Gosta Berlings Saga - Tid Är Ljud. 2006 Sweden

Gösta Berlings Saga could be considered the perfect modern Swedish progressive rock band. They look inward towards their own country for melodic inspiration, rather than the UK/US style of groups like The Flower Kings. Second album Kebnekaise is about where they land on the Swedish scale, but Gösta Berlings Saga are far more symphonic than that may imply. They use plenty of vintage instrumentation (as expected, primarily in the keyboard department with mellotron, Rhodes and various Moogs), yet the production and overall sound has a modern sensibility. Gösta Berlings Saga are one of the few groups of our era that do not belong to a current sub-genre, such as post rock, prog metal, neo, avant, retro / proto, jazz/fusion etc... They are, in fact, a straight ahead progressive rock group. They have respect for the 1970s, but aren't stuck in it. This might all seem like we're smack dab in the middle of our interest area, and thus might be a little boring or uninspired. And yet it's not at all that way, proving that the old recipes are generally better than the new concoctions. A pretty new room in an old house.

It's near impossible to pick highlights. All of the tracks are remarkably consistent, though by no means samey sounding. I will also allow that there's no drop dead killer tracks either. 'Helgamarktz' & 'Syrenernas Sång' lay the foundation of what Tid Är Ljud is about and if you like these two, it's highly likely you'll love the rest. 'Aniarasviten' has a stunning melody as its centerpiece, to an overall excellent moody composition. 'Ljud Från Stan' is more of a psychedelic jam rock piece, with fine guitar and Rhodes soloing. Gösta Berlings Saga shines in this setting and are able to maintain the intensity necessary. 'Tog du Med dig Naturen?' & 'Knölsvanen' seem to blow by, without having much impact. They're both fine tracks, and perhaps it's their placement that keeps them from standing out, even on multiple successive listens. 'Svarta Hål och Elljusspår' adds flute to great effect, providing the right soft focus lead instrument Gösta Berlings Saga definitely needs to get to the next level. All in all, a highly recommended album.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Transubstans

Gösta Berlings Saga - Detta har Hänt. 2009 Sweden

Two albums in now, and I can honestly say Gösta Berlings Saga has never written a song that has blown me away. Nor have they played anything I didn't like at all. Strange. A new guitarist is in, but mostly the music has stayed the same from the debut. I'd say the "Swedish-ness" has been removed and that's a step backwards for me. And perhaps the post rock tag could be applied in various places (yawn). There's a certain driving monotony to it all. But again, we're in familiar progressive rock territory for most of the album. Gösta Berlings Saga is a true A-list group for me, but I think they can do better honestly. It seems they're on the cusp of releasing one of the best albums of the last 10 years.

'Sorterargatan 3' has a nice repetitive groove to build upon, the kind that made some of those classic 70s albums so good (think Magma). Or a modern band like DFA. 'Bergslagen' is closest to the debut with mellotron and a hint of Swedish deep-in-the-forests type melodies and atmospheres. Best track on the album. 'Västerbron "05:30"' features some aggressive guitar soloing that I found refreshing. There also seems to be more of an Anekdoten influence (first 2 albums) than prior.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Transubstans

Gösta Berlings Saga - Glue Works. 2011 Sweden

As mentioned on the Detta har Hänt review, Gösta Berlings Saga seemed to be moving away from their Swedish folk roots and more towards modern post rock. And now they've jumped off the cliff and thrown their lot in with this latter movement. A wall of sound approach, with mid 70's King Crimson and late 90's Anekdoten references everywhere. I'm sure the intensity of playing this music can be quite inspiring, if not emotionally exhausting - but as a listener it can stray towards the mundane after a few minutes of the same pattern.

All of which sounds like I'm low on this album. I'm not. But it's a full Gnosis point, and a half RYM star down from their second album. And as much as I hate to say it, Gösta Berlings Saga are no longer an auto-buy for me. If they keep going down this route, I'll probably put it in the "if I can find it cheap" category. And that's a shame given the immense promise the debut demonstrated.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Cuneiform (USA)

D.F.A. - Duty Free Area. 1999 Italy

DFA play what I'd call counterpoint fusion with a space rock edge. They should trademark their sound, as I can't think of anyone who sounds quite like them. A little bit like Deus Ex Machina maybe, in their most intensive instrumental sections. The often jagged rhythms seem to create a sense of urgency, when it is really a facade. But it's a great trick, and keeps me completely immersed into the music. Top that off with some vicious solos right out of the space rock school, perhaps even with a modern bent ala Ozric Tentacles.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Mellow

Redshift - s/t. 1996 England

Redshift, in my mind anyway, are the premier Berlin School revivalists from the UK. They started as a quartet led by accomplished synthesist Mark Shreeve, and their blueprint is Baumann era Tangerine Dream. Nobody does it better, and it seems Redshift picked up where Tangerine Dream left off after "Stratosfear". Their debut perhaps apes their mentors more than later efforts, but is by no means unoriginal. 'Redshift' is sometimes jokingly, or reverentially, referred to as 'Rubycon Part 3', as the sounds created from the Moog and the mellotron are identical to Tangerine Dream's greatest work. The music, however, is entirely Redshift's, proving that there are many doors still open within this house. 'Spin' is the highlight of the album and demonstrates Redshift's trademark variation of the classic Berlin School of music. 'Shine' is a short but effective sequencer driven piece while 'Blueshift' represents the longest track, though one third is a boring outro that could have been trimmed. Many consider this piece to be the highlight, and while good, isn't up to the standards of the first two tracks. Redshift were to improve dramatically for their sophomore album "Ether" - for me one of the greatest electronic albums of all time. And one we'll for certain feature at a later time.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Champagne Lake

One note is that the reissue (2006 Distant Sun) has 5 tracks instead of 4, but apparently it's just the 'heartbeat' section of 'Blueshift' and doesn't represent additional material.

