Last summer, the original lineup of Black Sabbath — Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, and Geezer Butler — roared back to life after some 30-plus years apart. In rather short order, the trio snagged their first-ever No. 1 album with 13, toured the world for nearly a full year, and even celebrated by winning a couple Grammys back in January. Now, in an interview with Metal Hammer (via Rolling Stone), frontman Osbourne talks the metal icons’ future plans, which include “one more album, and a final tour.”
Author Archives: Erik Heter
Shortly after getting up this Sunday June 28, I received some bad news. You see, the most recent launch of the Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 was a failure, with the rocket exploding about two minutes into its flight. Being a space geek and an unabashed fan of Musk’s vision to create a spacefaring civilization (not to mention, his putting his money where his mouth is to make it happen), this was definitely a disappointment for me. If only that could have been the worst news of the day.
Not long after that, I heard about the passing of Chris Squire. Now that was a real punch to the gut. Rockets are replaceable. Chris Squire is not. It seems like it has only been a few months since we were informed that he was undergoing cancer treatments (leukemia, specifically). You would have thought he would have had longer, and maybe even had a chance for full recovery. And while age 67 is not usually associated with the term “spring chicken”, it seems way too young for someone to be dying.
While Squire has influenced countless other musicians, one did not need to have any musical skill whatsoever to realize how incredibly talented he was. It was blatantly obvious to anyone who even remotely paid attention. It certainly wasn’t lost on me on that fateful night in 1979 when Squire and his band mates converted me into a lifetime prog fan and Yes fan. Before that, I had always thought of a bass player as just somebody sort of in the background, there to “thicken up” the music a little bit. On that night, Squire taught me that the bass could be so much more, a melodic instrument, a lead instrument, a driver of musical innovation.
And good God, what a body of work. Go listen to The Yes Album … phenomenal bass work, from the subterranean driving bass on Yours Is No Disgrace to the counterpoint on Perpetual Change. Then there is, on Fragile, the “snake eating itself” bass line of Roundabout. There is also The Fish, built on multiple bass parts of which each, by themselves, are a testament to his skill. Together, they make up a singularly unique piece of music (it’s also the first song my son could identify by name, although he at two years old referred to it just as “Fish Song”). And who, pray tell, ever played bass the way Squire did on The Gates of Delirium, especially in the “battle” section? Nobody, that’s who. There are so many other wonderful pieces of Yes music that feature Squire at his best that I could go on for much longer than you could continue reading.
To be sure, Squire wasn’t the first virtuoso bassist in rock. I’m thinking of guys like Paul McCartney and John Entwistle. But Squire took bass virtuosity to a whole new level. He turned it up to 11. And for the decade of the 1970’s, I have no problem calling him the best bassist of that era. While others, such as Geddy Lee, may have passed him up in the 1980’s, in the 70’s, Squire was the king of the bassists. I can think of many other good ones of that era, but I can think of few that I would even put in the same league as him, and none that I would put even, much less above him. That’s not a slight on the others. That’s just a testament to a monumental talent. In the 1970’s, Chris Squire was to the bass guitar what Steve Jobs was to the personal computer, and later to the smart phone.
In our current era, we have a number of supremely talented bassists, such as Steve Babb of Glass Hammer and Mariusz Duda of Riverside, among others. I’m sure if you ask any of them, they will all say that Squire was a huge influence. While Squire may have been taken from us way too soon, his influence will be felt for generations – not only in the way he played bass, but in the example he set for other bass players in expanding its possibilities. In fact, the latter part may be where the most lasting impact resides.
As I sign off from this post, I’m going to leave as one last tribute to this most amazing musician, Squire’s own rendition of Amazing Grace. I assume it was performed on his trademark Rickenbacker. Listen to the whole thing and see if you can keep your eyes dry throughout. I, for one, failed.
Rest in Peace, Chris.
First of all, let’s talk about what this piece is not. It is not a criticism of Neil Peart, the drummer. My belief continues that he is one of the greatest drummers of all time, in any genre of music. As a lyricist, my belief continues that he is still one of the very best at writing thought provoking, philosophical, high-minded lyrics.
