Sensations' Fix - Portable Madness. 1974 Italy

And here we have... the single greatest space rock album of all time!

No small claim that. Not an irreverent throw out to grab one's attention. Not an epiphany on the 4th beer. No - this is pretty much where I've stood for the 26 years I've owned the album. Last night it comes up again, and reminds me that it is, indeed, the single greatest space rock album of all time. Of course, not everyone will agree with that, and probably the it's overrated crowd will be along here any minute...

Twisty, turny, kinetic, psychedelic, jumpy, murky, primordial, psychotic, and melodic are just a few adjectives that come to mind here. The opening two numbers are great enough, but once 'Phase One and Phase Two' starts spinning in multiple directions, you are sucked into the vortex of another world and dimension. If this doesn't happen to you, then stop surfing the net, watching TV, texting on Facebook with a Russian hooker, or vacuuming the rug. Start from the beginning and pay close attention. OK you there now? Good, so now by the time you get to 'Pasty Day Resistance', you have reached what I consider the single greatest space rock track of all time. There's more twists and turns on this 5 and half minute track then I've heard on full double albums. 'Leave My Chemistry Alone' will finally polish you off, and presumably you're in a cold sweat by now. The album closes with two relatively sane compositions, and tries to return you to Earth, but doesn't quite get there. You are lost forever.

The fuzzy photograph on the front cover, taken in the same spirit as Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster, tells you all you need to know about its provenance. This can't be Italian - nor German as it may seem - but something from another galaxy.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Polydor
CD: 2009 Universal (as part of Progressive Italia Gli Anni '70 Vol. 1 - The Universal Music Collection)

According to my database, I bought this in 1991, which would have been a bit late for an album such as this. But I do remember the circumstances. It was not one I could find locally, though I had found the other albums already by them. And then every time a mail order dealer had it, I was always too late and it would be gone. Once I procured it, and put it on the turntable, it blew my mind. And still does, a full 26 years later. It never fails.

As for reissues, the album has been poorly served in the marketplace. The only CD reissue is part of the box set above. It's not the best transfer either. However, on this listen I heard the CD first, and then pulled out the LP for a second listen. Truth is, it's not a great recording, but that's part of its charm I think.

It appears the rights are tied up with the label, and Falsini has gone about releasing alternate recordings of Sensations' Fix work - which is known as Music is Painting in the Air, which is worth seeking out too.

Temple of the Smoke - The Lost Art of Twilight. 2013 Serbia

Temple of the Smoke are a four piece psychedelic spacerock band from Serbia. The country itself has spawned perhaps one of the greatest progressive psych bands of our time in Igra Staklenih Perli. Well, Temple of the Smoke certainly won't remind you of the great ISP, but they are carving out their own niche in the genre that is just as exciting. It's rare to hear a band that mixes early 80's Tangerine Dream sequencer based Berlin School electronic with modern day slabs of riffing metal, ala classic Kyuss or Colour Haze complete with lengthy psychedelic blues guitar solos tagged to the end. There's some Ozric Tentacles reggae inspired space rock bits mixed in. Elsewhere, long tracks driven by woody bass, steady drums, and soaring synthesizer solos. Late 70s Eloy meets an instrumental Manilla Road? Wow - that's a comparison that'll have me mailing in a check for a copy as fast as possible! Am I exaggerating? I don't think I am.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Cosmic Eye (Greece)

Hokr - Zahřáté Brzdy Optimismu. 2012 Czech Republic

It's been 8 years since Hokr's last album, and in between they released an album under the name Poco Loco. Zahřáté brzdy optimismu is closer in sound to Poco Loco than the last Hokr. The vocals have an anguished guttural quality similar to Peter Hammill (except sung in Czech), and the dense complex compositions recall the early 70s albums by Van der Graaf Generator. Sax, fuzz bass, and amplified organ lead the instrumental side of the band. This a fairly unique album overall. Perhaps only Garden Wall of Italy has a similar compositional style. Remove the metal guitars and add sax, and you have about the closest cousin you can spot. And they are distant cousins. Very distant. Highly recommended for the adventurous progressive rock listener.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Ears & Wind

Hokr - Hokrova Vila. 2004 Czech Republic

At its core, Hokr are an organ based trio (whose history goes back as far as 1981) that seems to be the spiritual successor to Collegium Musicum, but put through the Elephant9 hyper amplified grinder. Additional guests on cello, tenor sax, and guitar augment their sound greatly. Though primarily an instrumental album, the Czech vocals are delivered in an impassioned narrative like a cross between Pholas Dactylus, Devil Doll, and Deus Ex Machina (at the higher registers). The cello gives them a slight Anekdoten feel. This is the best album from the Czech Republic since the heyday of The MCH Band, who they share some similarities with especially on the tracks with sax (minus the guitar of MCH of course). 'Mouse in a Trance' is a certified monster quality track! Hokr evolved into the also creative Poco Loco, a group I need to spend more time with obviously. Don't miss this one!

Personal collection
CD: 2011 private

This album was originally released as a CD-R and reissued in 2011 as a proper CD.

Setna - Guérison. 2013 France

For my tastes, I feel Guérison is a definite improvement on their debut, though the band still needs to take off the leash a bit. The introduction of Ratledge-styled organ, and fuzz bass, gives the band a cool Canterbury edge. Setna are definitely more of a Zeuhl band now rather than an atmospheric jazz ensemble with Magma trimmings. But they still seem to lay back all too much. Sure would like to see Setna go all-in like Corima or Koenji Hyakkei - at least on occasion. All that emotional build up needs an epic climax... a release of anger.  