Ship of Fools - Out There Somewhere. 1994 England

Out There Somewhere is the second and last album from Ship of Fools. They were one of the last of the UK Festival bands to emerge before the scene began to die down. Their formula was a bit different than the others, and perhaps they were more a reflection of their era - the early 1990s. While not an electronica group per se, Ship of Fools incorporated many of the key elements of the scene. Primarily Ship of Fools were about atmosphere & melody over pyrotechnics. They would typically use synthesizers along with sampled instruments and voices to build the mood. After which a heavy guitar riff may appear, giving off a hint of something more dramatic than is actually happening. This is the mastery of dynamics, a skill many bands of their era, and even more so today, could learn from. There are rarely any tricky meters, or flashy guitar solos, and yet there are many heart pumping moments to be found.  They quit at a good time I think, as they'd said what they needed to, without becoming mind-numbingly repetitive.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Dreamtime

The Smell of Incense - Of Ullages and Dottles. 2007 Norway

The Smell of Incense are a Norwegian psychedelic folk rock band, who incorporate both modern and older 1970's influences in their sound. They released two wonderful albums in the 1990s and seemed to have disappeared into the ether. So this 2007 release was quite a surprise when released, and I think it's still flying under the radar, as most of the ratings sites out there show far less activity for "Of Ullages and Dottles" than their earlier albums. I will say their newest album eschews some of the more modern electronica aspects for a more purified psych folk rock sound - so dyed-in-the-wool late 60s fans will most likely find this the best of the 3 albums.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 September Gurls (Germany)

Love the album cover!

John L. and Adamah - Lonesome In Overdrive. 1996 Germany

A magnificent album that hardly anyone knows about, and it features an original iconic Krautrock freak!

Review originally published in Gnosis on July 18, 2006. Updated for UMR

About a couple of times a year, something will arrive that re-lights my collecting fire. Not long ago, it was Del Jones Positive Vibes. Prior to that it had been Berits Halsband that reawakened me. If you saw this CD in the store, you’d pass right over it. The artwork and lettering look like a new age album on the Narada label. It’s dedicated to Greenpeace and half the songs are about whales. It’s subtitled Malinuuga Music, which according to the liner notes is the indigenous rhythm of Europe, unrelated to African and Native American percussion. Yea, well whoopdee doo.

Well boys and girls, the reality is this: Had I sent you a tape and stated "Adamah: Unreleased Ohr album from 1972", you would have had ZERO problem believing me. This is the most authentic slice of Krautrock I’ve heard post 1980. In spirit, sound and intensity. Adamah is not some new age wuss who misses his mommy, but rather a nine piece group that features all sorts of analog synthesizers, flute, clarinet, violin, steel guitar, electric guitar, sitar, various homemade stringed instruments, female vocals and no less than 3 full time percussionists. The production sounds as if Dieter Dirks did a number on it, with loads of phasing and other studio trickery. There is wah-wah, fuzz and all sorts of wild moments found throughout. There’s even the female narration in German ala Ash Ra Tempel's Join Inn. And there’s not even a HINT this is done for a retro market or that it’s the 1990s. This is truly organic, time has completely stood still. And if you are paying close attention, yes, this is THE John L. of Ash Ra Tempel's Schwingungen fame! Here he’s dressed in full-blown traditional Jewish attire, complete with flat brimmed hat, long beard and side curls. And he’s holding one of those aforementioned homemade electric stringed instruments with the Star of David on it. And he sounds pretty much the same as he did on the ART album, with chanting, yelling, semi-singing. Most of the album is instrumental, so his vocals are once again a curious, but fascinating, addition. With a 24 year separation between albums, and both masterpieces, John L. has proven he's one of the true creative freaks of our era.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Green Tree

Viima - Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta. 2006 Finland

It’s getting to the point that everything that’s from Finland is great. They are to the current decade what the French were to the 1980s. And thank goodness for that. Wasn’t sure what to expect here. Was told it was Finnish folk prog, and about the only band I associate with that is the obscure and rare Scapa Flow. It’s not really like that however. Even though it’s sung in beautiful Finnish, the album has more of a UK feel than one from continental Europe. The female vocals are one distinguishing factor. What’s interesting to me are the guitar breaks, which are rooted in hard rock – a clear departure from the acoustic folk psych of the base material. I quite liked this one.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 private

Phil Thornton with Mandragora - While the Green Man Sleeps. 1993 England

Phil Thornton is the main man behind Mandragora and they were one of the great UK festival psych bands. And while this goes under the Phil Thornton name, most of Mandragora is on it, and it sounds like a Mandragora album to be honest. Or perhaps a more electronica version of the band, something the group eventually moved to anyway on their 1998 opus Pollen. This particular release reminds me a bit of Ship of Fools actually, given the relaxed nature and flow of the music. Hard to find nowadays, but well worth the effort if you're so inclined.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 Mystic Stones

Aquaserge - Ce Très Cher Serge, Spécial Origines. 2010 France

Aquaserge reminds me of a time when the French reigned supreme in the creativity department. Think back to the early 1980s, when France was bursting at the seams with interesting bands like Dun, Catastrophe, Eskaton, Asia Minor, Abus Dangereux, Rahmann, Nuance, Art Zoyd, Synopsis, and many more. Aquaserge combines Canterbury, space rock, and general wackiness to create a fun filled progressive extravaganza. To me, these qualities all add up to primo Gong, though Aquaserge are more complex, more jamming, and less silly overall. Makoto Kawabata of Acid Mother's Temple provides some splendid acid guitar, and it's in this kind of setting that he shines most brightly.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Manimal

Machine and the Synergetic Nuts - Leap Second Neutral. 2005 Japan

One of the three great Japanese progressive bands of the 2000's including Pochakaite Malko and Naikaku. Influenced by the Canterbury scene of the late 1970s (National Health, The Muffins), heavy 90s Japanese instrumental progressive rock like Happy Family and Bondage Fruit along with a distinct taste for modern jazz like St. Germain. Complex, energetic and highly melodic. Band lists Soft Machine, Weather Report and Frank Zappa as influences.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Cuneiform (USA)

Free System Projekt - Moyland. 2005 Netherlands

Free System Projekt is yet another band we're featuring here that comes from the Tangerine Dream retro movement, that is found more predominantly in the UK, but also has a huge following in the Netherlands as well. When Tangerine Dream moved in a different direction following their "Virgin" years after 1983, no one really took the baton and ran with it. Now that doesn't mean electronic music died. Not even close. There were tons of other artists operating in this field, almost all of them solo acts, and none had the massive amount equipment that Tangerine Dream possessed (other than maybe Klaus Schulze of course). And as any fan of classic Tangerine Dream will tell you, it's a style of music that has many possibilities. The key to success is not only a large amount of both old and new keyboard toys, but it also helps to have more than one band mate - for the synergy of ideas that multiple people can create.

