Wednesday, February 20, 2019

My Favorite Zeuhl Albums of All-Time

In May of 1968 France experienced a social-political upheaval of such force and breadth that historians credit the event and its aftershocks with de facto bringing the country into the modern age. In the wake of this "revolution" the French artist communities experienced a new explosion in creativity out of which came many expressions of a new, radicalized socialistic idealism. One of these bursts came from a small group of communally-minded Parisian musicians who had additionally felt inspired by the boundary-pushing musical traditions occurring in jazz and classical musics. While Christian Vander, one of the founders of Magma and the father of Zeuhl, most often cites John Coltrane as the main inspiration for his music, there can be no denying or mistaking the influence of the sounds, structures, and stylings of Carl Orff as well. 
     Grandiose, bombastic, pretentious; frenetic, mesmerizing, uplifting in a psycho-spiritual way, the spirit of Richard Wagner is alive in the music of Magma as are the pagan and neoplatonic traditions of religious ecstasy. The phenomenon of the creation of an alternate universe with its own history and its own language parallels the way Orff (and Wagner before him) drew inspiration from tangential universes of classical mythology and personal imagination. The fact that the mythos of the fictional planet Kobaïa is alive and well 50 years since its fabrication is alone testament to the power and allure of the archetypes of the human unconscious in general, of all things Zeuhl, specifically.
      Of the many studio albums I have heard and collected since first hearing about the progressive rock sub-genre Zeuhl, these are my favorites:




1. MAGMA - Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh (1973) The first Magma song I ever heard, last year, was the rather innocuous "Coltrane Sundia." But then "Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanïk" came into my life. As with Song of Copper's April 2008 review, within two notes time I knew I was going to love this music. Steve Riech, Phillip Glass, Brian Eno, After Crying, are familiar musics that come to mind, but nothing, nothing can truly compare to MDK. Quoting the second paragraph of Song of Copper's review captures my feelings quite accurately:
For me there was no 'getting into it' or letting it play until some barrier dropped in order to let me appreciate it. The moment it started up, MDK grabbed hold of me and dragged me into its sonic labyrinth! You'll have to excuse my superlatives in this review, but I haven't fallen in love with an album in quite such a profound way for a very long time.

After my first complete run through the album I had to get on line to find out as much about Magma, Zeuhl, and Christian Vander as I could. I was not surprised to discover that the "crazed" or "orgiastic" "soprano" vocals/screams (such as on "Nebëhr Gudahtt") were performed by none other than Christian himself. (I had been suspicious of that "female" voice line from the first: especially knowing the sound of my own voice in the shower trying to sing Minnie Ripperton's "Lovin' You" or Frankie Valli & the Four Season's "Sherry"). Bravo Christian! Go crazy! Sing your heart out!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Klaus Blasquiz / vocals, percussion
- Claude Olmos / guitar
- Jean-Luc Manderlier / piano, organ
- Teddy Lasry / brass (?), flute
- René Garber / bass clarinet, vocals
- Jannick Top / bass
- Christian Vander / drums, percussion, vocals, organ
- Stella Vander, Muriel Streisfeld, Evelyn Razymovski, Michele Saulnier, Doris Reihnardt / chorus vocals

I LOVE the reckless abandon, the feel of near insanity of this music. And yet it is controlled, it's constructed, it's orchestrated, it flows, and it helps to tell a cool story. I find myself smiling in amusement and admiration, shaking my head in amazement at the sheer guts and emotion conveyed here. Every "song" (the whole album has the feel of being one integrated, linear "song") has distinct highlights for me, so I'll not try to name a fave or deconstruct each one. They're all amazing! Now I'm afraid to try other Magma albums because I'm afraid they'll never be able to live up to the standard of experience I've had with MDK. But, K.A.Retrospektïw I-II and Köhntarkösz will, I'm sure, find their way into my collection SOON.

100 on the Fishscales = 5 stars; A+; A true musical, psycho-spiritual masterpiece. Five full stars!




2. LAURENT THIBAULT - Mais on ne peut pas rêver tout le temps (1979) A recent discovery that has quickly climbed into my Top 5 All-time favorite Zeuhl albums. There are such great riffs, melodies and oddities throughout the brief album's four songs. Plus, there is a milder, subtler, more delicate side to this music than is common to most Zeuhl music--at times almost dreamy or bucolic--and yet the tapestries of each song are quite full, mature and fascinating. And with its excellent recording and production this one stands up incredibly well with the passage of time--better than most other albums from its era. Learning that Laurent was MAGMA's original bass player and later member and songwriter for MOVING GELATINE PLATES makes complete sense. The bass playing is so sublime! And the bold use of recording samples and world voices/vocals to accompany the music is breathtaking if not revolutionary. And I can't help but mention the always wonderful presence of "Northette" Amanda Parsons!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Laurent Thibault / bass, guitars, noises, producing & mixing
With:
- Lisa Bois / voice
- Jean-Claude Delaplace / voice
- Amanda Parsons / soprano vocals
- Lionel Ledissez / Indian vocals
- "Le Muezzin Mystérieux" / Arabic vocals
- Serge Derrien / chorus vocals, flute
- Jacqueline Thibault / keyboards
- Anne-Sophie / toy piano
- David Rose / violin
- Richard Raux / tenor sax, reita (Indian flute)
- Guy Renaudin / soprano sax
- Francis Moze / fretless bass, whil, tumbas
- Dominique Bouvier / drums

Five star songs: All four: the RENAISSANCE/ANNIE HASLEM-guests-JACO PASTORIUS-era- WEATHER REPORT-like "Orée" (11:28) (10/10); the Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young meets early PAT METHENY GROUP "Aquadingen" (4:30) (10/10); "La caravane de l'oubli" (7:08) (10/10) has an awesome kind of STEVE HACKETT and STEVE HILLAGE feel to it--even moreso with the Arabic influences, and; the experimental marriage of driving jazz funk and pastoral folk sounds on "Mais on ne peut pas rêver tout le temps" (8:21) (10/10).

100 on the Fishscales = 5 stars, A+; Undoubtedly a masterpiece of cross-multiple-subgenres music. ESSENTIAL!




3. ESKATON - 4 Visions (1981) I was only introduced to Zeuhl a few years ago (Thanks, ProgArchives!) through the mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, uplifiting, and mesmerizing experience of hearing Magma's Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh. Such is my reverence and awe of MDK (which I consider one of the three greatest albums ever made) that I was almost afraid to try any other Zeuhl albums, much less try any other groups, listed under the Zeuhl sub-genre.
      After  KöhntarköszËmëhntëhtt-Ré, and K.A. I have finally 'risked it.' And I am SO glad I did! ESKATON, XING SA, JANNICK TOP, BONDAGE FRUIT, DÜN, UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA, GUAPO and  KOENJI HYAKKEI are all wonderful. While I have yet to hear an album with the energy and impact of MDK, I am so glad to discover that there is diversity within the sub-genre.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Paule Kleynnaert / vocals, synth
- Amara Tahir / vocals
- Alain Blésing / guitar (1-4)
- Gilles Rozenberg / organ, synth
- Marc Rozenberg / Fender electric piano, synth
- Eric Guillaume / Fender electric piano (1-4)
- André Bernardi / bass
- Gérard Konig / drums, flute (7)

This album, 4 Visions, from way back in 1981, is probably my second favorite of the Zeuhl albums I've heard. (Clue: I keep choosing to play it over everything else in my collection right now.) I love the bass, French vocals, drums, and more extensive use of electronics than I've heard elsewhere within the sub-genre (yet). Plus, the album's finale, "Le cri" (9:02) (20/20) is amazing--among my  favorite Zeuhl 'songs;' perhaps second only to "Da Zeuhl Wortz Mëkanïk." Great listen start to finish. And I love that I can make out and understand the lyrics. Plus it has an awesome album cover!

Best songs:  1. "Eskaton" (10:24) (21/25); the space-funky 2. "Attente" (10:12) with its lyrics being sung by an awesome female choir (19/20); 3. "Ecoute" (12:54) (29/30); 4. "Pitié" (8:46) with its nearly liturgical feel (19.5/20), and, of course; 5. "le cri."

97.27 on the Fishscales = 5 stars, A; Without a doubt a 5 star masterpiece of progressive music.




4. JANNICK TOP - Infernal Machina (2008) 

Consistently one heck of a powerful journey. IMHO, MDK is the only Zeuhl album to do it better.


Line-up / Musicians:
- Jannick Top / bass, cello, cellobass, percussion, voices, co-producer
With:
- James McGaw / guitar
- François Delfin / guitar
- Thibault Abrial / guitar
- Jim Grandcamp / guitar
- Fabien Colella / keyboards, computing, co-producer & mixing
- Mathias Lecomte / grand piano
- Christian Vander / drums
- Damien Schmitt / drums
- Marc Chantereau / percussion
- Klaus Blasquiz / vocals
- Natalia Ermilova / vocals
- Veronika Boulytcheva / vocals
- Stella Vander / backing vocals
- Himiko Paganotti / backing vocals
- Antoine Paganotti / backing vocals

"Part I" (7:23) is majestic, mysterious, melodic, beautiful. Cave raindrops! Relaxing piano! Bowed bass! Very Coltrane-esque feel to it. And then the magical voices of Bulgarian folk singers is introduced! Great opening! (14/15)

"Part II" (4:29) introduces the vocal which reminds me of the diotonic stylings of the female folk singers of Les Voix Mystères de Bulgarie coupled with some very powerful chords from the electric bass. Could build a little faster. (8.5/10)

"Part III" (4:13) starts with distorted electric guitar rhythm chords, bowed bass, and intense 'Bulgarian' chanting (and screaming--is that you, Stella?). Shifts at 2:20 to deep metal-like electric power chords from the rhythm section accompanied by female voices. A brief but oh-so effective pause at the 3:00 minute mark opens the door for the full-band unified pulse of ecstatic marching. Amazing! (10/10)

"Part IV" (4:15) introduces (with an electronic crash) a slower, more methodic, plodding pace with a now-male chorus (among whom is the unmistakable voice of MAGMA's KLAUS BLASQUIS) and piano to go along with Jannick's bass. This is Zeuhl! But the development is poor and too slow. (7/10)

"Part V" (5:09) is amazing for its pulsing bass, slow and steady drums, and electric guitar chords. The low male breath-chants, a few 'Bulgarian' voice chants, and a Math Rock section of guitar chords usher in a change in tempo--and with it a real sense of immediacy, even urgency. Like, "Oh my God! It's happening!" Piano enters, playing it's mezzo register cycle of chords and notes repetitiously, and cycling guitar chords and fervent drumming pick up as the song gets into its second half. (10/10)

"Part VI" (5:53) increasing density of sound as the music becomes steady and almost metallic, very slow but brutal pacing--before beginning a slow build up in the third minute. Piano enters in a tinkling way, and then Bulgarian singers. In the fourth minute a new melodic chord enters for a minute before we revert to the insistent, pulsing bass theme of the previous song. Back to the melodic chord section before transitioning to Part VII. (10/10)

"Part VII" (4:23) sees an insidious increase in tempo--and urgency--as Persian horns carry a religious melody into the sacred ritual. WOW!! This is AMAZING! It just keeps building and slowly speeding up, adding layers to layers--subtle piano and more! At 3:20 searing guitar solo with amazing bass & rhythm chord progression in background. Cycling back to 'Persian' horns, male breath chants, female 'Bulgarian' chant, all weaving together with frenetic drumming and electric guitar soloing like Sir ROBERT of FRIPP at his stool-offing best. (10/10)

"Part VIII" (3:49) is like a cooling waterfall flowing down over the hot coals--piano and cymbol play doing most of the cleansing. At 1:45 there is a shift in rhythm section to syncopated pulses of bass and low male voice grunts. The piano and cymbols continue their flood of erosive notes. 3:20 and 3:50 see more nods to CHRISTIAN VANDER/MAGMA sound & style. Returns to the very same piano single note pounding of "Part VII" with the now VANDER-crazed drumming going crazy behind and some MAGMA-like choral work dispersed here and there. This is really the drummer's song. Awesome ascent of scale by TOP's bass chords in the song's final minute. (9/10)

"Part IX" (4:42) sees an inversion and minoring of the musical/piano chords while the same frenzy of drums and other rhythms go on all around it and the repetition of a monotonic pattern of staccato choral notes. Becomes very MDK-like in the middle section with CV going bat-shit crazy over a very hypnotic piano chord progression. (Wish this section would go on forever!) Back to recapitulation of first section for the final 75 seconds. (8.75/10)

"Part X" (3:11) continues the frenzy party of "Part IX" with gutteral male vocals chanting low on the spectrum with otherwise little or no difference (more cymbol crashes, increased vocal volume, variation in vowel sound used for staccato vocal notes, guitar chords become patternized, circular). But those drums! The insistence of the male grunts rises in the second half. Piano continues to repeat its circular note play ad nauseum. (8.25/10)

"Part XI" (4:27) sees a transition to rhythm guitar rock chords, deep throbbing bass line, more 'controlled' drumming, a return and interweaving of several previous vocal lines (male choir, female choir, and Bulgarian), along with the introduction and intertwining of a new vocal line--which ascends to take us to the culmination point of ecstasy. (8.5/10)

"Resolution" (5:33) seems to be a kind of driving disco-version of "Part VI" and "VII" with the Persian horns and male vocal grunt pattern. At 1:50 the electric rhythm guitar chords and female 'Bulgarian' voices take a turn before giving way to the 'Persian' horns and male grunt section for fifteen seconds. Back and forth the female and male chanting trade again and again into the final minute of the song when we are reunited with the 'cave raindrop' music of the opening song to close. A wild ride Jannick & Co. put us through! (9/10)

Total Time 55:30

90.40 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is definitely an excellent addition to any prog music collection--it is amazing music--Zeuhl or not. Definitely one of the best albums from 2008.




5. GA'AN - Ga'an (2009)  I've been listening to this album for months now at first with utter amazement and now with total respect and admiration. That a group of young musicians from Chicago would latch on to the Zeuhl sound to such a degree as to create this amazing and refreshing album of upbeat, beautiful music is astounding but that they could actually add something quite significant to the Zeuhl lexicon is even more astounding. This is a collection of songs that, like the MAGMA discography, has a flow and continuity which makes it feel cohesive, comprehensive and conceptual. And, as I said, with their unique use of keyboards (including lots of mellotron!), excellent drumming, and wonderful operatic vocals from Lindsay Powell, Ga'an has added something new, fresh, upbeat and positive to the world of Kobaia. In fact, that may be what makes this album so listenable, so entrancing, and so addicting is its lighter, upbeat, 'optimistic' feel and sound. Though in reality I would have trouble telling one song from another--this is because I have never listened to them in isolation from one another; I always listen to the album start to finish--it just flows that way and once you start you just want to keep going till it's over! So, as I said, it's hard to distinguish one song from the next, I know that each song has its unique individuality. For example,

1. "Chasmaeon" (7:01) (15/15) has its awesome mellotron "Gregorian Chant" opening before TANGERINE DREAM keyboards join in. From 2:15 to 3:00 the full complement of instrumental structure is gradually put on display: keys, drums, guitar arpeggi, and Lindsay Powell's incredibly gorgeous voice. Then, beginning at 4:10 the pace is awesomely doubled, slowed down, doubled again, back and forth throughout the rest of the song in this amazing play on the listener's emotions. The bass, drums, mellotron Gregorian chant, and Linday Powell lead chant is rising and falling, twisting and turning, taking us on this rollercoaster of Zeuhl heaven. This must be Nebëhr Gudahtt's life after death place!

On 2. "Living Tribunal" (8:12) the mellotron voices are turned into the upper "female" octaves while the more vibrated, slow picked bass and militarized dance drumming take over three minutes to prep us for Lindsay's plaintive call--and mesmerizing is her summons! She is my siren! I will willingly do your bidding, Zeuhl Princess! Enter electric guitar to mirror and amplify Lindsay's hypnotic call all the while drums, bass, and keys maintain a constant thrum of insistent support. This is prog heaven, to be sure! Chicago! These are 'kids'--a new generation of prog devotees! Hallelujah! Towards the end the drums and especially the bass begin to embellish their play. Awesome! (20/20)

3. "I Of Infinite Forms Pt. 1" (5:00) opens, again, with keyboard chord hits most familiar to us from the 1970s work of TANGERINE DREAM before very quickly being joined by the bass and drumming so familiar to us from the Zuehl world. High octave keys and wildly motive bass play are the highlights to the first half of this song as Lindsay's gorgeous mid-octave chanting stays mostly in the background. (8/10)

4. "I Of Infinite Forms Pt. 2" (6:06) flowing continuously from the previous song, there is a noticeable shift in style and tempo, but it is really only a bridge before the song builds back into a more tightly woven version of the tapestry of the Part 1. Where the difference really begins to show is with the addition of tubular bells (!) and Lindsay's more frenetic insistent chanting. Mid song the rhythm section virtually drops out for a bridge in which Lindsay and the tubular bells take center stage. By 3:40 a new rhythm and sound has been established that is more keyboard centered and keyboard dominant while LIndsay and the rhythm section pretty much maintain their style and melodies if slightly slowed down. Amazing drumming in the last minute! (9/10)

5. "Servant Eye" (6:31) opens as if on a continuous thread from previous songs--kind of a melding of the opening song with the previous one. A brief bridge of "Gregorian Chant" mellotron chords at 0:45 allows for a complete transition into a new vocal chant pattern and a new keyboard arpeggio foundation. Then at 2:00 occurs another shift--establishing whole new pace and rhythm pattern from the rhythm section while also introducing a more "angelic" voice mellotron chord sequence pattern while Lindsay's vocal almost disappears for a while. In the final two minutes the bass and lead female chant step forward to take the lead while the pace behind quickens to a rhapsodic frenzy! Awesome! (9/10)

6. "Vultures Of The Horn" (7:16) is perhaps the most maturely structured, least frenzied and tempermental song on the album which makes it seem more sedate and less emotional yet the keyboard, drum and vocal work are incredible for their display of subtle mastery. (9/10)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jeremiah Fisher / synthesizers
- Lindsay Powell / voices
- Seth Sher / drums
- Jason Sublette / bass, synthesizer

I honestly cannot say that there is another Zeuhl album I've ever felt this kind of affinty and attachment to since I heard MDK. Eskaton, Xing Sa, and Universal Totem Orchestra are the only others that come to mind as having the kind of fresh beauty that I feel from Ga'an. As raw as it is for its being a debut record, this is without a doubt one of the premier Zeuhl albums I've ever heard. And from a group of young musicians from Chicago!! Bravo! I am so excited to see a new generation of artists latching onto and carrying forward the Zeuhl torch!

93.33 on the Fishscales = A/5 stars; Essential as a masterpiece of progressive rock music.