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Soleil Zeuhl

Setna - Cycle I. 2007 France

If Zeuhl is the genre tag that must be applied, then it's Zeuhl in the same way Offering is rather than Magma. Cycle I is primarily an atmospheric jazz release with soft chanting female vocals. Electric piano, synthesizer, and saxophone are the other primary instruments of choice. Those coming to this looking for ripping Paganotti/Top-styled bass and insane martial Vander-like drumming, will surely come away disappointed. Certainly Setna sit towards the Magma side of Offering (especially as the disc spins on, and the last track features some fine Mahavishnu styled guitar from guest James McGaw), but still the metaphor holds. Ambient jazz Zeuhl.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Soleil Zeuhl


ARC - Umbra. 2014 England

Umbra is the latest ARC album, this one also a live recording - coming from the E-Live festival in The Netherlands on the date of October 19, 2013. Again we are treated to a CD packed to the very brim at 78+ minutes of sequencer filled goodness. While ARC have been known to surprise in the studio - such as the drummer fueled Blaze or the moody Fracture - in a live setting they are all about letting the sequencers blast away, while adding all sorts of textures, melody lines, and synthesizer solos on top. At this point in their career, Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve know exactly what their audience wants, and how to make it happen. And so Umbra goes, with some of the fattest and most dynamic Moog Modular sequences in the business, while setting the table for the various synthesized sounds layered as icing on the cake (including faux choir Mellotron). Berlin School music at its most professional. Some music never goes out of style, and this is one of them. Can't miss item here for fans of the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 DiN

ARC - Church. 2010 England

Church was recorded live on November 14, 2009 at Old St. Mary's Church in Philadelphia. Hence the title. You can pretty much presume how this album came about. Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy arrive in Philadelphia and setup their massive equipment, including the Big Moog (mostly donated by local musicians for the cause - it would seem a bit cumbersome to put a large Moog in the airplane's overhead bins wouldn't it?). They then ask the concert organizer Chuck van Zyl (an accomplished and respected electronic musician in his own right) what they should play. "Oh, whatever you want, I wouldn't dare suggest..." "Well, what would your audience prefer then you guess?" "Well, you know, probably the sequencer oriented material" "Yes, the sequencer stuff. Right. Of course." So if Fracture was ARC's most outside-the-lines album, then Church is smack dab in the middle of the field, giving the title a double metaphor to work with - if one sees a church as traditional that is. So what you get is two long-time masters at the art of the synthesizer, performing 74+ minutes of Berlin School sequencer driven electronic music, played in a church built in 1763. Not sure one could draft a better idea if they tried. Immaculate.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 DiN

ARC - Fracture. 2007 England

Perhaps ARC should have named Fracture something like "Departure" instead (and, as luck would have it, the second track is titled 'Departed'). As other reviewers have noted, this ARC album is indeed quite a bit different from its predecessors. The music can be defined as haunting and atmospheric - darkly shaded - with copious amounts of throbbing deep-bass Moog 'beats' (for a lack of a better term). This isn't a classic Berlin School sequencer fest, though one can hardly blame Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve for trying something a bit different. Shreeve in particular has already proven himself as the king of the Modular Moog sequences with his group Redshift. Perhaps they feel at times an obligation to do nothing but shredding sequencers and synthesizer solos, but then the music is no longer fun when it becomes a job, right? The music on "Fracture" could easily be background music at a hipster club in Brooklyn or San Francisco. The final track 'Rapture' does finally get down to some serious sequencer business, but only after ten minutes of creepy atmospherics - Sigillum S style (and it closes in a similar manner). I appreciate the effort here to be distinctive, but it remains my least favorite ARC album to date (2014). I know, I know - some people never really evolve. I write that as my knuckles scrape the ground...

Personal collection
CD: 2007 DiN

ARC - Arcturus. 2005 England

Arcturus is ARC's 4th album, and represents their live concert as performed at the Hampshire Jam 3 festival on October 23, 2004. They're back to a duo, with an impressive array of analog synthesizers, most notably Mark Shreeve's big ole honkin' Moog Modular. Ian Boddy brings along most of the more modern equipment to make it much easier to accomplish what they need to accomplish. On Arcturus, ARC are square-on mid 1970s Tangerine Dream style. If you're the type who can't be fed enough of Phaedra and Rubycon - and apparently I would fit in this category - then Arcturus is going to satisfy your hunger. Incredible sequences provide the foundation for the layered atmospheric synthesizers that sound like Mellotron, echoed Rhodes piano, and sundry other vintage sounds (many of which are sampled, but honestly, the effect is the same). And nobody does the throbbing fat sequences of the "Big" Moog like Mark Shreeve. He's second to none in that field for the modern era.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 DiN

ARC - Blaze. 2003 England

Blaze, ARC's 3rd album starts with Rhodes piano and... could it be? Yes, a real drummer (provided by Carl Brooker). It seems the duo of ARC are paying homage to the late 70s pioneers who mixed their Berlin School electronics with real drums ala Klaus Krueger (Tangerine Dream/Edgar Froese) and Harold Grosskopf (Klaus Schulze/Ashra). Sequencers and Mellotron follow, and yee-haw, we're in Force Majeure territory in mere seconds. Half the tracks are sans drums, and all of these are atmospheric and pulsating, somewhat similar to the first half of Radio Sputnik. These tracks setup the more dynamic and rhythmic drum plus sequencer compositions that are devastating when presented in this manner. In particular 'Klangwand' and 'Pulse Train' deliver a powerful collection of analog synthesizers along with driving percussion. Another essential album from ARC.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 DiN

ARC - Radio Sputnik. 2000 England

ARC's second album, Radio Sputnik, is a live outing from the Alfa Centauri Festival in The Netherlands (recorded March 21, 1998). It is also their debut release on Ian Boddy's own DiN label. The concert features, as one would expect, songs from their first studio album Octane including 'Steam', 'Who Walks Behind You', 'Octane', and 'Relay'. Only 'Turn and Face Me' from the debut is omitted, but they add four other tracks including their landmark 'Arc-Angel' track.

ARC's music continues to be squarely in the electronic Berlin School tradition. No surprise there given that Mark Shreeve heads up what I consider one of the finest bands in the style with Redshift. The first half of Radio Sputnik is more atmospheric with pulsating sequences, while the latter half is more heavily geared towards the classic Redshift sound. 
The concert is entirely improvised, so there are many shifts and changes throughout each composition – not just the usual static monotone sequences. 'Arc-Angel' is one of their finest pieces ever, with incredible rapid fire sequencing all over, and choral mellotron layered on top which creates an extraordinary listening experience. Closing with 'Relay', arguably the finest track on Octane, puts this album in the indispensable category. 

