Lord Flimnap - Point of View. 1989 Israel

Had someone slipped me a cassette of this album, labeled it "unknown prog band 1982 UK", I would have believed it. Well the cassette part is true, but 7 years later - and from the unlikely country of Israel. This is square-on-of-the-era amateurish New Wave of British Progressive rock. It has the thuddy production, the meandering-don't-make-sense compositions, the semi-theatrical vocals, and the Rush like guitar breaks. Lord Flimnap could very well have been the predecessor/followup to groups like Trilogy or Tamarisk.

As these albums tend to be, it starts off unconvincingly, and I was struggling to buy into the concept. Though I was most intrigued by some of the odd breaks on opener 'The Wilderness' (aptly named I might add). After the somewhat mundane 'Trapped in the Marsh', the album really draws you in on 'Prodigy'. By the 10+ minute epic 'Out of My Way' (yet another well named song), the album is firing on all cylinders. It's completely unpredictable, but filled with great ideas, and by this time the ears have adjusted to the production. I love albums like this from the 80s, when everyone was making it up as they were going along, presuming (probably) few would hear it anyway. If you're a fan of the freewheeling 1980-1983 NWOBPR cassette scene, you'll want to obtain this one.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Earsay

The original was an obscure cassette that is not even listed on Discogs as I write this. A year later, the somewhat chintzy, but well-distributed German label World Wide Records picked it up for CD release. The Earsay issue is the first domestic release. Special thanks goes to Gal for the gift!

Hinn Islenski Thursaflokkur - Pursabit. 1979 Iceland

Hinn íslenski þursaflokkur, anglicized to Hinn Islenski Thursaflokkur, and often times referred to simply as Thursaflokkur, were one of Iceland's most interesting progressive rock bands. On Pursabit (Þursabit), the music could be characterized as an Icelandic Gryphon, reaching back to an historical period of music, and bringing it forward to the 1970s. One will also hear the zany sounds of Samla Mammas Manna, the melodic tones of Focus, as well as some typical European jazz fusion. This one takes a bit to get going, as it dabbles more in folkloric realms at the beginning. The meat of the album starts on track 5 'Æri-Tobbi' and concludes on track 9 'Sjö Sinnum', before closing as it began. This album is a borderline 3.5/4.0 (Gnosis 10/11), but I'm boosting it primarily due to the unique content it displays. There really wasn't any other band like Hinn Islenski Thursaflokkur.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Steinar

I was expecting this CD to be quite rare nowadays, but it turns out to have been reissued two more times on CD. I first thought the Discogs entry for the Steinar CD to be a mistake, since it was from 1998, but the scans clearly show it to be a later press (I need to add the original CD now!). In 2009 another Icelandic pressing showed up.

Sensitiva Immagine ‎- E Tutto Cominciò Così... 1978 Italy

Sensitiva Immagine arrived during the real barren years of Italian prog. We talk about this phenomena briefly here Italian prog from 1987 and beyond.  The latest LP reissue suggests a date of 1978, but it could just be propagating bad data (1979 or 1980 is more likely). In any case, Sensitiva Immagine was an oasis in a desert, looking towards none other than classic Genesis for inspiration. At this time in Italy, the only band I can think of doing similar was Emphasis, who had half an album with La Statale 17. But they were from the far north bordering Austria, and sang in English. Sensitiva Immagine does it the right way, and sings in the native tongue, which of course then adds in the classic early 70s Italian prog sound as well, like Premiata Forneria Marconi for example. In some ways, Sensitiva Immagine could be considered ahead of their time, predicting the rise of the neo Italian prog movement by at least 8 years. One of only a handful of classic Italian prog albums from 1978 to 1987 you'll find. Don't overlook this one.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Melos (Japan)

The CD comes in a fine die-cut digi-pak. A few years later, the CD was issued domestically in Italy on the now-also-hard-to-find Kaliphonia label. So finding this one on CD will present a challenge (and a bit of extra expense). I bought mine at the time of release. There is a 2015 LP reissue, which is what I was referencing above (the liner notes in Italian are on display in Discogs).

Skin Alley - Two Quid Deal? 1972 England

For years I passed over this one in the bins. The US Stax copy was a regular buck bin special, and with that ridiculous cartoon rat and cheese cover, it never occurred to me this would be anything worth pursuing. Years later I discovered their brilliant debut and very good followup, but maintained (for no good reason really) that this must have been their sellout album.

And I was right. Except.... Skin Alley were no good at it! You can tell this album is pandering to the early 70s US Billboard charts. You can hear popular bands at the time like Rare Earth in these grooves. But even so, they cannot seem to stop themselves from a full helping of a mid song progressive rock break. It's in their DNA. So while the first 3 tracks all start out with a bit of concern, it doesn't take long for the band to find their sea legs, and create music similar to their debut, especially on 'Bad Words & Evil People'. I wasn't too keen on 'Graveyard Shuffle' nor 'So Glad', but 'A Final Coat' takes us back to the opening trio of tracks. And 'The Demagogue' is similar. For my tastes the best track is the instrumental 'Skin Valley Serenada' that seems to be the model blueprint for a band like Rousseau for example. A gorgeous flute melody over a happening jazzy rhythm pattern makes this one special. In my opinion, Two Quid Deal surpasses To Pagham and Beyond in quality. Yes, that surprised me too.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Strange Days (Japan)

The above comes in a fine mini-LP. I guess because the album was long considered a dollar bin special, the album was poorly served in the reissue market. The bare bones cheap German Line version came out in 1989, and that's all there was until this expensive Japanese CD hit the market (that I just recently got a good deal on, hence my first time to hear the album!). As such bootlegs proliferated for many years until Esoteric finally reissued the album properly in 2011.

Beggars Opera - Waters of Change. 1971 Scotland

Scotland's Beggars Opera's second effort is one of the more overlooked albums from the rich progressive rock landscape of 1971. The key track here is 'I've No Idea', as in I've no idea why it's taken me 22 years to revisit this album. And I've no idea why I didn't recognize its brilliance until last night. While the band may have toned down their sound from Act One, they raised their game in the songwriting department. Waters of Change represents that wonderful 1971 UK progressive rock sound as also found in bands as diverse as Cressida, Gracious, Nektar, and Uriah Heep. They have quite a large ensemble, including a full time mellotron player, who happens to be female and is strongly involved in the songwriting. This gives a unique slant on the otherwise testosterone driven genre, especially back in those days. Alan Park's organ, though, wins the day, as he did on Act One. Outside of the interludes, including the somewhat silly 'Silver Peacock Intro', all the songs here are quite involved, well thought out, highly melodic, and great for listening over and over.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Vertigo (Germany)
CD: 1995 Repertoire (Germany)

The LP comes in a fine gatefold. My copy is on the German "spaceship" label, and could almost be considered "common". True original UK Vertigo Swirls still hold value though. The CD comes with unique liner notes written by Chris Welch (who incidentally I saw on the tele last night as one of the participants on a show highlighting the making of Deep Purple's Machine Head).

Titan ‎- A Raining Sun Of Light & Love, For You & You & You... 2007 USA

I remember being tipped to this band back when it first came out 11 years ago. I was as skeptical as ever. A Brooklyn based "stoner" band allegedly playing in the Krautrock style. Sorry, heard that one before fellas. And what one would usually get in that scenario is bonehead chords of fuzz, a on-his-6th whiskey vocalist, 4/4 pounding drums, and hopefully some cartoon art of dragsters, pinball machines, and disproportionate top heavy females with lots of tattoos. Yea, we're hipsters from Brooklyn! Nya-nya. In any case, enough recs came my way that I reluctantly pulled the trigger...

...And I became a Brooklyn stoner hipster on the spot.

After a few listens in 2007, I filed it away with a high grade, and haven't revisited since. Here we are, and I somewhat dreaded it. I probably was just in the mood for it or something like that. Tastes change and evolve over the years right?

I like it even better now. If for nothing else on the album, it's hard to imagine anyone who is into the early 70s proto prog sound not to be absolutely floored by 'Annals of the Former World'. It is absolute perfection in every sense of the word. It constantly changes, has haunting vocals, is heavy as all get out, has some absolutely incredible Hammond organ, is trippy in the best Krautrock style, and the guitar solos are sublime. Maybe the best track I've ever heard from modern times that encapsulates all that was great about 1971. The closest comparison to my ears is Nektar's Journey to the Centre of the Eye... sped up and then cranked to 11.

