Hadal Sherpa - s/t. 2017 Finland

Every once in awhile I'll receive a recommendation on a new album to try. But it's very rare for me to receive 3 strong recs from trusted advisers, and that's exactly what happened last year with Hadal Sherpa, a new space rock band from Finland. I purchased the CD last year, but as these things tend to go, I'm just now getting around to listening to it.

And the reason for all the buzz behind Hadal Sherpa becomes obvious upon listening. Anyone who knows me personally or has read my notes will know that I enjoy an excellent rendition of the sound that Ozric Tentacles (and Gong/Here&Now before them) created years ago. Especially the Finnish school. The album opens up surprisingly subdued with the 2 part 'Nautilus', a mid paced number with flute and melodic guitars. Things began to pick up considerably with 'Chafa Azeno' reminding me quite a bit of Ozric's 'Bizarre Bazaar' (from Strangeitude) without the silly bits. 'Ikaros' takes the baton and runs faster. It's here the album begins to draw you into its vortex. Then, as these albums tend to do, you get smacked with the 1-2 punch of awesomeness. 'Heracleion' is packed with ideas, with smoldering guitars, and Middle Eastern/Eastern Asian themes. A highly energetic piece, that never sits in one place too long. This leads to the album's piece de resisitance , the brilliant 'Marracech' where blazing bouzouki battles the dual guitars and synthesizers, all the while demonstrating even more ADD than the predecessor. Imagine Hidria Spacefolk covering Embryo's Steig Aus album, and you have an idea of the excellence found here. 'Abyss' slows things down a bit, bringing forth a 1969 Pink Floyd vibe, and then accelerates later on. 'Black Elk' is another rip roaring track, though by this time one is exhausted from burning too many calories air jamming. If I had a complaint, I would suggest a better production next time. The album sounds a bit thin at times. These kind of albums require a thick, meaty production.

If you're a fan of Hidria Spacefolk, Taipuva Luotisuora, Moonwagon, and Dasputnik, then it's hard to imagine Hadal Sherpa not registering in the red zone. Perhaps not an entirely new concept, but the execution is superb.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 private

The CD comes in a fine digi-pak. According to Discogs, there are 2 presses. The first was a run of only 300 followed by a repress of 500. This is a good sign, as it's nice to see CDs still selling on albums of quality.

Steve Tibbetts - Yr. 1980 USA


Minneapolis based guitarist Steve Tibbett's second album is quite a diversion from his debut, and as well for the ECM label that reissued this 8 years after the fact (with a new cover). Starting where 'How Do You Like My Buddha?' left off from the otherwise all-acoustic debut, Tibbetts gets straight to the point of the album at hand. The all instrumental Yr features Tibbetts on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards (including quite a bit of mellotron), and all sorts of stringed instruments. Accompanying him is a bassist, and no less than 4 credited percussion players. So while the album cannot help but feel tribal, especially looking eastward toward Asia, the album doesn't comfortably fit in genres such as World Fusion or New Age. Primarily this is due to Tibbett's decidedly psychedelic guitar style. There really is no album like Yr in the vast annals of musical history, that I'm aware of anyway. Including from Tibbetts himself who more or less began to adopt the ECM aesthetic going forward. Perhaps early David Torn provides a slight guidepost, but this is far more warm and alive. Even if you've heard other Tibbetts albums, I strongly encourage you to lend an ear to Yr (so to speak). It's a revelation.

Personal collection
CD: 1988 ECM (Germany)

I've had this on CD forever (second scan). My promo copy still has the instructions on what a CD even is.

Cast - Nimbus. 2004 Mexico

Nimbus is the 12th studio album from Mexico's Cast, and was released by Mylodon in Chile and Musea in France. At their beginning, Cast were heavily influenced by the neo prog marquee names such as Marillion, IQ, and Pendragon. They released an enormous amount of material in a short period of time, all characterized by the familiar NWOBPR sound, while singing in English. By the time of Nimbus, the band have become more confident with other styles of progressive rock, and are now utilizing their native language primarily. In addition to that, Cast has brought in more instrumentation, which allows for more tonal color, which was missing from their earlier releases. So even though this is their 12th album in a 10 year time frame, it's remarkably fresh and not stale at all. '911' recalls their earlier neo prog past, whereas 'Un Singlo de Invierno' dabbles in prog metal. But mostly this is classic European progressive rock, as might be found in Spain during the late 70s - a band like Crack for example. Make no mistake, Cast aren't retro in the slightest, and this is clearly a work of the 90s and 00's. As with most of the Cast albums I'm familiar with, the album is quite lengthy (the equivalent of 2 LPs), so it takes quite a bit of time to absorb all the material presented here. To be honest, I don't have much exposure to Cast past their Angels and Demons album, so I'm not sure where the band transformed their sound. Given the strength of Nimbus, I'm quite open to exploring more.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Musea (France)

According to my database, I bought this CD in 2005. Not sure why I didn't continue exploring the band further. Well it's never too late to start...

Lahost - Erotic Antiques. 1984-1985 England (archival)

Lahost are a very good example of the 1980's New Wave of British Progressive Rock scene. Tight, energetic, melodic, complex, and fun.

The above represented my scratch off notes from nearly a decade ago. And probably I need not say more, as that about covers it. But I will anyway... I first read about Lahost in the metal magazines of the middle 80s (like Kerrang for example), who dabbled with the much smaller ongoing progressive rock scene (many of the UK music writers in those days had prog backgrounds). But nothing really ever emerged from Lahost, originally known as The Host. Two cassettes were released, though neither are shown on Discogs as I write this. The 2 cassettes, plus a single, and a live recording make up Erotic Antiques.