Personal collection
CD: 2000 DiN

ARC - Octane. 1998 England

The ARC legacy starts with Octane, the debut studio album from this fruitful Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve collaboration. This is an album for those who like the classic Berlin School scene similar to other like-minded bands such as AirSculpture, Radio Massacre International, and Redshift (a band, incidentally, which Shreeve leads). Heavy on the analog keyboards, especially sequencers, and mellotron (sampled according to Planet Mellotron). The best tracks are, not surprisingly, the more heavily sequenced ones - and those would be the title track and 'Relay'.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Something Else


Relayer - s/t. 1979 USA

Relayer were a band from Houston*, who managed to release one album before disappearing into the mists of time. With a name like Relayer and a colorful rainbow fantasy cover, one can expect 'Gates of Delirium Part Deux' eh Oui? Non. Because they are from my home state of Texas, this private press wasn't too obscure up north here in DFW and I first heard this album some 25 years ago and quickly dismissed it as rubbish. During that time, I've gained an entirely new appreciation for the private press American music landscape of the 1970s that I've documented to death here on these very pages. And Relayer fits smack dab in the middle of that sound.

The album itself is interesting, because it almost plays like an archival CD issue, verse a real time released LP. And that's because they front loaded all the progressive rock tracks on Side 1. So the first side rounds up the usual suspects like Yes and ELP, with a hint of Styx's Grand Illusion, for a very satisfying listen. Side 2 treads in commercial waters, more towards Styx's Pieces of Eight, with a bit of loungy fusion to boot. Overall, I'd weight it 55% AOR and 45% prog rock, so for those who have no tolerance for late 70s American FM radio rock, I'd steer clear. This is a very good album for the style, and one that I'm glad to have bought for the collection.

*Though the band named one song with nearby Victoria in the name, they are documented as being from Houston (internet search confirms), and that's what I recall from the early 90s as well.

Personal collection
LP: 1979 HSR

Supposedly this album was reissued by the band on CD. It has all the earmarks of a CD-R homemade type release. I could be wrong, as I haven't seen it, but just based on what I've read. Not listed in Discogs as I type this either. So it goes onto the CDRWL.

Ruphus - Flying Colours. 1978 Norway

When I buy albums like Flying Colours, I'm not expecting a wall to wall classic, but rather I'm looking for at least one or 2 strong compositions to make it worthwhile. And that's just what I received with Ruphus' 5th effort. The title track and 'The Rivulet' are both very pretty numbers, with a good groove, and fine melodies. The female vocals are very pleasant in this context. Both these tracks reminded me most of the debut by the Canadian band Contraction, of all albums. 'Joy' is a powerful fusion track with great use of clavinet, and represents the 3rd really great song here. 'Frysja' goes to Ruphus' Norwegian roots, and recalls what bands like Kebnekaise were doing over in Sweden. Unfortunately the opener 'Foodlovers' Diet' is very off-putting, where the vocals are strained, and the music is somewhat irritating to be honest. So best to start with 'Frysja' and enjoy the soft moods and warm afternoon. Overall a fine effort from Ruphus, who managed to tap into the best characteristics of the late 1970s funk fusion fad.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Brain (Germany)

Niagara - S.U.B. 1972 Germany

Niagara were founded by drummer and percussionist Klaus Weiss, who also happened to be the leader of the fine jazz rock group known as Sunbirds. Niagara released three albums in the early to mid 70s, the first which is entirely percussive. Their second album S.U.B. is a jamming rock fusion session with an all star cast including Daniel Fichelscher (Popol Vuh), Kristian Schultze (Passport, and leader of the The Bridge / Recreation album), and Udo Lindenberg among a handful of others. The presence of trumpet and the bass heavy percussive driven sound reminds me of early 70's Miles Davis, especially on the opening title track. Compositions such as 'Niagara' and 'Gibli' are similar to their debut, in that they are primarily percussion ensembles. 'Kikiriti' is the highlight for me, with an abundance of flute, and recalls Weiss' other outfit Sunbirds, especially on their own debut.

Personal collection
LP: 2016 PMG Audio (Austria)

The above represents the only standalone legit reissue for this album. There is a 2 (& 3) CD / 3 album comp as well from Made in Germany. But for my tastes, S.U.B. is the only album worthy of ownership.

Taipuva Luotisuora - 8. 2013 Finland

8 starts off like a space rock version of Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', before settling down into their usual cosmic groove. The guitars are noticeably heavier than prior, and they seem to be circling the post rock genre a bit more closely than before. Faux organ sounds are never a bad idea, and nice to see Taipuva Luotisuora applying both that and the rare guitar solo back in the mix. Overall, 8 may be their most straightforward disc to date. I for one would like to see them reach back to their debut for some inspiration on future works. This is the first album where I feel they have stopped innovating. Too comfortable. But it's still excellent!

It appears the bands naming convention is 2 to the (x-1) power where x is the actual release number (not counting the demo of course). We'll see if that holds up. If so, the next album will be either 16 or XVI.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Kaakao

Taipuva Luotisuora - IV. 2009 Finland

Seems that many new bands are attracted to the post rock sound, and Taipuva Luotisuora are no exception. Now normally I'd associate the moniker with the "dull" adjective, but in the hands of the almighty Taipuva Luotisuora, they take the lethargic yet melodic approach and add quite a bit of complexity to the proceedings. There's also a big sweeping sound that gives IV a cinematic quality rarely heard in digital form. Analog 70s styled Moog synthesizers provide many of the solos, adding a much needed warmth to the overall sound. Copious use of tuned and hand percussion is another plus. Fortunately Taipuva Luotisuora have foregone the vocals (excepting some wonderful atmospheric wordless voice), though it also appears that they've ventured away from pyrotechnic guitar solos as well, which is missed. And the indigenous kantele is never too far away. IV is a step forward for the band.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Kaakao

