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Esoteric

Like Horizons, The Going's Easy is housed in a fine gatefold cover (textured in this case). The Esoteric CD is of the usual fine quality and features full liner notes, with 2 bonus tracks, one coming from a nice single. As stated with the Horizon entry, I would avoid the See For Miles reissue, though in this case, you will at least receive the full The Going's Easy album (but not Horizons).

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...