'Hashishin Ohel' is largely a continuation of the above, with a bit of a noisy ending, but overall is brilliant in its own right. 'Obelisk Orbit Overdrive' is a bit more tedious, but certainly not a poor track, just in comparison with what came before it, one would have hoped for a bit more clarity and editing.

The album ends in a very interesting fashion, with 'Aufruf der Pilz'. As its title hints at, this is a pure play Krautrock attempt. Now I would imagine the gut reaction here, especially for hipsters, is to go right for the Neu! comparison. I don't think so. Actually to me it sounds like the Ashra power trio years of 1979 to 1980 - especially on the archival tapes where the guitars are decidedly more psychedelic. An excellent rendition and very melodic to boot.

These guys were plugged in perfectly at the time. I have two others in the collection from them (before and after), but I don't recall those being quite at this level. And then they sadly disappeared.

As I update this post, the album is practically a commodity here in the States. You can obtain a new CD for under $4, and the LP for under $10. That's crazy. One day I can't imagine that will hold true. When that will be, who knows? Whatever the case, one can not go wrong at that price in trying this one out! It costs less than a hamburger.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Tee Pee

The CD comes in a fine digi-pak.

Pseudo Buddha ‎- 3 Months In Fat City! - Hooka-Jooka Vol. IV. 2002 USA

I had been impressed by San Antonio based Pseudo Buddha's contribution to the Fluorescent Tunnelvision space rock anthology. A lot of bands today exist to create loose, jamming, psychedelic music and Pseudo Buddha are one of the best. Four long tracks were culled from even longer jams (on 4 different dates) and spliced together for a truly mind blowing cosmic freakout. Not a lot of wasted notes, which is truly remarkable. Maybe it's in the editing, and I'm all for a good editing - especially when it comes to improvisational music (if only more bands took a page from this playbook). Imagine Agitation Free on Second jamming with Amon Duul II on Yeti. Many sounds are deployed - including exotic stringed instruments, winds, hand percussion, and analog electronics. This album captures the true spirit of Krautrock.

Personal collection
CD: 2002 Dogfingers

Maquina - Why? 1970 Spain

Maquina represent the earliest forays into psychedelic music for Spain, similar to fellow countrymen Cerebrum. Coming from Barcelona, their Catalan roots look north to France for inspiration, and one can hear snippets of Les Goths, Omega Plus, Dickens, even the Chico Magnetic Band. The album opens with its gem 'I Believe', a beautiful piano led piece, with a gorgeous melody and some wicked fuzz. The 2 part, 25 minute title track is a loose jam for the most part, and the length takes quite a bit out of its bite. Had this been consolidated into 10 minutes, it would have been a marvel. Again, it's hard to look past the psychedelic guitar here, as he's definitely in "fire" mode most of the time. It's a short album, and even worse, it's short on ideas. On the plus side, when it does fire on all cylinders, the album is sublime. And for the historical record, that is 1970 Spain, it's quite an extraordinary accomplishment.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 PDI

This was the first CD to market, and I nailed it upon release. There are two bonus tracks from a 1969 single (not 100% sure of that - one song seems like a live version of that single). Originals were mythical in stature in the late 80s and early 90s. Turns out there were no less than 6 original pressings going through 1971, so the album isn't quite as rare as was presumed back then.

Ashra - Belle Alliance / Belle Alliance Plus (archival). 1980 Germany

Belle Alliance is the second and final album by the trio of Gottsching, Ulbrich, and Grosskopf. There are many similarities to their previous effort Correlations, though there are some exceptions to be noted. 'Screamer' is very much rooted in the New Wave 80s sound, but with some fine psychedelic guitar soloing providing a great contrast of styles. 'Boomerang' tries for a reggae sound, with mixed results, but once again the guitar saves the day. 'Aerogen' gives one an idea of what happens when sequencer based electronic meets a power trio. 'Sausalito' could also be considered an instrumental progressive rock track, similar to maybe fellow countrymen Rousseau. 'Code Blue' goes deep into electronic space, not that dissimilar to Klaus Schulze's late 70s works. 'Mistral' takes us back to the glorious spacey electronics + guitar of the Blackouts album, and is just gorgeous. Overall an excellent, and diverse, album from veterans who were still exploring music in an exciting way. Unfortunately this album concluded the Virgin era for Ashra, as well as the trio itself.

Reviewing the second half separately, since it includes an extra disc of entirely new material. This would be the "Plus" part. There are only 3 tracks here, of which two make up the majority. 'Flying Turtles' is 11:25, whereas Voices of Heddernheim comes in at a whopping 24:21 ('Urscreamer' is 2:38 for reference). So basically what we have here is the jamming sessions that made up Belle Alliance - though it must be said both of these tracks are entirely unique. With a certain amount of editing, these 2 would have made a splendid addition to the original LP. Perhaps to be expected, the guitar is more psychedelic here, recalling Gottsching's and Ulbrich's Krautrock past. Personally speaking, I wouldn't want to own this album on CD without this extra disc, which was first introduced on Gottsching's own label in 2008.

Personal collection
LP: 1980 Virgin
CD: 2008 Arcangelo (Japan) as Belle Alliance Plus

The gatefold mini-LP styled CD is a 2 disc set that includes a full album's worth of material recorded from the same session. Inside the gatefold are photos of all 3 in the studio while recording. I first picked up the LP in the mid 1980s in my initial discovery of Ashra.

Il Bacio della Medusa - Deus Lo Volt. 2012 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa returns with their 3rd opus, an album that is likely to please fans of classic early 1970s Italian progressive rock – and perhaps only to them. Allow me a chance to further clarify: If band names such as Delirium, Cervello, and Odissea send a chill up your spine, then Deus Lo Volt will be considered a must purchase. Otherwise, you may want to do a bit more research and get back to us. There is some Italian progressive rock that is easy to digest on initial listening (PFM, Le Orme, Acqua Fragile…) – and then there’s the deep-dive stuff – albums that require hours of listening to a preferred style and still love it despite the quirks. In other words, you have to be “all in” to appreciate an album such as this. Good, bad, or indifferent, I myself would have to be considered “all in”, so I think it’s a wonderful piece overall. But this is not the first album I’d pull from my collection for a co-worker looking to hear a few sounds from my collection. They’d look at me as if I’d just arrived from another universe (well, they do anyway, but let’s not go there…). Deus Lo Volt is a concept album about Pope Urbano II, the Papal overlord of none other than the First Crusade. If there was ever a topic that is likely to draw a gleeful smile from a shadowy progressive rock fan, well then... this has got to take the cake! What the lyrics interpret of his life and ambition is for Italian speakers only, and I could care a less really. I’m here for the music and the vocal representation. On this latter point, the male vocals here are of the 70s gruff variety similar to the aforementioned bands in sentence number #2.  Of course there’s the fluttering flute provided by no less than a shapely and beautiful long haired lass. All the other requisite sounds and themes are in place: Majestic keyboards, hard rocking guitars, and a rhythm section that can’t stand to stay on the same meter for more than 20 seconds. A couple of somewhat disappointing observations: The title track, for the first 5 minutes at least, sounds more like Iron Maiden on their debut than Italian prog rock. And while I love Maiden as much as the next person, I do feel it’s a bit incongruous here. Though the final two minutes of said track show off their Italo-prog cred – add flute - and go all Osanna on us. And then finally we get to the length of the disc. Now I know lots of folks feel that “filling the disc” with 80 minutes of music is tiresome, and while I may not completely agree, I do understand the point. But Deus Lo Vult is only 34 minutes long. Certainly another 10 or 15 minutes could have been added to fill out a normal LP length? We’re in Dalton territory here, right? On the plus side, the CD comes in a wonderful hardbound book cover, with an interesting lyric libretto with photos. I’m really enjoying this musically and aesthetically. But surely, oh surely, there  had to be another 10 good minutes sitting on the cutting room floor?

Personal collection
CD: 2012 private

As noted above, the CD is housed in a hardbound book cover with a libretto.

