Fruupp – Modern Masquerades (1975)

Fruupp_ModernMasquerades3.5 out of 5 Stars!

With its more laid-back delivery and frequent pastoral tendencies, and its inclusion of Folk, Jazz, Classical, and even a hint of Cabaret into its sound, Ireland’s Fruupp often reminded me of a cross between Symphonic-Prog groups such as Camel, Barclay James Harvest, and early Genesis, with more than a few touches of Caravan, Flash, Supertramp, and Grobschnitt included. Never mind-blowing or ground-breaking in any respect, the group did nevertheless release four rather enjoyable albums in the early ’70s before disappearing, with Modern Masquerades being Fruupp’s final studio effort and (to me) probably its best.

Yet when listening to this album (or any of Fruupp’s releases, for that matter) I can’t help thinking that being devoid of a strong singer with an instantly recognizable voice, as well as not possessing some instrumental “quirk” or a unique overall style, held Fruupp back from achieving greater popularity, and thus, the group remains highly obscure in most Prog-Rock circles.

Regardless, fans of the aforementioned bands who are unfamiliar with this oddly named outfit might savor much of its material, including Modern Masquerades. Here, tracks such as the upbeat and dramatic “Masquerading With Dawn,” the blazing and manic “Mystery Night,” the Mellotron-enhanced and luscious “Misty Morning Way,” the tempo-shifting and highly complex “Sheba’s Song,” and the lengthier Canterbury-like composition “Gormenghast,” offer occasionally whimsical and symphonic fare similar to the groups I mentioned above and show the gamut of Fruupp’s full potential. Moreover, King Crimson’s Ian McDonald not only produced this collection of tracks, but guested on the album as well, with his sax contributions adding to the periodic Canterbury-Prog style, while a gaggle of French horn players tooted out some orchestrations as well, adding to the richness of the short, quirky, Pop-like ditty entitled “Janet Planet.”

Now for a brief, non-musical aside…

Is there anyone who remembers the wild, multi-dimensional character of Janet “From Another Planet” Green—the shy accountant who became a psycho villain and held her sister Natalie captive in a well and impersonated her for months, then for a time (when taking her meds) turned borderline heroine, then (when going off her meds once and for all) turned back into the wacky murderess everyone loved to hate—from the classic American soap opera All My Children? Anyway, every time I saw that character on TV—yes, I was addicted to the show for nearly three decades—I thought of “Janet Planet” from Fruupp. Amazing where the mind goes sometimes, huh?

Oops, my apologies for changing the subject. Now, back on my own meds and returning once again to Modern Masquerades

So, regarding this final Fruupp album—apart from the lead vocals, which I find limited, somewhat lackluster, and a tad off-key in sections, and one filler tune (the piano and vocal-only piece “Why”) that could have easily been eliminated, there’s nothing truly off-putting on display here. Indeed, I’m almost certain that lovers of Prog-Rock created in the mid-’70s will find much on Modern Masquerades to embrace.

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Architecture Of The Absurd – Beluga (2013)

ArchitectureAbsurd_Beluga4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Wow, Beluga is extremely fun! The music on this debut album is sort of like a marriage between Gentle Giant and Zappa / Mothers Of Invention during the Apostrophe / Roxy & Elsewhere / One Size Fits All era.

Nothing on this release is in the least bit “commercial,” but is nevertheless melodic, with some vocal sections (most very Zappa-esque) even catchy. The instrumentation on tracks such as “Photosynthesis,” “Under a Black Cloud,” “Monologue,” “Trying to Be a Court Clown,” and the wickedly entitled “Sunny View (For Douchebags)” is quirky, often jazzy, and wonderfully impressive. Along with Zappa-like guitar soloing on occasion, there’s also a heavy emphasis on keyboards, many sounding like older synthesizers (which is where much of the Gentle Giant and Zappa comparisons pop up) with even a Mellotron tossed in for extra pizzazz (and fairly dominant) on the tune “Thylacine.”

Generally speaking, the band’s name, Architecture of the Absurd, perfectly describes the seven diverse tracks contained on the album. Now I can only pray the absurdly named band releases more of the same type of material…and soon! Prog-Rock these days does have a tendency to get rather boring (in my opinion, there’s too much “atmospheric Prog-Rock” along the lines of Porcupine Tree, Riverside, and Pink Floyd-wannabes droning on and on album after album with lazy rhythms and keyboard washes). So bands such as Architecture of the Absurd, with odd and often-changing time signatures, complicated and upbeat arrangements, and impressively diverse instrumentation, are sorely required to keep things exciting. Toss in some fun and quirky melodies and what you have on Beluga is music that reminds me of why I fell in love with Prog-Rock many decades ago.