6. SETNA - Guérison (2013)  Imagine the most hypnotic Zeuhl grooves that Magma has ever given us, blend it with the accumulated best Canterbury instrumentation that any of Dave Stewart's bands ever gave us, arrange it all with the most positive, uplifting chord progressions and gorgeous male and female vocal melodies imaginable, then use the best technological advantages that 2013 gives us and you get a glimpse into what Setna's second album, Guérison, has to offer. It is beautiful, sublime, hypnotic, and so spiritually uplifting! Each of the five songs is sub-divided, but, in effect, the album has a straight-through flow not unlike many Magma albums. Every song and, in fact, each sub-song has idiosyncrasies worthy of high praise and long discussions (as well as repeated listens), but "Cycle II (c)," "Tryptique I (c)," "Tryptique II (a)," and "Tryptique III (b)" and "(c)" stand out particularly strong for me--should you want to listen to a few pieces in order to get a feel for the album, these might be just the ones cuz they display quite a broad spectrum of the sounds, feels and styles offered here. The "Guérison" suite feels separate, a bit more atmospheric, more displaying of rhythms and percussion, and, until the interesting Part "(c)," a slight step down from the previous two suites (four songs, eleven sub-songs). Still, this is one of the best releases I've heard from 2013, one of the best Zeuhl or Canterbury albums I've ever heard, and an album that will likely grow in my esteem as it occupies my turntable for the upcoming months.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Yannick Duchene / vocals, mixing & mastering
- Florent Gac / organ
- Benoît Bugeïa / Fender Rhodes, piano
- Christophe Blondel / bass
- Nicolas Candé / drums, 12-string guitar, keyboards
With:
- Samuel Philippot / guitar
- Nicolas Wurtz / guitar
- Tony Quedeville / lapsteel guitar
- Nicolas Goulay / keyboards
- Benoit Widemann / Minimoog
- Julien Molko / bass clarinet
- David Fourdrinoy / vibes

1. "Cycle II" (9:52)
2. "Triptyque" (26:16) :
- a) Part I (8'27)
- b) Part II (9'45)
- c) Part III (8'04)
3. "Guérison" (14:58)

Total time 56:55

5 Stars; an unquestioned masterpiece of progressive rock music.




7. MAGMA - Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré (2009) It has only been one year since my initiation into the world of Kobaïa and Zeuhl. Christian Vander's world astounds me. His attention to detail and heart-felt all-out effort is nothing short of amazing. Some of the words that come to mind when trying to convey the spell of MAGMA's music include "otherworldly," "operatic," "ecstatic," and "ritualistic." While many reviewers write praise of Magma's disciplined and virtuosic instrumentalists, I am ever blown away by the vocal performances and choir arrangements. This is especially the case throughout "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II"--one of the best--if not the best--example of Vander's genius I've had the good fortune of hearing. I'm having trouble assigning this album an overall rating because, as some other reviewers have said, it doesn't seem to have enough "new" music or show enough of the group's "progress." It does, however, amply display the steadfastness, sharpness, and enthusiasm of Vander and crew in their commitment to this musical vision. In terms of "Best Album of the Year" and boldly going where no music has gone before, Vander and Toby Driver will have to duke it out for a while to see who really comes out on top.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Christian Vander / vocals, piano, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, drums, percussion
- Stella Vander / vocals, percussion
- Isabelle Feuillebois / vocals
- Hervé Aknin / vocals
- James Mac Gaw / guitar (1-4)
- Bruno Ruder / Fender Rhodes (2-4)
- Philippe Bussonnet / bass, piccolo bass
- Benoît Alziary / vibraphone (1-4)
With:
- Emmanuel Borghi / piano (1-3)
- Himiko Paganotti, Antoine Paganotti, Claude Lamamy, Marcus Linon, Pierre-Michel Sivadier / chorus

1. "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré I" (6:54) a slow, methodical, and dramatic intro in which the choir's use has a grand Hollywood soundtrack feel similar to the bigger-than-life epic religious films of the 50s and 60s. At 3:00 the music pauses to allow the voice of a single female to present the storyline. It's emotional and reverential--they're prepping us for something tragic and sad. So tenderly and professionally rendered! (14/15)

2. "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II" (22:24) opens with the quick and sudden handoff of leadership to the lead male. It's a whole different music now, with bass and full band en force, full choral in support. It gets started with several gear shifts before settling into a groove over which Christian Vander's ecstatic lead vocals get going and really takes off into the frenzy of religious celebration. By the ninth minute the vocal section is complete and Christian sits down to his kit and lets the instrumentals have their say. In the tenth minute the female choir joins in rather unobtrusively. They are joined and brought more to front and center as the men join in in the next minute but it is the female contingent that are given the lead voice over the course of the next few minutes. At 11:40 the men are allowed to step up to full force--at which time the whole band crescendoes for a moment before backing down for another history lesson from M. Vander. The instrumental section that follows, while beautifully supported by the choral voices, is really about the instrumentalists: bass and keys but especially drums and electric guitar. The choir's intermittent interjections serve more to denote transitions between soloists or in the action of the storyline. At 18:00 there is a ramp up in intensity (if that's possible) before a male dominated section of "hey ho, hey hoyt ki, hey yo" carries the story fully for three frenetic minutes. While the pace from the rhythm section continues at breakneck speed right up to the song's end, the choir and lead instruments downshift and return to Earth. Great song! (53/55)

3. "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré III" (13:08) opens with a series of cymbal-supported changing-chord pulses carrying through the first 90 seconds. A slight shift opens up the space for Stella's spacious and subdued lead vocal. Things begin slowly ramping up in the fourth minute--with a drum shift, more constant bass presence, fuller choir rejoinder, and multiple melody lines woven together. At 4:45 we shift back into an hypnotic whole-band, whole choir groove. At 5:15 guitar and male vocals break off into their own thread. The bass playing starts becoming crazy fast as the guitarist's allegiance switches over to Stella for the lead story teller. The cycle continues like this, revolving around and around while the rhythm section plays at their amazing pace, until the tenth minute when the choir changes their tune and approach quite a bit: lots of alternating and call and response type of work--though it all comes back together, quite mysteriously, into a totally cohesive whole at 10:40 to coax the song into a super crescendo. My God! Who was this guy--this Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré? How did he earn this kind of glory and adulation? What a song--a true choral masterclass. (29/30)

4. "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré IV" (3:55) a beautiful, delicate piano-based song that opens with Stella singing a wonderful technical and emotional lead vocal. Choir joins in with a little intensification of the music before things really quiet down for a piano, cymbals and Stella trio to a 2:30 introduction of "A Love Supreme" piano flourish which then signals a transition to guitar and Fender Rhodes suggestion of the "MDK" suite before Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré's last cry in death. (10/10)

5. "Funëhrarïum Kahnt" (4:14) definitely a funereal dirge expressing grief and pain. (8/10)

6. "Sêhë" (0:26)

10/15/2010 edit: The MAGMA album I keep turning to when I want to hear them (at their studio best) is MDK. It seems still so fresh, raw, and seemless. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré, while so polished and amazing because it's a 21st century recording with revitalized and revamped cast, has faded some with time. Even the awesome and amazing "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II" has lost some of its initial luster. When I want to dance and scream, its MDK for me, thank you very much.

1/31/19 edit:  On further review and reconsideration, it is my belief that this album is so masterfully rendered, with such heart-felt performances and such incredible attention to detail, that it must rank up there with the greatest of the Zeuhl albums of all-time. I definitely like it better than the other 1970s releases except MDK. The only thing missing are the horns!

95.0 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a true masterpiece of progressive rock music; also a shining example of what musical recording can achieve.




8. KOENJI HYAKKEI -- Nivraym (2001) 

They're back! and with a line-up that includes not one or two but three new musicians. Brace yourself! (And please, anyone with any kind of heart conditions: Proceed with extreme caution!)

1. "Nivraym" (5:40) I'm sorry, but as virtuosic as these instrumentalists/vocalists may be, I cannot hear this song without thinking that their whole Zeuhl shtick is mostly tongue-in-cheek. Crazy but how can you not appreciate the skills and confidence involved in creating and performing this music? (9.5/10)

2. "Becttem Pollt" (5:21) powerful and dramatic if a little too uniform and one-dimensional. (8.75/10)

3. "Lussesoggi Zomn" (10:26) I think they hired NINA HAGEN for this one! Simple sparse notes from piano and bass with Nami going crazy. The band coalesces into a fast-driving heavy rock ensemble for the second and third minutes as Japanese versions of Kobaia take on a variety of crazed and crazy forms. Definitely Zeuhlish. I wonder what Christian Vander thinks. Guitar solo is more rock-like than Zeuhl, but it is short-lived as band slips into several different Zeuhl motifs before we have a chance to integrate what we've just heard. Incredible confidence to practice, perfect, and record this piece of complex music. (Though it is not perfect: there are performance flaws. But, what do you expect for a band's first effort with this lineup--three new members?) Several sections are over-extended a bit, but, otherwise, this is mind-boggling stuff. Nami Sagara is a force! (17.75/20)

4. "Vissqaguell" (5:31) several tracks are very heavy on the distortion (I think intentionally), and the pace of this one is amazing. It makes Christian V. & Co. really seem slow and old! There are so many incredible exploits here: vocally, keyboards, drums and bass, guitars. How does one write such material? (8.75/10)

5. "Mederro Passquirr" (6:23) a little more grounded in Western styles (drumming, synth sound choices, electric guitar work, straightforward bass), this one still shocks and surprises. What a keyboard player! At 1:20 things settle into an almost Broadway choral piece--with simple piano chords providing the main direction for the elaborate choral performances. This is more MAGMA-like familiar Zeuhl. I like it but it's not as exciting or innovative as the previous songs. Highly intricate vocal demands from the fifth minute on--almost Leonard Bernstein-like. (8.75/10)

6. "Axall Hasck" (6:34) synths and Mellotron leading this one as more straightforward (though wickedly fast) bass, guitar, drums, voice, and sax try to keep up. It's like a race to catch the keyboard rabbit. Only the off-trail sax has a chance, veering in and out of the weave, until the half way point when everybody downshifts from overdrive to 5th gear--and then at 3:30 when there is another downshift into a kind of Latin rhythm while Nami solos. The keyboards' solos that follow are more human--though the bass, sax, and drums now begin to go off on their own crazed frenetic path--which only incites the synth to take the lead back across the finish line. (8.75/10)

7. "Maschtervoz" (4:10) are they tiring? Slower and more spacious--only the sax is in the usual zone of amphetamine. Nami and Jin and Kenichi are fairly subdued compared to their previous selves. It sure does showcase Keiko's sax, though. (8.25/10)

8. "Gassttrumm (9:24) again, the reins are on as the band proceeds in a much more controlled, humanly pace--though still incredibly intricately constructed and performed. At the two minute mark there is a slight shift for searing synth solo before a shift into space Zeuhl with some wild drumming beneath the synth and vocal melody line. It's like a conversation between the synth and the drummer with the rest of the band providing support and context. Very cool! Now at the end of the fourth minute the bass gets a turn to let loose with the drummer. Another synth turn, bass and drums, synth, etc. all the while the vocalists At 5:20 there is a sudden right turn into macho Western man territory while bass, guitar riff, and drums support the soloing synthesizer player--this time with a much more familiar prog-like solo ripping up the soundwaves. Man this guy can play! With 90 seconds to play we shift back into a more breakneck straight ahead speed before another oddly computer-like epithet and then an unexpectedly cohesive finish. Amazing song. (18.5/20)

9. "Vallczeremdoss" (4:49) more controlled whole band weave opens this one--until the second minute when the choral vocals enter--then things go time wonky--nothing staying the same for more than a measure or two. How do they do it? How does a whole band stay on course with this kind of intricacy? And then what follows--the voices trying to keep up with the instruments--is simply unbelievable! (9.75/10)

Total Time: 58:18

89.77 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; an absolutely astonishing display of compositional brilliance with nearly as astonishing performances. In fact, that would be my only criticism of the music on this album: sometimes it just seems too much of a stretch for any human to perform to perfection! Still, an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. Just be prepared: you're heart- and breathing rates will be elevated for quite a while during and after listening to this album! And, believe it or not, this is my favorite Koenji Hyakkei release--even more than the universally acclaimed Angherr Shippsa.




9. CAMEMBERT Negative Toe (2017)  Strasbourg's eccentric and eclectic Zeuhl/avant garde/RIO "ensemble" (more like a small orchestra!) have produced a sequel to their 2011 "soundtrack" to an imaginary alien space invasion. The band has matured as both individual instrumentalists and as a cohesive collective. The sound engineering is amazing--one of the best I've ever heard--and the story and even the masterfully crafted music continues to employ an extraordinarily high degree of humour. I find myself laughing and crying within the same songs as we follow the latest installment of the alien Schnörgls' conspiratorial encounters with Earthlings.

Line-up / Musicians:
Adrien Arnaud: Trumpet, percussions
Lela Frite: Voice, invocations
Guillaume Gravelin aka Harpus: Harp
Pierre Wawrzyniak aka W-Cheese: Bass, accoustic guitar
Juliette Blum: Trombone, percussions
Fabrice Toussaint aka Fab aka Slipman: Drums, percussions, arrangements
Valentin Metz: Guitars, bass
Clarissa Imperatore: Vibraphone, xylophone, percussions

1. "Orteil négatif--Once Upon A Time In The Galax-cheese" (3:13) opening with a joyful, confident announcement of the band's incredible precision, new maturity, and sci-fi story to come, percussives and staccato syncopation introduce the story before the music fades into a low, ominous foundation for the eerie "radio" communications that follow (the Schnörgls have been encountered!). Masterful intro! They've got my attention! (4.5/5)

2. "Fécondée par un extra-terrestre" (15:10) opens with 45 seconds of Zeuhl-like insistence before everything turns to a gentle Latin rhythm-based harp-based section. Cool! A minute later, it switches as other band members join in, then turns more jazzy as the horns join in during the third minute. Another shift at 3:30 presents an adorable and pretty "wuah" sound that sounds like a cute alien fart or baby burp (the birth of "El Pulpo"). When the band reunites in full force at the end of the fourth minute, it seems like the outburst is totally jovial, even celebratory. At the end of the sixth minute another shift employs long, deep bass notes, steady drums, electric guitar soloing (which is rare) and all kinds of horns and percussives interspersed. A minute later, things quite down while very delicate play from keys, xylophone, harp, and oboe (and later flutes) very slowly, very gradually build in force and volume. this is gorgeous! By the time 9:45 rolls around and the horns unite in sectional bursts we think it's culminating--but, no! Another lull while cymbals, touch-guitar chords and winds present yet another variation on the theme. This is amazing! The compositional and performance skills on display here are utterly inconceivable! Like an orchestral composition! At 12:30 there is another radical tempo and stylistic shift while woodwinds seem to be "tuning" in the background, the bass and rest of the rhythm section (which is HUGE!) gel into a very Zeuhl-like sound and style. Horns carry the melody forward while harp and vibes fast-weave beneath, just above the rhythm section. Amazing! (30/30)

3. "Gros Bouquin" (11:11) Opens with some full band chord hits before quickly settling into a funky-jazzy rhythmic sound for vibes and flutes to present a fast-paced melody. At 1:15 everything quiets down while flutes and other high winds present an airy space. Then we burst back into the bass-led Caribbean funk so that horns can have their solo time. Trumpet takes the lead for the next minute while bass and harp provide the steady foundation. Drums and multiple hand percussion play along though very much in a simplistic supporting role. The song is supposed to represent a musical rendering of the process of extracting the sexual energy from rabbits in order to empower the Schnörgls' secret weapon, the Negative Toe. (17/20)

4. "The Lament Of Pr. Frankenschn'rgl" (9:11) a slow, methodically-paced song with lots of space and lots of staccato notes produced in small, steadily paced packages from a wide variety of instruments including some from Oriental traditions. This one also has nicely arranged choral arrangements (sung in English!) professing the Schnörgl military scientist's doubts, regrets, and worries. Such a simple and pleasant song, this in great contrast to the frenzy of multiplicities that was song #2. A great display of control and restraint--both in composition and especially in performance. Mathematically I'm sure this song would be quite interesting to study. The final 90 seconds begin to exude some of the insistence of the Zeuhl world in both vocals and drums and bowed bass--and finishing off with a little crazed cacophony--which is a perfect lead-in to the next song. (18/20)

5. "Skwitch" (14:47) opens with multiple instruments contributing to a low end dominated, ominous opening. At the two-minute mark things quiet down--as if the protagonists are trying to hide or be unnoticed--while retaining the creepy tension from the opening. At 4:10 we again switch tempo while the same delicate instrumental weave re- establishes itself--this time with hand percussion, harp and vibes providing the filler. At the end of the sixth minute the music drops out leaving some very sparsely populated guitar, harp, bass, and creepy trumpet hits while a creepy monster-like human voice vocalizes noises not unlike those of the trumpet. Well into the eighth minute, the horn solo becomes far more "normal"--jazz-like--but then it is suddenly submitted to some very odd under-water- like muting effects (elephantine) while the rest of the band, formerly quiet and reserved, begin to rise up and "swallow" the trumpet within their methodic tapestry. At 9:57 everything stops. Silence. Then very syncopatedly- spaced staccato hits from a variety of instruments gives the sound and melody a stark, almost "disappearing" feel. Horns and harp allow for some feeling of return to occur. Boisterous bass-end bursts seem to be on the verge of disrupting all flow of the base-line tapestry--until they all merge at the beginning of the thirteenth minute. The final two minutes seem to be telling the story of the monster's demise and death. Overall, this is a great mid-tempo song with frequent time changes and polyrhythmic weaving of the multiplicity of instruments. Something about the mood, melodies, and intricacies of this song make it my favorite--despite the fact that it's supposed to tell the story of the future destruction of one of my favorite places on Earth, la cathédrale de Strasbourg, by a cybernetic laboratory elephant. (28/30)

6. "El Pulpo" (3:19) oboe, guitar play out a sad melody over harp and bowed double bass before vibes and horns come in to present their antiphon of support. Then at 1:25, all music fades away. Empty space is then gradually invaded by low foghorn-like horn bursts while seaside sounds and human whistling and other pseudo animal sounds are disbursed throughout the soundscape. I guess it's supposed to be the cries of El Pulpo as he and his mother escape to South America by sea-going vessel. (4.5/5)

92.72 on the Fishscales = A-/Five stars; definitely a masterpiece of modern progressive rock--though this album feels as if it belongs more on the Avant Garde/RIO spectrum than the Zeuhl they were associated with in their previous album. Great to have Pierre and company back! And mega-kudos to the engineering/production team! AMAZING sound reproduction!