Il Bacio della Medusa - Discesa Agl'inferi D'un Giovane Amante. 2008 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa is back with their sophomore effort Discesa Agl'inferi D'un Giovane Amante. Just rolls off the tongue doesn't it? Well if there was any doubt where Il Bacio della Medusa's heart was after the debut, then those were put to rest for the opening here. With the addition of violin, Il Bacio della Medusa declares that they are indeed a progressive rock band, and they're here to stay. Simone Cecchini's vocals have definitely improved, and you can tell he's studied the early 70s masters intently (and even more so on their 3rd album). Love the Pholas Dactylus styled psychotic narration. His performance is definitely one of the highlights of the disc. Meanwhile Diego Petrini gives the old fashioned piano more air time, which is always welcome here at UMR. Not to mention plenty of old school organ. Eva Morelli's staccato flute is layered on the constantly changing rhythms, and guitarist Brozetti still has a bit too much pig squeal in his guitar, but he can lay off when appropriate. For those who miss the glory days of Osanna, you could do worse than pick this album up on your next order.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Black Widow

Il Bacio della Medusa - s/t. 2004 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa may have entered the scene quietly, but that album cover certainly is striking. Like a cross between Nuova Idea's Clowns and Manilla Road's The Courts of Chaos, one might imagine this to be some wacky prog metal take on the classic Italian 70s scene. Fortunately it is not and is much more reverent to the Italian progressive rock masters than heavy metal. Still, this is definitely their heaviest album, and also their most modern sounding. It could pass for sophisticated hard rock as much as symphonic progressive. In that way, Il Bacio della Medusa started their career much in the same way as Deus Ex Machina. Hey, you gotta start somewhere. And in 2004, there was a lull in the retro progressive movement, and it seemed every band coming out of Italy were either prog metal nuts, or Dutch styled neo progressive bands singing in English, neither of which interested me much anymore. So here comes Il Bacio della Medusa with their flutes, psychotic Italian vocals, crazy dynamics, even an accordion, plus more ideas than they could control at that time. In retrospect, it's an excellent album, where perhaps the only fault was the aforementioned crunchy guitars, which belied their overall approach.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Black Widow

In Spe - s/t. 1983 Estonia

Interesting that I've recently listened to - and reviewed - both Tako's second album and Solaris' debut, because In Spe sounds like a direct cross between the two. So once again we have a symphonic fusion album from communist era Eastern Europe. The songwriting here is splendid, as is the execution. Melodies are first and foremost, with some hair raising electric guitar and synthesizer breaks, of the kind you get when listening to classic early 70s Genesis or Camel. Wonderful flute as well. The majority of the album is instrumental, save 'Antidolorosum'. On this latter track I was reminded of the Estonian trailblazing group Mess. In other parts I do hear a certain classical symphonic background as one would hear on Horizont's Summer in Town for example. Even though Glasnost had yet to happen, the ice was thawing on the fringes of the empire, and In Spe was torching it away from the underground. One of the best albums of its type. Mandatory.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Eesti Raadio

The CD comes in a very fine and sturdy 3 panel digi-pak. If on a budget, the original LP will prove far cheaper, as the CD is long gone from the marketplace. As is always the case with Eastern European albums from the 70s and 80s, the CD will sound better than the cheaply made LPs. But the recording is impeccable as expected.

Mahamudra - s/t. 2005 Portugal

Mahamudra* are an obscure 5 piece band from Portugal, that is unknown even in underground progressive rock circles. Lead by Bruno Fernandes on "efeitos sintetizador", with a traditional 4 piece band (guitars-keys-bass-drums) behind him. The music balances traditional jamming instrumental space rock with a raw Krautrock edge. The band is clearly going for an early 70s sound, though a dedicated listen will prove these are newer instruments trying to sound old. Nonetheless they do a fine job at what they are attempting to do. Definitely one to seek out if the aforementioned genres appeal to you.

*You will find a few websites that have them confused with a Psytrance act from Israel. Told you they were obscure...

Personal collection
CD: 2005 private

Il Balletto di Bronzo - Ys. 1972 Italy

Going into 1988, I knew very little about Italian progressive rock. Nothing more than English language releases by “PFM” and “Banco”, and not having any idea those appellations were abbreviated. Even though I had become well versed in Krautrock, French underground electronic, Dutch, and even some Scandinavian prog - in addition to the usual English (and neo prog) suspects - Italy had just evaded me at that time. I had seen some of the country’s albums for sale in Goldmine, but had no idea what they were – beyond “progressive rock”.

In January of that landmark year, I had just graduated from college with my engineering degree and was… unemployed. Naturally the stock market had to crash in late 1987, and “entry level” job opportunities were very slim. Leave it to Ashratom to pick the perfect time to graduate. In any case, I still had a few dollars left over from summer jobs past, and with nothing else better to do (other than the odd interview) – I went off to seek out records. Of course I did. In one store I received a tip that up in Denton (about 40 minutes north of where I lived) they had some “real cool looking Euro stuff”. Zooming out of the store like a cartoon, I raced up there to spend the remainder of the day. I had brought very little cash with me, but fortunately most of the items were in the $3 and $4 range (some good stuff too). By the end of the day I was exhausted at looking at mostly common crap, when I got to the Y’s. And there a spine looked at me (yes, making it that much more difficult – everything was stocked like a collection). Il Balletto di Bronzo it said. Hmm… must be misplaced. I pulled it out. I felt like an archeologist who just spent a day on a dig, and I had just unearthed some unknown treasure. There was a problem though. This one was $8. EIGHT BUCKS? Oh shoot, if I bought this, I wouldn’t be able to eat, and I was starving to death at this point. And who are these crazy guys in the nutty getups, with this libretto booklet in Italian. It probably blows, and is some lame classic pop album. I’d been burned already plenty of times in the past in my collecting career. I stood there like a dummy for 15 minutes debating this (hard to imagine this today, eh?). In the end I did the logical thing and decided to… buy the album! I still don’t know what compelled me to do this. It was like a magnet.

I arrived home later that night, and fortunately mom had some leftovers so I wouldn’t keel over and die. After dinner, I beelined to my room, and plopped Ys on the turntable, dreading that my decision was a total bonehead move.

Whoa. What’s this? Very haunting voices. Maybe it’s an experimental record then. That’s OK too I guess. Well hey that organ and synthesizer sure do sound nice - and those vocals in Italian. Those vocals! Maybe this is something? And then, synthesizers go awry, and out blasts this acidic guitar and staccato drum rolls. I about passed out. This is what I’ve been seeking! And at the 6 minute mark, the rhythm section goes completely cockeyed with the Hammond and piano going nuts, with an added on frantic psychedelic guitar solo – followed by this most luscious mellotron and mournful vocals - which by then you practically had to wheel me out of the room. At that moment, I felt like I’d heard the perfect album.

It must be said that Ys definitely front loads the gadgetry, but the rest of the album is no slouch. It’s much more atmospheric, and heavy, almost doom metalish. The album is so thick and foreboding, but not without many moments of kinetic pacing. Imagine an early 70s Candlemass fronting Tarkus-era ELP, while singing in Italian at the fun house carnival, with Hammond, Moog, and Mellotron in the lead. Yea. You’ll see a lot of guys call this one “overrated”. And I attest that to the fact it really isn’t the romantic and classical Italian prog rock of PFM, Banco, Le Orme, Osanna, and the like. It’s something entirely different. Perhaps the bridge to Biglietto per L’Inferno and Raccomandata Ricevuta Ritorno – other completely insane Italian progressive rock albums that have a darker edge to them. For me, it’s a Gnosis 15 (the top tier of RYM 5 star releases) and it will likely always be a Top 15 to 20 album. Perhaps the backstory plays a role in that – but I think if most people are honest, it usually does in one’s personal subjective assessment of favorite music.