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Lake – Lake (1976)

Lake_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in the ’70s, a radio station in Chicago had an “underground” program several hours each night that featured obscure and new groups from Europe, bands not being played on any other “normal” FM stations. One of the unknown acts introduced to me was Lake, and what made the group different from others being showcased was its genre. Whereas the station typically focused on Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, and Prog-Rock groups (everything from Guru Guru and Nektar to Judas Priest, Three Man Army, Lucifer’s Friend, etc.), Lake played extremely catchy AOR material with perhaps a touch of Prog-Rock tossed in. The song that grabbed my attention was the driving and harmony-drenched “On The Run,” which I played repeatedly on my portable cassette player (I had a tendency to record that radio program as often as possible for future reference). Based on that track alone, I sought out the album during my next shopping trip to the record store, and was shocked that I actually found it, not in the pricey “import” section, but in the main section, thanks to Lake being contracted by the CBS/Columbia label.

Anyway, although some websites incorrectly classify Lake as being “Krautrock,” that label is far from the truth—and style—of the matter (aside from the band being formed in Hamburg, but made up of multinational musicians). Instead, Lake could have easily passed for any American AOR band featuring Pop melodies, music aimed directly at the U.S. market. In fact, the melodic track “Time Bomb” was not only released in America, but actually hit Billboard’s Top 40, giving Lake some genuine and coveted bona fides back in its home country.

With wonderfully slick production and top-notch musicianship, Lake delivered an undeniable AOR masterpiece on its debut. Aside from the aforementioned tunes, several others (“Sorry To Say,” “Chasing Colours,” and “Key to the Rhyme”) are in a similar vein, all containing a nice balance between guitars and keyboards, with exceptional vocals and multi-layered harmonies, deceptively complex instrumentation, and (for the most part) upbeat rhythms. The group also included a single ballad (“Do I Love You?”), which somehow reminds me of the Little River Band, as well as the ten-minute closer “Between the Lines,” which is where the musicians let loose with an extended outro section that borders on Prog-Rock. All in all, the melodies from the majority of tracks stubbornly stay in your head long after the album concludes. In fact, I hadn’t heard the platter for more than a decade, but when I played it recently, I could automatically hum along to almost every track, with memories of lyrics and hook-lines rushing back to me as if I’d heard those tunes only days earlier. Amazingly catchy material, which I have replayed several times now since the songs are so addictive (and long-missed).

Thankfully, Lake went on to produce several additional albums of high quality (although none of them quite matched the pure brilliance of this debut, in my estimation), but the group eventually went “stale” as the ’80s approached. Then, with scads of personnel changes also becoming routine in future years, the group never could recapture the magic from the ol’ days, even though its last release came out as recently as 2014.

Regardless, for fans of the AOR style produced by groups such as mid-period Ambrosia, Little River Band, Toto, 707, Le Roux, Player, Tycoon, etc., you might want to investigate this stand-out release (or the band’s next two albums, Lake II and Paradise Island, the latter being slightly better of the two, in my opinion). But if snatching up a copy of this debut, be warned you’ll likely have many of these songs repeating in your head for days.

One final note: I always thought the music on this album was, in many ways, a precursor to the style of material abundant on Lucifer’s Friend’s undervalued Sneak Me In album from 1980. Ironically, the singer during that AOR-ish period in Lucifer’s Friend’s history was Mike Starrs, who would actually join up with Lake in the opening decade of this new century. Eerie…

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New England – New England (1979)

NewEngland_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in the late ’70s while working at a record store, one of the most memorable “PROMO” albums that arrived was the self-titled debut by an act called New England. I distinctly recall hearing it for the first time…it was a long, dreary night with no customers, due to a torrential rainstorm. My co-worker and I, bored out of our skulls and unpacking shipments, tugged this album from the box, saw the lightning-decorated cover art, and decided that on such a stormy evening it would be highly appropriate to crank it up on the store’s sound system. We actually didn’t realize how appropriate until after hearing the lyrics to “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya.”