10. CHRISTIAN VANDER - Wurdah Ïtah (1974) As many reviewers have stated before me, this is, for all intents and purposes, a MAGMA album, not really a Crhistian Vander solo album. But then, aren’t all MAGMA albums Christian VANDER albums? 
     Released after the ominous, deliberately-paced, more spacious Köhntarkösz and just one year after the ground-breaking, band-, and sub genre-defining Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw KömmandöhWurdah Ïtah is a powerful, more fast-paced submission into the saga of the relationship between planets Earth and Kobaia. 
    What makes Wurdah Ïtah such a great album is the wonderful clarity and definition each voice and instrument receives in the recording and engineering. The voices and every piece of percussion are so clean and clear and distinctive. And yet the mix transposes the music masterfully into one well-woven web of power and effect. I love this!
    What sets this piece apart from the ‘big’ and ‘bombastic’ feel and effect of MDK-like Magma albums is that there is less ecstatic frenzy, more control and respect or even reverence in the feel of the music, as well as the feel of a much smaller, more intimate ensemble. MDK feels like it’s being performed in a large cathedral (as if it needs to have that kind of space) while Wurdah Ïtah feels like it’s in a small studio. For some reason I like this. (Not that I like it ‘better’ but rather, I like its difference.)
     Wurdah Ïtah is much more piano-based than other Magma recordings I’ve heard. Like the scaled-down accompaniment one might find during a rehearsal for a Broadway musical. This undoubtedly has a great deal to do with why I find the performances of the vocalists, bass and drummer to be so much more vibrant and in-your-face. It is a nice effect—different from so many other Magma recordings.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stella Vander / vocals
- Klaus Blasquiz / vocals, percussion
- Jannick Top / bass
- Christian Vander / drums, piano, Fender Rhodes, percussion, vocals

1. "Mala Welekaahm (Incantation)" (3:37)
2. "Bradia Da Zimehn Iegah (L'Initié A Parlé)" (2:17)
3. "Maneh Fur Da Zess (Ensemble Pour Le Maître)" (1:37)
4. "Fur Di Hel Kobaia (Pour La Vie Éternelle)" (4:55)
5. "Blüm Tendiwa (L'Âme Du Peuple)" (3:25)
6. "Wohldünt M^ë M Deweless (Message Dans L'Étendue)" (3:31)
7. "Wainsaht ! ! ! (En Avant)" (2:29)
8. "Wlasik Steuhn Kobaia (Ascension Vers L'Éternel)" (2:47)
9. "Sehnnteht Dros Wurdah Süms (La Mort N'est Rien" (3:25)
10. "C'est La Vie Qui Les A Menés Là !" (2:03)
11. "Ek Sun Da Zess ? (Qui Est Le Maître ?)" (2:57)
12." De « Zeuhl » Undazir (Vision De La Musique Céleste)" (5:57)

Total time 39:00

     I have lots of favorite little moments, but the one that stands above all others is the opening to the final song, “De Zeuhl Üdazïr” (3:41) (10/10) in which Vander transports the listener back to MDK and in which every instrument, every sound, is augmented and defined to be sure to register this fact deep within the subconscious. I also love the numerous excesses, embellishments and flourishes contributed by the vocalists throughout. They always seem so random, spontaneous, and expressive. Wonderful!
     To my ear and heart, this is yet another amazingly masterful contribution to the lexicon of progressive rock music. I feel no hesitation in dishing out another five star rating for yet another Magma recording. They're worth it!




11. BONDAGE FRUIT I (1994)

The debut release from these high energy Japanese youth. Though this is definitely Zuehl (the vocals give it away), the tribal rhythms and prominent contributions of tuned percussives, violins, saxophone, strumming acoustic guitars, and really raunchy buzz-saw lead electric guitar give the music and sound an entirely different palette than Magma or the European Zeulers.

1. "Holy Roller" (3:54) tribalistic hand drums joined by scratchy electric rhythm guitar and then violin and voice. The vocals definitely have Zeuhlish feel to them, but the rest less so. (8.75/10)

2. "Arabia No Zou" (4:31) fairly simple, straightforward musical weave in which the wordless vocal weave switches from percussive "da-da"s to smooth "wee-ee"s and then to soul-operatic scatting of a solo woman. Interesting. (8.75/10)

3. "Kodomo No Torokko" (8:24) opens with fast driving, multiple layers of percussion and chunky bass which are soon joined by a choir of wordless vocalise establishing a very engaging series of melodies with harmonic support and counterpoint presenting in a verse and chorus format. Very cool! At 2:30 voices and bass take a break while violin takes the lead over cymbal play. Sounds like Charlie Daniels' "Devil Went to Georgia" or The Who's "Baba O'Riley" violin play over Laurie Anderson's "Blue Lagoon" tuned percussives. Voices join back in until the five minute mark when acoustic steel-string guitar takes a turn as the demon soloist. Voices join in during the seventh minute in a beautiful Paul Winter Consort kind of way. Simply an awesome, innovative song! (20/20)

4. "Rigo" (2:22) percussion and Bobby McFerrin-like voices create an odd, perky chordal weave before soprano female takes on the role as the breathy lead over the top. Halfway through the song stops and peeks through another door (vibes) before returning to the perky chords with horn added. (4.5/5)

5. "Octopus-Command" (7:16) opens with multi-voice vocal weave that sounds like something Bobby McFerrin might have constructed, but then full band bursts in with same bass, snarey-drums, vibes, edgy guitars, and multi- voiced choir, all scatting along at breakneck speed with each other, each following the same melody lines--until the third minute when everybody drops out except for the bass--who meanders slowly, snail-like, through a lonely murk of silence. He sounds a lot like Eberhard Weber or David Darling. At 4:30 everybody comes shrieking (on behalf of the guitar and high-speed vocalists--who alternate screaching at each other, this is literally true). At 6:00 everybody cuts out for a brief interlude of high end xylophone before the band members all rejoin--this time at normal speed. Not as melodic as I like, but very impressive performances. (13.25/15)

6. "Hiko Suru Ko" (6:45) opens with a weave, pace, structure, and vocalist and melody sounding very much like a song of theirs from the future. I love the hand drumming as the percussion/rhythmic foundation. Violin takes over the lead from the alto female voice in the second verse. Female voice rejoins in the third minute. both leads are smooth and fairly sedate. Acoustic guitars and bowed cello/bass become more prominent in the third section--and vocals get thicker with others joining alto. Next section has an Nassau N'dour-like African-sounding male singer. Very cool! Then other vocalists join in while song slowly fades. (13.5/15)

7. "Kaku No Sakana" (6:15) gentle, based upon a simple acoustic guitar arpeggio other instruments add gentle almost incidental sounds to it. Nice and interesting but a little long and drawn out. (8.5/10)

8. "Kinzoku No Taiji" (7:37) more full band frenzy on display, this time pursuing a more mid/alto range of pitches. Excellent drumming on display here as the chunky bass slides all over the fretboard, high and low ends. Violin, electric guitar, and single voice take the solos (and take their solos very seriously--and man do they cook!). (13.5/15)

9. "T-Rex" (6:01) from the first note this one definitely presents itself like some kind of wild orgy of soloists. The only thing keeping it all together is the tribalistic drum pattern. When things "calm cdown" and move into more vocal- centered deliveries, it reminds me of P-We Yoshimi's OOIOO project. I actually really like the second half of this song: it's much tamer and more melodic and cohesive than the initial food frenzy. (9.75/10)

Total Time: 53:05

91.36 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and quite a debut of Japanified Zeuhl. 




12. MAGMA - K.A. (2004) A very polished, mature MAGMA, with some new sounds (vocally), some great sound recording, some missing sounds (horns), and one of the best Zeuhl 'songs' I've yet heard (I'm still very new to this sub-genre, but I LOVE ZEUHL!! I think this is the music I've been missing--that I've been waiting for--since 1989 [when I gave up on rock/pop/prog music].): part "III"--and part "II" is right up there, too.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Christian Vander / vocals, drums, percussion
- Stella Vander / vocals, percussion
- Isabelle Feuillebois / vocals
- Himiko Paganotti / vocals
- Antoine Paganotti / vocals
- James Mac Gaw / guitar
- Emmanuel Borghi / piano, Fender Rhodes
- Frédéric d'Oelsnitz / Fender Rhodes
- Philippe Bussonnet / bass

While I am rating this 5 stars--for it is a masterpiece of progressive rock music--I do not hold it as dear as MDK or even Wurdah Ïtah; there is something magical about the energy and spirit of those 1970s records--perhaps it is youthful idealism (Did Christian Vander believe he could create a personally- and even socially-transformative mythology back then? Does he still?) Still, I admire he and his crew of Kobaians who have stood steadfastly within this music and its message over the past 40 years.

91.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of Zeuhl and of progressive rock music as a whole.




13. MAGMA - Félicité Thösz (2012) Beginning like an ANDREW LLOYD-WEBER musical doesn't hurt this piece by Zeuhlmeisters, MAGMA. As 'dark' or heavy at it tries to be, the whole thing comes across more as a Dickensian Christmas play written by STEPHEN SCHWARTZ and/or BURT BACHARACH. Awesome bass play, as usual, very melodic piano and perfect drumming from founder CHRISTIAN VANDER help carry this operetta, but it is the wonderful, delicately woven vocal performances that the listener has a chance to really tune into. The lack of hard driving, mega-pulsing music and power vocals is, as a matter of fact, quite unexpected. Yes, the album is brief (by modern standards), but 37 minutes is right in line with a typical vinyl album (unless you are Todd Rundgren). Though the album is really meant to be played straight through--and I love all of the songs here--I must admit to really enjoying putting "Teha" (5:15) (10/10) on repeat ad infinitum. As a matter of fact, the first five songs all flow together seamlessly, flawlessly, beautifully. The most Broadway of all, however, is "Ohst" (4:53) (10/10) with the bouncy piano and the voice of the Maestro, himself; CHRISTIAN VANDER is brilliant, astounding! I mean, how old is this guy? Playing off of HERVÉ AKNIN, it is quite a song. Even the end is very Broadway-like--like the ending to a song from Fiddler on the Roof or something.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stella Vander / vocals, tambourine
- Isabelle Feuillebois / vocals, bells
- Hervé Aknin / vocals, backing vocals (11)
- James Mac Gaw / guitar
- Bruno Ruder / piano
- Philippe Bussonnet / bass
- Christian Vander/ drums, vocals, piano, keyboards, glockenspiel (11)
- Benoît Alziary / vibraphone
With:
- Sandrine Destefanis / backing vocals (11)
- Sylvie Fisichella / backing vocals (11)
- Marcus Linon / backing vocals (11)

I have to admit that hearing an upbeat, positive sounding album from such masters of melodrama is quite an unexpected experience, but it is an entirely enjoyable one.

Another masterpiece? I can't see this little beauty as anything less. 5 stars.




14. UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA - The Magus (2008) This album is filled with some of the most masterful compositions and performances I have heard in this 21st Century. Absolutley stunning in scope and breadth. The spirits of AREA, KOTEBEL, MAGMA, JANNICK TOP, ALAN HOLDSWORTH, LISA GERRARD, EUMIR DEODATO, and GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA have all been absorbed to bring you this production.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ana Torres Fraile / vocals
- Daniele Valle / guitar
- Fabrizio Mattuzzi / keyboards, electric piano
- Antonio Fedeli / saxophone
- Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta / bass
- Uto Giorgio Golin / drums, percussion
With:
- Francesco Festi / vocals
- Antonello Cunego / tenor vocals (3)
- Mario Libera / tenor vocals (3)
- Dante Cavazzoni / baritone vocals (3)
- Emiliano Modena / baritone vocals (3)
- Adriano Vianilli / vocals (6)

1. "De Astrologia" (19:31) starts awesomely before establishing a fairly straightforward, rather dull and repetitious A part. At 4:25 things shift to piano and NINA HAGEN-like silly vocals to become more interesting, more RPI-like. The 6:05 mark ushers in a very Zeuhl-like part with heavy throbbing bass-line and guitar, piano, drums and vocal very MAGMA-esque. This lasts until the 11:20 mark when a synthesizer ushers in a faster, more synth-jazz part. This lasts until 14:13 when piano introduces what appears to be another pulsating Zeuhl section--but, no! At 15:00 the piano starts to jazz it up, at 15:20 is joined by the gorgeous operatic voice of Ana Tores Fraile and later, the wonderful soprano sax of Antonio Fedeli. This is the groovingest section of Zeuhl ever! Awesome piano. Guitarist Daniele Valle had already amply demonstrated his virtuosity earlier in the song but here switches gears to render a more bluesy rock solo. If the whole song were like these last three or four minutes it would be one of the greatest songs ever! Strange ending. (34/40)

2. "Corenza della percentuali" (17:33) begins with pizzicato strings like lighter moment from a movie soundtrack but then it evolves into what sounds and feels like a song straight from AREA's "Arbeit Macht Frei." An amazingly tight avante jazz composition until 4:55 with the first appearance of Daniele Valle's 'one-up-on-Alan Holdsworth' guitar playing over the top of string synths and Zeuhl rhythms. At 6:55 things really slow down as a synth oscillates around the speakers, giving way to an awesome and hauntingly beautiful bass solo (which sounds more like a classical guitar). Ana's operatic voice and some spacey synths join the bass at the 8:54 mark creating a very hallowed, sacred space. 9:40 hears the appearance of an Arabic-sounding drum voice (Francesco Festi?) sounding like the donkey at the end of KATE BUSH's The Dreaming's "Get Out of My House." 12:25 sees a complete return to the hard-driving opening themes--only Ana and Francesco's pairing continues--an awesome effect over the synths and hard-drivng bass line. The last 30 second s of the song see a comical return to the opening pizzicato strings theme. Odd but appropriate. A truly masterful composition. (36/40)

3. "Les plantes magiques" (7:36) has a more classical chamber or church music feel to it. Piano arpeggios entwined with Ana's wordless mid-range tonings and almost-background alto sax notes. At the 3:20 mark we get a surprise: solo piano accompanying chanteuse Ana with an accompaniment of background female singers all singing French lyrics. At 4:45 a more Zeuhlish operatic section begins: orchestral percussives, synths, operatic male and female voices. Le nouveau opera! Awesome! (15/15)

4. "Ato piradime" (15:52) begins with a very familiar LOREENA MCKENNITT or DEAD CAN DANCE feel and sound until at the 1:35 mark an intricate weave of bass and electric guitar usher in a kind of movie soundtrack sax theme. Shift at 3:07 to a kind of RPI rap. Really! Very engaging and poppy. 5:17: abrupt stop and pause. Solo electric piano chord progression repeats itself until 6:15 when it is joined by a very reedy sax, then by the operatic Italian lyrics of Ana. Quite majestic is her singing to "La Luna"--as is the interplay of the sax. Vocals climax around 9:40 whereupon a heavier jazz groove takes over with Fabrizio Mattuzzi's distorted electric piano bouncing around a little before being joined by bass, drums and soloing lead guitar. Around the 13 minute mark the imitation Alan Holdsworth shows up once more to give a stellar show of what AH could be. The song's final minute allows Ana and Antonio's "La Luna" theme to return to fade. (28.5/30)

5. "Mors, ultima linea rerum" (6:06) begins with a few seconds of a kind of circus-like sound and feel before unleashing an awesomely powerful heavy prog section, only to segue into a kind of GINO VANELLI/BILLY JOEL pop jazz at the 1:30 mark. Enter an awesome 'Alan Holdsworth' guitar solo, then at 3:05 shift back to the heavy prog theme. 4:20 sees the combination of the jazzy Holdsworthian theme with a truly jazz-Zeuhl repetitiousness. End with another strange kind of fade out. (9/10)

6. "Vento madre" (13:24) reminds me so much of one of my favorite 21st Century albums, KOTEBEL's "Omphalos"--particularly the "Pentacle" suite. I love the combination of heavy electric guitars, hard-rocking rhythm section with operatic vocals. 3:55 begins a DEODATO-ish electric piano bridge to a very pulsating, deeply engaging, mesmerizing section of Zeuhlish magic. Ana and guest male vocalist Antonio Vianilli. "Salvol!" Saxes and electric piano. Enter Sr. Daniele Valle, electric guitarist extraordinaire! Quiet sectioni yields to the return at 10:15 to the opening theme. Let the wild rumpus continue! Dance ye sacrificial lambs! Faster! Faster! Lose yourself in the mélée; come under the spell of The Magus! (30/30)

Total time: 79:58

This album is filled with some of the most masterful compositions and performances I have heard in this 21st Century. I cannot imagine anyone not seeing the utterly astounding quality of these songs and these performances. They are so fresh, unusual, creative and mature. Plus, I love it that Zeuhl has an Italian participant! Without question or reservation a solid, strong 5 star contribution to Western music. Perhaps the second greatest Zeuhl album I have had the privilege hearing (thus far).

91.93 on the Fishscales = 5 stars, A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music! I love Zeuhl!




15. GA'AN -- Black Equus (2011) The second Zeuhl release from this lineup of young Chicago-based musicians (from whom nothing has been heard since) comes two years after their extraordinary debut. (I wonder if they were in fact outtakes from the sessions that produced the previous album--the sound is so similar.) The drums are so perfect and the bass and keys stay tightly in the fold. Lindsay's wonderful voice is, as it was on the other album, mixed a little too far back for my tastes. Still, the ethereal, "instrumental" effect this gives the vocals is probably part of the charm of the Ga'an sound.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Lindsay Powell / voices, electric piano, synthesizer
- Seth Sher / drums
- Tyson Torstensen / synthesizers, bass, synth bass, electric piano

1. "Arms They Speak" (9:54) is quite a bit more rich in terms of keyboard/synth layers than the songs of the previous album but the sound engineering and the way the vocal is mixed in is quite the same. Great drumming, cool bass and layers of keys make this one a keeper despite the melodies and chord progressions not quite being up to those of the previous album. The scaled down vocals and instrumental mix in the quieter seventh and eighth minutes are sublime--great finish! Great drumming! Papa Vander would be proud! (19/20)

2. "Servant Eye" (8:35) opens with an ANEKDOTEN-like thick/heaviness. Lindsay's entry with repeating vowel/syllables is fairly quick, but then there is a stop and restart at the one minute mark--a technique the band used to great effect on the previous album. Enter Mellotron choir. The keys are, unfortunately, a little too distorted and Lindsay's vocals a little too militaristic. Another directional shift in the third minute leads to a brief passage of Lindsay's lead vocals before the drums explode into a race around the sun. Awesome in the truest sense of the word. 'tron is replaced by saw-syth--to nice effect. New pace at the six minute mark--more insistent, resolute. This then morphs into another fast race with great synth and bass work over the frenzy of flailing drumsticks--to song's end! That went by so quickly! (On my disc there is an additional minute of silence after the music has ended.) Not as good as the previous song but still at a very high level. (13.5/15)

3. "Call Of The Black Equus" (18:44) opens with syncopated pulse of a synth bass note with floating, panning synth saw within which Lindsay interjects a single LISA GERRARD-like  phrase, at first intermittantly and then nearly constantly. Drums and bell-keys arrive at the 3:05 mark prompting Lindsay to begin singing some actual lyrics--as if telling a story. Still, she is in the background, virtually yelling her words into the mix. For the second verse of her song she is accompanied by several tracks of her voice in harmonizing roles. Interesting. If the voices weren't so mirroring of the keyboard lines it might get more interesting--but, then, isn't that what the Magma choirs do: match the melodies set down by the keys and guitar? 
     The seventh minute brings something new--a kind of choral chorus--before a dirty Canterbury-like keyboard begins playing a progression of ever-ascending chords. Lindsay continues trying to tell her tale--on multiple tracks--as the drum plays beneath it all--kind of in a PHIL COLLINS way with many, many interesting fills and flourishes. Poorly mixed Greek chorus in the ninth minute before a break leads into a softer, more spacious "White Rabbit" like passage--which then gains power and momentum with the entrance of a very strong, very chunky bass and bass line. A Tony Banksian organ passage precedes another foray at support for Lindsay's plaintive vocals. Wild bass sounds in the twelfth minute precede a slow down, drop out section from which emerges an old synth, slow ascending bass line, and dirge-like LISA GERRARD-like vocal performance. LARRY FAST-like bass synth continues in the lead while drums and synth washes try to keep up (Lindsay takes a singing break). At 15:40 Lindsay's epithets are punctuated by synth and drums until 16:22 when the band kicks back into the previous fast-paced groove--this time with synth performing a melody line of descending steps. This continues until the final 45 seconds when the music blows up into whole band waves of power and awe. I don't know how to explain it. (I lack the musical terminology/language skills.) This is just an amazing song considering it came from three musicians. It may not be on the level of intensity or power of a Magma masterpiece, but it certainly has all of the elements to be one. (I imagine this song being performed with the expanded Magma lineup! Wow, wouldn't that be amazing?!) (36/40)

Total Time 37:13

I've always thought this album quite a bit weaker than the band's 2009 debut but upon current investigation, I appreciate the creative and instrumental prowess that went into this--all three of the songs. 