Taipuva Luotisuora - II. 2006 Finland

After being completely blown away by their debut, I rushed out to buy the followup which had just been released at the time I’d discovered the debut. Some noticeable changes have taken place in the short year since. The guitars are slightly heavier, not quite metal, but a distinct modern hard rock crunch is present. There are now vocals, which could be a great addition for a band like Taipuva, but I felt they’re executed all wrong for the exotic music at hand. First the lyrics are in English, rather than the more interesting and non Indo-European Finnish. Worse, they’re delivered with the whiny American indie style that seems will never go away (sigh). Perhaps a more mysterious approach to the vocals (female, echoed, whispered) would be far more interesting for the music that Taipuva play. The instrumentation seems stripped down a bit (though the liner notes still call out the kantele, violin, Hohner Melodica, and woodwinds). Also, not near enough of the Hidria Spacefolk, Korai Orom sound as prior – though as a plus I do hear some of the much missed Dutch group Kong. And finally, the modern electronica sounds of the debut are even more in use here, most notably on ‘Uotila’ and ‘Unaja Infinite Laser’. Now this latter point actually demonstrates some progress for the band. Like a good movie director would employ, the special effects are used to enhance, not overwhelm the proceedings. I don’t want to overplay the negative here with the vocals, as "Viking Zulu" does possess a good voice, and there are only 4 tracks where they are utilized, out of 9 total. In some ways, all the tracks (including those with vocals) are more complex than even the first album, which is outstanding to see. Still, the Taipuva Luotisuora tribe" that the music created for my imagination is missing here. So probably this album is the one that is favored by the majority, but I found it more typical of the underground scene. I miss the exotic nature of the debut. Not wanting to send the wrong message here – this is still a fantastic album, just a bit disappointed that it seems to be a step towards the middle.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Kaakao

Taipuva Luotisuora - I. 2005 Finland

Deep in the dark forests of Finlandia, where lurks the mysterious Hidria Spacefolk, hushed whispers abound of another pagan tribe nearby known as Taipuva Luotisuora. On one dark misty night we ventured carefully over, and while peeking through the leaves, we listened to the tribe perform their magical brew. A small, furry group, only numbering five, armed with guitar (electric and acoustic), bass (fuzz), drums, percussion, synthesizers galore (some even fuzzed like the Farfisa’s of previous civilizations), piano, violin, flute, and even kantele (a Finnish zither like instrument). They played with a strong sense of the groove, with gorgeous melodies. They are sometimes quiet, sometimes intense. Always mesmerizing. Sometimes they’d even use modern percussion. In fact this infatuation with modern electronica reminded us of that distant tribe from the land of Hungaria known as Korai Orom. Sometimes we even thought of the ancients like the Ozric Tentacles people. For as much as we tried to walk away and head home, we were entranced, no one could stop their endless stare. We hadn’t felt this way, well, since the last time we visited the Hidria Spacefolk. When it was finished, we looked at each other and thought, Taipuva Luotisuora are the best new tribe we’d visited in years. We raced home to tell what we had saw, but no one knew who we spoke of. Go to the mountaintops and yell ‘Music For Kortela Space Hood Elevators’ we said. And o’er the land, our people were wiser and filled with joy.

On this album, Taipuva Luotisuora proved they are absolutely one of the best bands in the Ozric Tentacles genre. Perhaps second only to Hidria Spacefolk.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Kaakao

Oxhuitza - s/t. 2013 Italy

So we have a strange one here. If you read the advert for the band, you'd think Oxhuitza were a pure retro 1970s Italian progressive rock play. But this is two separate bands playing together. On the one hand you have the guitarist laying down chords in a pseudo metal style that was popular in the 90s. And the plodding fat rhythms could have backed up Dio in his prime. Then there's the two keyboard players, who seem completely oblivious to modern times. Each are playing away on a bank of Moogs, Mellotron, Hammond organ, and acoustic piano in the grand tradition of the 70's Italian masters. Meanwhile the bass player straddles both genres with his decidedly retro flute playing. I suppose the keyboards are truly the focus here, so it definitely appeals more to my tastes. But one does wish for Furio Chirico (Arti + Mestieri's drummer) and Danilo Rustici (Osanna's guitarist) to walk in and lay the place to waste, for something truly extraordinary. Maybe next time?

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Mirror

Mantric Muse - s/t. 2012 Denmark

Mantric Muse are a band from Denmark that have been around for nearly 20 years, and have received many great write-ups for their fiery club concerts in Scandinavia. But the band never officially released anything (beyond some archival live stuff on CD-R), and it seemed this tree would produce no fruit. Mantric Muse proceeded to become the root system for Oresund Space Collective, which dimmed hopes further for a studio outing. OSC, ironically, have been incredibly productive since 2005. While OSC tend to be more sprawling, improvisational, and more in line with traditional space rock - Mantric Muse are a much tighter outfit. This is bread and butter Hillage-era  Gong styled progressive rock. For fans of early Ozric Tentacles and Quantum Fantay, this a no-brainer pick up. Always great to hear new inspiration applied to an already excellent formula. 7 minute 'Azur' has to be heard to be believed. A breathless track with many twists, turns, spins, swoons, and just an overall dizzying track of immense proportion. Don't miss this gem.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Transubstans (Sweden)

Necronomicon - Haifische. 2012 Germany


Now this is how you do a reunion album! Essentially Necronomicon reformed and newly recorded previously composed tracks from the early 1970s. These compositions were never properly recorded, so the band reformed last year to finish the job. What's most interesting to me is that this sounds exactly like a well recorded album from 1973. There isn't a hint that this is a modern recording. The instrumentation, the production, and the songcraft all point to 40 years earlier. And, best of all, the four lengthy tracks presented here are better than their 1972 album proper! Much more progressively minded, with plenty of space for instrumental improvisation. As with their "Tips For Suicide" album, all the lyrics are sung in German. Perhaps the only downfall is the 13 minute 'Wenn die Menschen Tiere Wären' which is a tad too wordy for my tastes, but that's just a personal grump. But otherwise, Necronomicon's comeback is superb! And I hope they don't stop here. I wish all reunions would use this as a blueprint for how to restart a career (or hobby as it should be known).

Personal collection
LP+CD: 2012 private

And now let's talk about the packaging, which is nothing short of magnificent. It is an exact duplicate of the multi foldout Tips zum Selbstmord - but this time it's white on black (see above photos). As well, the LP comes with a free CD to take along for the car ride. If you're an LP collector, this is the kind of album you dream about.