Something else this piece is not is one of politics. While it centers around some political criticisms made by Peart, I have no beef with the fact that he disagrees with a certain politician or certain political viewpoint. So any of you readers who do choose to comment here, please do not turn it into a political debate. Comments that attempt to do so will be yanked before they are ever seen.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the recent Rolling Stone cover story on Rush, and a statement or two in particular. Like this one:
Peart says that it’s “very obvious” that Paul “hates women and brown people” — and Rush sent a cease-and-desist order to get Paul to stop quoting “The Trees” in his speeches.
Really, Neil? He hates women and brown people? On what do you base this ugly, nasty, ad hominem attack? What facts to you have to back up such an ugly smear. Was it this? Or maybe this? What about this? And this? It seems to me that it’s very obvious that the facts are in diametric opposition to your position that “he hates … brown people.”
Neil, aren’t you the guy who wrote lyrics decrying those “people who judge without a measure of mercy”? If you truly believe that, then why are you tarring someone with ugly, baseless accusations of racism and sexism? That looks like a textbook definition of judging without a measure of mercy.
You also wrote about those people who were “quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand.” And yet here you are joining such a crowd, as evidenced by your failure (or unwillingness) to consider any facts that contradicted your position, such as those linked above. Instead of thoughtful criticism, you go straight for the lowest common denominator. As a somewhat newly minted American citizen, congratulations – you’ll fit right in with the prevailing mode of political discourse in this country (insert slow, sarcastic clap here).
The songs “Wish Them Well” and “Witch Hunt” from which lyrics in the previous two paragraphs were derived would encourage the thoughtful listener to take the high road. Your baseless, race-baiting smear is taking the low road all the way. Honestly, I thought you were better than that. That kind of rhetoric is the type of crap I would expect from the various poo-flinging talking heads if I had the stomach to watch Fox News, MSNBC, or some other televised food fight. If there is one positive, at least you’ve given me another reason to be thankful that I’m a cord-cutter.
I wouldn’t feel any different about this if you had made a preposterous statement that Obama was born in Kenya, or an equally preposterous statement that Hillary hates men. Neither of those two people has a snowball’s chance in hell of making my favorite persons list. And still, I’d think anyone who uttered such things in seriousness would be guilty of the most baseless and ugly smearing as you are in regard to your statements about Paul. Unsubstantiated accusations of racism and sexism are no better than racism and sexism itself.
Look, I’m fine if you don’t like Rand Paul, or any other politician for that matter – after all, 99% of politicians give the rest a bad name. While there are things about him I like, there are others that give me great pause. As for me, my clear frontrunner is SMOD ’16 (Sweet Meteor of Death). But don’t mind me, when it comes to politics I’m one of the most cynical people around. I take exception to Ronald Reagan’s statement that, as the world’s second oldest profession, it bears a remarkable resemblance to the first, as I think such sentiments grossly unfair to oldest profession practicioners.
Still, I can’t help but be disappointed when I think about the example you’ve set and I’ve attempted to follow (poorly, often times, but hey, I try) through your lyrics and through the unshakable artistic integrity of you and your bandmates. As you well know, “The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect, so hard to earn so easily burned.” Reading through the comments section of the Rolling Stone piece online, I can see that I’m not the only one for whom you’ve burned some of that respect.
With regard to the craft of drumming, I know you have a great deal of humility. It’s a necessity for any drummer of your caliber to insist that he still needs to take lessons from others like Freddie Gruber. Perhaps you could let some of that humility bleed over into other spheres. If you do, maybe you’ll realize that there are ways to express political disagreement with those you oppose without descending into mud of ugly, baseless accusations of racism and sexism. Maybe you’ll realize that, whatever you think about Paul’s policy proposals, it’s completely unnecessary and counterproductive to accuse him of hating brown people and women, particularly when there are easily verifiable facts that say the exact opposite. Maybe, even you could get in touch with the man who wrote these words:
A quality of justice
A quantity of light
A particle of mercy
Makes the color of right
Erik A. Heter
Rush Fan since 1979 and at least until the day I die.
Spoiler Alert: If you are planning on attending an upcoming Rush concert on this tour and don’t want the setlist spoiled for you, then it’s advisable to not read this. But even if somehow the setlist does get spoiled for you? It won’t make any difference. It’s not the surprise of what they are playing on this tour that makes the show great – it’s that they are playing these songs. At that moment, you won’t be caring whether the surprise was spoiled or not, you’ll just be thrilled that you are there as a witness to greatness.