91.33 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the shining beacons of modern Zeuhl as created and composed by three youths from Chicago!!! 




16. VAK Budo (2018) This second release from this French Zeuhl band is very well constructed and produced. The compositions are complex and dynamic with rarely a dull moment or overly-prolonged passage and the musicians are equally up to the task of delivering this complex music in a powerful and jazzy fashion. The freshness or innovation does not go much beyond what bands Magma, Eskaton, and Ga'an have already done, but the second song, the 23-minute epic "Hquark" synthesizes sounds and stylistic elements from other related subgenres in the way that SETNA did with their 2014 masterpiece "Guérison."

Line-up/Musicians:
 - Aurélie Sainte-Croix - vocals
 - Vladimir Mejstelman - drums Joël
 - Crouzet - bass, guitars
 - Alexandre Michaan - keyboards, synthesizers
With
 - Michaël Havard - saxophones (1)
 - Hyder Aga - guitars (3)
 - Nora Froger - flutes (3)

1. "Budo" (27:28) opening with busy bass, steady drums and background keys before a jazzy chordal fabric is announced by keys and horns. Multiple keys and, later, voice and R&B guitar chord play are introduced to fill out the sound in a second section. Aurélie and Alexandre play off each other harmonically to create melody lines out of voice and synth until 3:30 when there is a slowdown bridge for a syncopation display from the rhythm section. Then we briefly recapitulate the vocal-synth melody before a stripped down section allows the bass to be on display. Keys and playful drums provide background as Aurélie enters and scats and soars á la Stella Vander. A "power chord" bridge of piggy-backed bass, guitar and keys follows before another recapitulation of the vocal-synth theme. Then around 7:15 there is another breakdown in which bass and keys offer their solos. Aurelie supports as bass and drums fall away and only provide simple, syncopated support until the tenth minute when prominent drums play beneath and within the keys. Bass is sliding up and down the fretboard, back and forth.
     At 10:30 guitar announces its turn with a couple of loud chord strokes and a deep, wailing wah-ed sound. Nice solo, nice drum play. Another thematic shift at 12:00 before keys take a Brian Auger/Eumir Deodato-like solo over a blues-rock like foundation from the rhythm section. At the end of the fourteenth minute the synth and bass get pretty creative as the drums maintain an often straightforward rock tempo--shifting into an odd time signature just as multiple saxophone (two) tracks enter with their mutually exclusive soloing. This section ends up being the most prolonged of the song as the saxes keep jamming for over three minutes--even over a thematic shift in the seventeenth minute just before the slowdown and spacious shift that leads back into a pretty Fender Rhodes arpeggio-based section over which multiple tracks--voice, synth, and guitar--present and carry forward the melody.
     At 19:30 we again shift as the Fender alone carries the music into a more cinematic section in which cymbal play is the keyboard's main companion. Eventually, by the 24th minute, drums, gentle bass, and space-guitar notes are added over the Magma-esque keyboard foundation. The weave that is slowly built is quite cool--definitely moving toward a climax. Voices, saxes, and everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into the mix before the crescendo is maxed out mid-26th minute. A long, slow deconstruction and fade is then slowly executed to reach the quiet, complete end. It's hard to find fault with this awesome pure-Zeuhl epic. Perhaps the frenzies and crescendo's do not reach the fanatical heights achieved by the Vander-Magma masters. (46.75/50)

2. "Hquark" (23:03) drum sticks, bass tom, and triangle create a rhythmic MAGMA-esque weave to open this one. Single note "horn," piano, and wordless vocals soon join in and eventually supplant the rhythmic weave sounding very much like something off of the two GA'AN albums. At 1:50 drums kick in as synths and full volume voice and electric guitar carry the song into its full form (at 2:05). Aurélie's vocals play a dominant role in the establishment of this, even as electric guitar takes a stab at soloing and the full band bursts into a section of loud power drive.
     Soft and heavy dynamic shifts seem to be the key to this one not getting stale, and this is never so well demonstrated as the first downshift that occurs at the five minute mark. Aurélie scatting wordlessly (and without consonants)--even via multiple tracks--while Fender Rhodes and very cool bass play proceed until the keyboard-guitar(and, later, -synth) weave double their speed at the end of the seventh minute. Drums and vocals increase intensity commensurately until everything slows down to a walk at the 8:20 mark. Keyboard, synth, and scratchy electric guitar solos start and duel in a crazy frenzied dance until the 10:00 mark. There follows another ominous slowdown section--even coming to a full stop at 10:32 before a pretty, gentle, SETNA-like Fender Rhodes solo initiates a new slow section over which Aurélie sings a complex melody line of "hey dah yah"s and more. The music slowly but insidiously picks up pace and intensity with drums paving the way while Aurélie's work remains fairly constant. Cool!
     At 13:45 there is yet another stoppage and slow entry of a solo Fender keyboard--this one not as melodic or autonomous as the previous one. While Aurélie and drums and bass rejoin fairly quickly, the rebuild is quite slow and protracted. Aurélie's repeating pattern reminds me of Amanda Parsons' work with National Health.
     In the eighteenth minute an entirely new groove is established with bass and drums sounding, in fact, a lot more like the aforementioned NATIONAL HEALTH than Zeuhl founders Magma. Even the keyboard solo is more Dave Stewart--though the backing guitar and bass work is definitely Zeuhlish. Fender Rhodes gives way to synth while complex rhythm section and a more in-the-background Aurélie provide the foundational support. This is easily the most sophisticated section of the song. By the end of the twenty-second minute we are fully and firmly back into the land of Kobaïa--and this is how the song flows to its end.
     The middle section of sparsity with keys, bass, drums, and lone female voice treading softly for several minutes is, I have to admit, my favorite part. I love Aurélie's more loose and melodic "lead" vocals as well as the the Fender Rhodes theme here. I think Aurélie unique talents are much better put to use--"set free"--here than on "Budo."
     Overall, this is another great song--creatively and skillfully melding several styles and influences from within and the fringes of Zeuhl World into something engaging, interesting, and definitely begging for repeated listens. I like this one better than the opener--probably because of its expansive inclusion of other styles as well as the greater range, freedom, and prominence in the lead capacity given to the vocalizations of Ms. Sainte-Croix in the first two of the three middle sections. (47/50)

3. "Au fond des creuses" (8:19) opens slowly with a slow bouncing Zeuhlish Fender Rhodes chord sequence accompanied by simple drums and bass while Aurélie sings her vocalise. The tempo and intensity pick up in the middle of the third minute. Again, I am quite reminded of Chicago's GA'AN's two 2011 releases. At the five minute mark a cool guitar and Fender Rhodes weave sets up support for the entry of solo flute. This is very cool! But, alas! It ends all too quickly; at 6:30 we are back to a slow, plodding section--though this one is heavier due to the guitar's "power chords." The song then softens as it deconstructs toward the very delicate Aurélie Sainte-Croix-led end. (17.5/20)

Total Time 58:50

92.29 on the Fishscales = A/Five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. It is so difficult for me to find fault with Zeuhl music because it's usually so well-constructed and takes such instrumental prowess to render. Plus, there often seems to be present an underlying emotional and even spiritual component to this music. I think of the recent UNIT WALL, PioL, CORIMA, and even this year's PinioL and ALL TRAPS ON EARTH albums as other examples of this fact. Perhaps this subgenre is the pinnacle--or synthesis--of all that is best about progressive rock music. The wordless vocals of Aurélie Sainte-Croix are awesome and so very welcome--they're as good as another lead instrument--and yet I feel that they have not yet been fully liberated--that they are not yet realizing their fullest potential. Perhaps in future releases!?




17. ZAO - Kawana (1976) With a line-up of musicians such as this you really shouldn't go wrong:

Line-up / Musicians:
- François Cahen / Yamaha acoustic piano, Fender electric piano, Korg synthesizer
- Didier Lockwood / acoustic & electric violin, artianal bass violin
- Gérard Prévost / Fender bass, hors phase bass, acoustic bass
- Yochk'o Seffer / Soprano & Sopranino saxes, vocals, piano on F.F.F.
- Jean-My Truong / orange double drums

1. "Natura" (7:03) sounds so much like a modern Pat Metheny Group epic--but it pre-dates all that! Piano, chunky and jazzy bass, and nasal soprano (sopranino?) sax all sound good together. Jean-MY is a little quiet. (9/10)

2. "Tserouf" (8:59) a very tight funky jazz fusion song that could have come off of any of the American masters of the era--Miles, Chick, Stanley, Zawinal, even JLPonty, Area or Bob James! Great song. Very melodic. (19/20)

3. "F.F.F. (Fleurs for Faton)" (2:34) very nice little musical étude performed by piano, acoustic violin and bowed double bass--like a gift from Débussy or Fauré. (4.75/5)

4. "Kabal" (4:14) very tightly performed, fast-paced opening before stepping down to a slower tempo at 0:50 for some synth work--but then things ramp up again with EVERYBODY getting into the act MAHAVISHNU style. The bass and drum work remain super tight and focused at the bottom throughout this display of virtuosity. (8.5/10)

5. "Sadie" (3:43) opens rather loosely, as if walking by a Jean-Luc Ponty-like street musician. The sopranino sax, bass, and electric violin melodies and harmonic support throughout this oft-shifting tempoed song are gorgeous. At 2:40 we are even treated to an overdubbed solo track for the violin. Nice. Creative, inventive song. (10/10)

6. "Free Folk" (10:44) there's a very relaxed vibe throughout this song--like a WEATHER REPORT song. As a matter of fact, there's very little here--or on this album--that harkens to Zeuhl music. Feels and sounds like the Zao crew has shaken loose from the Vander clutches and moved fully into the jazz fusion fold. Nicely done. Probably the weakest song on the album--almost anti-climactic fill--but still good. (17/20) The question is: why is Jean-My Truong so sedate and/or mixed so low in the soundscape?

91.0 on the Fishscales = Five stars; A-; a masterpiece of progressive rock (jazz fusion).





18. POTEMKINE - Foetus (1976) Another 21st Century discovery for me (I am so late to this amazing Zeuhl scene!) Yet another French band with influences of the early MAGMA/Zeuhl scene but, unlike so many others, none of the artists here had played with Christian Vander. Thus, the influences of other contemporary musics might be more prominent in this music than your typical Zeuhl.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dominique Dubuisson / bass, vocals
- Charles Goubin / guitar, vocals
- Michel Goubin / keyboards, vocals
- Philippe Goubin / drums, percussion
- Xavier Vidal / violin 

1. "Foetus" (6:26) (9/10)

2. "Zed" (5:22) (8.75/10)

3. "Nuit sur le Golan" (2:24) May have been relevant in the mid-1970s; not so much now. (3.25/5)

4. "Ballade" (6:24) opens like a Japanese lullaby with vocalese and violin and tuned percussives before the whole band joins in at the 2:15 turning it into some veritable jazz-funk-tastics. (9/10)

5. "Hymne" (2:05) sounds and feels a bit Canterbury-ish. (4/5)

6. "Loolitt" (3:11) has Zeuhl written all within it. Electric piano, straight time drums with lots of flourishes, chunky (though rather sparsely included) bass--and then electric violin and guitar. (9/10)

7. "Cedille" (6:00) a gorgeous little collection of notes opens this sad yet beautiful piano-based excursion. There is almost a spiritual insistency in the melody--not unlike Bill Evans, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin or David & Steve Gordon might use. (9.5/10)

8. "Laure" (4:39) opens with a melody played on electric guitar and supported by flurries of whole-band crescendos sounding like it came from one of Santana's jazzy albums. By the time the song finally establishes itself in its fullness around the 1:20 mark, we're still not quite sure where the Goubin brothers are taking us. This is jazz fusion, not Zeuhl. Until 2:25. Jean-Luc Ponty-like violin and melodies and interesting guitar & keyboard chords work their way in and out of this odd but, ultimately, beautiful song. (9.5/10)

9. "Cycles" (2:21) sounds like something between early Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Allman Brothers--only gone horribly wrong. (3/5)

86.67 on the Fishscales = 4 stars, B; a very good and certainly interesting and enjoyable ride through the fringes of 1970s Zuehl. 




19. UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Mathematical Mother (2016) A welcome arrival! (It's been a while, UTO!) 2017 finds the Spanish Zeuhl masters in fine form, with some very mature, very Zeuhl-styled musical offerings (the first two) and some odd, unsettling, and, ultimately, floundering meanderings in three of the other four.

1. "Terra Cava" (14:06) I'm especially attached to the piano and voice section in the middle (what an amazing vocalist is Ana Torres Fraile!); it is sublime! The opening section is highly polished, tightly performed, with some excellent guitar soloing. The third section is bass-centric while Indian konokol or 'voice percussion' performs intermittently throughout. (28.5/30)

2. "Codice Y16" (5:21) sounds so much like a Magma opus! Piano, guitars, and voices all performing at breakneck speed with amazingly tight timing. Here we find UTO totally in the pocket, in their element, at their all-time best! Simply INCREDIBLE vocal and keyboard performances throughout, start to finish! One of the best prog songs of the year! (10/10)

3. "Elogio Del Dubbio" (7:54) perhaps a little less Zeuhl-ish while flowing more like a KOTEBEL song--at least until the Arabic vocalizations from guest singer Samia Charbel beginning at the 4:10 mark. Morphing into another stripped down, tabla-based church-like operatic vocal performance by the nearly perfect voice of Ms. Torres Fraile, the song feels suddenly so European and liturgical. Ends with an interesting though tangential instrumental section. (19/20)

4. "Architettura Dell'acqua" (11:27) begins with Ana supported only by softly picked electric guitar in an almost-pop performance. This is more akin to the wonderful Neofolk-classical offerings of countrymate Riccardo Prencipe in his CORDE OBLIQUE project releases. In the sixth minute we jump into a full band rock and then prog styled song. An uncharacteristic song from UTO and not my favorite. Still, it is better than 99% of the crap you hear out there. The introduction to the final section (before the guitar solo) is the best part of the song. I much prefer Ana's voice in the full operatic demand. (17/20)

5. "Citta' Infinite" (6:19) opens with a Latin jazzy feel with piano-based combo prepping us for Ana's entry. Vocalise with some scatting is how Ana comes in--and continues to perform for about a minute. Were words lacking, or was this composed with the intention of exploring traditional jazz realms? The synth used in the second minute and shift to more rock sounds & stylings (and use of words by Ana's sublime voice) signal that the jazz foray was only temporary. The fourth minute introduces another new style and approach: quiet, low-key singing, unusual non-ethnic musical style--and then we're off to some familiar bass riffing (from The Magus) with some play from vibes, guitar and synths over the top. Solo piano cuts in at 5:30 to end and fade out. Strange song. (8.5/10)

6. "Mare Verticale" (7:38) surprisingly simple song structures over the first two sections. It's as if the band is having trouble deciding who they want to be and so are playing it extra-conservatively. It's not until 3:25 when we finally get to hear Ana back at her most excellent voce. The music feels old, dated, mired in out-dated rock modalities and stylings. Too much of a mish-mash of mush which seems to have no direction or aim. Scatting @ 6:00 and then back to bland hard rock over which Ana tries to soar. This does NOT work. This song is, to my ears, grating; to my mind, utterly disappointing. (11/15)

In summary, the first two songs are so much stronger than the more stylistically chameleonic tapestries that make up the the final three songs; Zeuhl with Ana's powerful operatic approach are their strengths. While The Magus showed flaws in over-indulgences and sound quality issues (in the mixes), this album shows flaws in clarity of intent and purpose. More songs and music like the first two, please.

89.52 = B+/4.5 stars; a very good offering of Zeuhlish progressive rock music. 




20. ZAO - Shekina (1975)


Line-up / Musicians: 
- Yochok'o Seffer / saxes, clarinets, vocals
- François "Faton" Cahen / keyboards
- Gérard Prévost Electric / bass
- Jean-My Truong / drums
- Pierre "TV Boum" Guignon / percussion
- Michèle Margand / violin
- Marie-Françoise Viaud / violin
- Françoise Douchet / viola
- Claudine Lassere / cello

Opening with one of my all-time favorite 'happy songs', "Joy!" (3:54) (10/10) a song that just grooves and gets into your bones so that you can't help but get up and dance, be happy, the rest of the album is interesting for the range of emotions it takes the listener through.