Anyway, just as Side A faded out, then after lifting our jaws from the floor, we simultaneously sprinted to the turntable. I wanted to flip the platter to Side B since I couldn’t wait to hear more, while my co-worker begged to repeat the first five tracks, especially that “catchy song about losing someone during a storm.” She eventually won the argument only since I wanted to once again absorb all the layered vocals and lush keyboard instrumentation (never had I heard an album outside of Prog-Rock that actually featured the Mellotron so liberally). Well, I got to hear Side B soon enough, fell in love myself with the song “Nothing To Fear,” and she and I ended up repeating those five songs before replaying the album in its entirety. And before we realized it, the “quitting hour” had arrived and the thunderstorm outside had also miraculously vanished.

Needless to say, over the course of the following week, she and I “promoed” this album as often as possible and we both purchased it when our next paychecks arrived (with our employee discount, of course). And since those days, I have savored the album more often than I can count and have never grown tired of it. From the rockier tunes such as “P.U.N.K. (Puny Undernourished Kid)” and “Shoot,” to the aforementioned AOR masterpieces “Nothing To Fear” and “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” to the Poppy, Art-Rockish, and Pomp-tastic “Hello, Hello, Hello,” “Turn out the Light,” “Encore,” “Shall I Run Away,” and (another favorite) “The Last Show,” the musicians had created a grand and majestic style all their own.

Although the band hailed from the Boston area, that musical style, however, did seem so damned British, almost as if the groups 10cc and Mott The Hoople had joined forces with Queen and Badfinger, then added perhaps Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz to play Mellotron. Indeed, when he’s not adding full power chords or blazing solos, guitarist/vocalist John Fannon sings with almost a British accent at times, and on piano-featured tracks such as “Turn out the Light,” and the highly theatrical “The Last Show” and “Encore,” Fannon’s voice could almost pass for Ian Hunter’s (only somehow tamed) while various musical passages and chord patterns often remind me of material from Mott the Hoople’s final days, only mixed with those other groups I mentioned…and the abundant Mellotron. And speaking of which, when it came to New England, no one ever had to ask the question “Where’s Waldo?” since keyboardist Jimmy Waldo was always front and center, adding his symphonic flourishes to create some of the most extravagant Pomp Rock on the planet. Meanwhile, bassist Gary Shea and drummer/vocalist Hirsh Gardner set a high standard, their rhythms always tight, punchy, and easily fluid while they shift from one tempo to the next. And adding to the magnificence of it all, Kiss’s Paul Stanley produced the collection along with Mike Stone (of Queen/Journey fame), who also engineered the project.

But after such an impressive release, the question remained—could New England follow it up successfully? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “yes,” with 1980’s Explorer Suite easily matching the same catchy high quality, although with (sorry to say) less Mellotron overall. Oh, well, you can’t have everything, right? Anyway, after releasing a third album in 1981, the group sadly disbanded for reasons unknown to me. I did, however, happily find myself in a situation some years later when one of my own bands opened several shows for Alcatrazz, a group that included both Waldo and Shea, and I got to hang out one evening with these “idols” of mine, so had New England not broken up, that evening certainly would have never happened. (Yes, I know, I’m selfish.)

But one final and happy note: it’s a thrill to know that New England is once again together and touring, so I’m praying for the guys to release new material in the near future. I will never forget that stormy-night-turned-special at the record store when I discovered the band, so New England remains special to me for that reason alone and I can never get enough from this wildly talented team of musicians. So come on, boys, you can do it…you’ve got “noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, nothing to fear.”

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Spys – Spys (1982)

Spys_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1980, after the “leaders” of the band Foreigner dumped its more creative and adventurous founding members to further commercialize its already commercial sound, I stopped listening. Without these members (especially keyboardist Al Greenwood), the group became way too bland for my tastes, and no amount of wimpier fare such as “Waiting for a Girl Like You” or “I Want to Know What Love Is” could lure me back into the fan base.

Anyway, in 1981, when I learned a new group was being formed in New York featuring both Greenwood and original Foreigner bassist Ed Gagliardi, I couldn’t wait to hear the end results. Thankfully, that came soon afterward when the debut from Spys appeared, and after hearing the platter just one time, I realized the band that had incorrectly spelled its name (like the Babys) had correctly executed its music.