It would be hard to find a more perfect definition of the NWOBPR movement than to play Erotic Antiques for someone. They definitely played to the commercial wing of said movement, and yet no matter how hard they tried, every track comes out very much a progressive rock composition. Only 'Just Breaking Away' comes across as one that panders to the masses. On the other side of the aisle sits 'The Drowning Pool', the only overt progressive rock track found here. They absolutely nail the ethos of the era. We're talking big puffy white shirts and poofy hair to go with it. It's Friday night in 1984, and we're headlining the Marquee club. So when I say "tight, energetic, melodic, complex, and fun", those adjectives cannot be escaped. Imagine a head-on collision between Saga's Heads or Tales and IQ's The Wake, with some early 80s Peter Gabriel solo era collateral damage, and you have found the sound of Lahost.

Lahost is the progressive rock definition of 1984 London, for better or worse. If you love the cassette culture of the era, as I do, then Erotic Antiques is an absolute must. For those where the word "commercial" makes you cringe, then you might want to give a wide berth around.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 UGUM (France)

Sadly this represents the entirety of Lahost's output, though no doubt any subsequent releases would have only become more slick and unbearable. The CD today has become quite hard to source.

Blood of the Sun - Burning on the Wings of Desire. 2012 USA

Burning on the Wings of Desire is the 4th album from Fort Worth, Texas' Blood of the Sun. The modus operandi of the band is to recreate the hard rock culture of 1974 to the smallest detail. And to that end, the band succeeds greatly. Band leader Dave Gryder is an unreconstructed 1970s fiend, and it's his Hammond Organ that's out front and center along with the raunchy hard rock (never metal) guitars. The vocals are of the "tough guy" variety and all the tracks are about a lovin' and a rockin' and good times had by all. Wide lapels and rose colored glasses - hair over the ears with a pornstache. It's Saturday night at Barney's Ballroom in Steeltown, Ohio. It's so dark, you need a miners hat to see, and you're sticking to the floors - and it's best not to know why.

Though Gryder has listed a Hohner Clavinet, Mellotron, and other fun analog toys, one only hears the organ on Burning on the Wings of Desire. Wino (yes, that Wino) sings on 'Good and Evil', an homage to the era's tendency to close an album with a more thoughtful number.

If you can't get enough of bands like Bloodrock, Grand Funk Railroad, Mountain, and other popular hard rockers from the good ole' USA, then Blood of the Sun gives you the extract version of that. Be mindful not to OD son.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Listenable (France)

Jewel case CD comes in a slipcase with a naked woman on both sides (of course it does...)

Candlemass - From the 13th Sun. 1999 Sweden

For whatever reason, I find myself more drawn to the Candlemass albums not featuring their marquee singers like Messiah Marcolin and Robert Lowe. Perhaps that's because the band needed to fill the disc with more creative music and less time buying a ticket and watching their gifted singers do what they do.

In particular I'm quite fond of their two late 90s albums, which musically speaking have scant resemblance to their trademarked name. Other than they are bonecrushingly heavy of course. For example, I quite like the use of synthesizers during this era of the band. From the 13th Sun deviates from its predecessor though, and the album is what everyone else says it is (including Candlemass themselves) - an homage to Black Sabbath. The album opens up perfectly with a catchy riff-ramic 'Droid' before launching into the album's masterpiece 'Tot'. Taking 'Black Sabbath' (the song) as a base, they move forward the concept to a whole new level. The bells sound like Notre Dame on Sunday morning, and the foreboding atmosphere is so thick and heavy, one can barely move. Then it bludgeons you deep into the ground over and over. And then about 2/3rds through, the track opens up into a frenzied pace with synthesizers panning side to side, for truly an awe inspiring experience. In my estimation, this is one of Candlemass' finest moments (and the band have quite a few). 'Elephant Star' follows and is a bit too straightforward to make note of. 'Blumma Apt' is another great and varied heavy track and then... ear fatigue sets in.

It's as if all their great ideas were front-loaded, and everything that follows is more or less the same. I tried to compartmentalize each track on its own, but the familiarity was too obvious to ignore. It's a problem most metal bands have, and unfortunately Candlemass fell victim as well. Even the promising looking 9+ minute 'Cyclo-F' disappoints once you've realized it's padded with a drum solo.

Overall, I still enjoy the heck out of this title, the disappointment only reflecting the auspicious opening. Worth the purchase for 'Tot' alone, but everything here is good, just not great.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Music for Nations (UK)

Alters - MILD. 2007 Poland

Alters are somewhat typical of modern progressive bands who do not blend their influences together as a cohesive whole, but rather attack each segment on their own. Or what I call "genre hopping". So there's no "brand identity" as it were. Just various parts and pieces pasted together. You'll hear everything from the usual prog suspects (Yes, KC, Genesis), to Miles Davis, Stockhausen, Polish stalwarts (SBB, Nieman), complex French prog, mid 70's Pink Floyd, etc... There are of course, as with any album like this, some really great parts to enjoy and savor. But once they've moved on, you won't hear anything like it again. It's an Around the World tour in... 52 minutes.

Last listen: August 7, 2017

Tuna Laguna - Ripples and Swells. 2007 Norway

Tuna Laguna are a modern Norwegian post rock band who have a clear connection with the US post rock scene similar to Tortoise for example. But there’s more here than insouciant mid paced jams to aid with your sleeping disorder. With the growling fuzz bass, wah wah guitars, filtered organs, and the occasional tempo change, it’s clear Tuna Laguna have a bit of 1970's instrumental European prog rock in them. And the 7 piece band collective, including 3 guitarists and 2 keyboardists, allow the group a multitude of options that really expand their sound. Add in the melodic content that is post rock’s greatest contribution to begin with, and you have a nice piece of music to drive the Interstate with.