During the months from May through September, I usually welcome rain. Anyone who has endured the heat of a few central Texas summers (which start early and last a long time) will understand exactly what I’m talking about. But it’s important to remember the old saying about “be careful what you wish for”. We have received a much greater than normal amount of rain lately, including a torrential downpour the day before the show, and a good soaking rain on the morning after. But for May 16, the weather gods smiled upon us. The clouds did part, and legions of Rush fans were treated – and I do mean treated – to a concert for the ages in the relatively new outdoor venue of the Austin 360 Amphitheater.
In defiance of Albert Einstein, Rush started at the present and took the audience back in time, album by album, dusting off some long unplayed classics along the way. Of their 19 studio albums, 15 were represented in the setlist. Only Test for Echo, Presto, Hold Your Fire, and Power Windows were left unrepresented. Of course, that meant every album from their debut up to and through Grace Under Pressure had at least one song. It also meant that some classic albums, such as 1977’s A Farewell To Kings, had multiple entries in the set. And as the show closed, they even gave us a taste of a song that predates their first album.
Starting out with three songs from Clockwork Angels (The Anarchist, The Wreckers and Headlong Flight), the band then worked backward to Far Cry, The Main Monkey Business, How It Is, Animate, Roll The Bones (with some very entertaining video in the rap section), Between The Wheels, and closed out the first set with Subdivisions. It was a strong first half, and the inclusion of songs like Animate and Roll The Bones (which I had never seen performed live) and How It Is (never performed live before this tour) made it even better. The band was tight and yet having fun as well. But the best was yet to come.
The second half opened with Tom Sawyer (complete with the South Park introductory video), and things just got better from there. The first real stunner of the show came when the introductory synthesizers of The Camera Eye bubbled up from the background noise and led into another gem I had long wanted to see performed in a live setting. And man, did they deliver the goods. As the band played through the portion leading up to the first verse, fellow Progarchist Kevin McCormick turned to me and exclaimed on how “meaty” were the power chords of Alex Lifeson. Indeed, they were, meaty enough to throw on the grill and make a meal. The entire performance of the song was nothing short of scintillating.
Things just got better. After an obligatory (and excellent) rendition of The Spirit of Radio, we were treated to another rarely-performed-live gem: Jacob’s Ladder. After being threatened by the weatherman with real thunderstorms, this was the only one that actually occurred, and it was most welcome. By this point, my fellow concertgoers and I were beside ourselves with joy, showing our appreciation between songs with the same enthusiasm – and loudness – as we all must have at our respective first Rush concerts back in our teenage years.
The next one really threw me for a loop, as the band gave us a live performance of the first part of Hemispheres. Despite standing for the entire show, my jaw momentarily hit the ground when this one started. I was fortunate enough to see Hemisphere played in its entirety at my first Rush show in 1979, but I don’t believe they’ve played any of this epic since then. But on this night they did give us at least a piece of it, and the best part at that.
From there, they moved back to A Farewell To Kings, and gave us some instrumental sections of Hemisphere’s prelude, Cygnux X, Book I, with the song punctuated by a Neil Peart drum solo. Closer to the Heart followed, and after that, another highlight of the show for yours truly, Xanadu. Both Geddy Lee and Alex pulled out the double-neck axes for the performance of this piece, and had the donned their kimonos of the era, I would have sworn it was 1977 all over again. The irony was not lost on me that during a song about the inability to create Heaven on Earth, Rush seemed to do just that.
Following that, we were treated to Parts I, II, IV, and VII of their breakthrough classic, 2112. That led us to the end of the show proper, but there was no question that an encore was coming. As such, they closed out the show with Lakeside Park, Anthem, What You’re Doing, and Working Man – with a snippet of Garden Road thrown in for good measure. The show was over, but the euphoria was not. I cannot speak for the rest of my concert-going entourage, but despite being tired when I arrived home, it was only with great difficulty that I finally fell asleep. I was simply too wired from what I had witnessed – quite simply, the best Rush concert of the six I have been fortunate enough to attend, and one of the best (if not the best) concert of all those I have seen. There is some tough competition from a few Yes shows I have seen, but this one is definitely in the running for my best ever. And as much I have loved Yes for many years, there is no way at this stage that they could put on a show as incredibly fantastic as this.