Walrus - s/t. 2013 Sweden

Exciting new album from Sweden that mixes retro progressive with classic Krautrock sounds. Opening track 'Tromso III' gets the motorik running with a steady beat and analog keyboards layered on top. The real party begins with 'Signals', a haunting organ and violin led piece. Heavy bass and drums propel the track forward in an exciting way. Bleeping synthesizers are dropped on top to create a truly psychedelic atmosphere. But it's the 14 minute 'Spitsbergen' that really places Walrus in the big leagues. Starting out in Ohr music territory, with a decidedly funereal backdrop of organ, synthesizers, bass and plodding drums - the composition suddenly comes alive with an insane and massive fuzz bass attack followed by swirling organ and mellotron . If you don't fly off your couch and put a fist through the wall, then you are... ... legally dead. Very few bands ever capture a perfect moment like that. What a stunning song.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Electricity
CD: 2013 Electricity

The Electricity label is a new project from the same folks behind Kommun 2. They are really going for a retro look (think 1968). The LP features wonderful  artwork, and is of high quality. The only bummer is they decided to not go with a gatefold on this one.

Kama Loka - s/t. 2013 Sweden

Starting with a droning minor key cello, Kama Loka immediately evokes the sounds of classic Algarnas Tradgard. The violin, Hammond organ, flute, sax, and Swedish vocals only enhance the comparison. Eventually some psychedelic guitar enters in, and the music moves closer to classic Flasket Brinner. Kama Loka is a project made up from the fine folks who brought us the Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting albums. For those who love the early 1970's Swedish psychedelic progressive scene, like myself, then this album is a no-brainer pickup.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Kommun 2
CD: 2013 Transubstans

The LP comes in a wonderful thick and heavy lavish super-sized gatefold sleeve.

Kharmina Buranna - Seres Humanos. 2012 Peru

Seres Humanos continues in the same path, though they aren't as pointedly retro, and their sound has been updated ever so slightly. While the analog keyboards and production are still in full force, the composition style reminds me of the best bands of the early 90s. Gone is the blues rock, and in its place is a more stately sound with added female vocals. I hear a cross between Quaterna Requiem with Solstice in many places (though there is no violin). I found their new album no less enjoyable than the debut, despite a conscious move away from the early 70s style. The compositions are multi threaded and consistently engaging. Kharmina Buranna has certainly put forth a strong argument that they may be the best pure symphonic progressive rock band from South America today.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Azafran (Mexico)

Kharmina Buranna - El Arte de Seguir Vivos. 2008 Peru

Though from Peru, Kharmina Buranna remind me quite a bit of the 1970s Argentine progressive rock scene. They squarely fit the "retro prog" category and play a direct mix of early 70s styled blues rock mixed with classic era Yes, and a dose of 70s Italian progressive rock. So imagine a cross between El Reloj and Ave Rock! Other guideposts would include Invisible, Agnus, and Espiritu.  Kharmina Buranna definitely are Western European sounding, and do not possess any indigenous elements in their sound, differentiating them from their peers like Flor de Loto or Supay. El Arte de Seguir Vivos has many twists and turns, and contains a fat 70s analog sound. It holds up well on repeated listens, and something new reveals itself each time - always the hallmark of a great album.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Mylodon (Chile)

Flowers Must Die - s/t (3). 2013 Sweden

I was first drawn to this Swedish collective by their most fortunate choice of the group name Flowers Must Die. However, despite this moniker, Flowers Must Die will not likely make you recall Ash Ra Tempel, and especially not the Schwingungen album. Mainly because there isn't some madman screaming "Flowers Must Die - Die! Die! Die! Die! Die!". And there isn't much Krautrock here unless you count a steady rhythm, which recalls an entirely different branch of the genre.

The first two albums came and went before I even had a chance to hear. So we start with the third album, which was described to me as Psychedelic Doom Jazz. I don't hear much doom or jazz to be honest. Flowers Must Die are good old fashioned space rock. Probably the closest comparison would be to My Brother the Wind on their debut, or some of the less edited Oresund Space Collective albums. Their 3rd album is a double LP, and as such, there are long jams driven by electric guitar, that are explored to the last drop. Sometimes, especially on Side 1, the songs drag on long past their shelf life. The addition of guest violin is probably their strongest move, which gives it a whiff of ancient Swedish folk and thus recalls some of the Swedish pioneers such as Algarnas Tradgard and Flasket Brinner. I should be clear, I think Flowers Must Die is a very good group, and I do enjoy this album quite a bit. But I would like to see more compositional quality. A few twists and turns, perhaps, to keep me guessing. The world is full of improvised space rock bands today, and for me to go further with the group (buy more product), I'd have to hear of some changes in their overall approach.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Rev/Vega / Kommun 2

The gatefold cover is very nice, and comes with an informative inner sleeve.

Experimental Quintet - Atlantis. 2012 Romania

Experimental Quintet (aka Experimental Q, Experimental Quartet) are a group that go back to the 1970s. They were a band I had researched for the CDRWL, and after hearing some songs on YouTube, I about wet my pants. This is some of the finest unreleased progressive rock music I'd ever heard. Imagine a cross between Progresiv TM and Tortilla Flat, and you'll understand my enthusiasm. Flute, organ, fuzz guitar and hyper complex rhythms are what defined their sound. Unfortunately, as I already mentioned, the key word is unreleased. So therefore I couldn't really add it to the CDRWL. Apparently a whole LP was recorded, but the state label Electrecord must have thought it too subversive. And sadly, most of this material remains that of mystery and imagination.