2. "Yen-Lang" (8:10) retains more of the band's Zeuhl foundations with its quiet start and slow build using a pulsing, bass-infused almost single chord (single key) melody line. Flute and strings are awesome on this one. (13.5/15)

3. "Zohar" (10:53) opens at breakneck speed with all band members laying it all on the line--though none more than drummer, Jean-My Truong. By the third minute the music transitions radically to an all-strings format. At 5:00 bass, drums, keys and percussion sneak back in while strings disappear. Cahen's experimentation with keyboard sound takes over for a bit. Though the band is tight in their occasional ensembleness, the song lacks cohesion and overall feels a bit more like a experiment in experimentalism. (16/20)

4. "Metatron" (8:17) opens with Zeuhlish voices and sax and bass before taking off on a run through a series of challenging sections of disciplined precision-timed chord sequences. At two minutes, driving bass and drum race us along while keys, horns and voices move at a deliberately contrasting snail's pace. Things finally shift around the frenetically paced drums as bass and keys open the way for some sax and keyboard solos. Very reminiscent of both Weather Report and even Brand X. Impressive song. Impressive drummer! (14/15)

5. "Zita" (4:38) opens quietly with strings and electric piano weaving into a little soundtrack chamber music exercise with a kind of sound similar to Eberhard Weber or Vangelis. The presence of the lone soprano voice slightly in the background is a cool effect. Beautiful and peaceful. (9.5/10)

6. "Bakus" (5:13) is just weirdness--though keys, bass and drums really put their Zeuhl chops on full display here. Really it's just Seffert's vocals--sounding more like the fore-runner of those from 21st Century Japanese bands Koenji Hyakkei or OOIOO. Solid song. (8/10)

Though Seffers, Cahen, Prévost and the rest of the band continue to move farther away from their Magma roots, and more into that of the Jazz-Rock/Fusion sub-genre, this is still an album I'd classify as 'Zeuhl'--unlike their next one, Kawana, which is pure jazz fusion (despite the addition of violinist Didier Lockwood). There's something I like so much about this album. Kind of like the way I feel about AREA's Arbeit Macht Frei versus the more polished and virtuosic follow up, Crac!

88.75 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




21. CAMEMBERT - Schnörgl Attahk (2010) Wow! AltrOck Productions just can't miss! Yugen, Ciccada, SKE, Kurai, and now Camembert! Music is alive and well, people! And with great production all around! Refreshing, mesmerizing and, in the case of Schnörgl Attahk, humorous and upbeat. Horns, harps and tuned percussion all jamming with and off of one another! This is one group I want to see live! Haven't been back to Strasbourg since 1979 but, who knows? Maybe in the next couple of years?!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Vincent Sexauer / electric guitar
- Bertrand Eber / trumpet, didgeridoo (4), cowbell (7,8), voices (3,6-8), whistle (3)
- Fabrice Toussaint / tenor trombone, xybraphone, congas, tam-tam, triangle, percussion
- Guillaume Gravelin / harp
- Pierre Wawrzyniak / bass, acoustic guitar (4), voices (6,8)
- Philémon Walter / drums
With:
- Francesco Zago / electric guitar (3)
- Julien Travelletti / bass trombone (3,5,7,8), tuba (7)

1. "Infinicheese" (1:35) (5/5)
2. "Clacos Zero" (0:35) (5/5)
3. "Untung Untungan" (11:13) (20/20)
4. "Clacos 1: Notre Mêre à Tous" (1:58) (5/5)
5. "El Ruotuav Ed Sram" (8:16) (20/20)
6. "Clacos 2: Die Experimente Von Dr F Frankenschnörgl" (0:48) (5/5)
7. "Le Meurtrier Volant" (9:01) (18/20)
- La Danse du Chameau (17:51) 
Unfortunately, the 5-part suite which ends the album, entitled "La danse du Chameau" doesn't succeed in conveying or evoking this same response. (Plodding like the camel for which it is named, the perfect harmony of "The Vulture of Mars" and  "Le meurtrier volant" seems long past.) (32/40):
8. "Batifolade" (5:29)
9. "Soif!" (1:17)
10. "La Tempête De Sable" (4:51)
11. "Rêveries Lubriques Sous Une Dune" (1:09)
12. "The Final Run" (5:01)

Total time 51:13

The transitional songs ("Clacos Zéro," Clacos 1" et "Clacos 2") are excellent (and often quite funny!) but the big monsters [e.g. "Untung Untungen" (11:14), "El ruotuav edsraM" (8:17), et "Le meurtrier volant"] are incroyable! I listen to "Untung" and "ruotuav" (Vulture from Mars) over and over and find my body and spirit reacting quite the same way I did upon first hearing MAGMA's MDK a few years ago: avec une danse joyeuse, sauvage et frénétique! It is wonderful! The pause at the halfway mark in "Untung" is so startling and such a letdown, yet it's so exciting when the music returns and builds and builds, jelling and spiraling its way in perfect collaboration up and then down to a stop--it's just like a rollercoaster ride! And one can just feel the morose, Poe-like tension of "Le meurtrier."

In the vein of its inspirateur, GONG, the band puts forth some jazzy jams, but, also like GONG, IMHO, the jamming seems a bit pointless--or ecstatic and masturbatory--depending on one's psycho-neuro-chemical state. For some reason, the band seems to have mostly abandoned the wonderful collective weaves of the amazing first 30 minutes of the album. Too bad. That was quite a ride!


91.30 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Sheer freshness, enjoyability, and perfect sound production of its compositions.




22. PATRICK GAUTHIER - Sur les flots verticaux (1993) Very good keyboard-based Zeuhl prog from the former HELDON, MAGMA, and WIEDORJE keyboard artist. It is obvious that Patrick is an accomplished pianist and loves the Broadway vocal medium.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Patrick Gauthier / piano, programming
- Alain Bellaiche / vocals, guitar
- Pierre Marcault / percussions
- Antoine Paganotti / drums
- Christian Mathurin / bass
- Marc Eliard / bass
- Bénédicte Ragu / vocals
- Julie Vander / vocals
- Stella Vander / vocals

1. "Des pygmées dans la ville" (6:34) I kind of happy Calypso Zuehl. (9/10)

2. "Sur les flots verticaux" (10:01) One of the greatest prog/Zeuhl 'classical' études ever written. The Coltrane, Orff and Débussy influences are strong here. Gorgeous vocal arrangements and renderings. (20/20)

3. "Le train fantôme" (7:18) odd and unusual but hypnotic in the Zeuhl fashion, so I guess it's a success. Just . . . weird. (13/15)

4. "Odessa" (4:11) is pure classical/jazz piano soloing. Very Gershwinian. (8.5/10)

5. "Eleutheren" (8:17) is founded, unfortunately, on almost the exact same rhythm as song #3. The vocal expedition is different--more Magma and Broadway music styled (Manhattan Transfer)--though I hear monastic chant as well. Amazing "piccolo" bass play. Well performed, interestingly and creatively composed. (13/15)

6. "Zawinal" (8:26) another Broadway-esque/Manhattan Transfer-like song. Too repetitive, over-dramatic and drawn out. (11.5/15)

87.06 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent ambassador of both Zeuhl and of progressive rock music.




23. MAGISTER DIXIT Cellule de Crise (2006) 

One of the earliest young modern ensembles to really commit to bearing the torch of Christian Vander's Zeuhl music. Too bad they gave up after this album.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stéphane Marcaillou / vocals, guitar, texts, compositions
- Melanie Fossier / vocals
- Bita Rezvannia-Picot / violin, vocals
- Sophie Perret / piano, voice
- Jean-Pierre Albert / drums
- Stéphan Garcia / bass

1. "Endless" (5:58) sounds like Magma, just not as tight, not as focused--and singing in English (at first: the title word)! The tempos as expressed by the bass, drums, and vocalists seem scattered all over the place, as if the band were not all on the same page. There's a little of the spirit of COS vocalist PASCALE SON in the voice of lead female, Melanie Fossier. She definitely commands attention. (7.5/10)

2. "Les potits archers" (5:55) whoops! maybe I was wrong: This band can Zeuhl! Everybody seems to gel and relax into the music here. the weaves--both musically and vocally--are absolutely stupendous (except for the way lead male Stéphane Marcaillou's voice is recorded and expressed in the overall mix). Great comportment of the classic Zeuhl tension and great build to resolution. (9.25/10)

3. "De profundis II" (8:18) four voices establish a classic Zeuhl form before transitioning about three minutes in to a jazzed up variation of the same. Violin and Melanie present a new lead melody. Amazing Zeuhl scatting from Stéphane and Melanie in the final third of this slower Magma-like composition. Stéphane must have had some Klaus Blasquiz lessons! Great drumming. (18.25/20)

4. "De profundis III" (4:22)  violin and Melanie present a new complex scat pattern, repeated over and over, while instruments below jazz it up. Melanie and the drums really impress. Again, I cannot help but make the Pascale Son comparisons. (8.75/10)

5. "La merveille" (3:57) a sedate, almost dreamy  weave of three female vocalists with the guitar, bass, piano, and mostly-cymbals before Stéphane enters as the lead. When Melanie takes the lead, and is then joined by her two female compatriots, the music takes on an almost 1960s pop-jazz feel and style--and the vocal feels like a lullaby or children's rhyme! Unexpected and brilliant! (9/10)

Total Time 28:30

I have been really impressed with the compositional skills of this band and equally so with their performance skills. They really pull off a truly complete and complex Zeuhl album! The weak link is the bass player: he's no Jannick Top! The rest is pretty top notch MAGMA-esque Zeuhl!

87.92 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; if you're a lover of Zeuhl music at its finest, you will love this album. Definitely an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. There is just something that, for me, is so magical about this album! 



24. KOENJIHYAKKEI Angherr Shisspa (2005) Often referred to as "the Japanese Magma," the band are obviously made up of top notch musicians, and their compositions are "out of this world" different, but the music here is just too angular, jaded and disjointed for my tastes--going a step beyond the controlled and prolonged chaos that is typical of a Magma composition into realms of complexity that are impressive though I'm not sure necessary. Also, the album's collection of eight songs do not quite flow one into the other like Magma songs tend to do; each one is distinctive and stands alone without the support or need of the whole.

Line-up / Musicians
- Yamamoto Kyoko / vocals
- Kanazawa Miyako / keyboards, vocals
- Komori Keiko / reeds, vocals
- Sakamoto Kengo / bass, vocals
- Yoshida Tatsuya / drums, vocals

1. "Tziidall Raszhisst" (7:14) opens with some very familiar MAGMA-esque sounds, notes, scales, and structures: female wordless vocalise with piano and synth. By the end of the first minute a full-on Zeuhl onslaught has begun with high speed entourage now including drums, bass, and saxes. The flow and intensity remains fairly constant despite several detours for solos (fuzz guitar) and worded vocal passages (all band members participate in MAGMA-like chorus-style vocal passages). Great opener--especially in the fact that it so closely parallels the Zeuhl that originated with Magma. A top three song for me. (14.5/15)

2. "Rattims Friezz" (7:01) opening with more percussion and high-pitch instrumental play to establish a slower, angular, odd-tempoed staccato rhtyhm and melody pattern. At the two minute mark everything shifts: different rhythm pattern (more Latin feeling) and new melody patterns. Very tight in the display instrumental and vocal weaves. An interesting cinematic "Hollywood" "interlude" near the end before the song flips back into the frenetic Latin-like rhythms to end. Another top three song. (14.5/15)

3. "Grahbem Jorgazz" (4:06) Kyoko's vocals are here full on operatic soprano (in the same vein as UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA's Ana Torres--though at times feeling almost tongue-in-cheek humorous in their NINA-HAGEN-like exaggerated pathos). Intense, fun, and funny. (9.5/10)

4. "Fettim Paillu" (7:45) piano and operatic female voice open this one in a slow, heavy mood. At the one minute mark, sharply abrasive percussion-led pulses enter and establish an odd-tempoed pattern but then in the third minute an all-out "panic on the pirate ship's deck" kind of scenario takes over. The voices are quite theatric: low male chorus with female lead while the woman seems to be quite often in rather a lot of distress. Interesting! At 4:30 the chaos suddenly ends and we are left with an interesting -like "frozen time" interlude as solo clarinet and piano duet an interesting jazz/classical dance. At 6:10 the operatic female re-enters in place of the clarinet, just she and piano making her case plaintively. 30 seconds later the other instruments begin encroaching and building into a wild, cacophonous pirate-like finish. (14/15)

5. "Qivem Vrastorr" (4:22) opens like a Gilbert & Sullivan dittie with multiple layers of voices and instruments getting involved in a kind of layered weave of brief epithets being repeated over and over in a kind of rondo. In the second minute there are two instances of loosening of the tight grip of organized tapestry before the song shifts in the third minute to something more smooth and flowing, less multi-layered. The final 90 seconds sees an attempt to kind of combine the two forms until the final 30 seconds become full-on Zeuhl. (8.5/10)

6. "Mibingvahre" (4:07) opens with what sound like traditional African folk hand instruments, hand clapping, simple mouth horns, and loose vocal chanting--which eventually becomes jazzified by chunky bass, drums, soprano saxophone, and Kyoko's operatic vocalise breaking through from the background. Kind of a brilliant cross-cultural imitation of African tribal/village folk musical traditions. (8.75/10)

7. "Angherr Shisspa" (6:34) talk about an abrasive opening! Voices, horns, drums, and everything but the kitchen sink flailing away, bashing into my brain, repetitively before giving me the Zeuhl sound. And thank god for the smoother, more melodic jazz passage in the second half of the second minute! At 2:30 there is a switch into something more akin to UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA before things smooth out for some sharp stoccato sax and vocal scatting (which, again, begs the question: Is this in jest? Is this music supposed to make me laugh?) The 4:00 mark introduces another quite radical shift into a calming smooth-jazz passage before all hell breaks out for the final 30 seconds. Amazing performances of a very oddly constructed song. (9/10)

8. "Wammilica Iffirom" (8:39) opening with another very MAGMA-esque passage of soprano choral voices, they are soon joined (and supplanted) by full band speeding along at a fast pace in a fairly orderly, listener-friendly musical style. The chord- and key-structure and tempo remain fairly accessible throughout the first three minutes--even as the choir, piano and horns begin to "stray." Weirdly dissonant sax solo in the fourth minute precedes another chorus before a piano bridge brings us into a chunky-bass and male vocal-led passage. This builds with other voices and instruments added to build each layer until 5:30 when things break down into a very simple, very imperious passage similar to a Magma processional. Male vocalist lends his master-of-ceremonies voice to the passage, even using Christian Vander-like falsettos, to relate the events of the passage. Then we shift back into the simpler, friendly theme for the final minute. Easily the most accessible song on the album. (19.5/20)

Total Time: 50:10

93.57 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music regardless of what style this is. It's quite difficult to find fault with this album of impeccably performed, incredibly intricately constructed compositions. As above, my chief complaint is the oft-times abrasive nature of the full-frontal onslaught of the music. This is music that might be better served in a fully-regaled theatrical performance.




25. PiNioL Bran Coucou (2018) It's all the rave, combining two bands--this time two well-respected avant garde trios from France. The result of all the hype and anticipation is highly entertaining, mind-bogglingly complex, if sometimes a little drawn out and formulaic. I hear a lot of SONAR-like Math Rock in this music, despite the amazingly fun and surprisingly fitting made-up language (a Zeuhl version of Japanese?) vocals. The first half is highly engaging and then it gets a little old.

Line-up/Musicians:
Antoine Arnera (PoiL) - Keyboard, vocals
Boris Cassone (PoiL) - Bass, vocals
Guilhem Meier (PoiL) - Drums, vocals
Anthony Béard (Ni) - Guitar, vocals
François Mignot (Ni) - Guitar, vocals
Benoit Lecomte (Ni) - Bass, vocals
Jean Joly - Drums

1. "Pilon Bran Coucou" (14:02) controlled chaos. It's even melodic and highly engaging! And what musicianship! (27.75/30)

2. "Pogne" (7:15) odd time signature with some catchy melodies and wild fake-Japanese-Zeuhl vocals. It's awesome! (14.25/15)

3. "Mimolle" (4:29) avant even math rock in its rhythm section, the tremolo picked guitar in the opening section speaks "Post Rock" a la MONO, but then things go totally Avant Math Rock in the second minute. As it builds and wails into a frenzy, the music just sucks you in (instead of repelling). (10/10)

4. "Sh' Shin" (14:37) is this song just a Hamiltonian set up for an American swear word? (MF/WTF) (Who knows if the pseudo-Japanese is also of a similar extraction and meaning?) (25.5/30)

5. "François 1er" (9:11) the bonny king is an historical favorite of mine, so my first listen to this comes with expectations: (It better be good!) Slow, sliding tremolo guitars pan across our listening horizon before synth, basses, and drums enter and establish a slow methodical rhythm track. At 2:30 a guitar steps forward as a "lead" instrument--but it's all SONAR-like Math Rock weave. (Though I hear SEVEN IMPALE and KARNIVOOL in this song as well.) Maybe I've been spoiled by the opening song, but this one feels too sedate or as if it never gets off the ground--they just keep testing the engine and special features/apps. (17/20)

6. "Kerberos" (6:05) the band has gotten too tight and too formulaic--the subtleties and idiosyncracies (other than a few belly laughs and xylophone sounds) are all but absent from this one. (8/10)

7. "Orbite" (12:05) slow and very sparse for the first four and a half minutes, it's not until the nonsense pseudo- Japanaese vocals enter that something really interesting begins to happen--and even then it's minimal progress. At 6:20 we finally get some power, some force, some energy and emotion as bass and guitars bash out some heavy chords and metallic arpeggi. I'm reminded of something from King Crimson's Red/Starless period, but this is a little too drawn out. Still, it is better in the second half. (21.25/25)

88.39 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. Adventurous as it begins, it becomes a bit too formulaic and predictable.




26. EIDER STELLAIRE -- (1981) Founded by OFFERING drummer Michel Le Bars (what a distinction and honor it must be to have been chosen by drummer extraordinaire Christian Vander to be his drummer!).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Véronique Perrault / vocals
- Jean-Claude Delachat / guitar
- Pierre Gerard-Hirne / pianos, organ
- Marie-Anne Boda / flute, vocals
- Patrick Singery / bass
- Michel Le Bars / drums
With:
- Michel Moindron / tenor saxophone (4)

1. "Onde" (8:35) solid Zeuhl fare with differing keyboard sounds but still using chunky bass and drums to propel the music ever onward. Very nice guitar work from Jean-Claude Delachat. Well performed overall but lacking a little of the "raptured soul" of Vander's stuff. (18/20)

2. "Arctis 6.ème Éphéméride" (7:04) chunky fretless bass á la JACO PASTORIUS, the song has a very nice progression with imperceptibly smooth transitions. Though I'm not a fan of the fuzzed up Mahavishnu John McLaughlin sound employed by the guitarist, I laud the work--his play with the bass player and off of the female choir. I also enjoy the subtle presence of the flute. (13.5/15)

3. "Légende" (5:37) more JACO bass, bouncy Fender Rhodes, quieter drums, to support the lead guitarist's work--and it is extraordinary, I must say. I'd say this one is less Zeuhlish, more jazz fusion. But it's really good! (9.5/10) 

4. "Tétra" (6:32) slow, then fast, based in Latin rhythms, then Mahavishnu-like driving speed with Jean-Claude again the feature instrumentalist (which is not really in the true spirit of Zeuhl), this song shows good musicianship and emotional CORRADO RUSTICI-like guitar skills and stylings, but the funky bass, and tempo shifts don't always work. Sax in the latter half is a welcome addition. (8.5/10)

5. "Nihil" (7:26) opening like a Vander composition, letting whole band and voices slow-build into the main body of the song, it's good, it follows the Magma forms and examples, but, in the end, it's not quite Magma. It's the bass and singular female voice that detract. And though the drums start out very strong, they don't remain one of the driving forces of the song as Christian does--it's the simple bass and key chords that do a better job of that. Something about the way the drums are mixed into the soundscape weaken them, I think. (12/15)

Total Time: 35:14

87.14 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a wonderful contribution to the Zeuhl jazz fusion world--here fusing the MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA sound and style with Le Bars MAGMA training.