The Last Man Standing
Of all the progressive rock bands that emerged in the 1970’s commercial heyday of that genre, Rush truly is the last man standing. Yes is still around, but in a diminished form (and I mean no disrespect to current vocalist Jon Davison, who is a great talent). With the split between Ian Anderson and Martin Barre, Jethro Tull is no more. King Crimson s touring under the Mk 7,396 lineup – or is it lineup Mk 7,395 (King Crimson being the one band that could make a current or former Yes member exclaim “damn, that band goes through a lot of personnel changes!). And Genesis is long gone from their glory days of the Gabriel/Hackett era. But last night, here was Rush, still in the same form as they were when “new guy” Peart joined prior to their first US tour, still touring big venues, still putting on not just a concert, but a spectacular multimedia presentation that is beyond the reach of virtually any other prog band currently in existence. This leads me to a few additional thoughts.
Much has been written here at Progarchy and elsewhere regarding the changing of the music business and the effect of the internet on the same. For those of us who love prog, this has mostly been a boon, an incredible boon at that. The current prog scene is alive and very vibrant, matching the glory days of the 1970’s in terms of quality while overwhelming that era in terms of quantity. Back then, one could keep up with the new releases. Nowadays, there are simply too many.
But while the music industry has changed in many ways for the better of us prog fans, one of the few laments I have is that I won’t likely ever get to see many of the current acts I like perform in a live setting. I most definitely will not get to see them put on a show like Rush still does, in a larger venue with the lights and big screen video that enhances the concert-going experience. But rather than dwell on that too much, instead I will choose to be thankful. Thankful that I did get to experience such a thing. Thankful that in a 35 year span within their 40 years plus career, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen Rush six times, and thankful that one of my favorite bands of my youth is still relevant, perhaps even more relevant.
This wasn’t lost on me as I thought about some of my fellow concert goers. The group with whom I attended ranged in age from 15 to 50 (with yours truly being the geezer of that bunch). The two youngest members of the group have not been alive long enough to experience many concerts of this magnitude, and with the change in the music industry, will probably not experience too many more, unless they want to see record company creations like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. For them, they were fortunate enough that they were able to see this show, and in time, they will realize how lucky they were.
For the older members of the entourage, we are lucky that we have been able to follow Rush for decades, much longer than most bands ever last. We have seen them continue to stay relevant and make music of the highest excellence through shifting musical trends and technological and economic currents that have upended the music business, morphing it into something unimaginable when they first started. Consistency and excellence, fueled by integrity that allowed them to benefit from the old order without being swallowed by it. And for that, they were able to give us, the fans, a career retrospective that will not soon be forgotten, and one that they seemed to enjoy playing as much as we enjoyed witnessing. Just as Geddy thanked us fans before leaving the stage the final time, let me turn around and say Thank YOU, Geddy and Rush. While I don’t like to presumptuously speak for others, this is one time I’m confident I’m speaking for everybody who had the good fortune to be there last night.
Hat tip to Kevin McCormick for the original idea for the above meme :)
This is an absolutely brilliant version of the Yes classic, Awaken, by Todmobile (whom I’ve never heard of until this) with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, and Jon Anderson on vocals. I have never needed any convincing that this piece is incredible, but seeing this performance has only strengthened that conviction. Enjoy.
This past year was chock full of first world problems for many of us, myself most included. At the pace I’m buying music, my iPhone is full and stays full. Often times I have to shuffle out one album off to get a new album onto it, given the limited storage space. After all, having over 2200 songs on the go with me just isn’t enough. I’m going to have to upgrade from the 32 GB model to a newer 64 GB model. Sigh.
Many first worlders with iTunes installed on their computers received an unrequested U2 album, while others among us (myself included) actually had to make the effort to download it. And some of those that received it inadvertently didn’t want it … and actually had to go through the trouble of deleting it! Oh the humanity or something.
And then there is the problem that plagues virtually every reader and writer involved with this website – too much good prog, too little time. This past year gave us another bumper crop of outstanding releases. In fact, the problem was so bad, when I look around at some of the other year-end lists here, I notice a lot of albums (and band) of which I wasn’t even aware. There are many more to which I have given a listen or two, but have not fully digested. And then there are back catalogs to go through (I’ve spend the last two years working through Gazpacho’s back catalog, now I’m starting on Ayreon’s). So as the calendar flips to 2015, once again I find myself in the hole as far as keeping up with new developments in prog. It’s tough, I tell you. (Insert tiny, sarcastic violin music here).