But back to January 1988, I still didn’t truly understand what I had – never heard of the band/album nor knew anyone who did. I had to call a couple of record dealers, who finally confirmed what it was, and what it was a part of – namely Italian progressive rock of the early 70s. And it was rare. As luck would have it, another obscure Dallas store had some unsold (re)sealed Italian prog albums, and I bought every one of them (they were all under $10) – while still unemployed mind you. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but I was possessed. And it all started with Il Balletto di Bronzo.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Polydor
CD: 2001 Polydor (Japan)

I still own the exact album that I found that day. It was (and is) in mint condition. Amazing really. In addition to being a launching pad for my discovery of Italian progressive rock, Ys is also responsible for me getting into Japanese mini-LP’s. Initially I resisted the idea, since I already had many of them in jewel cases. But I was offered Ys for cheap in 2002, and after obtaining it, I was hooked. A decision I do not regret, despite enduring tiresome arguments to the contrary, and I love my mini-LP collection too!

Solaris - Marsbéli Krónikák. 1984 Hungary

If you ask a hardcore progressive rock fan what the worst decade of music was, "The 80s" is the automated response. And while I'll stand by that same position, a deep dive into the decade gives us another perspective. 1980 was in reality an extension of the 70s artistically speaking. 1981 to 1983 held plenty of wonderful privately released progressive rock gems primarily from France, Scandinavia, USA, and Germany. Not to mention the promise the original New Wave of British Progressive Rock once projected. And then from 1987 onward, we experienced the renaissance that continues to this day. But the real barren years did exist in the middle - 1984 to 1986 was a graveyard for traditional progressive rock. Fans of fringe areas - like avant prog - will counter that it may have been the golden age as bands like Univers Zero and Present were at their peak. And of course other genres, like heavy metal and various forms of electronic, were also experiencing new high water marks. But if you wanted 70's styled symphonic prog, well it was going to be tough sledding for sure.

I bring this point up in a Solaris review, because Marsbeli Kronikak is the gem in the rough - the very best symphonic prog album in that 3 year time frame. Isolated in still Communist Hungary may have played a role in that - not to mention a relatively more lenient regime in regards to the arts than other Iron Curtain countries at the time.

Recently I had reviewed Tako's second album, and talked about symphonic fusion - a genre that isn't recognized today, but was frequently referred to 25 years ago and beyond. And that's exactly where you'll find the music of Solaris. The primary difference here is the copious use of sequencer based electronics that lay the bedrock for the symphonic progressive music on top. Attila Kollar's flute is magnificent as ever,and he often drives the instantly-recognizable Solaris style melodies. Istvan Cziglan's hard edged guitar, and Robert Erdesz's fine synthesizer work round out the leads.

For us prog fans back in the mid 80's who were desperate for quality 70s styled progressive rock, Solaris was a godsend. In retrospect some 35 years later - they still are.

Personal collection
LP: 1984 Start
CD: 1995 Gong

The CD has 2 bonus tracks, that sound a bit more modern than the album proper.

Fantasy - Paint a Picture. 1973 England

My experience with Fantasy is very similar to that of Spring, and my review there covers much of those thoughts. In summary, Paint a Picture is one of those albums that was hyped pretty heavily in the rare LP catalogs of the late 80s and early 90s, with screaming headlines about how progressive it was, with mellotrons everywhere. And I mean look at that cover! 1973 England! My mind went wild expecting a crazy full blown progressive rock opus. Oh, this is going to be magnificent. I picked up the first Second Battle LP as soon as it became available (and they weren't cheap even then), and... HUH?

Well as you can see by my rating, I've reconciled with Fantasy. Again it was all about expectation setting. I was looking for something along the lines of Yes' Close to the Edge, and what I got was a typical early 70s UK album as found on the Dawn label for example. A little Jonesy, Fruupp, Quicksand, etc... Except I didn't know much about those bands back then, and it's a different kind of progressive rock than what I understood the term to mean at the time.

In effect Paint a Picture is all about the individual songs themselves. None of them go too far astray from their original premise, excepting perhaps 'Circus', the one track that did resonate with me originally. Each of these songs are well written, with plenty of great guitar and keyboards (little Mellotron honestly),and are great for relistenability (trademark pending). It's the type of album one wishes had been more popular with FM radio, rather than the direction they ultimately headed in. For 1973, it's decidedly quaint and a bit out of touch. As others have mentioned, it really does sound like an album from 1970, with a more late 60s psychedelic era approach to composition, verse the full blown concepts of 1973. A very fine album once you understand what it contains.

Personal collection
LP: 1990 Second Battle (Germany)
CD: 2001 Polydor (Japan)

As noted above, the cover is a beautiful gatefold. Originals are very expensive, and I'm fine with the reissue here. The CD comes in a mini-LP format and replicates the original to the finest detail. Mine is part of the Cressida Asylum box set, as packaged by Disk Union in Japan

Quella Vecchia Locanda - s/t. 1972 Italy

If there's an album that defines the Italian progressive rock movement of the early 1970s, then my selection would be Quella Vecchia Locanda's debut. Not the best album the scene has to offer, but the most representative. This one has it all - and then some. The gatefold cover alone is perfect. Like finding yourself perched atop an abandoned Medieval hill town. What did this old inn once house? What stories does it hold within the remaining beams and gnarled branches? It's just this inquisitiveness that captured my young mind's imagination when first deep diving into this once unknown genre some 30 years ago.

For the music, you get the complete palette. The keyboards are diverse - Mini-Moog, Hammond organ, and piano. The guitars are electric and acoustic, and rock hard when necessary with a decidedly heavy tone. The rhythm section appears well trained in the arts. The vocals are histrionic, but on point. And best of all, you not only get one extra key period instrument, but two! Rare is the album where both flute and violin share the limelight together. The dynamics are what is to be expected - diverse and unpredictable. If you're already defiantly not a fan of the genre, QVL will not change that opinion. If you're a member though, Quella Vecchia Locanda will not disappoint in the slightest. Table stakes for any Italian prog collection honestly.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Help!
LP: 1989 Edison (Japan)
CD: 2003 BMG (Japan)

Here's where I'd love to tell you a story about how I found the original LP while rummaging around a Goodwill in the 1980s. But alas not in this case. In fact, it was a recent acquisition via a major trade with a well known German dealer. The original and Japanese LPs (and mini LP's) are all gatefolds that are "top loaded". My first copy was the 1990 Italian reissue, and it's a standard gatefold. The colors on the Italian reissue are also much darker than the original.

Alfonso Lovo - La Gigantona. 1976 Nicaragua (archival)

Hailing from Nicaragua, Alfonso Lovo has quite a story to tell. In 1971, on the way back home from college in the US, his flight was hijacked. Being a member of the privileged class, specifically the son of the Minister of Agriculture, he became the terrorist's primary target. So when a defiant Costa Rican president comes to their diverted landing place - brandishing an automatic weapon no less - the situation escalated and they shot Lovo.

Fortunately he survived the incident, but not without permanent damage. He attempted to make it work in Nicaragua, but the situation continued to deteriorate, and he had to smuggle himself and his family across to Honduras, and eventually they finally settled in Miami. With a tape reel of La Gigantona in hand. Recorded in 1976, but with no place to press and release, it appeared the album would be lost forever. Until the enterprising Numero Group label shows up in 2012 and releases it on both LP and CD, some 35 years after the fact.

The backdrop is more exciting than the music proper, but nonetheless the album achieved immediate cult status upon release. It's easy to see why, given the eclectic nature of the recording. There's a wide array of sounds to be found on La Gigantona, including Andean folk music, indigenous percussion, salsa, experimental, jazz - and psychedelic hard rock. It's this latter element that drew me to the album in the first place, but it's somewhat limited. But tracks like 'La Bomba de Neutron' with its crazy echoed voice, and the piercing fuzz of 'Firebird Feathers', do make the album a worthy endeavor for underground prog/psych heads. Overall, it sounds more like a recording from the hijacking year of 1971, given its raw emotion and sound, verse the expected fusion of 1976. And that's a good thing.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Numero Group (USA)

Jewel case housed in a slipcase. Copious liner notes that go into great detail regarding what I summarized above.