After many years, the band decided to reform, sans the flute player who is now MIA. That's a pity, as the flute is such an integral part of their original sound. So they decided to use synthesizers to recreate the sound of the flute. Perhaps the weirdest part of this reunion is that the sound quality of the CD is worse than a Communist era 1970s recording. I'm guessing they were going for an "authentic" original experience, but I'm not sure it was necessary to take it that far. However, the guitar sound is still great, so there's much to grab onto here. All the music was originally written in 1970s, so it has that compositional reckless abandon that we only find from that era. Perhaps the best track of the CD is the one they didn't re-record: 'Quintet No. 2', which they transferred from the 1970s, complete with the original flute. Once you hear this, you'll see the great potential the band once had.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Soft Records

Survolaj - s/t. 1992 Romania

What perhaps is most extraordinary about this album is the original recording date of 1992. There are countless bands today recreating the early 1970s sounds and attitude. But no one was doing this in 1992. Especially in places like Romania. Or so I thought. Side 1 is an 18 minute brain blaster of a track called 'Broken Flight'. Survolaj are basically a guitar based trio, with guest on flute, and the sound here is remarkably similar to 1971 German outfits of the same mindset like Silberbart, Dies Irae, Haze, Blackwater Park, and Second Life. Wah wah bluesy guitar, histrionic vocals, and a hyper active rhythm section is what you can expect here. Outstanding. Side 2 (tracks 2 and 3) are decidedly more blues based, and recall the 1969/70 English scene. Classic early Led Zeppelin in particular seem to be a major influence here, though other bands like The Groundhogs, Ashkan, and Elias Hulk come to mind too.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Soft Records

Montibus Communitas - s/t. 2012 Peru

A sister group to the band Ayahuasca Dark Trip that we featured yesterday, Montibus Communitas (Mountain Community) are more tribal and atmospheric than the ambient metal of the former. Though a 6 piece ensemble, who play a myriad of acoustic and electric instruments, the band seem more like a free folk collective than a rock band per se. Montibus Communitas' music is about cycles, trances, and meditation. Deeply ritualistic.

Personal collection
LP: 2012 Cosmic Eye (Greece)

Ayahuasca Dark Trip - Mind Journey. 2010 Peru

Ayahuasca Dark Trip are a psychedelic ambient band from Peru that use guitars and soft vocals to achieve a hypnotic affect. Dark and mesmerizing, the group lull you into the site of Machu Picchu ever so slowly. Just when you think it's safe to close your eyes, a pulverizing blast of metal comes plowing through the speakers to pummel you into submission. Ayahuasca Dark Trip are an amazingly patient band, who have tapped into an ancient ritual - deep in the recesses of your mind.

Personal collection
LP: 2012 Cosmic Eye (Greece)

The album was originally released as a download and pressed on vinyl by the excellent Cosmic Eye label.

Grovjobb - Under Solen Lyser Solen. 2001 Sweden

After first hearing Vättarnas Fest, I wrote an enthusiastic review for both their albums at the time, and couldn't wait to hear a 3rd from them. So when Under Solen Lyser Solen did get released, I snapped it up immediately, and.... well, I didn't write a review, let's put it that way.

Yes, I was sorely disappointed. The album didn't have the dynamism of its predecessors. After a couple of listens, I filed it. Now 16+ years later, here we are again - and I'd gone as far as tagging it "weedout". This could be the final listen.

It won't be. Now it's also been about 17 years since I heard the first 2, so I cannot draw any memorable comparisons. What I will say is that the first word I think of when listening to Under Solen Lyser Solen is organic. This is a very laid back, drawn out, psychedelic work based on Swedish folk themes. There's no rave-ups, or meter shifts, or that much in the way of songcraft honestly. It just sort of drifts along, with quite a bit of repetition, and lovely flute and electric guitar shimmering away. It appears the band knew they were going to sunset, and this was the way they wanted to exit - riding out into the fields slowly as darkness descends. They certainly didn't go out in a ball of flames, that's for sure.

If memory serves, the final track here 'Reflection of Rafi' seems more in line with their other albums, and is the highlight.

Personal collection
CD: 2001 Garageland

Eclat - Le Cri de la Terre. 2002 France

On Le Cri de la Terre, it seems the band has moved away from their Minimum Vital-ish roots, which is to say there is less of the Medieval here. But in its place is a more aggressive kick-ass style guitar rock, with some nice keyboards (though not recommended for digital-phobes). Taken this further, I'd admit that the short electronic pieces are definite minuses here. On the plus side, guitarist Alain Chiarazzo can play with the best of them, his style is very much in the French school, and the Paysson (Minimum Vital) comparison continues on.

Personal collection
CD: 2002 Musea

Sanhedrin - Ever After. 2011 Israel

Sanhedrin are a new band from Israel where guitar and flute are the main thrust of the music. Features Shem-Tov Levi from the legendary Sheshet on flute. Melody is first and foremost, with a strong emphasis on old school analog instrumentation and production values. I'm reminded of bands from the 1980s and early 90s underground that were highly influenced by prime Camel. Groups such as Asia Minor, Minimum Vital, Solaris, and Rousseau all come to mind here. Towards the end of the disc there's a distinct Pulsar (hence Pink Floyd) influence. The modern Japanese group TEE also could be a reference here. A superb debut.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Fading (Italy)

Diagonal - The Second Mechanism. 2012 England

If the debut laid down the premise that Diagonal were to be the retro progressive rock band to be reckoned with, then The Second Mechanism fulfills that conclusion. Perhaps more studied than their first opus, with even more twists and turns to keep the modern short-attention-spanned listener completely enthralled - ironic given Diagonal's 1971 disposition. But such was the state of that era - and ours. Diagonal are a band that have gone from great to greater, and I can only imagine what they will come up with next. Let's hope the group continues to explore these paths that were not as tread upon as many people might initially presume. Diagonal are walking the little known side trails from the main highway. And there are many aural treasures to be found.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 England

Diagonal - s/t. 2008 England

Diagonal are the first modern UK band, that I know of anyway, to truly capture the essence, atmosphere, and sound of the original progressive rock movement from 1970-1971 England. Many groups have come along and tried their hand at generating the sound of Yes, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Renaissance, King Crimson, and Van der Graaf Generator. And while all of those groups are worthy of imitation, they only represented a fraction of the original UK movement. Of course, they were the ones that made the big time, so it's more than understandable how they attracted more admirers than others. But Diagonal has clearly absorbed the record collections of the deep divers - in particular the Neon, Dawn, Transatlantic, Vertigo, and Deram labels and their stable of bands. With Diagonal you'll hear references to bands such as Cressida, Samurai, Raw Material, T2, Beggar's Opera, Gravy Train, Spring, Clear Blue Sky, Diabolus, East of Eden, and Indian Summer. But here's the most important part to understand: They have absorbed the influence, not copy it. And so you get an entirely new album within a familiar context. And because the band has clearly studied this era in depth, not to mention incorporating the period instrumentation (mellotron, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, fuzz bass/guitar, sax), they are able to create an extract of the genre. What that means for us modern buyers is an enhanced product - perhaps even exaggerated. For my tastes, Diagonal have created the perfect retro progressive rock album. An album to be held up as an example of how to do it right. If you're a student of the genre, then let Diagonal be your teacher.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Rise Above