The album’s opening track (and first single) “Don’t Run My Life,” along with other tunes such as “She Can’t Wait,” “No Harm Done,” “Danger,” “Hold On (When You Feel You’re Falling),” and “Don’t Say Goodbye,” delivered solid and energetic AOR/Pomp Rock, highly melodic with grand and layered vocal harmonies, often complex instrumentation, and inventive song arrangements. Better still, I found that Greenwood’s contributions—generally front and center in the mix and more dynamic and creative then they had ever been with Foreigner—added intriguing chills and thrills to songs such as “Ice Age,” “Desirée,” and “Into The Night,” making sections of these tracks almost Prog-oriented in their keyboard complexity. Moreover, Gagliardi is also given the occasional spotlight on many tracks, his melodic bass lines popping through crisp and clean thanks to Neil Kernon’s stellar production magic.

As far as the other “non-famous” band members, John DiGuardio performs tasty guitar leads throughout, giving the songs a powerful punch, while Billy Milne proved himself a formidable drummer, his work with Gagliardi extremely tight, especially when including unexpected breaks and twists in the tempos. Meanwhile, vocalist John Blanco belts out the lyrics with the self-assurance of a pro, his tone, range, and delivery enjoyable and fairly distinctive.

Overall, the album impressed the hell out of me upon initial hearing, and even today stands out as something special in the AOR/Pomp Rock genre, a forgotten masterpiece. With the music being an interesting mixture of groups such as Foreigner and Toto with more than a touch of Asia, Styx, and Angel, thanks primarily to Greenwood’s bombastic keyboards, I can think of no other band from this era that had quite the same spark or zest or promise.

That’s why it was woefully unfortunate that the group’s sophomore effort (1983’s Behind Enemy Lines) paled in comparison, with a noticeable dip in songwriting quality and a slight change in direction. With the band’s fortunes swiftly diminishing, it truly came as no great surprise when Spys broke up shortly thereafter. And although Greenwood immediately went on to work with legendary Rainbow/Deep Purple vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, the other talented guys basically vanished off the scene. A sad twist of fate, especially for a band that could create such a stunning debut, one I still regularly enjoy all these decades later.

(RIP Edward John Gagliardi—February 13, 1952 – May 11, 2014)

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Alan Reed – First in a Field of One (2012)

AlanReed_FirstFieldOne4 out of 5 Stars!

After leaving his long-time band Pallas in 2010, lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Alan Reed (also formerly of Abel Ganz and Strangers on a Train) released his first solo album shortly thereafter, a collection of melodic and accessible tracks in the Symphonic Prog/Neo-Prog variety.

Aiding Reed on this release is an all-star cast of gifted musicians, including guitarists Jeff Green (Jeff Green Project) and Kelle Wallner (RPWL), keyboardist Mike Stobbie (Pallas), percussionist Scott Higham (Pendragon), and the always wonderful Christina Booth (Magenta) on background vocals, so that fact alone says a ton regarding not only the high quality level of this release, but also the style of material included here.

Pallas fans (and lovers of similar groups such as IQ and early Marillion) will certainly enjoy First in a Field of One as much as I do. Tunes such as “Kingdom of the Blind,” “The Usual Suspects,” “The Real Me,” “Teardrops in the Rain,” “Begin Again,” and the highly dramatic, Pallas-like track “Darkness Has Spoken” are simply awash in delightful and often-dreamy melodies, not to mention dazzling musicianship (as one might expect, considering the panoply of talent). The wide range of instrumentation on display, with a seemingly flawless balance of both electric and acoustic guitars, plus an endless array of keyboard sounds to provide lush and symphonic textures, adds even more to the diversity of the eight tracks. And of course, Reed’s recognizable voice shines throughout, his delivery spot-on and loaded with emotion.

Although perhaps unfair to state, yet in many ways, this solo debut by Reed, a former singer of a successful Neo-Prog band, reminds me of the solo debut by Fish, another former singer from a successful Neo-Prog group. Coincidence, no doubt. But still, I couldn’t help notice how the well-produced material on offer here, being similar to Reed’s former group yet not a direct copy, as well as the atmosphere and generally passionate performances, provided me with the same feelings as I had when listening to Fish’s solo debut, which shared those same traits. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, listening to Reed’s debut (and Fish’s) left me hungering for more.

So thankfully, as the album title implies, First in a Field of One wasn’t simply a one-off project, as Reed subsequently delivered a second solo collection (Honey On The Razor’s Edge) featuring most of the same guest-star musicians, plus the legendary Steve Hackett, and is also supposedly working on material for yet a third release. Therefore, it seems as if First in a Field of One was indeed the first in a field of numerous albums to follow, and happily so.