The big names in the Tangerine Dream renaissance are the British bands: Radio Massacre International, Redshift, AirSculpture, Under the Dome, Arc and many more. And the main representative in Holland is Free System Projekt. And truth be told, FSP are probably the most sycophantic to the original T Dream sound (especially the Baumann trio years). But it's still highly original music within the confines of the style. It's as if someone uncovered numerous more Tangerine Dream recordings from 1974-1977. You can't wrong with a Free System Projekt album, at least of the ones I've heard, and that's most of them. Moyland is but only one great example. If you love complicated sequences, with mellotron overlays and wild synth soloing - the Free System Projekt is for you.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Quantum

Krakatoa – We Are the Rowboats. 2003 USA

Krakatoa were an interesting band from Philadelphia (later Brooklyn) who combined avant progressive, post rock and psychedelic music to great effect. They took the best elements of each: The quirky complexity of avant prog, while foregoing the dorky pursuit of the cutesy; from post rock they inherit the modern day melodicism, but avoid the staid 4/4 rhythms for a much more complex approach; and the true secret ingredient is the addition of a late 60s psychedelic edge, adding something to the music that many newer bands in the progressive rock field forget to do: ROCK.

Even with the above, on paper anyway, the band sounds marginally interesting if the contents aren't mixed properly. And that's where Krakatoa creates their separation from the competition. Wonderful stuff.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 Cuneiform (USA)

St. Elmo's Fire - Live at the Cleveland Agora / Splitting Ions in the Ether. 1980 USA


Live at the Cleveland Agora is St. Elmo's debut album from this fine progressive rock band from the namesake city. It would be their only album during their original tenure. Released privately, it was a 4 song instrumental EP that demonstrated a band with immense talent, captured live. Because of this, the sound quality isn't the best, and you get the feeling the band still needed a bit more time to work out the compositions. Since it's instrumental - but not a jam record - then melody and structure will need to carry the load. There are times here when one expects a vocal passage, or perhaps another theme break. It doesn't help that the tracks are fairly longish. Musically it's influenced by the usual UK suspects, just as every other progressive rock band from the Midwest were. St. Elmo's Fire incorporated a bit more King Crimson than usual, and one can also trace a bit of late 70s Rush in the grooves. Overall, Live at the Cleveland Agora is a fine EP, and worth seeking out on its own.

The band were to reform some 18 years later in Iowa (at least administratively), and rather than reissue the EP alone, they added the full concert plus 3 more tracks taken from two other shows in 1980. They also rechristened the album Splitting Ions in the Ether and added new artwork. The 9 tracks on display here are similar to the EP, but elongated even further since the 2 tracks left off were also the lengthiest. The odd thing about these two is they sound better than the 4 tracks from the EP, which have remained somewhat distorted even into the digital age. The other 3 songs are musically similar and 'Gone to Ground in the Khyber Pass' (left off from the EP) might be their best composition on here. Definitely the CD is the way to go if looking for ownership.

St. Elmo's Fire persevered for one more album, Artifacts of Passion, that is arguably an improvement over their original effort.

Personal collection
EP: 1980 Corposant
CD: 1998 Sprawling Productions

Atman - Personal Forest. 1993 Poland

Atman were perhaps the original freak folk band from Eastern Europe. Personal Forest is about as psychedelic as any album ever released, and yet it's not entirely clear if that's what the band were striving for. In fact, it takes a bit to get going to be honest. It's not unusual to see folks call this a "world music" or, even worse, a "new age" album. It does start off by giving that vibe, but as the album goes deeper into the middle, or forest as it were, the album becomes incredibly intense, and is truly a trance inducing album. Voices, strange homemade and ancient instruments along with tribal drums take the listener to places formerly not discovered. All of Atman's albums are recommended, but none came close to the brilliance of Personal Forest. And that also includes the post-Atman group The Magic Carpathians.

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Drunken Fish (USA)

Originally released as a cassette under the moniker Theatre of Sound Atman.

Deadwood Forest - Mellodramatic. 1999 USA

When Anglagard blew through the progressive rock world in 1992 with their debut album Hostbris, it wouldn't take long for other bands to hop on the train and try something similar. Austin, Texas based Deadwood Forest took it a step further, and recruited Anglagard drummer Mattias Olsson to produce their second album. Anglagard themselves had played once in Houston in 1993, giving the respective groups a common thread. Mellodramatic is one of the more successful attempts at achieving the classic progressive rock sound. Primarily played on analog gear, including gobs of the requisite mellotron. There's also quite a bit of 60s psychedelic songwriting in place, which gives it a unique bent. I personally never tire of the style, so Deadwood Forest has a place in the collection for a long time.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Shroom

The Perotic Theatre - Dryve. 1996 Germany

* 1. Space Cowboy 6:17
2. Dust Ark 3:26
* 3. St. Art 4:14
* 4. Citiest Poison 3:04
5. Tissues 3:58
6. Dust Ark 2:39 (different composer)
** 7. Stone Pillow Poem 7:56
* 8. Nocturn Eyed 4:33
** 9. Dwarf Jam 3:14
** 10. Furrows 5:15