Astrakan - Comets and Monsters. 2012 England

While the first album stayed completely in the underground, at least Astrakan's latest album Comets and Monsters is slightly more accessible, being readily available from online retailers. Musically the band stray further towards the jazz end of the Canterbury spectrum. Adding female vocalist and keyboardist Celia Lu has defined their new direction. She sings in a higher pitched fashion - perhaps even pseudo operatic at times - similar to Dagmar Krause. But with a Chinese accent. It's a bit bizarre to say the least. I personally wish they'd exploit their rock abilities, but it seems Astrakan are more intent to stay within the jazz idiom. Henry Cow circa In Praise of Learning is a major influence on Comets and Monsters, but without the annoying tuneless improvisations, thus endearing the band more to my tastes.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Jaguar Steps

Astrakan - s/t. 2008 England

Astrakan starts afire with 'In & Out', which possesses a distinct Canterbury sound but completely run amok. The shredding wah-wah guitar left me breathless. Too bad there isn't much more of that psychedelic sound present throughout. Have no fear though, the melodic jazz rock that the Canterbury sound is noted for remains intact. The jazz influence becomes more prominent in the middle of the disc. Sax and organ all get plenty of time to shine. I particularly enjoy their extended use of the latter. It's important to note that Astrakan focus more on composition and atmosphere rather than noisy soloing, thus endearing itself to the UTR.

Astrakan says this: "Friends and followers of the band have likened their sound variously to Soft Machine, Zappa, Gong , Dave Douglas as well as to the newer jazz outfits such as Fraud, Led Bib and Get the Blessing." Apparently the band is looking for a bass player as well (now's your chance!).

Highlights: 1. In & Out (4:39); 2. Roundelay (3:50); 5. Andromeda (7:08); 7. Mostar (7:36)

Personal collection
CD: 2008 private

Psycho Praxis - Echoes from the Deep. 2012 Italy

[1971. A major city in the USA] Me and my friend Billy went over to Peaches Record Store and I just bought this great import album by an English band called Psycho Praxis. Dude, I spent 3 week's allowance on it. Looks awesome. A killer gatefold cover on Vertigo, mannn. Features acid guitar, Hammond organ, dreamy/amplified English vocals, fuzz bass, and flute. Reminds me of that other new band we bought called Uriah Heep, crossed with Jethro Tull, Atomic Rooster, and Raw Material. Right Billy?

....Except it's 2012 and they're from Italy.

I'm most anxious to see what they come up with next! Great album.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Italy

Litmus - Planetfall. 2007 England

Continuing on from You Are Here, Litmus ups the intensity level on Planetfall. Once again, Litmus trades in on the Hawkwind meets Omnia Opera market, though this time everything gets the "turned up to 11" treatment. 75 minutes of brain blasting fun. Hard rock thrash, aimless wah wah solos, Moog tweets, mellotron interludes, and monotone vocals. It's sooooo English spacerock. Not sure there's anywhere else Litmus can go with this concept - they've exhausted the possibilities of the style.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Rise Above

Litmus - You Are Here. 2004 England

Litmus' debut You Are Here blazes out of the gates with a monolithic guitar riff, twee-twee-twee Moog knob twiddles, and a neanderthal 4/4 rhythm, I was immediately reminded of those 90s aggressive festival rockers Omnia Opera, minus any of their Floydian cosmic buildups. Or, of course, I could have mentioned the real inspiration at work here – which would be primo early 70s era Hawkwind, if Lemmy ran the band that is. They put the “B” in subtle, and pulverize most of the songs right through the wall. The keyboardist is the same gentleman who runs the excellent Planet Mellotron site, and so no surprise the mellotron gets more than its share of studio time. Though good luck in hearing it over the racket. I like my space rock a bit more cosmic and trippy me-self, but OK, that’s not their bag.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 private

My Brother the Wind - I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity. 2011 Sweden

While the debut album traded in on some familiar modern concepts of space rock, I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity reaches further back into the recesses of time, and adds a dollop of atmospheric Krautrock to the proceedings. This is exactly what the band needed, thus providing the proper context for the inevitable psychedelic jamming parts. There's an art to setting the table before dinner, and it appears many bands just want to jump into a bucket of chicken, and call it a meal. While the first album appears to have been a spontaneous jam session, followed by the idea that maybe it would be worthwhile to edit and release - I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity starts with the knowledge of why the band exists, and where it wants to go. It may be improvised, but this time it was "planned randomness". So a bit more thought was applied before starting, rather than just plug in, find a key to play in, and wail.  The atmosphere here is much more dense and exotic, including a propensity to look East, just as their forefathers had done 40 years prior. My Brother the Wind is bordering on the brilliant here, and one hopes they follow this path further to release something truly incredible. I think this album also benefited greatly from an expansion of the instrumental palette - including Hammond, Mellotron, acoustic guitar, percussion, and electric sitar. So while I have rated both these albums the same (for now that is), I Wash my Soul in the Stream of Infinity is near the top of the range while the debut is at the bottom. Let's see what happens next.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Transubstans

My Brother the Wind - Twilight in the Crystal Cabinet. 2010 Sweden

Formed by guitarists Mathias Danielson (Gösta Berlings Saga, Makajodama) and Nicklas Barker (Anekdoten), My Brother the Wind (named after an obscure Sun Ra album from 1970) exists as the musician's vehicle for improvised space rock. I had feared initially that My Brother the Wind would join the Post Rock ranks, given the lengthy free associated album title favored by the genre, and the fact that Danielson had recently formed (and disbanded) a similar type group with Makajodama. But my fears were wiped away early on, as the guitar sounds are heavily affected in a psychedelic manner, and the group clearly is influenced by the 1970s masters. All the same, Twilight in the Crystal Cabinet takes some concentrated listening to work through the details in your mind. Because of the hour long length of the disc, there are many moments that probably could have been filtered out for a more compact and enjoyable experience. Like with many modern space rock bands, My Brother the Wind subscribes to the "if you can't find it, grind it" mentality to push an idea forward in a non-convincing manner. All the same, over time, I found myself enjoying the album more and more. There's something alluring about the psychedelic in music, a certain sound that makes you want to come back again and again. Interestingly enough, the one band that My Brother the Wind most resembles - and I haven't seen anyone mention this before - is the Californian group Djam Karet, especially if you consider titles such as Still No Commercial Potential. Nearby Oresund Space Collective would also have to be considered a reference, especially in the overall approach department. That is to say: Record hours of improvised space rock, and then edit it down for public consumption. It will be interesting to see where the band goes from here.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Transubstans