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Jorn – Out to Every Nation (2004)

Jorn_OutEveryNation4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I contend, had Norway’s Jorn Lande been in the “singing business” back in the ’70s/’80s, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that celebrated guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (having perhaps the best “ear” when it came to selecting vocalists for his groups) would have recruited him to join either Deep Purple or Rainbow. No doubt at all, since Jorn Lande (to me, anyway) is on par with any of the legendary singers with whom Blackmore has worked, including Rod Evans, Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner, Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, and Doogie White.

No matter on which album he appears, Lande’s voice is full, rich, and nothing short of stunning, with his performances always energetic and commanding, so it’s no wonder he’s been involved with numerous bands and musicians since arriving on the scene and is consistently in high demand.

On Out to Every Nation, Jorn’s third solo effort, he’s joined by a formidable group of musicians, including guitarist Jørn Viggo Lofstad (Pagan’s Mind/Beautiful Sin), bassist Magnus Rosén (HammerFall/Revolution Renaissance), drummer Stian Kristoffersen (Pagan’s Mind/Firewind), and keyboardist Ronny Tegner (Pagan’s Mind)…so basically, what we have here is the band Pagan’s Mind with a different bassist and Lande behind the microphone. Moreover, Lande and Lofstad wrote all the music for the album, while Lande tackled the lyrics himself. And as a result of having this particular lineup of powerhouse musicians, with all songs composed by the same duo, this is easily one of the most consistent Jorn albums, and also one of the heaviest. Mighty tunes such as “Rock Spirit,” “Young Forever,” “Through Day and Night,” “Living With Wolves,” “One Day We Will Put Out the Sun,” and the title track itself blast from the speakers like cannons of melodic fury, while the two ballads—”Behind the Clown” and “When Angel Wings were White”—add slower but no less powerful diversity, with the latter song being wonderfully dramatic, and in my opinion, one of the finest songs Jorn ever recorded.

Anyway, since “discovering” him just after the turn of the century, I believe I now own just about every album on which Lande’s ever appeared either as a solo artist, a member of a band, or as a “guest performer.” And thus far, whether delivering his own material or covering classic Heavy Metal tracks and often making them “his own,” as he’s prone to do with great success, he has yet to disappoint me. Therefore, that easily qualifies Lande as another legend in the making, and Out to Every Nation certainly displays his talent in full and awesome glory.

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Riverdogs – Riverdogs (1990)

Riverdogs_14 out of 5 Stars!

Just prior to hooking up with Shadow King (and, soon thereafter, Def Leppard), guitarist Vivian Campbell (ex-Dio) popped up on the underrated debut album by Riverdogs, a Blues-based Hard Rock band from L.A.

Besides Campbell’s often-terrific guitar contributions, singer Rob Lamothe is perhaps the biggest reason I keep coming back to this album time and again year after year. To my ears, Lamothe falls into the “Paul Rodgers/David Coverdale/James Dewar” category of singers, and I adore his soaring, passionate, and distinguishable voice, the way he delivers his lines with such emotional angst, and often wonder why he didn’t become the “next big thing” in rock music.

Regardless, the album is crammed with catchy material, with sing-along fare such as “Whisper,” “I Believe,” “Toy Soldier,” “Water From the Moon,” and my favorites, the mid-tempo and more dramatic vocal showcases “America” and “Baby Blue.” In many cases, the music often reminds me of the style of albums generated by artists such as Bad Company, Cry of Love, Robin Trower, Badlands, Whitesnake, Trapeze, or Hydra, mostly Bluesy Hard Rock with a hint of Southern Rock as well…basically any group that features those vocalists I mentioned above, where Lamothe’s style really seems so darned appropriate.

And over the course of these ten memorable tracks, Campbell shows the full depth of his talent, his layered rhythm guitars, both acoustic and electric, sounding full and rich, while his six-string leads always melodic and emotive, and also technically stunning and occasionally shredding. Obviously, given his background with Dio, I purchased this album upon its release and originally expected Riverdogs to have a Heavy Metal edge, so it left me pleasantly surprised to hear Campbell do something so completely different, and do it so well.

Anyway, after this debut, Campbell unfortunately left the group for pastures anew, but Riverdogs soldiered on with another guitarist and released a fairly enjoyable second studio album in 1993 before calling it quits…for nearly two decades, that is. Although I have no firsthand knowledge as to their content, two more albums appeared, one in 2011 and the other in mid-2017, with Campbell returning to the fold for each while working simultaneously with both Def Leppard and (most recently) Last in Line. One of these days I hope to investigate both releases and see if either comes close to the high standards set by this debut with its mature songwriting, the exceptional performances, and the polished production quality.

