4.5 out of 5 Stars!
I really liked this band from the mid-’70s that, sadly, released only two albums before disappearing. Although Fireballet was an American band from the East Coast, the music was quite British, often reminiscent of other bands from the same era…Genesis, Yes, ELP, King Crimson, etc. with shades of Uriah Heep when it came to the full and layered background vocals. The Night On Bald Mountain album is still one of my favorites after all these many decades. Expect a lot of terrific organ and synth work, thanks to the two keyboardists featured in the band, along with some sax and flute (played by guest musician and producer Ian McDonald from King Crimson) that adds a nice extra dimension to the sound.
The album consists of only five tracks, each of them adding something special to the overall package.
At first, “Les Cathédrales,” this ten-minute opener, begins with soft keyboards and acoustic guitar and sounds like a cross between Genesis, Flash, or early Yes, until both a sax solo and electric guitar pop up, which gives the track almost a Van Der Graaf Generator vibe. Countless time shifts, keyboard and guitar runs, and mood alterations abound, creating further drama, while some spoken “story parts” in the song’s midsection lend a storybook feel.
Although the next track, “Centurion (Tales of Fireball Kids),” is less than half the length of the opener, it’s still equally as complex and grand. Here the band takes on an almost “electrified ELP” sound, with terrific fuzz guitar leads playing counterpoint to Keith Emerson-like “pomp” keyboards.
“The Fireballet” sounds like a cross between Yes, Flash, Nektar, and some weird version of Gentle Giant, replete with (again) various time changes, counterpart keys and guitar riffs, and even some odd sound effects in the middle.
To bring things down to a mellower mood, “Atmospheres” is basically an acoustic guitar song, with pastoral-sounding piano and keys supporting a soft vocal melody, reminding me of something that may have appeared on the Nursery Cryme or Foxtrot albums by Genesis. On any other album by any other band, this could possibly have been considered nothing more than an outtake or filler track, but to me it’s not only the perfect opening to the album’s “B” side, but a song that leads smoothly into the monster title track extravaganza.
“Night on Bald Mountain (Suite),” a nearly nineteen-minute epic consisting of five parts, is nothing if not elegantly grand and wonderfully ambitious. It’s also a Prog-Rock lover’s dream come true, with the many twists and variations on different themes creating a spirited roller coaster ride through Prog territory. Each musician shines in different sections, and not only are we treated to numerous Yes, ELP, and Genesis influences again, but also Uriah Heep when it comes to the “layered background vocals over Hammond organ” section, reminding me of something off either the Demons and Wizards or The Musician’s Birthday albums. I suppose the Hungarian band Omega also springs to mind, considering that group was also heavily Heep-influenced. Regardless, sax makes another short but welcome appearance on this track as well, so even a touch of Van Der Graaf Generator pops up. As I’m unfamiliar with the actual work of Petrovich Mussorgsky (the composer of this classical track) I cannot make a judgment whether Fireballet gave the song, with all its twists and turns and mood shifts and intricate arrangements, any justice or made mincemeat of it. All I know is that the track, to me, is a rollicking good romp through Prog Heaven, and unlike a handful of reviewers who downgraded this album at various music sites because of their take on this particular rendition, I frankly don’t give a damn whether Mussorgsky is smiling proudly over Fireballet’s version or turning over in his grave.
Anyway, this debut album from Fireballet is one interesting and enjoyable collection of tracks, and I highly recommend it for all Prog-Rock lovers like myself.