27. CORIMA Amaterasu (2016) Wonderful modern Zeuhl with very strong presence of classical, jazz, and folk themes and instrumentation.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andrea Calderón / violin, vocals
- Paco Casanova / keys, synths, organ, vocals
- Patrick Shiroishi / saxophones, guitar, glockenspiel, vocals
- Ryan Kamiyamazaki / bass
- Sergio Sanchez Ravelo / drums

1. "Tsukutomi I" (6:44) starts out quite pretty then gets downright kelzmer! Yet, this is good, modern Zeuhl! (9/10)
2. "Tsukutomi II" (10:36) opens with some gentle foundation music supporting a nice soprano sax solo. (19/20)
3. "Tsukutomi III" (2:31) the finale of the three-part suite almost sounds like an overture from a late-1960s Broadway rock opera--heavy on the Hammond. (4/5)

4. "Amaterasu I" (3:45) Zeuhl classical piano?!! (9/10)
5. "Amaterasu II" (3:31) slowed down and spacious but just as ominous with violin, saxophone and female voices mirroring each other. (9/10)
6. "Amaterasu III" (4:53) again presents the Klezmer sound masked in JANNICK TOP/UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA- like female and male vocals. (8.5/10)
7. "Amaterasu IV" (2:34) sounds like it could have come straight off of a 1970s JEAN-LUC PONTY album! Great drumming. (8/10)
8. "Amaterasu V" (6:12) very standard Zeuhl in the Magma tradition (8/10)
9. "Amaterasu VI" (8:02) which is then continued in the album and suite's final song. (12/15)

86.5 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent example of 21st Century Zeuhl and of progressive rock music in general. It's so difficult for me to not like the intense spiritual feelings evoked by true Zeuhl music like this. This is the best Zeuhl album of 2016 that I have heard.




28. BONDAGE FRUIT -- II (1996)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Saga Yuki / vocals
- Kido Natsuki / guitar, organ
- Katsui Yuji / vocals, violin
- Ohtsubo Hirohiko / bass, vocals
- Takara Kuimiko / vibraphone, marimba, percussion, piano
- Okabe Youichi / percussion, trap drum
With:
- Yen Chang / vocals, arrangements

1. "Mobile" (4:57) pulsing, throbbing rhythm section with busy violin and vibes and scatting female lead vocal = ZEUHL! A bit simplistic in its construction (this is no Magma), it does have the advantage of being accessible to the uninitiated listener from the get-go. I love the vocal work, both soft and full volume, in the final third--as well as the re-assessment of pace in the final 30 seconds. (8.5/10)

2. "Daichi No Ko" (7:23) punky-poppish with searing electric violin soloing in the first minute, the choral vocals (kind of call and response) throw a very catchy pop melody at you, carry it just the right length of time before going off into a wild animalistic frenzy in the third minute--which is then followed by an equally frenzied electric guitar solo. At the 5:00 mark there is a slowdown and shift into more sensitive, delicate passage of vocals, double bass, vibes, and multiple voices woven into a simple jazzy rhythm (th bass is actually doing a solo throughout) before a full kick back into the fast-paced melodic call-and-response movement from the opening minute (with violin seething and screeching in the background). (14/15)

3. "Caucus Race" (7:26) opens with drums and bass keyboard flying at Mach 2. Guitar, sax, and Yuki join in before giving way to marimba and male vocalist's animal noises. This is the pattern until 2:51 when everything drops back except for a super-fast rolling guitar note and accompanying bowed bass, cello and multiple violins(?) play a furious dual into a mutually satisfying group orgasm at the 5:10 mark. But does the pace let up? No! It speeds along as fast as ever until at 6:15 it stops, leaving behind one female voice to carry forward previous melody lines. Second female voice joins in and then the whole band rejoins for a frenzied animalistic finish. Another interesting and engaging song. (13.5/15)

4. "Cottleston Pie" (5:31) thought the acoustic music 
here sounds more SHAKTI (violin, acoustic guitar, and more traditional percussive folk instruments), the multiple vocal tracks are full-on Zeuhl. Nice performances by all! (9.25/10)

5. "Gel-Celloid" (3:27) awesome JANNICK TOP-like driving music with intricate performances from the vibes, vocalists, and violin--all brought down by the fairly standard super-speed classic rock electric guitar solo. (9/10)

6. "Kodomo No Guntoi" (10:00) a cappella female vocalise opens this before being joined by a second voice, singing an alternate melody line. Drums and buzzing guitars and synth join in while bass adds an occasional deep note and a chorus of voices sings the new melody line in unison. At 2:00 we change up the musical texture while the 2/2 bass and tom beat drives on. At 3:20 the bass begins to reinforce and accentuate the drum line as snare and guitar rip it up beneath the Zeuhlish vocal line. In the fifth minute things slow down as one guitar takes on a more soul/R&B wah-effected display while the other shreds in the background. At 5:25 things begin to fall apart in the weave--leading to a kind of "accidental" polyrhythmic display; the band is pretending that each individual musician is drunk, wandering off into his or her own pathway. In the eighth minute the drums tighten up and begin to reign in everyone to better unified cohesion (like the beginning). Weirdness and freedom to express! Exemplified well in the two voices "arguing" in the 9th and tenth minutes (in a nonsense language?). Creative, courageous, and skilled but not very pleasant to listen to. (16.25/20)

7. "Terminal Man" (15:15) at times containing motifs from the 1960s surfer music (Dick Dale et al.) the first five minutes of the music here seems to be a celebration of some kind. Long guitar solo over some relatively straightforward surfer beats in the fifth and sixth minutes before stopping to scream while a slow arpeggiated guitar pattern establishes an ominous new BYRDS-like palette over which the classical-sounding violin begins to solo. Very cool slow blues-rock development of the support music as the violin takes off and soars. Awesome slow-build and mild crescendo before returning to opening theme for a celebratory end. (28/30)

Total Time: 54:59

89.55 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a brave and excellent exploration of the boundaries and potentialities of Zeuhl music, and an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. 




29. SETNA -- Cycles (2007) The sudden appearance of this album of full-blown Zeuhl--with the participation of known MAGMA alumni like James McGraw--came as quite a surprise despite the fairly recent rebirth of the Magma base with the Trianon and Le Triton concerts and the 2004 release of universally recognized Magma masterpiece, K.A. and the decade since the formation and appearance of the British RIO/Zeuhl band GUAPO, and yet, here it is: the first in the 21st Century's New Wave of French Zeuhl bands.

Line-up / Musicians
- Natacha Jouët / vocals
- Florent Gac / Fender Rhodes
- Nicolas Goulay / Fender Rhodes, Minimoog
- Guillaume Laurent / soprano saxophone
- Christophe Blondel / bass
- Nicolas Candé / drums, percussion
With:
- Mathilde Maisse / vocals
- James Mc Gaw / guitar
- Benoît Bugeïa / Fender Rhodes
- Yves Marie Dien / percussions

1. "Ombres" (2:44) opens the album with a Fender Rhodes solo. Interesting in that I'd never heard the xylophone-like quality of the Fender Rhodes as I do here. Zeuhl instruments join in to introduce the Zeuhl sound palette--chunky, distorted bass, sax, and potent drums especially. (4/5)

2. "Tristesse" (4:35) a slow, hypnotic rumbling weave opens this before Fender Rhodes begin embellishing--a little. At 1:20 low sustained buzz notes of a Minimoog enter and draw attention. 2:45 drum shift does little to change the song (and is soon given up). At 3:25 it quiets for the entry of Natacha Jouët's vocals (some double tracked). And then, that's it! (8/10)

3. "Intuition" (13:07) (/25)
4. "Voir" (6:34) dominated by the featured vocals of Natacha Jouët, this one starts out very slowly, very mellowly and simply before building into something more typical of Vander Zeuhl.  (9/10)

5. "Ouverture" (1:22) interesting flow from "Voir" into this using a very familiar Canterbury trick and sound palette. (5/5)

6. "Conscience" (5:05) (8.5/10)
7. "Connaître" (8:12) (13/15)
8. "Être" (6:20) (/10)
9. "Unité" (10:55) (/20)

Total time 58:54

An interesting and delightful foray into Canterbury-spiced Zeuhl music. Far more employment of singular female vocals than I've ever heard in Zeuhl before (before hearing VAK or KOENJI HYAKKEI)--and vocals mixed so far forward (as the dominant track). Overall, Cycles is a very pleasant listen that becomes background music for its fairly mellow structure and palette as well as its hypnotic repetitiousness and lack of any significant, dynamic peaks.  

86.36 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a solid addition to the lexicon of Zeuhl and a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection. But wait: this band gets better--way better--with their next release!




30. SHUB-NIGGURATH -- Les morts vont vite (1989) This music has both haunted and impressed from my very listen--so much so that I have resisted writing a review for over eight years--partly out of fear, partly out of respect, partly out of feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. With this, my 1111th review, and the end of my participation as a reviewer here at ProgArchives, I am seeking to put the finishing touches on what ends up being a ten-year excursion into the introspective world of music evaluation. I have chosen to stop at the number 1111 because the repetition of the number one has been significant to me and my wife as representative of the oneness that our re-union reflects for ourselves and for all things in the Cosmos.
     With Les morts vont vite Shub_Niggurath has provided me with a message of the discord, chaos, and menace that humankind is capable of ---but more, this music is starkly beautiful for exactly the reason of the projection of "evil" or "menace" or perhaps "toil" and "hopelessness" that the band seems intent upon suggesting. That Earth has been plagued by this particular adaptation of the "human" experiment is without question or doubt; that we have been a plague to one another is debatable but less certain. Humans have been very creative at devising all kinds of methods of celebrating their individual perspectives, beliefs, and values. The manifestations of expression that many of us call "evil" are just one end of the spectrum of creative potential (which, I would argue, is a circle, perhaps even a moebius strip, as all actions, events, and circumstances can be devised as having opposing effects and consequences). The music recorded herein--and released for public display, consumption, and reaction--affects me with the conjuring of sadness--the kind of visceral imagery and emotions representative of the toil of human subjugation and enslavement. The drudgery of the bass and plodding pacing, the dissonance of the chords evoked from the piano and vocalist, the terrified screams (or is it sadistic laughter?) of the electric guitar shredding (literally, shredding), all evoke within me the most cynical concepts and feelings as relatable to the hopelessness incurred and endured by the individual under conditions of abject slavery. Hell. 
     "The dead are going fast" says the title of the album. "Insipid tragedy" says the title of the opening song.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ann Stewart / vocals
- Franck W. Fromy / guitar, electric percussion
- Jean-Luc Hervé / piano, church organ, harmonium
- Véronique Verdier / trombone
- Alain Ballaud / bass
- Franck Coulaud / drums
With:
- Michel Kervinio / drums & percussion (5,6)

1. "Incipit Tragaedia" (15:46) a song of such hopelessness and despair whose music does a masterful job of sucking one into the doldrums of its "insipid tragedy" that I cannot help but admire at the creative mastery of this piece of art expressed by representatives of my own human tribe. The piano solo is great in its expression of power and fear-induction, the bass not so much, but the electric guitar is the best: diabolical! (29/30)

2. "Cabine 67" (5:55) the dissonant piano work is quite enough to get under one's skin, but then the chunky bass chords and guitar screaming and squealing are added. Yeow! The flaw here is the oddly straightforward, hopalong "Radar Love"/CountryWestern drumming choices. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that the song would be quite perfect without the driving force of the drums (as it was in the beginning)! Even the wild cymbal play in the final minute serve more to take away from the menacing mood that the other four instruments (no vocals here) seem so focused upon generating. Too bad! An incredible start gone wrong! Franck Fromy is a genius on the level of (or beyond) that of Adrian Belew. (8.5/10)


3. "Yog Sothoth" (12:27) the least engaging song on the album as it's prolonged expression of doom and gloom are drawn out so long as to seem almost comical or at least absurd--not unlike a 19th Century Gothic horror novel. Again, it is the brilliant, otherworldly manipulations of sound cast by M. Fromy via his electric guitar that provide the song's highlight moments. I wish Ann Stewart's voice had been used less as a counterpoint to the piano and bass, been given more jazzy free reign. (20/25)


4. "La Ballade De Lénore" (8:58) opens softly, respectfully, circumspectly, almost majestically or reverently with organ, trombone church-like vocal of Ann Stewart projecting their religious offering to us until 2:40 when drums, bass, and squealing, wailing, wrenching guitar jump out of the shadows to affront the holy From this point on, the band uses the music to simulate or express a kind of battle between forces of "Good" and "Evil." The use of instruments common to traditional Christian religious worship (organ, voice, and brass horn) feel like the representatives of "Good" while the cacophony unleashed by the bass, drums, and electric guitar represent those of "Evil"--at least that's how we listeners might make sense of it coming from our society's Christian traditions. Perhaps Lénore was haunted by this same internal struggle--on either a religious/spiritual level or in the form of a kind of bi-polar disorder. Another masterful rendering. (19.5/20)

Total time 43:06

90.59 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; in my humble opinion Les morts vont vite is a high masterpiece of human creativity. I love and respect this album yet it is not an album I seek out very often: mostly when I want to be reminded of and marvel at the genius of the human fabrications of "evil" and "despair."




31. BONDAGE FRUIT  V - Skin (2002) 

If GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR went Zeuhl, the ever-evolving Zeuhl veterans have slowed things down, drawn them out, removed the vocals, and chosen to explore the sound that the space between percussive hits can occupy. Gone are the Crimsonian dynamics or Magma-esque constructs, welcome in the bluesy foundation of all rock 'n' roll, even to Zeuhl! Never before have the commonalities between Zeuhl and UNIVERS ZERO been so evident. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Kido Natsuki / guitar, mandolin, valiha, organ, co-producer
- Katsui Yuji / violin, sampler, co-producer
- Ohtsubo Hirohiko / bass, cello
- Takara Kuimiko / vibraphone, percussion
- Okabe Youichi / percussion, trap drum

1. "Skin" (29:27) Zeuhl takes a trip to the deep bayou of Louisiana. The music and the performances are still stunning, virtuosic, amazingly tight considering the pace and spacing. Drummer Okabe Youichi is especially impressive for his solid ability to adhere to this very challenging pace while continuing to display his virtuosity. Huge chills when acoustic guitar strums enter at 17:00; great chord progression.  Then, in the 20th minute, we return to awesome sparsity and restraint. Again, this drummer deserves to be credited with so much for this brave and spiritual performance. The finish is a kind of Post Rock coming together of all elements and instruments in a cacophonous anti-climax before solo bowed bass takes us slowly out.
     While not a real fan of Louisiana blues, I know when something special has been achieved, and this is special. I feel as if I have just been put through a religious ceremony. Wonderful stuff! (56.5/60)

2. "Frasco" (19:40) opens with the sound of a traditional Japanese stringed instrument called a "valiha" playing solo. Repetitive single muted electric guitar chord strum is repeated and somewhat arpeggiated while vibes, bass, heavily effected electric guitar, and hand percussion instruments play around above and beneath. Valiha continues to ejaculate riffs between those of a variety of electric guitar sounds and other instruments. In the seventh minute the electric guitar and violin begin to take over the main melody line and, as the other instruments all fall away, the musical fabric itself. By the halfway mark a kind of Japanified Latinized Mahavishnu Orchestra jam has been set in motion--violin and guitar, of course, taking the lead presentations. Interesting! The music then morphs into a more JEFF BECK-like jam with a fairly simple and straightforward melodic riff steering the course to the end. Nice but not my favorite stuff from Bondage Fruit. (34/40)

Total time 49:07

90.50 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of evolving Zeuhl and an excellent addition to the lexicon of progressive rock music. While the title piece is, in my opinion, a prog masterpiece, the second epic falls well short of these heights.




Also Good:



32. GUAPO Five Suns (2004) To my mind (and ears) this is a Zeuhl album if I've ever heard one--and an awesome one, at that! The album starts off with the very cool, rather spacey "Five Suns, Part I" (8/10) which then slides into the amazing (Very ANEKDOTEN-like) "Five Suns, Part II" (10/10). The background synth and wave samples are so cool over the marching drums and driving bass lines. Unfortunately, the bass and drum act grows a little weary on the ears as the album goes on. Parts "III" and "IV" (7/10) maintain a high standard of musicianship and driving force but creativity and inspiration seem to wane a bit--there is little freshness to keep the listener glued, the repeated riffs seem, at times, almost infantile, though the drum and bass playing remains rather emotional. There is a little more jazzy side of GUAPO exposed in the softer parts of these songs. "Part V" is rather anticlimactic (and maybe intentionally so). By the time you move past the five movements of the Five Suns you are ready for something new--and boy do they deliver: a solid minute of virtual silence Ithe sounds I hear may be mechanical) titled "Untitled"!! This is followed by a song that is, IMO, the least interesting and least inspired song of the album, "Mictlan." Luckily, the last song, "Topan," (9/10) is another great one--a more sedate but highly skilled and melodic piece. Something here sounds like the pop jazz and jazz fusion I listened to in the 70s. The keys, I think. Or maybe the whole vibe they have going. Reminds me somehow of NIL's "Dérive." Anyway, this is a very, very good album. Part II is definitely one of my top ten favorite Zeuhl songs.

Total Time: 63:09

Line-up / Musicians
- Matt Thompson / guitar, bass, sampler
- Daniel O'Sullivan / Fender Rhodes, organ, Mellotron, harmonium, guitar, sampler
- Dave Smith / drums, percussion

81.43 on the Fish scales = a solid four stars; a nice addition to any collection of progressive rock music.