Well, as I'm hearing this for the third time, I wouldn't necessarily call this a "retro prog" album, something that became more in vogue a decade later from when this was released. What makes this album so interesting is the juxtaposition of 90s modern rock song craft with Hammond organ as the lead instrument. The thick edgy analog instrument gives the songs far more life than any thin sounding digital synthesizer would have, and completely changes the mood and texture of the entire album. 1), 5) & 8) are probably the best representations of Dryve, showing off their Porcupine Tree meets Pink Floyd composition style, with early 70s Uriah Heep and Aardvark instrumentation. 2) is, for me, easily the weakest piece on the album, and shows that The Perotic Theatre could have been a wimpy emo bunch - primarily via the breathy androgynous vocal style. Though the Hammond manages to save it from a total disaster. 3) puts us back on track with a jumpy ELP Tarkus era styled organ track, with vocals in a more desirable airy style than the previous one. 4) is one dirty, smelly heap of early 70's organ rock. Now this track could have easily come out in 1971 England via the Neon label - or 2008 from a band like Diagonal. Excellent. 6) is a moodier version of 2), and fits the atmosphere of the album better. 7) is the first time we get a hint of the heritage of the band, and this piece of unhinged experimentalism would clearly fit into the glorious world of 1971 era Krautrock, as envisioned by the Ohr and Pilz labels. Echoed narrated vocals, droning / power chord organ shards, and pounding drums. Nosferatu meets Motherf*cker & Co era Xhol Caravan. I could listen to this stuff all day. Brilliant! 9) features a cool choppy organ vamp, on which the band pretty much jams on top with wordless male vocals adding atmosphere. Really super stuff here. 10) is the clear winner from a melody standpoint. Wow - this is the kind track that could have been a hit in 1972. While the whole album is very good, the last half of Dryve is stellar. Highly recommended!

FWIW, their debut Prometheused (1995) is completely different, and I was extremely disappointed. This is a band you must tread carefully with.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 private

Minimum Vital - La Source (Huit Chants De Lumiere). 1993 France

Minimum Vital were, and still are, a highly original progressive rock group coming out of France. The basic formula is take a medieval or traditional French folk melody and add jazz plus rock influences over the top. Digital keys, programmed primarily to the brass sounds, along with ferocious guitar soloing, are the trademarks of Minimum Vital's sound.

By the time of La Source, Minimum Vital had begun to incorporate some pop influences as well, with female vocals out front, and the final result may be a surprise to hardcore fans - but it's a winning formula both musically and commercially.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 Musea

Simon Says - Ceinwen. 1995 Sweden

There have been bands trying to copy the classic Genesis sound ever since... well... ever since Genesis stopped putting out progressive rock music themselves. In the late 1970's and early 80's, bands from Germany (Ivory, Neuschwanstein, M.L. Bongers Project, Sirius), The Netherlands (Saga), and Austria (Kyrie Eleison) gave it their best shot (and all did an admirable job I might add). Entering into the early 80's there was even a celebrated movement called the New Wave of British Progressive Rock (now saddled with the derogatory "neo prog" tag), where classic Genesis was clearly the blueprint - most notably found in the sound of well known and respected bands like Marillion and IQ. By the late 80's this particular genre was starting to get a bit long in the tooth - almost cartoon-ish even (witness the Swiss band Deyss on their roll-on-the-floor it's-so-bad-it's-bloody-awful 'At-King' album).

So what am I doing talking about a band who did basically the same thing - as late as 1995? Because it's damn good, that's why. Simon Says are definitely post-Anglagard Genesis copycat, and for that they deserve some credit at the very least. Gone are the cheap synthesizers, brass patches, gated drums, pig squeal guitar leads and thin production. And in its place are acoustic guitars, flute, Hammond organ, fat woody bass, loud acid guitar, Mini Moog solos and best of all, the glorious MELLOTRON blaring its sampled string sounds - 8 seconds at a time just as God had intended. It's in the Bible somewhere. Dammit.

Even if you would want to take a pass at this point, then at the very least go to the final track, with the brain blowing 16 minute 'Kadazan' which basically sounds exactly like Anglagard doing their best Nursery Cryme imitation. Even the most cynical amongst you out there ought to at least give THAT a try before making final judgment.

Personal collection
CD: 1995 Bishop Garden

Las Orejas y La Lengua - La Eminencia Inobjetable. 1996 Argentina (archival)

The label Viajero Inmovil described this album as a cross between Dun and Miriodor and it was this description that had me going like a moth to the light. And the label description is pretty much accurate! Great melodies abound amongst the complex rhythms. Excellent flute work throughout as well. For my tastes, one of the best albums in the Avant Progressive genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2002 Viejero Inmovil

Rain of Thought - A Realist's View Of Hope. 2000 USA

A really good example of modern instrumental progressive rock music. Complex, but subdued. Fantastic violin work throughout. Bass and drummer are putting on a clinic despite it not being an energetic release – almost a pure jazz approach to the rhythms. I would’ve preferred a more affected guitar tone, as the music seems so perfect for it, but still an excellent album. Features former Gnosis-mate Mike Ezzo (Newcross) on drums and percussion.

Personal collection
CD: 2000 Ohsoddit

Conny C - A Malmqvist, Hans Åkerheim ‎- Kvinnan I Det Låsta Rummet: Filmmusiken. 1998 Sweden

This very obscure album from Sweden is absolutely loaded with mellotron. Atmospheric soundtrack music with plenty of guitar as well (the music is for a TV mini-series). Somewhere between Alain Goraguer's classic La Planete Sauvage and post rock (Tortoise, etc...) is where you'll the music of Kvinnan I Det Låsta Rummet. Excellent little oddity if you can find it.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Vibrafon

Spirosfera – Umanamnesi. 1996 Italy

A great one from the Italian second renaissance of progressive rock. Umanamnesi has aged well and sounds good to my modern ears (it's been well over a decade since I last heard it). Great vocals in the Stratos / Piras mold - heavy guitar (not metal) - lots of inventive changes - excellent bass work. Like a classic 1970's Italian progressive album, but clearly recorded with 90's instrumentation and production qualities. Love it.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Lizard

Agitation Free - Malesch. 1972 Germany

I first discovered Agitation Free by accident in the mid 1980s. One of those albums I bought because it looked cool and was cheap. It had such a profound impact on me at the time, that it was one of those albums that helped shape my musical tastes for the future.
 