Last listen: August 8, 2017

The Ebony Godfather (Joe Thomas) - Moog Fluting. 1974 USA

So imagine being an African American gentleman who plays the effeminate flute. You've played R&B, gospel, jazz, and everything in between. You have a dull name like Joe Thomas and you're pushing 40. And it's 1971. So what's a brother to do? Well duh, you pimp your look, sit next to a couple of hotties, and tell the world that you are - in fact - The Ebony Godfather. A little blaxploitation never hurt, eh? 3 years later, Thomas took it a step further and just called himself The Ebony Godfather. After this bit of silliness, and probably realizing he could have called himself The Black Tooth Fairy and no one would care, he took back his name... and, oh look, here comes disco.... and off Thomas went to make a few more bucks before calling it a career in the early 1980s.

But the moniker isn't the only curve ball here. Next up is the title. With a name like Moog Fluting, one would expect some Moog with your flute perhaps? Uh, no. In fact, I cannot for the life of me figure out the usage of the term Moog here. I've seen other reviews mention its use, but I don't hear it. Further, neither do the liner notes, which are old fashioned 60s styled jazz type back cover notes with much detail and hype quotes from media and industry veterans. In those notes, no mention of a Moog can be found. Maybe the name just sounded cool? I dunno.

And the music... well it's pretty much your regular instrumental jazz flute album with a rhythm section. Some originals, some cover tunes. On the same level as Herbie Mann and Hubert Laws, but this is no Chris Hinze album that's for sure. Certainly pleasant enough for the genre, with no real surprises, though 'Orcabessa' does open with promise.

No reissues exist as I write this entry.

Last listen: September 30, 2017

Pegauro - Vol. 1. 1982 Mexico

Such an interesting album this one is, coming from 1982 Mexico. The end tracks of each side are exactly what one would expect from an early 70s Italian prog rock album, with constant twists and turns, and an overall excitement and mystery that is rarely captured today. And the rest... (other than the very good 'Precasico')... is pedestrian rock with Spanish vocals. Not terrible mind you, but rather average across the board. This is just the kind of perfect album to be captured on a compilation somewhere. Grab those 3 tracks and run.

No legit reissues exist as I enter this post.

Last listen: November 7, 2017

Alice - Arretez le Monde. 1972 France

Alice were a French pop band experimenting with orchestrations and other trendy "progressive" ideas. In that way, they remind me of the Italian groups doing similar like Delirium's Dolce Acqua or The New Trolls Concerto Grosso No. 1. When Alice are strictly instrumental, they can be highly fascinating, and utilize a multitude of instruments (including mellotron). But they are pop singer songwriters at heart, and those moments are pretty hard to stomach, unless you're a fan of said style.

No legitimate reissues exists as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a recent listen).

Last listen: November 7, 2017

Murder in the Cathedral - s/t + Afraid Of... 1997/1999 France

Both albums by the French band Murder in the Cathedral are fine examples of the sort of neo psych Nick Saloman has been pushing all these years. But unlike The Bevis Frond, Murder in the Cathedral have little delusion that they are actual songwriters, and get down to psychedelic goodness quickly, with loads of superb fuzz tone melodic guitar. I give the nod to their debut but you can get both albums in full on the Long Hair CD, which comes recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Long Hair (Germany)

Last listen: November 13, 2017

Exsimio - Carbono 14. 2005 Chile

Chilean band Exsimio play in that style of guitar-centered, tightly played, aggressive instrumental rock that one can find in bands such as Philharmonie, Yang, or even some of Djam Karet’s work. And, by extension, the Court of King Fripp is what’s really behind this band’s mindset. Elements from Red to Discipline era KC can be picked up. Perhaps best of all is the psychedelic nature of the guitar solos, giving the overall proceedings an exotic and raw feel. Interesting to note that the tracks with Spanish narration remind me a bit of the Italians, somewhat like Latte e Miele or Pholas Dactylus in that way. All the same, the strict and narrow confines of the musical path chosen begins to become tiresome after awhile. Still a fine album, though the band said what they needed to say at the beginning. The rest was more of the same message.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Mylodon

Last listen: November 25, 2017

Ring of Fire - Lapse of Reality. 2004 USA

Ring of Fire is a band that features top talent, and they go out of their way to make sure you know that too. As such, much of the material found here lacks quality songcraft. If the technical aspects of music interest you, then Ring Of Fire provides lots of "activity" that will delight. I'm sure this is very difficult music to perform, but that really shouldn't be the point. Makes for good music theory study, not necessarily enjoyable listening. And when the band does try for something other than massive chops, they produce a track like 'You Were There', which sounds like every other banal mid 1980s AOR hair band trying desperately for a "screaming inner thigh sweat" moment. Certainly the album is good - and very professional - as one would expect from seasoned musicians such as these. I think the reviews that call out Planet X are on the right track. That's the oeuvre we're talking about here.

Traumwolf - Aussen. 1982 Germany

Traumwolf's sole album is primarily a straightforward Deutschrock album, with String Synthesizer, light guitar, plodding rhythms, and dual female/male vocals. Like early 80s Novalis and the host of bands they influenced in those days. To be honest it's a complete slog to get through for the most part. 'Junkie's Rock' is terrible. Not all is a loss though, as 'Nightmare' is a fine instrumental in the Camel tradition, whereas the album's sole prog rock track 'Ponski Stirbt' recalls Eden with the soft soprano female vocals, and powerful instrumental synthesizer and guitar breaks. 'Marionettenspieler' finishes nicely as well with some fine instrumental work. And 'Wir Alle' even breaks out the mellotron - wasted on a somewhat boring track mind you. I've seen some dealers pass this one off as an unknown Krautrock or symphonic prog album. Don't get taken on that ride.