But never fear, first worlders – there are a number of albums I did get to this year, ones that I listend to numerous times and thoroughly loved, albums that spent time (or still do) in heavy rotation.
One of the heavy rotation albums was Cosmograf’s Capacitor. Coming of an excellent release last year, Robin Armstrongand Co. upped their game with an even better album in 2014. Heavy and brooding in parts, introspective in others, the ensemble cast that plays on this album made it some of the best music of 2014, while Armstrong provided one of the most interesting concepts. It all adds up to a great album.
Prior to this year, my score with IQ was 1-1. The first IQ album I purchased was Dark Matter, which was excellent. The second was The Seventh House … which just didn’t do it for me. Consider the score now 2-1 – or maybe even 3-1 – after Road of Bones. Russell Clarke and Dave Smith both gave us reviews that were spot on. This was a stunningly good release. And why did I up my score to 3-1? Because the bonus disc, had it been released separately, would have been an excellent album on its own. This is what you call good value – a great concept album (disc 1) and an album of great songs (disc 2). This is also what you call “not to be missed.”
Gazpacho decided 2014 would be the year they freaked out their listeners, releasing what was (by their own account) the strangest album of their career, Demon. This album had a great concept behind it. It also differed somewhat in tone and timbre from their previous albums but nevertheless still had the trademark Gazpacho sound. As Mr. Wert mentioned, it takes a little bit of work, but it’s well worth the ultimate reward.
I don’t always understand the distinction between an LP and an EP, a question that came to mind with Haken’s Restoration EP. In the days when vinyl was king, this would have been considered a full album, clocking in at over 34 minutes in length. EP or LP, this was one of my favorite releases of the year, with three excellent tracks. The best of these in my opinion is Crystallised, a bloody good epic that is one of the best long form pieces of at least the last five years. I don’t know if this is available on CD, but it’s less than $3 USD on Amazon for a digital download, so there really is no reason not to pick this up and give it a shot.
My instrumental album of the year goes to Cailyn’s Voyager. This is almost unfair, as I was predisposed to liking this just knowing the inspiration behind it. But even if you are not a space geek like me, you should give this one a listen because Cailyn delivered a great work including both her own originals as well as some reinterpretations of Holst’s work from The Planets. My own review is here if you want to read more. But seriously, you should just give this a listen.
One of my new discoveries this year was the duet from St. Petersburg, Russia, iamthemorning. Their new album Belighted was one of my favorite finds this year. I love their style of “chamber prog”, what a great niche they have carved out for themselves. And Marjana Semkins voice is beautiful, silky smooth and irresistible. Most of the music is pretty mellow, although they do make space for an excellent rocker, The Howler. I really like this act, and I’m very much looking forward to what they will do in the future.
Mariusz Duda, the creative force behind Riverside, returned this year with another chapter in his solo project, Lunatic Soul. Walking on a Flashlight Beam was a worthy release, even if it wasn’t quite as good as the first Lunatic Soul album. Just about anything Duda does these days is worth the attention given to it, and this album is no exception. The songs are very moody, as one would expect, with Gutter being one highlight, while the haunting Sky Drawn in Crayon is probably the best track on the album.
My final entry for this piece is the excellent Ode to Echo by our favorite proggers from Tennessee, Glass Hammer. This album continues a streak of exceptionally strong releases that begun in 2010 with If. There is one quibble I have with this album though, although I do not think it’s the fault of Glass Hammer proper. That quibble is the continued monopolization of Jon Davison’s time by Yes. I’m not going to be one of those guys that says “it’s not Yes without Jon Anderson”, and I do think Davison is about as good a vocalist as they could get in Anderson’s absence. Still, I feel Davison’s home should be with Glass Hammer, whose last four releases (particularly Perilous) have been better than anything Yes has done in … ages. I read a few years ago that upon discovering Davison, the core of Glass Hammer told him that he was the vocalist they had always wanted – and I can certainly understand why. And it really stuck in my craw a few years ago when, on a Cruise to the Edge that included both of his bands, Yes would not allow Davison to perform with Glass Hammer. That was a very disrespectful move, if you ask me, one lacking in grace and class. Yes, I think it’s time for you to take a break, and maybe even consider retiring, as you have nothing left to prove and you’ve had a great career. And Mr. Davison, I think it’s time for you to go home to Glass Hammer and focus your creative energies where they will be best put to use.