'You Play for Us Today' starts with "I fly the airplane, and you play for us, indeed?". And with that field recording of the small aircraft pilot, an organ overlay is applied with haunting voice and the bass starts to rumble a rhythm. A synthesizer floats a melody on top and the first sounds of acid guitar enter in, while pounding drums and the percussion adds an exotic air. The organ begins to swirl, the intensity builds, and the guitar goes into a frenzied but melodic solo. After what seems like only 2 minutes, but is actually well over 6, the field recording of the pilot's intercom interjects with spoken Arabic and leads to... 'Sahara City' that consists of recordings of a market in Egypt with percussion and wind instruments. This takes us back to the studio and a percussive synthesized sound. Haunting winds of sound with fuzz box guitar leads, while pounding symbols deliver you to the desert of unknown myths. After returning from the abyss, the band congeals into an incredible jam with superb guitar and bass jamming. By the time we get to 'Ala Tul', if you're not completely immersed into the Sahara desert mystique of this album, there's probably little chance it will resonate at this point. 'Ala Tul' is what the album is about: Atmosphere, intensity, mystery, exoticism, experimental, intrigue. It's another world, and one that wasn't explored prior, or hasn't been since. 'Pulse' demonstrates Agitation Free at their most experimental, though the piece begins to take form in the latter half in the classic Krautrock jam tradition. 'Khan El Khalili' brings us back to the Middle East, though for most of the piece, the emphasis is a light breezy instrumental, and gives us the best clue of where Agitation Free would go for their next album.  The title track is the perfect encapsulation of all that has proceeded it. If there's one piece that defines the album, it is indeed this one. This leads to 'Rücksturz' and their most memorable piece on the album, with a striking melody that was the centerpiece to many of their live jams during this era. This can be best demonstrated by the 15 minute bonus track 'Music Factory Live', a stellar piece of Krautrock experimentalism mixed with psychedelic jamming. The kind of music that has your imagination wandering to some obscure artist club in Berlin circa 1972 and wishing you could transport back. This issue also features a short 6 minute video with yet another variation of the 'Rücksturz' theme. Video quality will remind you of the home reels of your youth, but it only adds to the aura.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Vertigo
CD: 2010 Belle Antique (Japan)

Maelstrom - s/t. 1976 Canada (archival)

An extraordinary archival find (recorded in 1976) from the good folks at ProgQuebec, Maelstrom is the odd band from La Belle Province that is more influenced by the English than the French. And in this case it's Gentle Giant and Yes as the main protagonists, which translates into Quebecois as Et Cetera meets Le Match combined with Pollen. Maelstrom would be the perfect fit for my Midwest prog list, except they are a bit too far east, and yes indeed, French is the language of choice. Otherwise, this is fastball-down-the-middle proggy prog. Easy recommendation for genre fans.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 ProgQuebec

Cosmic Invention – Help Your Satori Mind. 1997 Japan

Cosmic Invention were a supergroup made up of Japan's finest astral travelers such as Ghost, White Heaven, Subvert Blaze, and Overhang Party. Despite the heritage, Cosmic Invention were remarkably restrained - thus recalling the 1970's Kosmische Kourier sound more so than the mostly nauseous 90's guitar fuzz overload the above mentioned names are likely to invoke (other than maybe Ghost). And this is a good thing for the UMR. Cosmic Invention seemed to have mastered the best of Can, Emtidi, and the Galactic Supermarket, while the title track is a definite nod to the 1970's hard progressive rock of the Flower Travellin' Band.

This one received good reviews and a bit of indie press back when it came out (and when I purchased it). Today the album is largely forgotten. That's too bad.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 The Now Sound (USA)

French TV - 9: This Is What We Do. 2006 USA

Another new album from French TV. Another great album from French TV. There are few bands that can match French TV's consistent high quality over a long period of time. For 20+ years, French TV has produced and continues to produce complex, challenging progressive rock. Even more amazing, they actually get better with each release. Now they didn't set the bar real high in their early years, but they never put out a bad record either. But they seem to be getting better almost exponentially. I’m in awe of a band who can release nine albums in a 23 year time span, and never sound stale, retro or trendy. They never mail it in. And they are what one would want from a band that carries the heady term of progressive around. French TV are a mix of Avant Prog, Canterbury, big name UK symphonic, French and Scandinavian styles, even some of the more obscure over the top US progressives like Cathedral and Mirthrandir (and yes, they would have had access to these bands since their inception). But mostly they sound like French TV. In fact, as I hear This is What We do, I recall another elder statesman of creative rock music: Patrick Forgas and his Forgas Band Phenomena. Commercial success was never part of the blueprint for these gentleman. The material they compose is both complex and mature, yet still maintains the edge of youth. We have so few role models in rock music that carried the creative banner for decades, so we must look to jazz and icons like Miles Davis to see this kind of pushing forward as the years go by.

This is among my favorite releases by French TV. I've never listened to all of their albums back to back, but it would probably be interesting to note the ascension.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Pretentious Dinosaur

Hecenia – La Couleur du Feu. 1994 France

This is Hecenia's second album, and a dramatic jump up from their debut. The main reason for this is the wise decision to turn off the drum machine and add a real drummer. And he propels the music forward in an exciting way, never staying in place too long to wear out its welcome. In some ways I was reminded of the obscure group Ocarinah in the way the album keeps changing from theme to theme. Perhaps best of all, is that La Couleur du Feu has some of the most beautiful piano compositions in modern progressive rock. It's nice to hear the piano as a solo instrument rather than strictly as accompaniment. What a talented band they were, and it's a pity they stopped when they did. Today, very few people remember Hecenia, and yet they were one of the rising stars in the early 1990s.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Musea

Saqqara Dogs - Thirst. 1987 USA

I've had this album practically since it came out. One of those albums you would discover through Option magazine where they couldn't figure what the hell it was and they'd compare it to a band it had nothing in common with. But this listen pointed me to the possible source: David Torn. Cloud About Mercury was one of those revelations for anyone that scanned every single record in the 1980s mall record store hoping for just ONE new album that looked interesting. Saqqara Dogs takes Torn's loud guitar ethic and throws a little Middle Eastern mysticism into the mix. And you're not too far from Black Sun Ensemble either - another Option treasure find. This has aged beautifully.