Nico, Gianni, Frank, Maurizio (New Trolls) - Canti D'Innocenza Canti D'Esperienza. 1973 Italy

The big ? on the front cover has many different meanings, but there is no doubt that at this time the New Trolls were at a crossroads when it came to musical direction. Were they a hard rock band? Prog? Pop? Fusion? Searching for a Land tried everything whereas UT focused more on progressive hard rock, and is arguably their finest work. While Canti D'Innocenza, Canti D'Esperienza is nowadays referred to as Ibis version 0.5, the truth is they were the New Trolls in disguise. This particular album picks up where UT left off, and plays to their hard rock side with plenty of theme and meter changes to demonstrate their progressive pedigree. This isn't the Yes worship of Ibis' Sun Supreme. There's some acoustic interludes, and plenty of high pitched vocal wailing in Italian, all trademarks of the genre. I also hear a bit of a psychedelic throwback sound, perhaps like Garybaldi's Nuda. Really an excellent album that I think carries the New Trolls moniker baggage despite their attempts to disassociate. Best to approach this album as its own thing, and you'll walk away more impressed.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Arcangelo (Japan)

This CD replicates the original gatefold textured LP with photo pages.

Franco Falsini - Cold Nose. 1975 Italy

Franco Falsini's only solo album takes in one part Manuel Gottsching, one part Richard Pinhas, and 3 parts of the outer galaxy he apparently emigrated from. Analog wedgy electronics, and thick oozing heavy guitar shards define the sound palette, whereas the melodies are pulled from his own Sensations' Fix cookbook - you'll hear plenty of snippets from Fragments of Light and Portable Madness within. I would love to see the movie that was inside of Falsini's mind during this recording. Essential head space music.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Polydor
CD: 2010 Universal (as part of the 6 CD box set Progressive Italia Gli Anni '70 Vol. 6)

Like most of Sensations' Fix albums, Cold Nose has been poorly served in the CD reissue market.

Tako - U Vreci za Spavanje. 1980 Serbia

Tako's second album, christened with the of-the-moment name In the Sleeping Bag, is an almost perfect example of one of my personal favorite styles of progressive rock. That of what we used to call symphonic fusion. Quite simply instrumental progressive rock, but heavy on melody and tricky compositions - and no showboating whatsoever. It's a sound the Dutch perfected in the mid 70s, and was later adapted heavily in the late 70s and early 80s in France, Japan, and points unknown - like Serbia for example. Each individual track can be appreciated entirely on its own, without having to worry about its sequence within the album. The guitarist plays in a decidedly rough manner, a type of psychedelic hard rock sound. The keyboards are vintage 1980, which is a sound one expects to hear for the style. The fact that Tako keeps the album interesting throughout each minute is a testament to how strong they were as a functioning unit. The bonus tracks are just as enchanting as the album itself.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Record Runner (Brazil)

I first heard this album via the Kalemegdan LP reissue. The German label is famous for unearthing and reissuing the best from the former Yugoslavia - and they were responsible for the two bonus tracks found here. Oddly the album was only reissued on CD in Brazil, by the excellent Record Runner label. They licensed the recording directly from Kalemegdan. Definitely recommend either reissue, for the bonus cuts, and the superior sound to the original Eastern European LP.

Chaos Code - A Tapestry of Afterthoughts. 1999 USA

Baltimore based Chaos Code's debut is a most intriguing work. It's somewhat inconsistent, and the album does sound like various recordings - even though it appears the personnel remained the same throughout. Very much in line with other late 90s and early 00's prog rock, the album walks the tightrope between retro 70s and more contemporary modern prog. Opener 'The Cave' is a perfect example, coming across as "very American" with radio snippets and social commentary (a bit like The Muffins in that way). The music always seems on the brink of something fantastic, only to see 8 and a half minutes slip away without notice. 'Heights of Time' is Chaos Code clearly trying for an Echolyn type sound - once again pointing to their own era. So at the point where it seems the album is inessential, out comes 'Antiodote to Entropy', which channels early Genesis at its finest. 'A Silent Scream' does similar, whereas closer 'The Devil's Trombone' demonstrates that Chaos Code could have been a larger name in the retro prog sweepstakes, doing a fine rendition of the type of sound the Scandinavians are more famous for (Anglagard, Wobbler, et al..). 'Gravy Fries' is a fun instrumental diversion but not going to move the needle. So for me, the track that was going to determine whether or not this would be a 3.5 or 4 star album is 'Days of Reflection'. And I fear to say there's just not enough meat on the bone. There's a 5 minute track hiding in a 10 minute blanket here, and that's too much downtime. Still, it's an album that has held up well in retrospect. I bought this near the time of release and recalled little about it. Coming up on 20 years later, it proved my initial assessment was right. It's a keeper and better than most from this era of progressive rock music.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 private

Astrolabio - L'isolamento dei Numeri Pari. 2014 Italy

I could say that L'isolamento dei Numeri Pari is Italian prog-by-the-numbers, but that would be rather cheeky of me. See, Astrolabio are not ones to take things too seriously. The album's title means "Isolation of the Even Numbers", and witness the cover as the even numbers are roaming about in a body of water. Meanwhile the tracks are all indexed by the odd numbers (1,3,5....to 21). Musically, the metaphor holds as well - but in a good way. No question Astrolabio have studied their 1970s Italian prog, and though the instrumentation teeters both the 70s and 90s, the overall execution is splendid. If one were to be critical, it's that the album doesn't feature any dramatic highs, nor too many surprises, so in that way they aren't like the very best the genre has too offer. Our good friend Apps79 offers up Jumbo and Biglietto per L'Inferno as a couple of benchmarks, but they aren't near as passionate and experimental as the former, nor as jarring as the latter. And yet, of course, it's a good comparison all the same. I hear more Osanna in the "hard core Italian" aspects of the album, whereas Pink Floyd (cheers Snow!) gives us our Anglo sound (perhaps Mary Newsletter from the home country gets a shout out). Very good album overall. No surprises or head lifting moments, and yet it accomplishes what it set out to do. Hard to complain about that. For fans of classic Italian prog.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Andromeda Relix

Bag - Tripdream / Nothing Will Remain (single). 1971 Netherlands

On these two tracks, Bag demonstrates that they could go toe to toe with the almighty Group 1850, and they sound somewhat similar. One can only wish more music will emerge at some point from this fine band. A brilliant 45.

Pseudonym reissued this on its own as well as a compilation primarily made up of the Flame label. I heard it on YouTube.

Haymarket Riot - Trip on Out / Something Else (single). 1968 USA

Wow. Going through these obscure psych era US singles can be revelatory. So it turns out Haymarket Riot are from Enid, Oklahoma. Now there's the center of the psychedelic universe eh? My old man was in the laundry business, and one of his top clients was in Enid, so I went there a lot more than your average big city kid. I'll just put it this way - psychedelic is not the first thing one thinks of when in Enid. 'Trip on Out' is great - very much in the spirit of the era. 'Something Else' kind of blows honestly, but I can understand why they would play two entirely different styles. They must have gotten plenty of odd looks for sure.

You can find 'Trip on Out' on multiple comps. I heard it on YouTube

Crystal Garden - Flash / Peach Fuzz Forest (single). 1969 USA

After hearing Crystal Garden (what a name, eh?) and The Cave Dwellers, I find myself pining for a Bay Town Records compilation, hopefully with some amazing unreleased material. Seems Oakland had it going on just at the point where the American record companies were abandoning any kind of experimentation. Unless they were from England of course. Sigh.

Available on at least one Pebbles volume. I heard it on YouTube. I need to start seeking out some of these compilations on CD.

Sound Expedition - Ultimate Power / Think it Over (single). 1969 USA

Add Lincoln, Nebraska's Sound Expedition to your list of killer one-time psych songs. That would be 'Ultimate Power' of course, and a rather lengthy single track at that. The other side is somewhat typical psych pop. Worth checking out.

Available on at least one compilation. I heard it on YouTube.

The Purple Sun - Doomsday / Give Your Life (single). 1968 USA

'Doomsday' would have been a perfect fit for the St. Albert's Dream compilation, especially considering the band were from south Texas (presumably that is, given it was pressed in Houston). Excellent heavy guitar psych. I haven't heard the flip side to date.

Available on at least 3 compilations. I heard it on YouTube.