33. VAK Aedividea (2015)

A sophomore effort from a new generation of Kobaïans from France.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Aurélie Saintecroix / vocals
- Thomas Bourgenot / guitar
- Alexandre Michaan / keyboards, synthesizers
- Juliette Drigny / flute
- Franck Varnava / bass (1,3,5)
- Joël Crouzet / bass (2,4,6)
- Vladimir Mejstelman / drums 

1. "IJKL" (7:03) more guitar-centric than typical Zeuhl. Until the final 30 seconds, this is not as interesting or sophisticated and refreshing to make it worth coming back to. (11.5/15)

2. "Aedividea" (14:02) opens with a spacey ALAN PARSONS PROJECT-like texture before electric piano, drums, guitar, bass and flute enter and define their rolls within a repetitive weave a bit before Aurélie's voice joins. A dynamics and tempo shift at the four-minute mark usher in a faster, guitar- and bass-driven section. Keys, voice, drums, and flute provide excellent reinforcement and embellishment to main theme--eventually taking over from guitar and voice in the seventh minute. This is good! The flute player tries to give it her Zeuhlish best, but, to my ears, it's just not wild and loud enough to deserve the leadership position. At 8:20 there is a stop and restart into an entirely new theme--one in which the drums get a chance to really show off. At 9:45 the vocals seem to be positioning themselves to take over the lead, but synths, guitars, and, especially, the drums are not quite willing to give her the chance. Another new motif begins in the 12th minute before melting away for a gentle guitar, Fender Rhodes, and cymbal to set up a new theme with arpeggiated guitar and bass setting the mood. Aurélie is still there, being used more to reflect the flute--to the end. Interesting! (26/30)

3. "Alzh" (11:08) opens with a kind of 1970s RTF jazz-fusion sound and feel. At the one-minute mark things shift and guitar chord play takes front and center over Fender Rhodes fast arpeggi. Eventually, flute takes the lead as things get seriously Zeuhlish (with "choral" vocals spicing things up). Even so, this is still not at the level of Magma sophistication or virtuosity. A slow down (almost "breakdown") in the fifth minute leads to a slow, plodding section that constantly feels as if it's trying to get going (despite the showy drum play) but never does. Quick key-arpeggio at 6:25 once again kickstarts this into the fast lane but, then, things feel like they're getting stuck again--until everything drops out at 7:45, leaving us floating in some kind of state of suspended animation for the next three and a half minutes as strings-like synths create a kind of background of Interstellar tension. I love this--though it doesn't feel very Zeuhl (and yet, in a space opera, shouldn't there be occasional passages just like this?) The most refreshing and innovative song on the album, IMHO. (17.5/20)

4. "Zeom" (9:49) opens with a heavy weave that has more in common with KING CRIMSON than Magma. Wordless vocals enter in the second minute adding a Zeuhlish quality, but then they fade out and we are left with a much more technical/metal sound palette. In the fourth minute flute is added and then the intensity of the music backs off a much more Carolina Prieta-KOTEBEL-like operatic voice joins in. Flute holds the foundation with a chord progression of quick-arpeggi as the rest of the band punctuates with syncopated though-coordinated chords until 6:37. At 7:45 the music takes on a familiarity to the driving music of JANNICK TOP's 2008 masterpiece of urgency, Infernal Machina.  Good stuff! (17.5/20)

5. "Ellien" (6:23) interesting polyrhythmic play between the keyboard's arpeggi and the rest of the band's weave. Drums and electric guitar also seem to go their own separate ways at times. Aurélie's voice just seems so wasted here: just another single-note provider like a flute or synth. Nice keys, guitars, and drumming on display in their soli during the fifth and sixth minutes. Bass becomes the only thing really holding this to a Zeuhl script. (8.25/10)

6. "Periscopy" (10:15) This song takes us fully into the realm of UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA as Aurélie (and her operatic voice) is finally given some freedom and room to live large within the music. Still, there is a little too much simplicity and mechanisticality in the Zeuhl formats used here. At the same time, there is, however, a feeling about this song as if the band have finally made Zeuhl their go-to music; the leads and turn-taking and commitment to background support on this song feel just as strong as those given by C Vander and his hired guns. The best and most fulfilling, complete-sounding song on the album. (18.25/20)

Total Time: 58:40

86.09 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; all in all, this is a fine addition to the Zeuhl lexicon, though this band still feels as though they are getting their feet wet in terms of rising to the mastery and sophistication of the Zeuhl masters. I'm hopeful that the final song, "Periscopy," is an indication of that step forward. 




34. UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA -- Rituale alieno (1998)

Line-up / Musicians
- Ana Torres Fraile / vocals
- Marco Zanfei / keyboards
- Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione / basses
- Giorgio Golin / drums
With:
- Marco Mauro / lead guitar (2-5)
- Marcello De Angelis / lead guitar (6)
- Giuseppe Saiani / guitars (2-4,6)
- Giuliano Eccher / guitars, viola (3)
- Giacomo Plotegher / keyboards (2,6)
- Francesco Ciech / cello (1)
- Antonio Fedeli / saxophone (2,4)
- Gianni Nicolini / tabla (3,4)
- Francesco Festi / vocals
- Marco Festi / vocals
- Simone Albino / vocals
- Lucio Zandonati / vocals
- Pietro Maini / vocals
- Enzo Battisti / vocals
- Giuliano Lott / vocals

1. "Pane Astrale" (4:33) opens with solo electric piano which is then joined in the second round by violin and bass and then by the gorgeous, tender, operatic voice of Ana Torres Fraile--with the help of a background choir. The pace never quickens as the drums never kick in, instead cello gives us an interlude between Ana's two verses. An extended, doubled up chorus takes us into the final instrumental section in which bass, piano and cello play out in such a delicate, mutually supportive way. (9.5/10)

2. "Saturno" (21:38)
3. "Il Viaggio Di Elric" (13:06)
4. "Ipernatura Del Tempo Centrale" (9:16)
5. "Antichi Occhi Ciechi" (8:53)
6. "Meccanica Superiore "(9:10)

Total time 66:36




35. WEIDORJE -- Weidorje (1978) A much acclaimed album that has never in the five years I've owned it realized the potential power and greatness for which I've been waiting. Regardless, it's time to get this one reviewed and in the can.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Michel Ettori / guitar
- Patrick Gauthier / keyboards
- Jean-Phillipe Goude / keyboards
- Alain Guillard / saxophone
- Yvon Guillard / trumpet, vocals
- Bernard Paganotti / bass, vocals
- Kirt Rust / drums

1. "Elohim's Voyage" (16:33) seems to plod along at one fairly straightforward speed with one fairly simple and, eventually, obnoxious bass sound and riff. A solid but grossly under-developed Zeuhl song. (25.5/30)

2. "Vilna" (12:20) Every time I hear this song's opening I have to check to make sure I didn't push repeat 'cuz it sounds so much like the album's first song to me. By the end of the first minute I'm relieved as I recognize a new direction the band is exploring. But, unfortunately, the same plodding tempo is used. In the third minute we finally get some of the dark, heaviness that one comes to expect from the Zeuhl sub-genre, but it is short-lived. Then the bass player gets stuck in the fifth minute and can't seem to get out of his rut for the longest time. If the soli over the top were more exciting or even interesting then this might not be a problem but when you're bored with the melodies and treble artists, the bass and rhythm sections get picked apart. Finally, at the eight minute mark, the band gets something going that's exciting! Horns and fast-paced minimalist Steve-Reichian foundation that starts speeding up, carrying us into the frenzied state that we come to know and expect from Magma and its imitators. Even a decent ending! Yay! (21.5/25)

3. "Booldemug" (7:10) opening with a 'big' sound--everybody engaged and firing up their instruments to the max--I find myself enjoying and appreciating the collective weave and individual instrumentalists for the first time on the album. Love the frenzy all-out attahk of the sixth minute! This is what I'm talking about! Great music. (14/15)

88.75 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars, B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




36. RHÙN's Fanfare du chaos (2013) This album has provided me with the nearest thing to classic MAGMA that I've ever experienced. There are also quite a few moments in which I am reminded of PRESENT and the other French and Belgian RIO artists. Heck, there are also a few moments that I swear I'm hearing the jazzy orchestral sounds of BURT BACHARACH and Hollywood movie soundtracks!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Captain Flapattak / drums, vocals
- Fabien De Kerbalek / guitar, vocals
- Thybo / guitar
- Damoon / bass, vocals (1-3)
- Sir Alron / bass, vocals (4-6)
- Brhüno / tenor & soprano saxophones, bassoon, vocals (1-3)
- Sam / alto & baritone saxophones, alto clarinet, flute, vocals (4-6)
- Marhïon Mouette / vocals, percussion (1-3)
- Emilie Massue / vocals, percussion (4-6)
With:
The Ensemble Pantagrulair:
- Séverine / flute, piccolo (1-3)
- Rémi / oboe (1-3)
- Catherine / clarinet (1-3)
- Pierre / horn (1-3)

1. 'Toz' (9:24) opens with the power and sound just like MAGMA (except for the piccolo).
The crazed saxophone and electric guitar soli and the movie soundtrack interlude at 3:45-
4:15 are a little beyond anything I've heard from Magma, but otherwise this is an awesome
song right out of Neb'hr Gudahtt's iPod playlist! (18/20)

2.  'Intermud' (2:59) is an interlude instrumental purely from the realm of classical chamber
music. Here brass and woodwinds exchange and intermingle minor and dissonant chord
structures. It is quite interesting and not as distant or depressing as the usual modern
chromatic chamber stuff. (4/5)

3. 'Dunb' (8:54) opens with a bang as multi-level and multi-layered vocals chant over the
throb of a full band of bass, military drumming, horns and woodwinds. The delicate flute-led
interlude at the 1:40 mark provide quite a contrast to the power and insistence of the
opening 100 seconds. Kind of like yang and yin, masculine and feminine. A return to power
and drive is introduced by electric guitar before a male baritone voice takes off running--
everybody else trying to keep up, fuzzy, chunky bass and soprano chorale the most
persistent. The 4:45 mark is where I'm hearing the distinct orchestral sounds of Burt
Bacharach--followed by a kind of Michel Legrand/Debussey theme. The warrior chorus
takes up their march again at 6:10 but find themselves intermittently distracted or slowed by
the soprano sirens, woodwinds, and piccolos. Interesting song! (16/20)

4. 'Bumlo' (5:32) sets into motion with a rolling bass line supported by a much more jazz-
oriented ensemble, sounding like until at the 1:30 mark the music falls away and a more
chaotic, cacophonic free-form jazz--complete with Ornette Coleman-like sax solo--takes
over. By the fourth minute the song has evolved into a more structured Zeuhl song, but this
finds itself intruded upon by an interloper from the California surfin' music of the Fifties and
Sixties! Dude can sing like Bill Haley or Buddy Holly! (8/10)

5. 'Mlues' (6:15) opens with a sustained chord straight from some Miles Davis song from
the Sixties. The evolution from there is definitely shaped by 1970s jazz fusion. I'm especially
reminded of the music of the film music for the Balck 'sexplotation' films of the 70s as well as
some of Freddy Hubbard's experimental stuff (until the male vocals enter).  The high speed
frenzy after the 5:30 mark to end is more reminiscent of some of the early hard rockers--those who later earned the title of Heavy Metal artists. (7/10)

6. 'Ih' (8:15) opens with a psych-jazz sound, a very cool, very sophisticated sound and feel
as if from a very intense scene of a 1970s murder crime film. At 2:30, as the female vocalist
and new bass, guitar, and woodwind riffs take over, the soundtrack feel continues--as if the
stealthy chase of the protagonist intensifies, gets closer to the criminal danger. The tension
only thickens with dynamic shifts from 4:45 to 5:15. Then a chaotic loud period ensues--as if
confrontation is at hand--followed by another bizarre chase scene (capture,
unconsciousness, drugged, delusional awakening, and death??) Awesome song. Awesome
mood setter. (13.5/15)

Total Time: 41:29

Definitely an awesome album of top notch Zeuhl. Papa Vander must be proud! Solid four
star effort--highly recommended for the adventurous prog lover and a real prize for the
Zeuhl lover. 

83.125 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very good Zeuhl album showing potential for future greatness.




37. MAGMA - Köhntarkösz (1974) Despite the auspicious beginning, I've always felt that this album was far more sedate almost soft jazz than any of the other Magma epics. As a listener, I've always found it much more difficult to stay tuned in, as if I have to consciously make an effort to stay focused on the music and musicianship here. After the opening three minutes, the pace is fairly plodding alternating with some quite delicate even alien-ethereal passages. Were I a true devoté of all things Kobaïa I might know and understand the story flow and thus appreciate the music for being the delivery mechanism for such, but I'm not. This is music. I don't know where or what "Köhntarkösz" is or why it would/could demand such prolonged stark and lumbering music.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Klaus Blasquiz / vocals, percussion
- Stella Vander / vocals
- Brian Godding / guitar
- Gérard Bikialo / pianos, Yamaha organ
- Michel Graillier / pianos, clavinet
- Jannick Top / bass, cello, piano, vocals
- Christian Vander / drums, percussions, piano, vocals

1. "Köhntarkösz (Part One)" (15:24) aside from some occasional interesting keyboard work, the first ten minutes have very little to offer--there is even an unusually noticeable lack of vocals or vocal excitement until a little action in the eleventh and twelfth minutes. Less than what I've come to expect in the usually know-your-socks-off world of Zeuhl. (21/30)

2. "Ork Alarm" (5:29) opens sounding like an interlude or observed chase scene in a theatric stage production. Classical strings arrangement, clavinet, piccolo bass, and lone male vocal provide most of the delivery of this drawn out, monotonous song. (7.5/10)

3. "Köhntarkösz (Part Two)" (16:04) opens with some McCoy Tyner-sounding piano before quickly being handed off to electronic keys, cymbals, and single male voice. In the second minute a pleasant foundation of CHICK COREA's RETURN TO FOREVER-type music is established over within which bass, drums, and synths contribute their pensive and delicate flourishes and riffs. In the fifth minute drums and keys build in intensity before the lead saw-synth gives way to solo female soprano singing her wordless vocalise. At the very end of the sixth minute bass and Klaus serve notice to ramp things up so that by the middle of the seventh minute a quicker, more insistent (almost urgent) pace has been established. Canterbury-familiar sax-guitar (á la Phil Miller) enters to take on the lead, holding on to such for a few minutes as the urgency behind and beneath continue to build, first with increased volume from bass and drums, then with three-note wordless chant being picked up by male and then female choirs. At the end of the twelfth minute the guitar has settled into the background, the drums, bass, and choir driving the music into dangerous abandon--further evidenced by rogue voices sneaking off into tangential ejaculations. At the twelve minute mark full speed has been achieved, everything is cruising along, when Klaus enters to begin his operatic narration. Then he is joined by several other male voices adding their elements to the conversation all-the-while the female voices maintain their solid foundation in support of the "controlled mayhem" that is occurring around them. Early in the fifteenth minute everything comes very quickly to a derailment, layers being stripped away, volume being diminished, as choir of throat singing males frog-sing to the end. Now this is Zeuhl--at its best! (29/30)

4. "Coltrane Sunia" (4:14) basically a piano and electric guitar duet (with some background participation from voice). The song is most notable for opening with and being totally based upon a single chord familiar to us from the opening of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." (8.25/10)
Total Time: 41:01

Other than Side Two's wonderful epic, "Köhntarkösz (Part Two)," this is a disappointing album of rather benign, banal music.

82.19 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; another interesting if not always exciting or engaging contribution to the history and development of Zeuhl.




38. UNIT WAIL Retort (2013) 

The sophomore album from these young and ambitious Zeuhl-meisters. The dark CRIMSONian tone is still here, but the band has cleaned up the schizophrenic soundscapes and matured quite a bit in the compositional department, employing more multiple themes per song than before. Though interesting and creative sonic explorations continue for the bass and keyboards players, not so much for Franck's lead guitar. Still attracted to shorter song formats, the band has included their first longer song ever in the finale, "Aqua Permanens."

Line-up / Musicians:
- Franck W Fromy / guitars
- Philippe Haxaire / drums
- Adrian Luna / bass
- Emmanuel Pothier / synths
- Vincent Sicot Vantalon / keyboards 

1. "Kakodeamon" (3:40) great opener! What a pace! Let's me know how these guys have grown: far more cohesive King Crimson-influenced Zeuhl. A top three song. (9/10)

2. "Peregrinatio" (4:11) kind of a continuation and variation on the opener with more synth and lead guitar inputs and more prominent "lead" bass. Mellotron is much more prominent--and ubiquitous--on these songs than on Pangaea Proxima. (8.5/10)

3. "Tertium Comparationis" (3:33) It's like that bass is talking to us! Electronica synth and Fripptonian guitars. After 90 seconds there is an unexpected quieting while TOBY DRIVER-like effected lead guitar plays some notes in the background. Then Mellotrons drench the scape as we return to the opening weave. Interesting. Perhaps this is where Toby got some of his impetus for turning back to 1980s techno-soundscapes. (8.5/10)

4. "Concupiscentia Effrenata" (3:28) sounds like a mix between OZRIC TENTACLES and some of jazz-rock fusion's more adventurous keyboard explorers (Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, Chick Corea, Edgar Winter, Moogy Klingman). Very jazzy. A top three song for me. (8.75/10)

5. "PumaPunku" (5:35) very CRIMSON-like. (9/10)

6. "Numinosity" (4:03) surprisingly sedate and straightforward (for a King Crimson-inspired song).  (8.25/10)

7. "Agathodeamon" (4:07) love the 1970s-like harpsichord hits! Very cinematic with it's long start-n-stop first half and brief passages into fifth gear--like a car chase scene. (8.5/10)

8. "Coincidentia Oppositorum" (3:47) (8/10)

9. "Fixatio" (4:20) I still get a kick out this band's use of the "harpsichord" sound--especially when the music turns so dark and CRIMSON-like as it does here. Then there's the Jaco Pastorius tribute in the middle. (8.25/10)

10. "Aqua Permanens" (6:46) more harpsichord! More cerebral, methodic and NIL-like in its Zeuhlishness. I like the Jaco display in the middle of this one much more than on the previous song.  (13/15)

Total Time 43:07

I don't know why, but bass and drummer Adrain Luna and Philippe Haxaire, respectively, are much more tame in this collection of songs than on the band's debut. As a matter of fact, the entire album's collection of music seems more sedate and controlled (and Mellotron-dominated) than the display of wild on-the-edge  reckless abandon that Pangaea Proxima put forth. It's as if the band recorded the songs of Retort after the one night of wild amphetamine abuse explored on Pangaea Proxima.

I really have trouble rating this next to its predecessor as they are two completely different animals, wild and tamed--and yet only one year apart!

85.48 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; another very nice contribution to the 21st Century Zeuhl renaissance and a nice show of growth and maturity from this energetic, creative band. Highly recommended for lovers of Zeuhl and 2nd incarnation King Crimson (1972-5).  