Birdland - Darkness of Light. 1980 Serbia

Coming from Serbia, via Switzerland, Birdland debuted with quite a strong statement in the area of jazz fusion. Make no mistake, this one swings far to the jazz side of that equation. There's not much in the way of songwriting, the instrumentation isn't overly amplified, and mostly the compositions stay true to the jazz school. Still, the guitarist has quite the nimble fingers which he displays often. And the pianist is no slouch either. For certain Mahavishnu Orchestra were an influence here, as were many of the jazz masters, and the German MPS label practitioners. Jazz fans dabbling in rock forms will love this, but if looking for some more composition acumen, this isn't what Birdland were about. Closer 'Elements II' is the highlight of the short 4 track set.

Wacholder - Crystal Palace. 1978 Germany

If one were to stumble upon Wacholder's debut LP for the first time, they may think they'd unearthed some unknown Krautrock classic. With tracks like 'Marokko' and 'Känäbis', could it be the continuation of Agitation Free's Malesch? Ehh... no. In fact it's side 1 that is the more interesting since it's all instrumental. The first 3 tracks are jazz fusion with a prog rock slant. Nothing too radical, and in fact, it's a bit pedestrian for the era. 'Time of Your Life' is the peak of the entire album, and it's not going to excite much I'm afraid. Side 2 is the where the vocals come in - in the usual out-of-tune English we expect from this time and place. Here Wacholder are going for an Anglo styled progressive rock sound, and overall not too bad, especially on the two fetching titles as mentioned in the prelude. 'Tolstefanz' (named for a district in Germany) however is best skipped over.

Alain Bellaiche - Sea Flourescent. 1976 France

Alain Bellaïche's second album Sea Flourescent is a mix of mellow acoustic guitar soundscapes, light jazz fusion, and American styled funk with English lyrics. Not one of the highlights of the mid 70s French jazz rock scene, but not without its moments. Title track is quite nice in a stare-out-the-window kind of way.

Aera - Live. 1980 Germany

Aera's Live album, recorded in 5 different locations, starts off with a bang as Roman Bunka goes riffing mad. After this auspicious beginning, the band settles into its familiar funky jazz rock groove and mostly blows by without notice. Final track is a long improvised version of a Roman Bunka composition that was later released on Embryo's Reise as 'Lost Scooters', and is exceptionally better on that album than found here. A decent album, but never lives up to its initial promise.

Garolou - s/t. 1978 Canada

Garolou (name play loosely translated to Beware of the Wolf) were a Quebec based progressive folk group (entirely sung in French) similar to L’Engouvelent or Connivence. Originally known as Lougarou (Werewolf), the band were forced to change their name as it sounded too close to a more well known dancing troupe in Quebec. Garolou were more straightforward rocking than most groups in this genre. Side 1 is definitely the better side and peaks on the wonderful 'Je me suis habillé en plumes'. Starting with 'Alouette' the band moves to an almost pure folk sound. The epic closer 'Germaine' doesn't deliver the prog rock opus as expected, and is more a continuation of the above, but with rock elements. Overall Garolou aren't that far removed from the like minded efforts of Breton/Gallic groups such as Malicorne, Ys, Avaric, Tarentule, and many others.

Radius - s/t. 1972 Italy

Alberto Radius was the primary mover and shaker behind Formula 3 and Il Volo, and Radius the album was his first solo attempt. One of the best attributes of the aforementioned 2 groups were the guitar breaks provided by our topic at hand, and here we get to listen to Radius let loose considerably more than with the ensembles he belonged to. Side 1 has a heavy blues and psychedelic rock streak, and reminds me quite a bit of fellow countrymen Garybaldi during this era. 'Rock 1°' is as heavy a track as you'll hear in Radius' canon. Side 2 is more interesting on the whole, a mix of Formula 3, PFM, and Area. These latter two comparisons are not coincidental, given members of both bands are participating here. For example on... err... 'Area'. This latter track representing an early foray into jazz rock for Radius. Overall a fine album, not much representing the typical Italian progressive rock movement, but still contains fine playing and some creative ideas. Worth pursuing in my estimation.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Numero Uno

While originals of Formula 3 and Il Volo albums are relatively inexpensive to source (though not cheap either), Radius is extremely rare. Most likely the album didn't sell squat in its day, and I don't think it was ever imported to the States (i.e. can't recall seeing one with a Peters Intl sticker). I lucked out in my acquisition - truly a quirk of ebay one Sunday night in 2004. Someone had 5 Italian prog albums listed as a Buy-it-Now for $10. Right place, right time. 2 of the albums were common US presses, and one wasn't very rare at all. This was the pick of the litter of course. There are multiple CD presses, all basic and domestic to Italy, but I've never plunked down for one. Not sure I need to honestly. Oddly it's never been issued in Japan like most albums from Italy.

What the album cover is supposed to project, I couldn't hazard a guess. Fun with tomatoes? Inside a red painted refrigerator? Guessing the budget had run out by the time the art department was ready.