Mathematicians - Irrational Numbers / Factor of Four. 1994; 1996 USA


In the late 1980s through the early 90s, there was a movement for rock/jazz instrumental albums (think mid 70's Jeff Beck here), that brought on a slew of interesting releases, most of which are long forgotten today. The indie label I.R.S. started a series call No Speak, of which the majority of their roster was made up of top level electric guitarists whose commercially viable days were at least 15 years behind them (Jan Akkerman, Robbie Krieger, Wishbone Ash, Ronnie Montrose). They also had a series of compilation albums called "Guitar Speak" that were highly revered back in the day. In parallel to this, Relativity Records was pushing out albums by more trendy artists such as Steve Vai, Vinnie Moore, and Joe Satriani, while also signing up the middle generation guys like Steve Howe and Gary Moore.

Indianapolis based Mathematicians were clearly a product of this movement. It's hard edged guitar fronted fusion, with mild complexity, and a few good melodies. Keyboards are there primarily to provide accompaniment to the guitar pyrotechnics. Make no mistake, Mathematicians aren't a "guitar hero" band, as the compositions are fleshed out enough to enjoy in a listening session rather than as a "how to record" for budding guitarists. While the debut is well done, the level of intensity and songwriting dramatically improves on Factor of Four, and thus is the recommended place to start.

If you're a "man of a certain age", then this review will most assuredly bring back memories of that era, and you'll probably want to investigate these two CDs (or at the very least go digging through your closet for the IRS/Relativity albums you own... somewhere).  I bought these in the 1990s, and they've held the test of time well. In fact, they've improved with age.

Personal collection
CD (Irrational Numbers): 1994 Aljabr
CD (Factor of Four): 1996 Acme

Quaterna Réquiem - O Arquiteto. 2012 Brazil

O Arquiteto is Quaterna Réquiem's first new studio album in 18 years. And really, as far as I'm concerned, it's the first new album by the band since 1990. Quaterna Réquiem has successfully reunited Wiermann and Vogel, along with long time drummer Cláudio Dantas and two new members on guitar and bass, to continue on the legacy they began on Velha Gravura. Unlike the Sithonia reunion that we just wrote about, Quaterna Réquiem eschewed the temptation to go retro with all analog instrumentation. Rather they decided to continue on exactly as if it were 1991 and it was time for a followup album. Still, the production standards are definitely 2012 and the keyboard tones are fatter and better recorded than the 1990 album - so fear not as they wisely upgraded in the production department. The highlight, of course, is the compositional quality which is richly layered and deeply thought out. Violin, piano, synthesizers and guitar all take their turn at leading the instrumental parade. It's a long instrumental album, as 22 years of ideas come pouring out, that requires close listening to fully appreciate. Quaterna Réquiem were at the forefront of the 1990 progressive movement, one that never really had much chance to spread its wings as the commercial neo-prog bands were dominating the contemporary audience at that time. If you long for the progressive rock sound of the 1990 era such as Solaris' 1990, Nuova Era's Dopo L'Infinito, Minimum Vital's Sarabandes, and Tribute's Terra Incognita, then Quaterna Réquiem's O Arquiteto will fill that void. It brought a rush of memories back for me. Highly recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 private

Quaterna Réquiem - Velha Gravura. 1990 Brazil

Quaterna Réquiem were one of the first bands of the late 1980s/early 90s progressive rock renaissance to review the works of the Mediterranean bands such as Quella Vecchia Locanda and Gotic, rather than the standard English "Big 3" of Genesis, Yes, and ELP. As such, their in-depth research of 1970's progressive rock adds a dimension sorely missing from most works of this time frame. Quaterna Réquiem performs a new interpretation of a much missed genre of music - what was once known as "Euro Rock". And the only thing keeping Quaterna Réquiem from classic "retro prog" status, that which is all the rage in 2000+, is the lack of analog keyboard instrumentation. But the compositions, skillful playing, and youthful exuberance carry the day here, so that Hammond organs and mellotrons are hardly necessary. A very fine work from a band that dissolved all too quickly in its original form.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Faunus

My original copy was the LP purchased upon release. It was an easy decision to switch it out for the CD not long after.

Ornithos - La Trasfigurazione. 2012 Italy

Ornithos are a sextet that is culled from the excellent ensemble Il Bacio delle Medusa. Like many new progressive bands from Italy, Ornithos looks back to the classic 1973 era for inspiration. On that front, Ornithos will remind the listener of other such groups like La Maschera di Cera, La Torre dell'Alchemista, and Il Tempio delle Clessidre. But Ornithos doesn't stop there, as they also have one foot in the classic Vertigo label heavy rock sound of 1971 England. In this way, they recall groups such as Areknames (Italy), Diagonal (England), and Astra (USA). With an equipment setup straight out of the 70s (Hammond organ, mellotron, sax, flute, loud psychedelic guitar) along with female/male vocals and a songwriting style from the past, Ornithos are the perfect recipe for a heaping dish of Retro-Prog. So if you have a craving for such a meal, then be sure to stop by Ornithos. They're open all night!

Let's hope that Ornithos doesn't take the classic Italian concept too far - that is to say - we are requesting another album! Too many of the best bands from 1972-1974 Italy were "one and done".

Personal collection
CD: 2012 AMS/BTF

The CD above is housed in a beautiful gatefold mini-LP design.

Sensations' Fix - Portable Madness. 1974 Italy

And here we have... the single greatest space rock album of all time! No small claim that. Not an irreverent throw out to grab one's...