The Cave Dwellers - Meditation / Night Runner (single). 1968 USA

The Cave Dwellers were a psych/lounge band from Pleasanton, California in the late 1960s. Coincidentally where yours truly had a physical office from 1999 to 2002. Though I'm sure the late 60's Pleasanton was nothing more than an "over the mountain" farming outpost of Oakland verse the mega-million dollar software capital it was to become in my era. In any case, 'Meditation' is the reason you will seek out this single. An absolute monster of a track, which contains a freaky psychedelic mid section that sounds as if Iron Butterfly suddenly thrust themselves into the 1970 German landscape. 'Night Runner' shows another side of the band, pulling off a Doors like sound, via your local Holiday Inn's lounge. It's ladies night, and the women are all plus 40. I wish you luck my friend. They can't all be good.

Available on a couple of compilations. I heard it on YouTube.

The Black Sun Ensemble - s/t. 1985 USA

1985 is not the year one starts with in seek of psychedelia. In fact, the music of that era could be considered the polar opposite of such. It is in this environment that Jesus Acedo launches the Black Sun Ensemble in isolated Tucson Arizona, predicting the rise of the neo psych movement by a few years - one that continues to this day in one form or another. For those that have seen Ken Russell's Altered States movie, then The Black Sun Ensemble is the perfect soundtrack that never was. A mescaline trip to the caves of the Mexican desert by way of Libya and Morocco. As good as it gets for the limited palette the band offers, and a beacon of light in an otherwise sterile era of progressive/psychedelic music.

Personal collection
CD: 2001 Camera Obscura (Australia)

Important to note that the CD is not a straight reissue of the LP, nor is it to be related to the 1988 LP on Reckless that shares similar themes and music. What I wrote for Discogs: "Liner notes state: "The music of this album is not exactly what was presented on the original LP. Its mix feels far clearer and two of the LP's tracks ("Cobracalia" and "Red Ocean") have been lost and are replaced here by previously unreleased contemporaries ("Emerald Eye 2" and ""Bleeding Heart")"" I'll need to investigate the original LP at some point.

Secret Saucer - Second Sighting. 2007 USA

Second Sight is Secret Saucer's second album (quite alliterative I'd suggest). It took me a long time to digest this one. Though I first purchased the CD nearly 8 years ago (a few years after initial release), it's not one I had absorbed at all. When I began to tackle it a few days ago, I didn't think it would take me a week to grasp it. But sometimes that's what it takes. The reward is I raised the rating, and Second Sight definitely is a cut above your garden variety modern space rock album. Though ironically it doesn't start that way. 'Lift Off' is a prototypical Ozric Tentacles styled opening with whooshing synthesizers and ripping guitar solos. After that, the album shows a wide array of influences. 'All the Way to Outer Space' has a strong bluesy hard rock twist, that is unusual in this type of setting. 'D-Walker' introduces the key ingredient to the album's success: Piano. There's something magical about the sound of the grand old dame of acoustic keyboards juxtaposed against modern synthesizers and electronics. 'Tranquility Base' introduces yet another form, that of electronica, though still very much rooted in space rock principles. 'Untitled Dream' sounds like an outtake from Edgar Froese's Ages album, and is heavily drenched in discordant mellotron (sampled I'm sure, but very well done). The album peaks on the 'Disintegrator'/'Integrator' duet where the piano is quite prominent while the intensity is raised. By now you'll find yourself fully immersed into their sound. 'Reflections' adds electric sitar to great effect. Every track is great, and most feature well written compositions and melodies. This is a far cry from your garden variety jamming space rock band. If looking for something different in the space rock field, give this one a shot.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Dead Earnest (Scotland)

Medina Azahara - La Esquina del Viento. 1981 Spain

I had written recently that Medina Azahara's debut is one of the pillars of the Andalusian progressive rock scene of the mid to late 70s. Now the 80s have arrived, and Medina Azahara did what most bands did back then: streamline their sound, and added period synthesizers. Have no fear though, Medina Azahara are still focused on the plot here, and there's no mistaking this for anything but what it is - Rock Andaluz. I suppose if looking for a metaphor, think of Medina Azahara as southern Spain's very own Saga. That is to say a band that was able to seamlessly meld the 70s and 80s together, without leaks and cracks. Not sure how I managed to compare Saga to Medina Azahara, but hey... Anyway, unfortunately from here, the band took the metaphor too far, and ended up strictly as a pop group for a few years. But their first 2 albums are essential for the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 1995 CBS/Sony (w/Andalucia)

The CD above combines their 2nd and 3rd albums, so if you're curious about where Medina Azahara were headed, then you'll get a chance to without further investment. My first copy was the original single sleeve LP obtained in a trade back in the early 90s, but I felt the CD was a better package and sold it shortly thereafter. In retrospect, I still think that was the right decision, unless of course, you have an obsession with guys in red pants...

Electric Orange - Misophonia. 2016 Germany

Misophonia is Electric Orange's 11th proper studio album. They were one of the first Krautrock revivalists from the Fatherland, and have more or less stayed on script throughout their 25+ years career. I started with the band at the beginning, and have dutifully picked up all their albums to date. And the all instrumental Misophonia definitely has the right sounds, with rumbling drums, and grungy Hammond organ to the fore. So it comes as a surprise to me that I really don't enjoy this album very much. It's certainly good enough, but for Electric Orange, it's a sub par effort. I picked up the CD upon release, and heard it last year for the first time - and have stuck with it now for over a year. But the needle isn't moving.

So what gives? Well... I've struggled to put my finger on it, but for one thing there is no songwriting. Now with Krautrock that certainly isn't de rigueur, but most at least intersperse a few melodies among the chaos. Electric Orange did not do that either. But if there aren't any songs, then one would look for a climatic payoff of some sort - a build up to an intense jam for example. Nope, not here. Then there's the lack of tonal diversity. A flute, saxophone, or more electric guitar would have helped immensely. The latter is there primarily to set the tone, but doesn't play a major role in the album. In effect, Misophonia is one of those albums that has all the right ingredients, but doesn't taste right. To be honest, it's a bit dull. If I were to characterize the album - it would be something of a new genre - Ambient Krautrock. Not electronic in the slightest - definitely a rock based album. But it's very static. I do think that's what the band was striving for. To create the mood of the original early 70s Krautrock movement. To that end, they succeeded then. But that's all they did. Overall, I expected more.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Studio Fleisch

CD is housed in a nice digi-pak. I'll hold onto it for now, but I doubt I'll keep it for the long haul. Unless the light goes off. It's happened many times before...

Quintessence - In Blissful Company. 1969 England

Quintessence isn't a band you hear much about when talking psychedelic and progressive rock, and that has to rank among one of the great mysteries of music collecting. I had passed over their albums in the bins for years and years. I never remember anyone talking about, referencing, nor recommending the band. Not via catalogs, nor any like-minded friends. So I just presumed it was a sort of hippy dippy folk rock with maybe a Indian singalong or two.

It wasn't until late 2014 that a friend virtually elbows me and asks: "Have you heard Quintessence before?". And so off I went to some discount seller and retrieved In Blissful Company on CD per his recommendation. How on Earth could this be so obscure - and yet so common? I have no idea. So here we are in 2018 on my second revisit, and I've probably played the album 5 times in a row. It's really an excellent example of the psychedelic / progressive rock crossover blend.

For 1969, Quintessence definitely possessed a pioneering sound. The key sound components are electric guitar (often times fuzzed out) along with flute. And sonorous vocals. It took me awhile to figure out who they reminded me of most - but then it hit me last night. Quintessence laid the groundwork for a similar type sound that Marsupilami pursued a short couple of years later (the vocals were the giveaway). And given this latter band is one of my all-time favorites, then it stands to reason as to why I enjoy In Blissful Company as well. Listen to tracks like 'Manco Capac', 'Body', and 'Pearl and Bird" and compare. Other than 'Chant', which is the obligatory Hare Krishna moment, the rest of the album is divine so to speak. And yes, of course, it has a strong Indian element to their sound, which I see only as a plus.

Personal collection
LP: 1969 Island
CD: 2004 Repertoire (Germany)

The CD is a fine digi-pak with excellent liner notes from Chris Welch and includes 2 bonus tracks which made up the single release. A couple of years ago I also picked up the LP. It comes in a fine gatefold, with a 12 page die-cut book. My copy is the palm tree label which dates it to 1970 most likely, but technically copyrighted 1969.