Zog - Do ze Funkie Wiz Me. 1983 Netherlands

Zog's sole album (recorded live) is essentially version 2.0 of Het Pandorra Ensemble, and is entirely unique just as their predecessor was. While still very much a product of the 1980s (song structures and vocal style primarily), Zog also possess a strong admiration for 1960s psychedelia and the 1970s Krautrock pioneers. Some wonderful acid guitar soloing belies its 80s heritage. There's also the occasional reference to their fondness for Red era King Crimson, featured more prominently in their Pandorra Ensemble days. About the only other album I can think of that sounds like this is Iskander's Boheme (1982 Germany), another oddity from the era. Maybe the best way to describe this album is to call it 1980s psychedelia, and I don't mean neo-psych, if that makes any sense. While there are 9 songs on each side, it's best to think of them as side-long tracks, just as the LP label would have it. Over the years, I've come to appreciate Zog's album more and more, perhaps due to its one-of-a-kindness. And at 56 minutes, quite a lengthy album for one disc.

Personal collection
LP: 1983 Disaster Electronics

No legit reissues exist as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

Release Music Orchestra - Garuda. 1975 Germany

Release Music Orchestra is Tomorrow's Gift version 3.0 and Garuda is their second album under this moniker. By this time, the band are a well oiled machine, and they mix expert musicianship with strong melodies and complex compositions. The title track is sit-up-and-pay-attention worthy, and is a strong Canterbury styled tune similar to Hatfield and the North at their peak. When Release Music Orchestra catch a groove, the results are divine. There are 5 fully realized compositions on Garuda, and 5 "Zwischenspiel's", which translates to interludes. Each member gets a short 30 seconds to a minute to improvise. While not exactly on the same level of Yes' Fragile, I do prefer the efficiency. Of these, I thoroughly enjoyed Manfred Rurup's (keyboards) and Margit Haberland's (vocal) contributions. Overall I'd submit that Release Music Orchestra are a bit more jazzy than other German followers of the Canterbury sound such as Brainstorm and Tortilla Flat, but they would still have to be considered pioneers in the upcoming Kraut Fusion movement that was to dominate the landscape in the next few years.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Brain

The originals are on the green label, but came after the "Metronome" series. This is the version I've owned for many years. For such an important group, it's really a tragedy that all of the Release Music Orchestra's remain without a CD reissue to date. At the current time, the only CD is the archival Bremen 1978 album that Garden of Delights released in 2004. That was 14 years ago, so it would seem there is little interest to get these out. Updated from the CDRWL with a fresh listen.

Alain Markusfeld - Platock. 1978 France

Perhaps the most unheralded of all French progressive rock artists of the 1970s, Alain Markusfeld had no less than 6 albums throughout the 70s and early 80s, and none have seen a CD or LP reissue. On top of this, his original LP's on Egg, starting with Le Desert Noir, suffer the ignominy of being super cheap. That is to say, there is far more supply than demand. How can that be after all these years? I have no idea really, as Platock is yet another victim of the malaise surrounding the artist. On Platock, Markusfeld turns mostly to the acoustic guitar, with bursts of electric throughout - as well as a few wordless voices. This isn't so much a prog rock album, nor jazz fusion, but rather a cyclical piece that draws from both genres. Similar in that way to Mike Oldfield, and perhaps more specifically Michel Moulinie. Something like an Inventions for Acoustic Guitar, though far less cosmic. It's a unique album, one that doesn't grab your attention on paper, but becomes mesmerizing over the course of the album. Enough to raise it to 4 stars.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Egg

The weird border you see above is actually part of the cover. As long as I can remember this album has been cheap and easy to source. I bought mine in the 1980s, and is one of only less than 10 import albums that have actually depreciated in my collection since that time (if only the same could be said for CDs...). And speaking of which, as noted above, there are no legitimate CDs from Markusfeld... period (other than a comp I believe). Tragic. Updated from the CDRWL with a fresh listen.

Social Tension - Macbethia. 1989 Japan

Macbethia arrived during the boom years of the Japanese progressive rock scene of the late 1980s. Their sound is somewhat typical of the time, with brassy digital keyboards and bouncy rhythms. It takes some time for the ears to adjust to their sound and at first listen it can be underwhelming. The ELP worship is a bit obvious, and the sparse vocals aren't helping. However, there are signs that there's more here than the usual copycat prog band. Nobuo Endoh also plays a mean Hammond organ, and there's some analog Moog synthesizers as well to digest. So by the time one gets to 'Inner Vision', it's no longer Japanese happy land, but rather we've entered the mysterious world of SFF's Symphonic Pictures as well as an embryonic version of Anglagard! The title track, coming in at a whopping 19:37, is what one would call a "prog extravaganza". It's a blitzkrieg of keyboard driven (mostly) instrumental progressive rock. So if names such as Motoi Sakuraba, Ars Nova, and Gerard (especially late 90s and beyond version) get you excited, then be sure to look for Macbethia.

Personal collection
LP: 1989 Made in Japan

Like Vermilion Sands, I'm fairly certain this album was not released with an obi nor insert. I've never seen them and I bought my copy new not long after release. There is a CD from the same year, but it's quite difficult to source at a decent price. Musea also reissued the album in 1999 with 2 tracks from their second album, but it's no easier to find. Given the beautiful artwork, I think I'll just stick with the vinyl unless the CD comes about cheap.

Nuance - Il est une Legende. 1982 France

Nuance's debut is one of the most interesting albums on the private do-it-yourself FLVM label. If viewing the cover for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking it was an old NWOBHM album. And despite the fact it did indeed come out in 1982, not only is this not metal in the slightest, but the keyboards sound more like something from the mid 1960s! Overall this is a solid progressive rock album with French vocals, and one that fits squarely with others of its ilk like Synopsis, Orion, Grime, and Pentacle. The guitarist adds in a raw psychedelic edge, which I find highly appealing. Definitely an anachronistic sound for 1982. Easy recommendation for Frog Proggers (like me).