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Pathfinder

Mongol - Doppler 444. 1997 Japan

Regular readers of my blogs will know by now, high energy fusion / progressive rock is always welcome in my changer. And boy, does this fit the bill! Like a less raw Kenso, with perhaps a little too much 90's digitalitis going on - though nonetheless these guys just let 'er rip. And with plenty of meter changes for the hardcore progressive rock fan. So on the first 5 tracks, Mongol reminds me quite a bit of the great second album by Space Circus (Fantastic Arrival), but with a 90's production. So if that sounds good, this will serve you well enough.

And then....

WHOOOAAA! Hold the presses!

And then......... there's this 18 minute closer.

Would you believe me if I told you that 'Greatful Paradise' is the most intense Zeuhl styled song since the 'De Futura' track from Magma's Udu Wudu? Probably not. But the fact is I lost 5 pounds listening to it. See, there's that Paganotti styled fuzz bass counterpointed by alien keyboard sounds and shredding guitar. And then there's this possessed drummer not named Vander but.... OK, you get the idea. Want another Weidorje album? You like Zeuhl fusion? You need this.

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Belle Antique

The 2013 reissues contain significant bonus material apparently.

Kundalini - Asylum for Astral Travellers. 1996 Sweden

Mauro at Mellow has released a great number of amazing albums over the years, and many sadly fell way under the radar. This album may well be his most hidden gem.

In the 1970's, there was a splendid little Swedish instrumental group called Lotus, who put out two wonderful albums, and then drifted into obscurity (both fortunately reissued on CD on the Duck Your Music label).

Kundalini is the second generation of the Lotus blueprint, but with a distinct Middle Eastern and Southeastern Asian focus. Band leader Arne Jonasson plays a remarkable amount of stringed and wind instruments here. At once he plays the electric guitar in the fiery space rock tradition of Ozric Tentacles or Omnia Opera, while at others he seems comfortable strumming the traditional world string instruments of bouzouki (Greece), saz (Turkey / Iran), cümbüş (Turkey), nyckelharpa (Sweden) as well as wind instruments such as the mey (Turkey), zurna (Turkey), näverlur (Sweden), and recorder (mainly European). This is all backed by a crisp and energetic bass and drum team. And despite the wide variation of world sounds, the melodies are memorable and the albums rocks like a motherf ... well, you know. Kundalini also dabbles in the odd jazz instrumental, especially towards the end of the disc. Great album this one and it's too bad this was the end for Kundalini. A must pickup for fans of exotic space rock and fusion.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Mellow (Italy)

Algaravia - Breve e Interminável. 1996 Brazil

There was a time in the 1990's when PRW was one of progressive rock's leading lights in terms of discovering new acts. And Algaravia was one of their true gems. Some 15 years later, the band is sadly and completely forgotten.

Algaravia, who open with a track named 'Crimsoniana', leave little doubt to who their heroes are. A dual guitar quintet, with minimal keyboards and an extra percussionist (giving it a slight Santana flair), Algaravia no doubt worship at the Red and Starless & Bible Black altar. But just like fellow South American's Exsimio (Chile) demonstrated a few years later, Algaravia took a portion of the King Crimson sound and moved it further and into new areas of development. Some classic 90's Djam Karet can be heard here too (especially in the fuzz tone guitar explosions). I think it's a splendid album - and a total tragedy the band stopped here.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 PRW

Windopane - See? 1994 USA


In the early 90's there were a few bands from both the Midwest United States and in the UK which featured guitar centric psychedelic groups that revolved around long improvised and frenetic jams. From the UK you had Bevis Frond, Outskirts of Infinity, Ear Candy, Mynd Muzik and the Incredible Expanding Mindfuck. From Ohio and Indiana there was Many Bright Things, Simones, Tombstone Valentine, and... Windopane. The twist here is that Windopane were lead by a husband and wife team of dual guitarists, with an accompanying booklet that implies a heart wrenching story of a child given up to adoption by the female lead when she was only 16. A fairly active drummer rounds out the trio.

There really isn't anything extraordinary about this album, or the compositions within. But if you like a good old fashioned instrumental wah wah guitar extravaganza without ever going to excess, then this is one you should look for in the dollar bin of your local brick and mortar - or favorite auction house.

They released another album a year later, which I recall as not being up to snuff. Don't remember much about it, but I sold it way back when in any case.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Or

The second cover scan is the CD issue.

Jettison Slinky - Dank Side of the Morn. 1999 USA

Jettison Slinky, a 10 piece ensemble lead by keyboardist Graham Connah, were another interesting band coming from the fruitful 1990s San Francisco Bay Area scene. There's a strong Canterbury melodic sense throughout, and the heavy guitars, keyboards, and dual female vocalists point to an obvious affinity for National Health. It's almost shocking to me that an American band can pull off this most distinctly English style of rock music. One of the ladies on the album is none other than Jewlia Eisenberg, leader of the Klezmer inspired band Charming Hostess, and a darling of the Avant Progressive fan base. Trombone and clarinet add a unique palette. Beyond the Canterbury references, there's also a distinct mid-1960s Brill Building campy/sweetness going on with the melodic jingles recalling perhaps a mix of the Rascal Reporters and Stereolab. And I'm also hearing characteristics of U Totem, where the density of the compositions become a bit hard to penetrate. On the album's closer 'Eternal Dalmation', Jettison Slinky begins to experiment with avant-garde deconstruction which is an unnecessary and disappointing conclusion to an otherwise very satisfying album.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Evander

Accordo dei Contrari - Kinesis. 2007 Italy

Starting with a sound straight out of the early Mahavishnu Orchestra playbook, Accordo dei Contrari waste no time in establishing their heavy instrumental fusion sound. In fact, I was immediately reminded of DFA, another A-list progressive rock group from Italy. All the tracks feature counterpoint in an instrumental setting. They catch a groove, rock hard - change meters, and rock hard again. If I had a complaint, it's that the album as a whole has a certain sameness to it. While I adored the first few tracks, I found my mind wandering as the album continued. Perhaps had I started in the middle, I would feel stronger for the latter tracks. I need to do that actually. Point being, it's this monolithic nature that keeps the album from being a stone classic. A minor complaint, because no doubt this is a fantastic album overall. Recommended to all European instrumental rock fans. Or what we used to call "Euro Rock", still quite possibly my favorite sub-genre of the progressive rock spectrum.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 AltRock