Phantom - Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1. 1974 USA

April 27, 2018 update: I recently received a very nice note from RD Francis, who has written a book about "The Phantom". Looks very interesting, and nice to know the facts are now coming to the fore.

Phantom were in reality a Detroit area band slumming around with the name Walpurgis. Vocalist Tom Carson had an uncanny resemblance in both voice, and even appearance, to Jim Morrison, and thus Capitol thought it might be a good idea to exploit the myth that Morrison was still alive. It's hard to imagine a corporate entity such as Capitol getting in on such sophomoric antics, but it does appear that's exactly what happened. Naturally the whole idea fell on its face, and Phantom disappeared as they came, through the ether.

The sad thing about this ruse, is it was entirely unnecessary. Phantom, in fact, were really quite adept on their own accord. In effect, Phantom are a hard rock band, with psychedelic and progressive characteristics. So the Doors comparisons begins and ends with Carson's voice. The rest is somewhat unique for an American major label band from 1974. The opening track 'Tales from a Wizard', 'Spider's Will Dance', and the last 16 minutes of the album are the highlights. It's just this kind of mystical hard rock that is now being recreated by a new inspired youth. So while Capitol were trying to exploit history, Phantom were actually predicting the future. Wonderful irony.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 One Way

Relatively scarce US major label album. Single sleeve that lends itself easily to ring wear. As you can see, the label itself lists the band as Phantom, which to me solves that debate at least. The only legit CD is the bare bones One Way, which I obtained in the 90s and is the only version I've ever owned. It's long gone, and rarer than the LP at this point. Naturally, there are pirates all over this one. So watch out if in the market for one.

Originally published: July 25, 2015

Peter Baumann - Romance 76. 1976 Germany

Even though Baumann joined Tangerine Dream in 1973, he was still only 23 when he embarked on his first solo album. It was Edgar Froese who encouraged him to pursue other creative paths, and Baumann basically setup right where T Dream did. A few years ago I had noted in my review of Edgar Froese's Macula Transfer, that he had diverted a bit from the standard Tangerine Dream sound. That is to say, Macula Transfer was not his interpretation of Stratosfear. Instead, we get Baumann's interpretation of Stratosfear. Side 1 is unmistakably the sounds, themes, and sequences that define one of Tangerine Dream's landmark albums. Which is telling, in that it demonstrates how much influence Baumann had by then on TD's overall sound. Side 2 however is a bit different. Primarily in that he chucked the mellotron and hired his old man - he himself a mover and shaker in the more formal areas of music - to secure a choir and orchestra for his son. So in effect Baumann went Jean-Claude Vannier here. Why bother with a sampling tool when one can just have the real thing? Once the ears adjust, the composition style emerges somewhat the same, minus the electronic equipment. 'Meadow of Infinty' Part 2 confirms this for us, as Baumann was back in the studio with his trusty synths and mellotron, and closes the album in a similar fashion to how it started. Overall an excellent album in the Berlin School tradition, but not one that strayed too far from the script after all.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Bureau B

A common album on LP, and was released domestically here in the States, where I first picked up a copy during my original Tangerine Dream discovery phase while still in high school (early 80s). CD's however is a different story, with only the afterthought Virgin release from 1990 going OOP and staying that way for years. It wasn't until 2016 that not only one, but 2 CDs appeared on the market. I picked up the Bureau B version, which comes in a digi-pak, and features excellent sound and informative liner notes.

Rousseau - Retreat. 1983 Germany

The older I get, the more I appreciate bands like Rousseau. They exemplify the simpler joys in life. Of course not everyone shares this positive outlook, witness one RYMers wonderful and uplifting review, pasted here in its entirety for reference: "This symph rock abomination should come with a barf bag. Avoid it!". But music doesn't have to be discordant, angular, and complex to enjoy. For certain I'm not promoting banal music to gain position with commercial radio either. But one can still fall well within the guidelines of the broad based term progressive rock, without having to possess a doctorate degree.

Listening to tracks like 'China', 'Yago', and 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' makes you just want to crawl into the cover painting, sit under the large tree with a bottle of wine, a beautiful girl, and simply watch nature go by. No insane taxation, stock markets, nor geopolitical tensions to worry about. Just beautiful life. Sigh.

Of course one cannot escape the influence of mid 70s Camel in any discussion about Rousseau, a band that shares their romantic side. But also early Genesis at their most pastoral comes to mind. The addition of vocals on 3 tracks was not a good plan however, and completely ruin the vibe. 'One of a Thousand' and 'Incomplete' are good songs otherwise though. The album closer was a truly bad decision as it appears Rousseau was going for some sort of New Wave pop hit. Double dumb actually, and a terrible way to end an otherwise splendid album.

One personal story: In 1991 while backpacking through France, I spent a full Sunday in Retonfey (near Metz) at Musea's home. During the day, various musicians appeared in what seemed like an eternal revolving door. It was quite extraordinary actually. Very casual and fun. The last band to arrive were two members from Rousseau (closing out the reissue of this album actually). That night I had planned to train to Luxembourg. Instead, these two gentlemen drove me there on their way back home to Germany. A fond memory for certain and great conversation along the way!

Personal collection
LP: 1983 Sri Lanca
CD: 1991 Musea

The original comes in a single sleeve. Sri Lanca later in the decade tried their hand at heavy metal before shuttering. The Musea CD is fantastic as usual, with full liner notes. No bonus tracks this time unfortunately.

Ozric Tentacles - Strangeitude. 1991 England

Long ago (1989-1992), a buddy and I hosted a monthly 6 hour radio show on Dallas' local NPR station (one of those Saturday night fill-the-airwaves from midnight to 6 gigs - and I did it as a volunteer...) showcasing underground progressive rock, jazz, and electronic music - pretty much the oeuvre I write about here minus hard rock and metal. It was in 1990 that we were first introduced to Ozric Tentacles via a mutual friend who had just purchased the 2 LP set Erpland. We were both mightily impressed, immediately picked up its predecessor Pungent Effulgent (the earlier cassettes weren't widely available back then), and proceeded to play choice cuts from each album. We did get many requests for them, as Ozric has a sound that is immediately likable.

A year later, we were super excited to learn of their new album Strangeitude. And it did not disappoint at all. 'White Rhino Tea' is as progressive a track as Ozric ever penned, with constantly shifting themes and meters. 'Bizarre Bazaar' is this album's 'Kick Muck' - tight and energetic. And they finish on a high note with the blistering 'Space Between Your Ears', where Ed Wynne really lets loose, and is one of their best tracks in their entire canon. For my tastes, I've never been a big fan of Ozrics' pure electronic work, and here there are two, including the title track and fan favorite 'Sploosh!'. The latter does have a foot stompin' beat, but would have been more effective at half the length I'd estimate. So not perfect, but still an excellent 3rd album, and showed the world that they still had plenty more to offer from a creative standpoint. This latter element would slow over the years.

Personal collection
LP: 1991 Dovetail
CD: 2010 Madfish

It was the LP that I first purchased, and later on added the same year CD. A couple of years ago while rummaging around ebay, I found a cheap copy of the Madfish release. A wonderful package, it comes in a hardbound digipak cover with photos plus an extra disc of live material from this era.

Museo Rosenbach - Barbarica. 2013 Italy

I have not heard Museo Rosenbach's first reunion attempt with Exit (2000), but it would seem to be a typically underwhelming reformation album, where the band tried to be relevant, and yet seemed to have no understanding of its real audience. I've seen defenders of the album as well, though no one would be willing to fall on their sword for it I'm sure.

Perhaps the Exit album was a lesson learned for the veterans of the original Museo Rosenbach. Because Barbarica not only addresses its past, but also its future. We've talked about reformations here in the past, and generally they are abject failures. From Italy, Alphataurus and Le Orme have been glaring exceptions as their respective reformations successfully captured the spirit of the original band without them resorting to caricature. Barbarica is similar - except even more successful to my ears. Alphataurus had the added benefit of an unfinished 1974 album to work with, for example. Museo Rosenbach was starting from scratch. Original bassist (and now keyboardist) Alberto Moreno and drummer Giancarlo Golzi are the only steady members across their entire discography. Joining the reunion was original Zarathustra lead vocalist Stefano Lupo Galifi. The latter himself coming fresh off the debut by Il Tempio delle Clessidre which no doubt revived his interest in progressive rock - and most certainly he was held in high reverence by the much younger band that surrounded him. Ego boosts after age 60 don't come as often as they once did I'm sure. Even for myself, I was shocked at just how great his voice still sounded. And he continues to belt it out with the best of them on Barbarica. These three old warriors were then augmented by a new quartet of two guitarists, bass, and keyboards.