Personal collection
LP: 1982 FLVM

Not reissued in any format as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

Ose - Adonia. 1978 France

When I first discovered Ose in a record store in the late 1980s, I thought I'd found gold. With that incredible cover, and the fact that two-thirds of the band were made up of one of my fave groups at the time Heldon (including Richard Pinhas), I was prepared for nothing but greatness. Plopped it on the turntable and... meh. A few years later I moved it out, and didn't give the album much thought again. Until about 15 years ago, another copy wafted under my nose for cheap, and I figured what did I have to lose?

And a good move that was. As you can see from my rating, I've long reconciled with Ose. In fact, I cannot really understand why I didn't like it much in the first place. My best guess is I was looking for something more sinister and heavy given the Heldon background. Ose is not exactly Heldon, but it's not devoid of that sound either. The longer songs here, like 'Approche sur A' and 'L'aube Jumelle', have lengthy guitar driven sections that sound as if lifted straight from Agneta Nilsson and Interface. In addition to that, the sequencer work is thick and wedgy. Never urgent though, which is probably why the impatient ears of my youth didn't comprehend appropriately. So if you can imagine Richard Pinhas' solo albums combined with other French based electronic artists of the day like Francois Breant, Tim Blake, Christian Boule, Bernard Szajner, and Claude Perraudin, then Ose will no doubt be a fine addition to your collection.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Egg

Best I can tell, Ose sold remarkably well in its day, given the style of music employed. The album was pressed in no less than 5 countries originally. As such, it's quite disappointing to note that there has never been a legitimate CD reissue of this title. So bootlegs continue to thrive. A real mystery.

Updated from the CDRWL with new notes and a fresh listen.

Lenny White - The Adventures of Astral Pirates. 1978 USA

One presumes Lenny White was hitting the wacky weed pretty hard during this era, if we are to absorb the concept, cartoons, and story line of The Adventures of Astral Pirates. Well, no matter, as White has turned in a powerful, mostly instrumental, jazz fusion album not that far removed from his other gig with Return to Forever. So Chick Corea was into Medieval knights and White was into... alien pirates from antiquity. Like I said, could have been the bud...

What makes The Adventures of Astral Pirates such a great album is the solid compositions, strong melodies, some indigenous global sounds, and - to be expected - expert musicianship. It would be easy to laugh off a work such as this, but doing so would be at your loss. And what I respect most about White's album, is that he doesn't feel the need to remind you that he's a monster drummer. Other than a small bit on 'Assault', this is truly ensemble material. A good one that I feel is often times overlooked.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Elektra

An album like this needs the full gatefold to appreciate, so that you can get the outrageous story and artwork. With a marquee name like Lenny White, one would think this album would have thrived in the CD reissue market. No such luck. There are 2 Japanese presses, and one on the always basic Wounded Bird. And what's most disappointing about the second Japanese reissue (2015) is they went for the jewel case instead of a mini-LP. Of all albums, this one needs that format, as mentioned above. As such, I'm sticking with the LP for this title.

Magdalena - Lanean Sartzen. 1981 Spain

From my perspective, Magdalena's sole release is the Basque region's most progressive rock album in the traditional sense. As many of us came to find out in the late 1980s and early 90s, the region had dozens of rock albums, mostly sung in the native tongue. The majority of these Basque albums are folk based, and because of that, many fell out of my personal interest area. However a few were exactly what I was seeking, for example Haizea's second album, Lisker, and Sakre. But the best of them all is this little obscurity I picked up in the mid 90s. While the melodies have a traditional folklore feel to them, the compositions are clearly rooted in complex progressive rock. Wonderful fuzz guitar and flute take on the lead instrument chores, whereas the rhythm section keeps the whole thing hopping from one place to another. Often times I was reminded of the Catalan group Gotic as well. A very fine album.

Personal collection
LP: 1981 IZ

Comes with a nice fold out lyric insert. No legit CD or LP reissues as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen). Watch out for bootlegs of this title.

One interesting tidbit here: The album's title on the front cover is Lanean Sartzen, which is Basque for "Work Included". However the title track and the way it is listed on the label is Lanera Sartzen, which translates to "Getting Into Work". Not sure why this is - guessing a miscommunication with the art director...

Cultural Noise - Aphorisms Insane. 1980 Austria

Let's see, three guys who play a raft full of analog keyboards - and one doubles on guitar. I bet they sound like Tangerine Dream! And indeed that's exactly who Cultural Noise has emulated. The really good electronic years of Tangerine Dream too, which would be between 1974 and 1977. Lots of fat analog sequencers, fuzz tone guitar, and quite a bit of twists / turns / sundry mayhem. Mellotron M400, Micro Moog, EMS Sequencer, Roland Sequencer, ARP Sequencer, ARP 2600, VCS 3, Roland Studiosystem 700 is what they allege to play. OK, I believe them. With two 20 minute tracks titled 'After the Selfdisintegration in Time' and 'Pursuing the In Time Disintegrating Reality', we are definitely not talking commercial material here. Who knows why a major label would sign someone up like Cultural Noise, but we're most certainly glad they did! Come to think of it, the modern UK group Redshift sounds more like Cultural Noise than Tangerine Dream actually. For fans of vintage Berlin School electronic music, this is as good as it gets.

Personal collection
LP: 1980 CBS

Not reissued (legit) on CD or LP as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

Georges Grunblatt - K-Priss. 1980 France

Georges Grunblatt was an early runnin' buddy of a one Richard Pinhas, and basically represented one half of Heldon on the first 3 albums. On K-Priss, he gathers all of Heldon's alumni, for what would appear to be Heldon VIII. It's not Heldon, but definitely a hybrid of late 70s French synthesized slickness with rip-roarin' guitar rave-ups from Richard Pinhas, and pounding drums from Auger. Like a more energetic Ose, if that makes any sense. Grunblatt for his part turns in some fine piano work. Recorded in 1977, but not released until 1980. Good one.