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Shooting Hemlock – Big Green Monster (2010)

ShootingHemlock_Monster3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Shooting Hemlock, a little-known band out of Boston, eventually came to my attention based on the presence of guitarist Joe Stump (Reign of Terror/HolyHell) as well as singer/guitarist Brian Troch, a former member of a defunct Chicago group I used to know and see play on a regular basis. Although Shooting Hemlock released its debut album in the late ’90s, then seemingly disappeared, the band’s sophomore collection, Big Green Monster, suddenly popped onto the scene more than a dozen years later, and this is the release I finally tracked down several years ago.

To my ears, Big Green Monster is a rollicking, down ‘n’ dirty collection that often brings to mind a sort of “Tesla meets Soundgarden meets Anthrax” sound/style. Most of the twelve tracks, including “Minutes in the Sun,” “Whitewash,” “Brain Candy,” “Death & Taxes,” and “Payback,” offer up extremely raw and grungy Heavy Metal, typically loaded with a rebellious atmosphere and an almost Stoner-Metal or Heavy-Psych delivery (the latter never more apparent than on the band’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral”). On the other hand, the tunes “Clockwatcher” and “Ride the Rusty Rig” are laid-back ballads that show another, more sensitive side to the group, and oddly enough, ended up being two of my favorite tracks.

Generally speaking, the material on this release delivers little in the way of innovation, but is rather perfect for when you need a good morning jolt or are in the mood for something loud, fun, and raunchy just to piss off the annoying neighbors. In other words, turn the volume up to eleven, bang your head, and let the Big Green Monster shake the rafters!

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Triumvirat – Illusions on a Double Dimple (1974)

Triumvirat_Dimple4 out of 5 Stars!

To many Prog-Rock fans, Triumvirat was nothing more than an Emerson, Lake & Palmer clone, but in my eyes, the German band also possessed a style all its own. Granted, the vocals did not have that “instantly recognizable” factor that only Greg Lake of ELP could produce (and which helped make ELP internationally famous), Triumvirat nevertheless displayed impressive musicianship during its relatively short career, as clearly shown on Illusions on a Double Dimple, the band’s second (and easily one of its finest) releases.

After the group’s fairly decent but less-than-spectacular debut album, 1972’s Mediterranean Tales (Across the Waters), the long-time and often-underappreciated team of keyboardist Jürgen Fritz and drummer Hans Bathelt recruited Helmut Koellen, a bassist/guitarist/vocalist to replace Hans Pape, who departed during the creation of this album. For inclusion on Illusions on a Double Dimple, the new trio expanded on the positive aspects of the debut album to record only two new songs.

Both ambitious compositions were divided into six parts/movements, with the twenty-three minute “Illusions on a Double Dimple” encompassing all of Side A, and the twenty-one minute “Mister Ten Percent” occupying the entirety of the flip side. On both lengthy pieces, flashy Hammond, piano, and Moog interplay abounds, with Fritz, like before, giving Keith Emerson a run for his money. Bathelt’s percussion is once again impressive and occasionally jazzy, while “new guy” Koellen delivers a solid performance, his guitar and bass contributions typically melodic and tight, while his singing voice being a noticeable improvement from the more-pedestrian vocals that appeared on the band’s debut. To further enrich the grand and intricate compositions—and, more than likely, to further set Triumvirat apart from ELP—the band elected to add a brass section, an opera house orchestra, and female backing vocals to the proceedings, which, for the most part, worked quite well.

The final result is that Illusions on a Double Dimple is a highly commendable effort, a generally adventurous and well-written foray into Symphonic Prog-Rock territory that, apart from a few weak sections, became a borderline masterpiece. Unfortunately, despite its best efforts with the diverse and well-crafted material and orchestrations on this album, Triumvirat could never fully shake free of that “ELP clone” designation—the label would unfairly follow the band during its entire existence—but Illusions on a Double Dimple shows the group branching out, striving to develop a style all its own amid the inescapable similarities to the other group, and remains perhaps my favorite in the band’s catalogue. Most lovers of the epic, pompous, keyboard-drenched material so abundant in early ’70s Prog-Rock will likely enjoy this platter as much as I do.

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