What amazes me most about Barbarica is how much the new material represents the spirit of their past, without copying it. The instrumentation is a mix of new and old - and the latter is often represented by the former. One of the most amazing aspects of Zarathustra was their ability to write jaw dropping breaks. Those kind where everyone looks at the stereo and says: Did you hear that? Well, guess what? You'll be doing that with Barbarica too. Like all great bands, it was the synergy of the collective whole that made that 1973 opus great, rather than a collection of soloists. Barbarica is exactly that. It's a true group effort, that retains their brilliant songwriting capability. The band sounds bold and confident. I've read some bellyaching that Barbarica isn't the same as Zarathustra. Well I hope not! While I'm not willing to say it's on the same level either - there are just too many parameters to consider where it would have the same effect on me - I will say that Barbarica may in fact be in the Top 3 of all the great Italian albums released in 2013. And that's a huge achievement given the competition. For me, the best ever reformation album coming from Italy. Yea.... Wow.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Immaginifica

The CD is housed in a fine gatefold mini-LP with cover art that recalls their Zarathustra past, while also looking forward. Just like the music itself.

Grobschnitt - s/t. 1972 Germany

The German group Grobschnitt were one of the more famous bands from the classic 70's Krautrock era. They had a long and varied history that spanned over 20 years and were quite popular in their native Germany. Their music was characterized by theatrical sequences, space rock jamming, a large dose of humor, along with creative songwriting.

Grobschnitt's self-titled debut was a dynamic opening for the band, and is simply a superb slab of heavy prog rock. Hard psychedelic driven guitar and Hammond organ lead the instrumental parade, whereas the crack rhythm section push the proceedings along with constantly changing and complex rhythms. Guitarist "Lupo" has a very sharp edged sound and plays in a constant fiery/heavy blues mode, while drummer "Eroc" is a master of creating and maintaining the tempo for the complex yet energetic compositions. The four tracks contained within recall other heavy German bands of the day like Orange Peel, Prof. Wolfff, 2066 and Then, and even Inside era Eloy. Had this been Grobschnitt's only album it surely would've gone down as one of the great one-off Krautrock classics. As it turns out, it may very well have been their shining moment, though no doubt much great music was to appear in their future, including the can't miss space rock suite 'Solar Music'.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Brain
CD: 1998 Repertoire

My first copy came from a record store while backpacking in Switzerland, and was the single sleeve copy on Brain (black label). Such was the situation in 1987, where an album like this was impossible to find back home in Texas, and yet it was something of a commodity in Europe at the time. Indeed, Grobschnitt's debut was in print for the entire duration of the Brain label, and is still easy to source well into the 2010's. Over time, I eventually scored the first press original gatefold green label with Metronome under the logo. The Repertoire CD was the first to market, and was mastered by Eroc himself (who is now quite noted for doing such). It's a superb reissue with full liner notes and a 29 minute bonus track - with excellent sound as expected.

Triangle - s/t. 1970 France

Triangle is one of the earliest of the French progressive rock bands. At one point they were lead by the diminutive Alain Renaud on guitar, though he left after a few singles, and explored his more experimental tendencies - most notably with Richard Pinhas and Heldon.

Their debut is a consistently excellent album, that mixes French and English lyrics, with a hard psychedelic bite in the guitar work. The vocals have a slightly gruff sound that recall Family, and especially fellow countrymen Ergo Sum, who they share a similar sound overall with. The highlight is also the longest track. 'Cameron's Complaint' sees Triangle take on a more jazzy sound with additional flute, that recalls the Canterbury scene, and predicts the coming of bands such as Moving Gelatine Plates.

This debut is generally considered their best album. I haven't heard the second album, and it's been many a year since I heard Homonymie, almost to the point I don't trust my rating there.

Personal collection
LP: 1970 Pathe / EMI
CD: 2010 Culture Factory

The LP is a single sleeve with a catalog "tab" in the back. Like the RYM photo, mine has the 1971 sticker, so that would indicate a later press. The album sold well in its day, so it isn't too scarce.

For an album that was once popular, it had been surprisingly ignored in the reissue market, save for the always lame Mantra CD. This travesty was finally addressed by Culture Factory. The CD comes in a fine mini-LP styled cover, with an insert and a small history (in French). Best of all is that the CD has all 3 of their singles prior to the album proper, and each is just as good as the LP itself.

Bodkin - s/t. 1972 Scotland

Bodkin were a major discovery from the mid 1980s, though the album was known to exist prior in very small quantities. The story goes that a German collector had befriended Scottish music engineer and label owner Jim West, and to his amazement, he still had in his possession plenty of vinyl - and no covers. So the story of the LP and the reissues is quite fascinating. See below for further detail.

As to the music, Bodkin hit near the bulls-eye of that organ drenched heavy prog sound. Think of all of those 1971 albums on the German Bellaphon or Philips label. Or the original Vertigo Swirl label roster. Even the Canadian band Warpig. It's got that sound. All 5 tracks here are well played, with memorable melodies and progressions, and fine performances from all. The vocals have that husky "lost" tone, that was popular is those blues infected days. For reasons I could not articulate back to anyone, I didn't care for this album much when it first hit the CD circuit in 1989. My stance softened about 10 years later, and it has grown in stature since then. To me it definitely earns the Excellent rating.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Witch and Warlock

As mentioned above, the story of the album itself is interesting. Popsike lists precisely one copy that has sold with the original cover (in 2012 - photo #1). It went for a cool $2300 and change (not shown on RYM as I write this). Most original copies out there in the wild did not have an album cover, and go for a much cheaper $1k (smirk) (photo #2). Sometime in the late 1980s, the album was released on vinyl in very limited quantities with paste on custom green or orange covers (photos #3 & #4), but weren't widely distributed at the time (at least that I can remember). In 1989, the German label Witch & Warlock debuted their catalog with a CD reissue of the album (with yet another different cover - photo #5). Ah, but you say, I know Witch & Warlock is a pirate concern right? Perhaps they ended up making poor decisions, but they didn't start out that way. Witch & Warlock are in fact the same guys behind the German Oak album. And I think we can safely presume they did not bootleg their own privately released album (though another story emerged in 2018 about this). The next CD on the label was Dom's Edge of Time, and while I later upgraded to the Second Battle versions (LP and CD), it's pretty apparent from the short notes on the CD that the members knew each other. Most everyone accepts this version as legit (though the sound wasn't improved upon at all). This was followed by an archival German Oak album, and then finally they decided to try their hand at needle drops and foregoing obtaining legal permission. (Confession: I still own their CD version of Diabolus and patiently await for a legit version to surface). They also issued two other albums from Scotland: Soho Orange and Tentacle - both of these being archival releases. Most websites consider these to be legit. And it makes sense, when you consider the German connection to the Bodkin album, as mentioned above. In any case, the CD was repressed multiple times, and it was many years later I picked it up again - mine being one of those reissues (originals are numbered with a different backplate).

Next up was the Akarma release (of course they'd get involved with something like this). And now we have our 5th unique cover (last photo)! This time it's quite extraordinary as the LP opens up as a multi part cross (similar to Necronomicon or Heaven's Brass Rock 1). This most assuredly is the definitive edition right? Wrong! What an utter disaster of a reissue. A needle drop (fine), but with skips and scratches (in the mastering!). C'mon, really? How stoned do you have to be? I eventually parted with it...

There is a legit LP that recently surfaced from England on the Acme label (and replicates the orange paste-on cover). I wouldn't have high hopes for a sonic revelation at this point.

Lord Flimnap - Point of View. 1989 Israel

Had someone slipped me a cassette of this album, labeled it "unknown prog band 1982 UK", I would have believed it. Well the cass...