There were a number of other albums I heard this year by bands such as North Atlantic Oscillation, Fire Garden, Enchant, and John Basset. But given the limited time and the overwhelming volume of good prog, I just haven’t been able to give them my undivided attention as of yet.
So another year of first world problems – insufficient iPhone storage space, unwanted free albums, and more incredibly good music than I could ever listen to – has come to an end. Still, I’m going to be thankful that I don’t have it as tough as these guys:
One of my pet peeves with much space-based science fiction has to do with setting. In particular, so many sci-fi novels, short stories, TV shows, and movies of the space-based variety are set in some far off galaxies on imimaginary planets. This doesn’t necessarily make those stories bad, and in fact some are very good (for example, the best sci-fi TV series ever in this reviewer’s opinion, Babylon 5). The reason it’s a pet peeve with me is that it gives a short shrift to our own cosmic backyard, the Solar System, which is chock full of some of the most fascinating wonders imaginable (to be fair, some action of Babylon 5 does take place on Earth, Mars, and near Jupiter).
In the music world, thankfully, there has been an acknowledgement that we live in a most interesting cosmic neighborhood. Gustav Holst was the first to do this with his suite, The Planets, which premiered in 1918. Between then and now, our knowledge of our own Solar System has grown exponentially. This is in no small part due to the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. These probes were launched in the mid-1970’s and made their way through the Solar System in the 1980’s. Thus, Cailyn has now stepped in to build on both Holst and our expanded knowledge with her musical interpretation, Voyager.
Voyager is an album of 14 tracks, most of which address various celestial bodies encountered in the 1980’s by the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. Four of the tracks – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune – are Cailyn’s re-interpretation of Holst’s original compositions from The Planets. While these are quite good in their own right, the best tracks on the album are Cailyn’s own original compositions. Seven of these tracks are directed to various moons of the outer gas giants. The track Voyager refers to the probes themselves, while Pale Blue Dot refers to our own planet as seen from Voyager at the outer rim of the Solar System. Heliopause refers to the outer boundary of the Solar System, which both Voyager probes have now passed beyond.
All of the tracks are worthy of mention, but I’ll just mention a few here. Io has some interesting contrast, including one musically volcanic eruption that is representative of that world. Titan is a study in dynamic contrasts shrouded in mystery, much like its namesake, which includes some nylon string guitar on top of heavier rock underneath and an atmospheric ending befitting of the only moon that has an atmosphere. Miranda at times feels like it’s alternating between a rock song and a Beethoven piano concerto, and can be dark and moody. Pale Blue Dot is a mellow and reflective piano-driven piece that hits home perfectly for its subject matter – the photograph of Earth, from one of the Voyager probes, as it was leaving the Solar System. But they are all good.
Although this is primarily a review of music, the packaging of Voyager definitely deserves mention here. In particular, there are notes in the booklet for every track that provide a description of its subject matter. For the celestial bodies themselves, this includes information about the origin of their respective names and physical composition. Reading these track descriptions is a must to get their full impact. They provide food for thought that is not typical for instrumental works. Better yet, they makes this album educational, as well as an enjoyable listen.
This album is best listened to in the dark, and if you want to really get your geek on, pulling up a desktop planetarium or space simulator in an otherwise darkened room and looking at the various planets and moons as their respective tracks play is a good way to go. Or perhaps if you live in an area away from the city lights, it would be a good listen while looking through a telescope. No matter what environment you choose, this album is a very satisfying musical and cosmic voyage that should not be missed.
The Demon Part:
Most of the reviews of Gazpacho’s latest album, Demon, are already in (including Progarchy’s own reviews). Mine here … well, it’s a little late, considering the album came out in spring and we are now on solidly in autumn. Nevertheless, I am going to pat myself on the back and say I’ve made quite an improvement for timeliness for Gazpacho reviews. You see, in June of 2013, I reviewed Tick Tock on this same site. Considering that album came out in 2009, my review was approximately four years after the fact. Now, I’ve whittled my Gazpacho review time down to mere months from release – an order of magnitude improvement! Note: you are not allowed to mention that I’ve never reviewed Missa Atropos or March of Ghosts, capisce?
So, about Demon itself? Haunting is one word that can be used to describe this album. Strange is another one. This album … it’s out there. At times it gives me the creeps, the willies, and the heeby-jeebies. You know what else? It’s damn good, brimming with excellence on par with the other great albums they have released beginning with 2007’s Night.