Accordo dei Contrari - Kublai. 2011 Italy

In some ways, Accordo dei Contrari are the polar opposite of the Sithonia album we spoke about on this blog. The instrumentation, execution, and overall crispness are absolutely top-notch. Thematic development and melodic longevity, well... perhaps not their strong suit. So in that way, I rate them the same, though I can assure you that Accordo dei Contrari are far more palatable on initial impact. I would have to plea before the court as to why Sithonia are excellent, whereas all I have to do here is press "play" and watch the listener's jaw drop at the musical prowess. That's not to say that Accordo dei Contrari are a cold, soulless band. Quite to the contrary (as their name suggests). The psychedelic exotic fusion of 'Arabesque' alone is enough to sell me on this album. As if Agitation Free went on a Mahavishnu Orchestra binge. Say that last sentence again, perhaps slowly. I'm all in. I think this is where the Area comparisons come in. They're meant as flattery, but not sure I see the correlation. Anyway, instrumental progressive rock / fusion - I could listen to this kind of stuff all day.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 private

Elektrum - Live at the Opera. 1998 Denmark-England

This is guitarist Claus Bohling's band - post Hurdy Gurdy and Secret Oyster. The music presented here is surprisingly a very modern space rock, as in what Ozric Tentacles might have done in the same era (late 90s), but played by a veteran of the 60s and early 70s. Also hear some Frank Marino, at his most hard rock and melodic. This is a fantastic release and one of the classic under the radar albums from the 90s.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 private

Mandragora - Temple Ball. 1994 England

For my money, Mandragora were one of the top UK festival / space rock bands of the 1980s and 90s, perhaps only bested by Ozric Tentacles and Omnia Opera (though really obscure bands like Crow and Blim were just as outstanding, but those are more recent discoveries for me).

Mandragora's trajectory was a bit different, however. On album at least, they started with hard rock, moving ever slow slowly to space rock, then onto ethnic tinged electronic rock, some techno, etc... I like all of their albums, but it was on Temple Ball that the band finally unleashed their ferocious guitar fronted space rock style. Like many of the bands of their era, Mandragora mix in recorded TV and radio bits to add to the ominous atmosphere, before launching into another intense jam.

The monster track here is Talking to God (Part IV), but other great pieces include Zarg, Inside the Crystal Circle, Rainbow Warrior and the title track. The album claims to be recorded live "in the Crystal Feb '94", but I don't think it's an actual concert. If it was, then it's been completely edited like a studio album and there's no audience noise. I prefer it this way myself.

This is definitely the best album on the excellent Mystic Stones label, and sadly, very close to the label's last release.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Mystic Stones

Il Tempio delle Clessidre - s/t. 2010 Italy

Il Tempio delle Clessidre's debut is one of the finest retro Italian progressive rock albums I've heard to date. Lead by the beautiful keyboardist Elisa Montaldo, Il Tempio delle Clessidre is the classic five piece Italian band working its way through increasingly complex compositions, but with melody and passion. The crowning touch was the recruiting of Museo Rosenbach's front man Stefano “Lupo” Galifi, who pretty much sounds the same here as on Zarathustra (37 years ago!).

There are no weak tracks on Il Tempio delle Clessidre, though the album starts more measured and stilted, before it slowly morphs into its own creative genius. By the time of 'La Stanza Nascosta', the album has found its footing. And it peaks on the frenetic 'Danza Esoterica di Datura'. From there it maintains its intensity and brilliance. If you miss the spontaneous creativity of the original Italian progressive rock scene of 1973, and can't get enough of the analog sounds of the era, then Il Tempio delle Clessidre is a no-brainer pick up.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Black Widow

Blood Ceremony – Living with the Ancients. 2011 Canada

I personally love the combination of female vocals, flute, organ and fuzz guitar - so the band can almost do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. Jethro Tull is an inevitable comparison because of the flute, but there are no similarities beyond that. Personally I think bands like Tomorrow's Gift (first album), Goliath (UK 1970), Room, and Affinity are closer to the sound here than Tull. And if you don't know these bands, and enjoy Blood Ceremony, then cool - new albums for you to discover right? (though I feel compelled to mention that none of these groups have the doom metal component, so what I mean here is Tomorrow's Gift meets Sabbath or Goliath meets Sabbath etc...).

Lyrically, I wish they'd move past the 9th grade. I can do without "I summon thee my demon, Lord of the Flies; With this Commandment Thou Shalt Rise." Really?

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Metal Blade (USA)

Mar de Robles - Indigena. 2007 Chile

From the opening notes of 'Chucaro', one could be fooled that Mar de Robles' sophomore effort is to be some kind of Dream Theater like instrumental prog metal album. And while that element remains present throughout, there's also a strong fusion element at play here, with the addition of sax (lightly used) and ripping electric guitar solos and complex meters. In addition to that - and where the real separation comes for Mar de Robles - is the incorporation of the indigenous landscape of South America. Rain sticks, tribal percussion, and a plethora of sights and sounds are then added with that patented "European Warm Progressive Rock" style including soft flute and beautiful melodies. I find Mar De Robles to be a unique group operating on otherwise familiar terrain. They're not as inward looking as Peru's Flor de Loto or some metal mutation of Los Jaivas, nor are they some generic bland instrumental prog metal unit looking to show off their chops. They are a fusion metal folk prog hybrid unlike any other. Well worth seeking out if looking for something different in an all too crowded field.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Mylodon