Personal collection
LP: 1980 Ramses / Polydor

No legit CD reissues exist as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen). There is, however, a legit LP reissue on Gonzai.

PSI - Horizonte. 1977 Germany

PSI's sole album was released smack dab in the middle of the Kraut fusion boom of the late 1970s. The album definitely evokes Kraan, Munju, RMO, Missus Beastly, etc... Apparently PSI impressed someone high up, as their sole album was on the high profile Bacillus label, besting many of the private presses of the era. For me, there are a couple of things that separate PSI from the pack. One is the fantastic rhythm section, propelling the tracks forward at an exciting rate. The other is the terrific production. Clearly a big budget was behind the recording. Recommended to fusion fans who enjoy a high amount of melodic content.

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Bacillus

In 2017, the upstart Polish label Chickadisc reissued this on CD. I haven't obtained it yet, but probably will eventually.

Lodestone - s/t. 1981 USA

From northwest of Los Angeles comes Lodestone, who released one of those dream hard rock, early metal albums back in that perfect time to be from southern California: 1981. Lodestone are from the use-your-brain school of hard rock, so each of these gems features extended compositions, with plenty of changes in tempo and tone. The vocals have that slightly high pitched screamed sound that was popular in its day. The guitarist borders the early metal sound on the riffing parts, and falls back to hard rock for the solos. The lyrics actually prove these guys went to school and paid attention "Are you being consumed by the manifestations, that your mind creates for it's (sic) devastation? Do you feel the gnawing, feel the strain? No need to worry, you'll soon be insane". Not exactly "engine roars between my thighs" as was more common in those days for the style. I like the comparison to Manilla Road and Legend that I've read, not so much that they sound like them (Lodestone are less metallic I'd submit), but rather they were seeking new ideas in a tired format. A little Rush, a little Judas Priest, a little Budgie. It's all here and more. One of my personal favorite American hard rock albums from this time period, up there with UHF, Crysys, Survivor (Louisiana), Winterhawk, Full Moon, and Amulet. And it might be better than all of those actually.

Personal collection
LP: 1981 private

In dire need of a CD reissue!

The Tangerine Zoo - Outside Looking In. 1968 USA

Outside Looking In is The Tangerine Zoo's second and last album. In reflection, it's amazing just how many great psychedelic bands the United States housed in a relatively short time frame. From 1967 to 1969, you would find psych bands cropping up in every nook and cranny inside America. And the epicenters of the movement, along each coast, were primarily in San Francisco and Boston. It's the latter where The Tangerine Zoo hails from. Previously known as The Flower Pot, the censor boards (that were alive and well in those days) insisted on a name change. Anything with a fruit and the word Zoo was considered hippy enough, so The Tangerine Zoo was deemed safe (Twentieth Century Zoo was to come along shortly).

And then in 1970 it all basically just died. Not a single one made the transition over to the new progressive rock phenomena happening in England and the rest of Europe. Seems like a good dissertation topic for another day.

I bring this up in the review for this album, because The Tangerine Zoo were already heading in that direction, as were a few of their brethren. There's no mistaking this for a late 60s American psychedelic album, with the harmony vocals, old organ, dippy lyrics, and stinging bumble bee fuzz guitars. And the epic closer was de rigueur following the success of The Doors and Iron Butterfly. But as one listens closely to the album, there is an advanced songwriting. Meter, color, and dynamic changes are subtlety tossed in within each track. There's not a dud among the compositions here, almost all quite inventive, even within the short time duration afforded. 'Another Morning' is the only song here that is relatively straightforward (it's a cover of The Moody Blues song), though certainly worthy of hit single status.

If you're looking for a bit more gusto in your psychedelia, similar in that way to Neighb'rhood Childr'n or Strawberry Alarm Clock, then Outside Looking In will certainly delight.

Personal collection
LP: 1968 Mainstream

Another one of those albums where there isn't a date listed anywhere but is generally accepted to be 1968. The band themselves, on their own webpage, corroborate this but without any recording or historical detail at all (do they even remember?) beyond it was recorded in the fall of '68 in New York City. That's not a release date. And they disbanded in 1970. Of course they did - they ALL did.

So I laid out some good coin for an original of this album - for all the reasons listed in the review - only to find out it pretty much sounds like crap. I don't mean the pressing quality or condition, but rather the muddy and tinny production. Or at least that's what we got to hear it on vinyl. It is my sincere hope that the masters are a different story, and a high quality CD/LP reissue could do wonders.

Of course, there's a problem. All the Mainstream releases are locked up tight by Sony with what appears zero desire to reissue any of them. So bootlegs abound everywhere. The band, for their part, are helping resell the bootleg CD (I contacted them a few years back to learn this)! And this is because they already know they're screwed out of royalties, so what difference does it make (at least that's how they see it). But it would be so nice to have their contribution to a quality reissue (and yes, hopefully some cash too).

Mainstream is arguably the greatest psychedelic label from America, and almost no one gets to hear them properly. Jeesh.