Demon takes us on a journey through the ramblings of a disturbed individual descending into outright madness. The idea behind the album originates from the writings of an unknown apartment dweller in Prague, with the lyrics based on these ramblings. I’m not going to pretend to have any deep understanding of these lyrics; I don’t. I’ve read through them numerous times and followed them through a few listens of this album. Sure, I have my own ideas as to various possible interpretations. But I do not grok them at this point.
Musically, the album has a very experimental feel to it, or at least more so than the typical Gazpacho album. Sonically, it has a sound quite different than any of their previous works, and yet it is unmistakably Gazpacho.
The album kicks off with I’ve Been Walking. The introduction is light, with a sound effect and some soft vocals before ever so slightly picking up the pace. Throughout the track, slower, mellower, minor key parts alternate with occasional louder, wall of sound bursts. Piano, choral arrangements, mellotron, and the smooth vocals of Jan Henrik Ohme all take their turns as the feature instrument. The track closes with some melancholy solo violin which has become a trademark of Gazpacho. This track is extremely effective in setting the mood for the album as a whole.
Next up is The Wizard of Altai Mountain. This song is almost whimsical sounding in it’s first of two very distinctive parts. At about the halfway point, the music takes a noticeable change of direction, to a folky accordion that reminds me of some traditional, Eastern European music. It fills me with the urge to drink vodka – no small feat with me being much more of a whisky/beer man. My mind’s eye can picture someone dancing the kazachoc, a traditional Slavic fast dance in which the dancer squats and alternatively kicks out his legs (yes, I had to look that up).
I’ve Been Walking (Part 2) follows, with a much different mood, one of a resigned sadness. Jan-Henrik Ohme’s vocals are excellent throughout the album, but they are especially great on this track. They are particularly effective in expressing the melancholy realization that comes with shattered illusions:
There’s no Altai Mountain
No eternal chord
Lost a diamond
No El Dorado
There is no reward
In the background of this piece a remote, old 78 plays to great effect. The mood of the track shifts a little bit toward the end, maybe as to signal some acceptance that there is “no El Dorado.” It’s one of the lightest parts of the album, along with the first half of The Wizard of Altai Mountain.
The final track, Death Room, is where the strangeness of this album comes to a head. The track announces itself with subterranean rumblings and electronic buzzing before settling into three note mandolin figure which produces some unbelievable tension that is occasionally punctuated by short saws of dissonant violin. This is one of the creepiest, strangest parts of an album full of them, and I can imagine Edgar Allan Poe feeling right at home listening to this as he spun out another macabre tale. Percussion soon joins and pulls the music along, until the piano announces itself and changes the mood with a sudden subtlety that nobody can pull of like Gazpacho. From there, the music progresses through a series of different moods, all suggestive of the unknown apartment dweller losing grip on his sanity. The track and the album proper ends with some very strange percussion that suggests the grip has finally been lost.
Earlier I offered a lame explanation in an attempt to justify the tardiness of my review, considering the album’s springtime release. But let’s get to the real reason. Currently, it’s Autumn – October to be specific. And this album is absolutely made for fall listening. The name Demon conjures up images of that most famous of October celebrations, Halloween. The CD case is a fall color, not unlike one you might see on a dying leave that is going out in one last blaze of colorful glory. And the music … well, it’s hard to define, but it’s definitely fall music. Recently, on Brad’s Facebook page, I saw him shout his love for the month of October, describing it as “purgatorial twilight.” I cannot think of a better light in which to listen to this album. Not the dark, certainly not the bright light of mid-day sun. But late in a fall day, when the last gasps of sunlight collide with the spectacular fall colors that both marvel our sight but also portend the cold grayness of winter is approaching? There could not possibly be a better time to listen to Demon.
If you are one of those lucky souls that lives in an area with a noticeable change of seasons, this is the time you need to get out this album and give it another listen (or a first listen if you haven’t heard it yet). Put the CD in your car’s player, grab your iPod, whatever. Just make sure you are outside toward the end of the day in the light described above … and immerse yourself in the beautiful madness that is Demon.
The Love Story Part:
It’s a little over two years now since I heard my first Gazpacho album, Night to be specific. Since that time, I’ve worked my way forward through their catalog, listening to and owning everything right up through Demon. While I still haven’t perused any of their pre-Night catalog, I’ve definitely heard enough to have seriously fallen in love with the music of this incredible band.
