The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirty-Two): Rainbow Theatre

How does this strike your fancy? King Crimson (RIP, Mr. McDonald) + Australia + a string ensemble + jazz rock + opera = Fantasy of Horses. Sound interesting? If so, then you may enjoy the music of the somewhat divisive Rainbow Theatre. Based upon other reviews I have read, even proggers find this album difficult to categorize: is it an obscure masterpiece? An unjustly maligned effort? Or a cheap imitation of King Crimson? I’m not sure where I stand on this at the moment, so I’ll leave it to you to decide. Hailing from the Land Down Under, Rainbow Theatre released two albums in the mid-70s, Fantasy of Horses being the second of the two. Here’s a brief review of this polarizing album:

The album opens with the instrumental “Rebecca.” In what sounds like an homage to In the Court of the Crimson King, Rainbow Theatre begins with a beautiful mellotron and horn-driven sound. Bassist Ferg McKinnon is the focal point on this piece, however: his thunderous hammering drives this track along.

“Dancer” is perhaps the strongest track on the album. Like many a great progressive track, there are several notable melodic and sonic shifts throughout this piece: gentle organ and horns introduce the song before we first hear Keith Hoban’s dramatic vocals. Unlike Freddie Mercury, however, Hoban does not pull off the operatic style he is trying to capture, resulting in what may charitably be described as a “forced” sound. Despite the underwhelming vocals, this piece benefits from its dynamic character: after a flourish of horns and bass we are treated to some impressive work on the trumpet courtesy of Frank Graham and a solid guitar solo from Julian Browning (who doubles as a keyboardist). A sudden transition to piano and flute caresses our ears with pleasant harmonies before we return to horns and mellotron toward the conclusion of the piece.

Drummer Graeme Carter (who shines throughout the album) leads a frenetic opening charge in “Caption for the City Night Life,” which captures the attitude of King Crimson’s “Pictures in a City” fairly well. Carter’s drum solo is an especial standout on this track.

The title song (see below) transitions from a soft piano melody to pounding bass and horns to a spacey, Tangerine Dream-like sequence to more enjoyable interplay between horns, bass, and percussion. Like “Dancer,” this is a dynamic piece that would qualify as excellent if it were not for the operatic vocals. Overall, however, it’s a fitting conclusion to this album.

Is Fantasy of Horses worth a listen? Without a doubt. I cannot say it will appeal to all tastes, but those of you who find yourselves hooked will appreciate the interplay between the bass, percussion, and horns, all of which are played with a passion and skill comparable to some of the classic progressive artists.

Stay tuned for number thirty-three!

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