Momentum - Scintillation. 1983 USA

Scintillation is the second instrumental album from Florida based Momentum, and is, in my estimation, a pleasant surprise given the late date. On first blush, the keyboards have that early 80s New Wave sound, and sounds somewhat typical of the era. But then suddenly out of nowhere thrusts this excellent guitar fronted jazz rock. A type of fusion with loud, almost psychedelic guitar leads - very much at odds with most recordings from 1983. The title track could almost be considered hard rock given its intensity. There's also one beautiful flute driven piece ('Breakfast in the Afternoon'). Synthesizers go wild on 'The Spirited Lady', a track that sounds like it had been lifted off Al Di Meola's Elegant Gypsy. Sure, there's a couple of funky sax laden tracks to sit through ('Add it Up', 'Goosby Strut'), but both contain fine melodies and blazin' guitar midsections to offset the trendiness (well no guitar madness on 'Goosby Strut' actually, and it does sound like a bar crowd pleaser). 1983 is not typically a year one seeks out fiery fusion, but Momentum provides the counter argument.

Personal collection
LP: 1983 J.B.C.

Hasn't been reissued in any format as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

Round House - 'Scuse Me. 1972 Germany

'Scuse Me is the debut album from German horn rock band Round House. Of the 10 tracks presented here, 8 are of the song based variety, and all are uniformly good. Excellent horn charts, well written melodies, and fine guitar/organ interplay are the order of the day. And vocalist Bernd Heil has an uncanny resemblance to David Clayton-Thomas, with his soul tinged forceful voice. Highlights of this style include 'Motives', 'Send Me a Letter', 'Sunshine in My Eyes', and 'Thinking of You'. 'Born to Wander' mixes horn rock with jazz rock, and the band let's loose more instrumentally here to great effect. The title track, though, is really something special. It's the only instrumental, and here Round House mixes jazz rock with underground Krautrock. The echoed vibes juxtaposed against the riffing wah wah rhythm guitar will make you stand up and jam. It's been a long time since I'd revisited this album, and in my notes for their followup (also a long ago listen) I had noted I preferred that one because they had "stretched out more". If this is the inferior album, then Down To Earth might be looking for another half point boost as well!

'Scuse Me comes recommended to horn rock fans. For those who can't stand the style (which sadly seems to be the majority), or do not want to hear another band following in the footsteps of Chicago and BST, I would steer well clear of 'Scuse Me, except maybe to hear the title track.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Harvest

Not reissued in any format (legal that is) as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

Round House - Down to Earth. 1973 Germany

Round House are a German group who obviously spent a lot of time with their Chicago Transit Authority album collection. And they do a pretty convincing job with their variation of the horn rock sound. Some excellent grooves and they tend to veer towards the jazzy side, always a plus in this genre. Much better, I feel, than the more known Brain label horn groups like Emergency and Creative Rock. While the debut is also great, followup album Down to Earth is quite a bit more adventurous and includes a near side long suite similar to Chicago's 'A Girl from Buchanon', but overall less pop oriented. There's plenty of great music to be found here, especially considering the fiery Terry Kath inspired wah wah guitar.

Personal collection
LP: 1973 Harvest

Note that Rateyourmusic lists the group as from Zurich, Switzerland. According to the backside of the LP of Down to Earth, which has extensive liner notes, the band was based in Germany, though the leader of the group is originally from Switzerland. One of the members is from Hungary while another is French. I would consider this a German band, given that's the origin of the group as an entity. They also have the date and band name wrong. A trifecta of errors! Discogs has all the entries correctly attributed.

Not reissued in any format (legal that is) as I move this post from the CDRWL.

Last listen: 2009

Eden - s/t. 1978 Canada

Eden are a keyboard lead quartet from Quebec who play a standard symphonic progressive rock. About half the album features French vocals, whereas the rest is instrumental. While there is a guitarist, his role is primarily subordinate, and the leads are generally created via synthesizer - mostly a String Ensemble, but you'll hear some Moog as well. I didn't discern any organ, Mellotron, or Fender Rhodes. There's nothing extraordinary about this album, other than its remarkable consistency, and every track is excellent in my book except perhaps the classical cover 'Pavane'. I also really appreciate the early 70s styled artwork. Easy recommendation to fans of mid to late 70s progressive rock.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Disques Total

A few words about the date. There is no reference to a date anywhere on the LP (an album I've owned since the early 90s) - including recording sessions. There isn't a discography out there that doesn't attribute to 1978 to this album, and it appears to be a case of "generally accepted". But there is no de facto proof anywhere on the internet, that I can find, that 1978 is indeed the right date. I did a deep dive through the Disques Total discography, and remarkably none of their albums have a date. Going through their 45's, finally dates emerge - that of 1977 and 1978. I think the release date of 1978 is probably correct. What remains a mystery, for me anyway, is the recording date. Disques Total reissued many albums in the late 70s. I could easily believe Eden to be a mid 70s recording that received its first pressing later. I hope some factual data will eventually emerge about this fine album.

As of this writing (updated from the CDRWL with a fresh listen), the album remains without a legal reissue in any format.

Mike Warren & Survival Kit - Please Yourself First. 1978 USA

Mike Warren's sole album is a fine mix of typical late 70's fusion (side 1) with a more ferocious side 2, bordering progressive rock, and which even includes some psychedelic guitar. Progressive rock laced fusion with acid guitar is one of my favorite mixes! And this has to be the only jazz rock album I've heard that uses timpani extensively. Overall a mixture of Pierre Moerlin's Gong, Colosseum II, Randy Roos, and Frank Zappa. I'm sure the latter was a major influence and one hopes Frank's philosophical outlook is the inspiration behind the title of the album. Otherwise, a rather unfortunate choice of words...

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Dobre

Typical single sleeve American private press, that lends itself easily to ringwear. Apparently a true original is on a private label called Xound Records, and was licensed to the jazz oriented Dobre imprint. No reissues as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

Hadal Sherpa - s/t. 2017 Finland

Every once in awhile I'll receive a recommendation on a new album to try. But it's very rare for me to receive 3 strong recs from ...