Tusmørke - Underjordisk Tusmørke. 2012 Norway

One of my pet peeves is that every time a band features flute in rock music, then they must be compared to Jethro Tull. I mean seriously - there isn't a hint of Jethro Tull in the music of Gotic, Solaris, or Mythos - and I could site hundreds of examples here. So having said that, Tusmørke have a flute driven progressive rock sound that will remind you of... Jethro Tull. That is exactly what they're trying to accomplish - early 1970s Tull. But the abundance of mellotron and the dark nature of their music (they're Norwegian, they can't help it) will suddenly make you realize that the music is distinctive enough to not sweat the obvious comparison. In fact, if you're a deep diver of the 1970s Scandinavian progressive rock scene, then a couple of bands leap to mind. First is the Finnish band Tabula Rasa, especially at the time of their debut album. But even more to the point, is the archival release from Colours by a band called Hades, who released 20 minutes of really fine flute driven material that had as much in common with those zany Italians Osanna as it did with Jethro Tull. Most of Underjordisk Tusmørke is sung in English, with that gnarled-tree-Ian-Anderson inflection. But the final track and one of the bonus tracks feature their native Norwegian, which sounds more natural - and mysterious - and something I hope they stick with on their followup. This band has enormous potential.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Termo

Eye - Center of the Sun. 2011 USA

When you name your band Eye and your first album is entitled Center of the Sun, then you are more than likely to draw comparisons to early Nektar. And indeed that is just what this Columbus based band seems to be aiming for: Journey to the Center of 1971 Nektar. Early Pink Floyd would also have to be mentioned, only in that Nektar themselves were indebted to those that set their controls for the heart of the sun. A sufficiently muddy production - complete with fuzz bass, distorted guitar, mellotron, and disembodied voices - will likely enthrall anyone who thought 1972 was way too glossy of a year. And honestly, what can one complain about? It's not exactly like the world is filled with Nektar copy bands. Sit back and enjoy a new interpretation, if "new" is a term one is allowed to utilize here. Originally there was no CD for this album. I presumed that's because one needs to leave the fuzzball on the needle to truly appreciate.

Personal collection
LP: 2011 Kemado
CD: 2015 private

CD comes in a simple slip case.

Moving Gelatine Plates - Removing. 2006 France

As far as this author is concerned, the first two albums from the French group Moving Gelatine Plates are as superb as any albums ever recorded. It is, in fact, their raison d'être. As such, I'm separating this newer album from their two classic 1970s works.

It was with great anxiety, trepidation and anticipation that I approached their brand new recording, some 34 years later (not counting 1980’s Moving project). Most reunion albums are disasters, perhaps pointing out that the band in question may have not ever understood why their previous works are held in high esteem. Occasionally a band will reform, like fellow countrymen Magma, and pick up right where they left off and wow audiences as they did in the past. With the original logo intact, and montage cover art, there were some propitious signs to hold out hope. When I heard the loud, aggressive and massively fuzzy bass to start the title track, I was certain that MGP did truly understand their place in history. But my excitement was quickly quelled with the brassy-patch digital keyboard that followed, suggesting this was going to be another modern instrumental rock album that has as much in common with smooth jazz as it does with old school prog (the obscure French 90s band Alambic comes to mind here). And, more or less, that’s about right. “Removing” is much more rock based than the jazzy Canterbury inspired group of yore. The drumming is very straight forward and there’s none of the quirky charm from before. As a plus, the fuzz bass continues throughout, the guitar playing is generally excellent and the violin is a very welcome addition. With one exception, “Removing” is split between two styles: 1) Harder rocking tracks and 2) Light rock-jazz instrumentals with soprano sax in the lead.  Both styles feature some sparse, unobtrusive vocals. Songs such as ‘Like a Flower’, ‘Comme Avant’, ‘Nico’ and closer ‘Theo’ represent the former while ‘Enigme’, ‘Bellidor’ and ‘Waiting For the Rain’ are of the latter. The one track that moves the ball forward in a positive way is ‘Breakdown’, which represents both something new (for MGP), challenging and satisfying, with a slight nod to past glories. So a mixed bag, that neither completely disappoints or rewards. It’s a relevant release and, for reunion albums, comes in maybe a notch below Trettioariga Kriget’s “Elden Av Ar”. It does take awhile for a group to gel and regain that old magic (even for a band like Magma this was the case), so hopefully they’ll hold it together a bit longer and create some brilliance as they once had done. (sigh... it does not appear that transpired).

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Musea

Moogg - Le Ore I Giorni gli Anni. 2011 Italy

There isn't much of a Canterbury tradition in Italy, which should make sense given that the genre is entirely an English invention. Even still, one can find plenty of examples in nearby France or The Netherlands. Sure, I've heard bands such as Picchio dal Pozzo mentioned in this context. But that band is really their own entity, if we're entirely honest here. Moogg, on the other hand, draws directly from the deep well that produced Caravan, National Health, mid 70s Camel, and Hatfield & the North. The fat sounds as generated by the Fender Rhodes, Moog synthesizer (duh), fuzz guitar and bass leave no doubt where the music is coming from. Add to that a vocalist who has a soft affected tone like Richard Sinclair, but sings in Italian, and a strong melodic sense - well there's just no other conclusion to make. Moogg are the best new band on Mellow in many years. If you love the Canterbury sound as much as I do, then this will be one of the highlights of your 2010 decade collection.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Mellow

Many Bright Things - Many Bright Friends. 2005 USA

For my tastes, Many Bright Things' best work is Many Bright Friends, which features [i]the best[/i] cover version of Paul Butterfield Blues Band's 1966 classic 'East West'. All modern bands should revisit this Indo-blues classic on how to lay down a groove and then improvise on top. Guest Nick Salomon (Bevis Frond) lays the studio to waste, only to be immediately followed by Al Simones' incendiary and violent solo, that concludes one of the greatest one-two punches I've ever had the pleasure to hear. The other tracks on the album unfortunately don't stack up, but the 21 minute 'East West' more than makes up for any shortcomings.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Wild Places
LP: 2005 Gates of Dawn / Wild Places

Gosta Berlings Saga - Tid Är Ljud. 2006 Sweden

Gösta Berlings Saga could be considered the perfect modern Swedish progressive rock band. They look inward towards their own country for m...