Describing the music of Gazpacho to someone who has never heard it is a bit of a challenge. In my review of Tick Tock, I described them subtle and meticulous. While those adjectives certainly ring true, they only convey a small part of the story. Another time recently, while introducing someone to Gazpacho, I described them as a cross between Pink Floyd and late-era Talk Talk. That also conveys part of the story, but by no means does it in full. On another prog site I occasionally visit, I have seen them described as crossover prog … I still have no idea what that means. And I’ve seen a number of other descriptions of Gazpacho, many of which give part of the picture, but none that quite give the whole. It’s not like describing a band such as Iron Maiden as heavy metal. That description gives you a pretty good idea of what they are about, at least in a musical sense. With Gazpacho, giving a two or three word description is never going to be sufficient.
In fact, even describing them as being progressive can be problematic. Don’t get me wrong, I would classify Gazpacho unequivocally as being prog. But they are unlike any other band in the genre.
With so much of the prog to which I listened on my initial discovery in the late 1970’s – Yes, ELP, Rush, Jethro Tull – there were always virtuoso musicians setting off instrumental fireworks. Gazpacho seems to have turned this ethic completely on its head. You don’t hear long, flashy guitar or keyboard solos, the pyrotechnic drums with a beat that is both discernable and just out of reach, and so on. Much of Gazpacho’s music is built in some very simple riffs. And yet as a testament to their supreme skill and artistry, these simple riffs are combined and arranged into a much greater whole, one of dizzying complexity that gets hidden ever so slightly below a veneer of simplicity. Using a sports metaphor, much of progressive rock could be analogized to professional football or basketball – an obvious complexity accompanied with dazzling theatrics. Gazpacho on the other hand would be more like professional baseball – a simple, subtle game on the surface with a world of complexity underneath for those willing to dig deeper.
Architecturally, their songs defy any conventional structure, unfolding instead with a brilliant logic that becomes apparent by the time you’ve reached the end. It all adds up to a mixture that is challenging to grasp, but easy to love – and one that is progressive rock at it’s absolute, boundary smashing best.
It’s when I survey the current prog landscape that it really hits me, the incredible brilliance of this band. Myself and others on this site have written much about how blessed us fans are in the current age of prog. I loved how the proggers of the 1970s pushed the envelope of rock music to new artistic heights. And yet in what may be the ultimate compliment the previous generation, the best prog bands of today are showing us how their prog ancestors were only scratching the surface. Bands such as Riverside, Porcupine Tree and their leader, Steven Wilson, The Tangent, Big Big Train, and so on – all have taken prog in various directions previously unimagined. So to has Gazpacho. But more than all of these bands, Gazpacho, at least for me, is the most difficult to describe in words. And what really makes that so is this – they are simply the most unique and original sounding band in a golden age of prog that has produced many unique and original sounds. Is it any wonder I’ve fallen so in love with these guys?
(This is where you do a double take).
No, that wasn’t a misprint.
Rush lyrics (penned almost entirely by Peart from their second album onward) cover a lot of ground. Individual songs meditate on the dreariness of the suburbs, the balance between heart and mind, the individual vs. the collective, intolerance, the perils of fame, nationalism, the tensions of art vs. commerce and so forth. When you step back a bit to take a wider view, themes that stretch across a number of songs or even albums begin to emerge. Among those that emerge over the course of Rush’s output are themes of Stoicism. So let me just proclaim that Neil Peart is a Stoic and that Stoicism is a significant component in his philosophical approach to life itself.
I should probably give a brief primer on Stoicism here, and will do so with a bit of trepidation, as there are several other contributors to this site whose knowledge of this school of thought and philosophy (or any philosophy) vastly exceeds my own.
The Stoic school of thought originated with Zeno of Citium, who began teaching it in Athens around 300 B.C. It was later adopted by the Romans, including the famous three listed above. A fundamental tenet of Stoicism is to live in agreement with nature, i.e. “the way things are.” Another one is to learn to distinguish between those things which are under one’s control and those things that are not – and to not worry about the latter. A exceptionally difficult goal to attain to be sure, but one well worth striving for. Contrary to popular opinion, Stoicism does not teach the suppression of emotions, but rather that emotions are instinctive reactions to events, while our judgments of the same can either arouse or cool those emotions. Balance is key.
So how does all this tie in with Rush lyrics? Let’s take a look.