39. MAGMA 1001* Centigrades (1971) following some of the patterns established by the band's first album in that the three long songs contained here are each credited to different composers: the opener (and by far longest) to Christian Vander, the second to Ted Lasry, and the third to François Cahen. In an unusual move, the band decided to record without a guitarist after the departure of Claude Engel. Also, tensions within the group were mounting about which direction the music was to head. This resulted in the splintering off of members Yochk'o "Jeff" Seffer and François Cahen to form their own group (which would be called Shekina [see above]).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Klaus Blasquiz / vocals, percussion
- François Cahen / piano, Fender electric piano
- Teddy Lasry / clarinet, sax, flute, vocals
- Jeff Seffer / sax, bass clarinet
- Louis Toesca / trumpet
- Louis Sarkissian / winds conducting
- Francis Moze / electric bass
- Christian Vander / drums, percussion, vocals

1. "Rïah Sahïltaahk" (21:45) constructed in a big band fashion with lots of staccato motion  with lead vocalist Klaus Blasquiz doing most of the story telling throughout (and a complete absence of female vocalists!). The opening passage is segued to the mid-section by a two minute passage of theatric orchestral effects while the cinematic mid-section sounds and feels quite like a Burt Bacharach film soundtrack passage, though a little more dramatic due to the Blasquiz effect. Still, the "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" and "South American Getaway" motifs and feel are quite noticeable--though there is also quite a few moments that remind me of Leonard Bernstein sounds and motifs. Powerful but less engaging, less hypnotic, than many future compositions. (32/40)  

2. "Iss Lanseï Doïa" (11:46) as is common with Ted Lasry compositions, there is much more of a familiar jazz foundation--here modern and very much in line with other contemporary film soundtracks--and the softer, more nocturnal side of humanity seems to be expressed more in Lasry pieces. There are still multiple voices being explored, but here it is done through a cacophonous horn section, each spouting its own voice and pace. Mid-song there is a break down in which only the horns play their plaintive discordant weave, but then bass and male choir enter to prep us for the cohesive horn and keyboard support of a section of deep-gutteral alien-sounding narration. The horns and piano are actually being used as two separate voices of this civilized intergalactic "conversation." Cool! (17/20)

3. "Ki Ïahl Ö Lïahk" (8:23) less jazzy, less staccato, but still founded in what were current principles of cinematic soundtrack music, this piece feels to me closer to the music that Eumir Deodato and Herbie Hancock were exploring at the same time. A nice, unobtrusive piece of lounge jazz. (12/15)
The music of "2" or "1.001* Centigrades" is definitely a step forward in the progression of the establishment of Zeuhl as its own musical form, but not quite there yet. Also, for the sake of Zuehl, I think it a good and necessary thing that Christian Vander step forward to take full control of the band's musical direction; only then do you get a more comprehensive feel for that which defines the musical sub-genre.

Total Time: 41:54

81.33 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; a collection of nice cinematic jazz pieces that are more interesting for their place in the history and development of the musical form that would soon be called "Zeuhl."




40. UNIT WAIL -- Pangaea Proxima (2013)

Debut release from these heavy Zeuhlish artists from France. Thought the Zeuhl categorization may be warranted, I hear a lot of KING CRIMSON sound and stylings as well as TOE-like Post Rock. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Franck William Fromy / guitar
- Philippe Haxaire / drums
- Adrian Luna / bass
- Vincent Sicot Vantalon / keyboards
- Emmanuel Pothier / synthesizers

1. "Mesozoïc Cities" (3:22) more like Red-era King Crimson! They've got that polyrhythmic thing going on (though I'm not sure it always works). (8.5/10)

2. "Ombos" (3:39) paced a little more humanely to allow for proper brain processing, this one has some melody! (8.5/10)

3. "Télété" (2:41) drum and bass on display! Interesting use of harpsichord sound and 'tron! (4.25/5)

4. "Sargasso Sea" (4:03) atmospheric effects joined by TOE-like drums, ominous electric guitar strokes and Mellotron. (8.75/10)

5. "Outerspace" (4:57) almost European techno-dance music! Very creative synths, guitars, and bass. Great drumming--except it almost doesn't fit the mood of the rest of the musicians. (8.25/10)

6. "Humanoïd Fish From Encelade" (2:23) a very bizarre spliced-feeling purveyed by unusual sounds created by bass, guitars, and keys all played over the usual frenzied drumming. (4/5)

7. "Home of Nowhere" (4:31) slow and menacing, like a damaging walk through Tokyo by Godzilla. Awful bass solo in the fourth minute! Now this one could've used the drummer's usual wild drumming! (8/10)

8. "Magnétostriction" (2:38) angular guitar soloing over relatively slow and stable music. (4/5)

9. "Holocene Extinction" (3:35) The innovative bass sound on this catchy song is almost MICK KARN-like. (8.75/10)

10. "Shambhala" (5:15) the interplay of the Outer Limits-like lead synth sound and the wild MICK KARN-like bass sound and play definitely incurs smiles (and is impressively creative!). (8.5/10)

11. "Three Eyes" (2:23) more angular guitar soloing over a rather wide range of styles and paces (including prominent piano presence) makes for quite a multiple personality disorder. (4.25/5)

12. "Subdeath" (4:43) it does sound funereal--as if one were marching alongside Charon on one's entry into Hades. Nice use of demonic male voice in narration. (8.25/10)

Total Time 44:10

Very impressive musicianship throughout--especially from the drummer and bass player though the keyboard maestroes and guitarist are very creative. The problem comes from the gradual disconnect that I hear and feel between the music being cast by everybody except the drummer (which is very creative and spacey) and the homogeneity of the drummer's very aggressive sound and style.  

85.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an impressive debut and highly recommended listen for any prog lover--especially if you're into 1. the Red-era King Crimson style and sound palette, 2. into frenetic drum-centric music, or 3. very creative sound-making.




41. XING SA -- Création de l'Univers (2011)  Though I loved this album from its initial release, I think it was due to its easy access--the songs are all simply constructed and the pace is overall quite slow and spacious--but as time ran on, repeated listens have found that I am bored by an untenable sameness and lack of dynamic breadth. The concept and cycle of titular construction are very cool, but the complexity of composition and musicianship demand too little of the listener--or at least, far less than the typical Zeuhl album demands of its usual listener. The only thing about "Création" has that is on the same level as its Zeuhl peers is excellent production, the rest just doesn't compare.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Nicolas Goulay / Keyboards
- Christophe Blondel / Bass
- Nicolas Candé / Drums
with guests:
- Yannick Duchene Sauvage / Voice
- Fabien Lenoir / Chau gongs
- Gilles Wolff / Tenor sax

1. Feu 1 (5:22)
2. Feu 2 (4:25)
3. Feu 3 (3:20)
4. Terre 1 (4:03)
5. Terre 2 (7:43)
6. Terre 3 (4:20)
7. Metal 1 (6:49)
8. Metal 2 (5:13)
9. Eau 1 (7:57)
10. Eau 2 (4:34)
11. Bois 1 (1:22)
12. Bois 2 (5:15)
13. Bois 3 (3:23)

Total Time 63:46




 

The Metrics

A / Five Star Masterpieces:
1. MAGMA Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh (1973) - 100
2. LAURENT THIBAULT Mais on ne peut pas rêver tout le temps (1979) - 100
3. ESKATON 4 Visions (1981) - 97.27
4. SETNA Guérison (2013) - 96.0
5. MAGMA Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré (2009) - 95.0
6. KOENJIHYAKKEI Angherr Shisspa (2005) - 93.57
7. GA'AN Ga'an (2009) - 93.33

A- / Five Star Minor Masterpieces:
8. VAK Budo (2018) 92.29
9. CAMEMBERT Negative Toe (2017) 92.72
10. UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA The Magus (2008) - 91.93
11. BONDAGE FRUIT I (1994) - 91.36
12. GA'AN Black Equus (2011) - 91.33
13. CAMEMBERT Schnörgl Attahk (2010) - 91.30
14. MAGMA K.A. (2004) - 91.0
15. ZAO Kawana (1976) - 91.0
16. SHUB_NIGGURATH Les morts vont vite (1989) - 90.59
17. JANNICK TOP Infernal Machina (2008) - 90.40
18. BONDAGE FRUIT  V - Skin (2002) * - 90.50
19. MAGMA Félicité Thösz (2012) - 90.0 

B+ / 4.5 Star Near-Masterpieces:
20. KOENJI HYAKKEI Nivraym (2001) - 89.77
21. BONDAGE FRUIT II (1999) - 89.55
22. UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Mathematical Mother (2016) - 89.52
23. ZAO Shekina (1975) - 88.75
24. WEIDORJE Weidorje (1978) - 88.75
25. PiNioL Bran Coucou (2018) - 88.39
26. MAGISTER DIXIT Cellule de Crise (2006) - 87.92

B / Four Star Albums of Virtue:
27. EIDER STELLAIRE (1981) - 87.14
28. PATRICK GAUTHIER Sur les flots verticaux (1993) - 87.06
29. POTEMKINE Foetus (1976) - 86.67
30. CORIMA Amaterasu (2016) - 86.5
31. SETNA Cycles (2007) - 86.36
32. VAK Aedividea (2015) - 86.09
33. UNIT WAIL Retort (2013) - 85.4
34. UNIT WAIL Pangaea Proxima (2013) - 85.0

B- / 3.5 Star Albums of Distinction:
35. RHÙN's Fanfare du chaos (2013) - 83.125
36. MAGMA Köhntarkösz (1974) - 82.19

C+ / Three Star Albums of Merit:
37. GUAPO Five Suns (2004) - 81.43
38. MAGMA 1001* Centigrades (1971) - 81.33
39. UNIT WAIL égarés (2019) - 79.25

(As-yet unrated:)
CHRISTIAN VANDER Tristan et Iseult OST (Wurdah Ïtah) (1974) -
UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Rituale alieno (1998) - 
XING SA Création de l'Univers (2011) -
KOENJI HYAKKEI Dorhimviskha (2018)
MAGMA Zëss - Le jour du néant (2019)
BONDAGE FRUIT  VI (2005) * 
CORIMA Quetzalcoatl (2012) - 

  




The NOT-QUITE-ZEUHL department of RIO
(Albums that aren't really Zeuhl)



ALL TRAPS ON EARTH A Drop of Light (2018)  Änglagård founding member and bass player Johan Brand and former Änglagård, current Thieves' Kitchen keyboard player, Thomas Johnson, plus drummer Erik Hammarström and Brand's daughter Miranda on vocals = ALL TRAPS ON EARTH! If that's not enough to get your interest piqued, add a bunch of classically-trained guest musicians on a dozen wind instruments and you've got the foundation of a pretty high-potential band!


1. "All Traps on Earth" (18:15) traipsing into Zeuhl territory with quite some aplomb, I'm reminded of UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA and KOTEBEL throughout this song. The difference maker is the horns and Mellotron. And the bass--that loose, chunky, in-your-face bass! Awesome. (8.5/10)

2. "Magmatic Warning" (16:09) a dynamic and temporal display reminiscent of a weatherman's reporting of the rise and course of an Atlantic hurricane. The bombastic, almost violent opening is beautifully tempered by the song's slow, sensitive development over the following five minutes. Love the chunky flanged bass and Mellotron over which the flugelhorn wails. The following andante section of piano, bass and flute is beautiful and unexpected though obviously rather ominously positioned. The ensuing full-on eruption section is awesome for the way it captures the insidious and unremitting power and course of a volcanic eruption. Having just visited Pompei and Vesuvio, I'm not sure I agree with the choice of expression in the thirteenth and fourteenth minutes as things seem to quiet down and then slowly, inexorably build and release over the ensuing fifteenth and sixteenth minutes before suddenly (too suddenly?) subsiding. Cool song--especially great if one forgets the title. So Zeuhlish. (Is the Magma reference in the title also--or only--meant to cite the French Zeuhl band?) (9.25/10)

3. "Omen" (12:59) an orchestral masterwork--definitely putting on full display the orchestral training and talents of drummer/percussionist Erik Hammarström. Though the opening three minutes is quite ominous in a Zuehlish way, the melodic riff repeated from the fourth minute on is a wonderful earworm to latch onto. As vocals, trumpet and flugelhorn play with this main theme, the bass, drums, 'tron, vocalese, and percussion work is sublime--at times genius. The 'tron work in the seventh minute conjures up pure King Crimson 1969. The following section of staccato and centerless interplay reminds me quite a little of the talents and style of JACOPO COSTA and his LOOMINGS and CAMEMBERT projects as well as all his contributions to other AltrOck Productions bands (Yugen, Not a Good Sign, Factor Burzaco, Empty Days). Such a well constructed, fully "orchestrated" song! (9.75/10)

4. "First Step" (02:03) what starts out as a Russian-sounding solo piano expression becomes a brief and quite romantic whole-band theme. French? Inspired by Chopin? (2.5/3)

5. "Bortglömda Gårdar" (14:03) opens with 80 seconds of "harpsichord" sound over which male voice sings delicately (in Swedish) as other instruments and voices make small, subtle contributions. It's beautiful and "old" feeling. Then the full rock band kicks in with a bass-heavy complex weave of many instruments all seeming to be driving their own separate courses--though on the same wide boulevard. Within 90 seconds this comes to an end. (Perhaps all the vehicles are at a traffic stop.) Next, flutes, incidental tuned percussions, vibes, piano, and multiple female vocals lend the song an angelic visual before the opening section returns with religious harpsichord and male vocal. The ensuing interplay of Mellotron voices and flutes, harpsichord, and percussives is quite mesmerizing. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, at 8:20 a spacious section of multiple 'tron tracks, strolling bass, gentle and distant drums, and multiple trumpets rises. Then, at 9:45, just as suddenly, a full-decibel onslaught of Zeulish, goulish jazz takes over. The synth solo in the eleventh minute is certainly inventive. Then everything quiets down to ultra-delicacy again--with gentle piano repeating itself behind xylophone play. Flutes, synths and 'tron take over and play at a cherubic weave before fading away to allow the piano a full exposition of some quite stunningly beautiful solo play to finish the song. Amazing song! Perhaps my favorite song of 2018! (10/10)

As I listen to these songs the chunky bass and operatic female vocalese make me think that this is the same territory that the UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA has been exploring for the past 20 years, and then, alternately, I find myself thinking--as I do so often with all Änglagård albums--that KOTEBEL does this just as well if not better. The difference here, though, is the great bass sound mixed so far forward in the soundscape, the virtuosic use of changing and opposing dynamics, the brilliant use of horns and tuned percussion, and the virtuosic use of Mellotrons. The composers and producers here know how each and every instrument should and could be used-- much as a composer of classical music knows how best to use each and every instrument in his or her orchestra.

Five stars; a masterpiece of complex, eclectic progressive rock music. This is much more than another progressive rock album: This album puts on display the absolute highest levels of compositional skill and artistry. If there's one album you buy this year--and really, seriously dive into--let it be this one!





POTEMKINE Nicholas II (1978) with this, the final album release from French band that had its start in the Zeuhl world, we hear less of the influences of Zeuhl and more of the melodic jazz fusion in the vein of contemporaries NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN, NATIONAL HEALTH, BRAND X,  RETURN TO FOREVER, and BRUFORD.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dominique Dubuisson / bass, vocals
- Jean J. Ganghofer / percussion
- Charles Goubin / guitar, vocals
- Michel Goubin / keyboards, vocals
- Philippe Goubin / percussion, drums 
- Christian Rouge / percussion

1. "Tango Panache" (6:18) very nice playing with a very engaging structure and melodies--sounds a lot like Al DiMeola and NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN. (9/10)

2. "Raspoutine" (5:56) more in the WETHER REPORT wheelhouse, there are some strong keyboard foundations here despite the Corrado Rustici-like guitar lead play. The bass and drumming sound and feel so close to the WEATHER REPORT style. Even the main melodies scream out WEATHER REPORT. Nice electric piano work. (8.5/10)


3. "Theme Pour Un Swing Imaginaire" (5:37) funked up jazz like STANLEY and AL were playing at this time. Great play by Dominique Dubuisson on the bass and by Michel Goubin on the keys. The dirty yet speedy guitar play reminds me more of Ray Gomez than either Al Di or CORRADO here. No, there is no Zeuhl here; this is all-out, funked up jazz-rock fusion. (8.25/10)

4. "Air De Famille" (3:19) opens with some more sensitive WEATEHR REPORT-like keyboard-dominated music within which drums and fretless bass play nice supporting roles while electric guitar tries to lead the way--though on this song Charles seems just a little out of sync with the other musicians--his attempts at John McLaughlin-isms either fail or are just off tempo. (8.25/10)
5. "Ode De Mars" (5:23) starts rather benignly before clavinet, bass, and drums bounce into something a little more lively at the end of the first minute. Once the tempo and structure are established and Michel is doing his magic at filling the sound palette, guitarist/brother Charles tries to steal the show with his guitar play. But it's always Michel's keyboards that seem to own the heart and soul of the music. Charles does reach some nice heights in the fourth minute, but Michel is so smooth, so effortless, so cool! (8.75/10)

6. "Aux Images" (2:41) some pretty Chick Corea-like piano sets up and maintains the foundation of this song well into the second minute while other key boards and percussion instruments have joined in and have added their magical little embellishments. Nice piece; probably the best song on the album; definitely my favorite. (5/5)

7. "Amphitheatre Magique" (6:45) a solid song in the style of the slower, more steady-paced Chick Corea/Return to Forever songs, this song has the most hints at any remnants of Zeuhl the band may still harbor with some of the bridges and transitions as well as Philippe Goubin's fine drumming--also in the nice shift at the five minute mark--but the final section is a return to J-RF. (14/15)

88.21 on the Fishscales = B+/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially those lovers of 1970s Jazz-Rock Fusion. For those of you really looking for the Zeuhl be forewarned:  There is little or no Zeuhl here.




ESKATON Fiction (1983) After the near miraculous perfection of 1981's 4 Visions I had been quite hesitant to try this follow up release--this despite its high rating. 

My review below follows the song order as present on the 1983 release.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Paule Kleynnaert / vocals, synth
- Amara Tahir / vocals
- Gilles Rozenberg / guitar, organ, synth
- Marc Rozenberg / piano, synth, vocals
- André Bernardi / bass, guitar
- Gérard Konig / drums

1. "Automute" (4:20) driving, simple rhythm with female vocals through which male vocalist Marc Rozenberg pierces through with straight singing as well as metal-boxed treated dictation. This music has many more influences from outside the Kobaïan world--King Crimson, techno pop, Talking Heads, even Canterbury. Interesting evolution! (8.75/10) 

2. "Simplicius" (7:03) opens like a softly jazzed world music song--something Joe Zawinal, Freddy Hubbard, or Micky Hart might pull together. AS the synths and treated electric guitar jump in they create a great sound, but then they back off for a bouncy Fender Rhodes passage over which the two women try to scat a quite intricate melody line in unison. It's cool but doesn't always work. At 4:20 the two separate and launch into some pretty vocalise in two different octaves. The delay-echoed fuzz guitar follows with a nice solo--which is then followed by a nice display of rapid fire bass playing. The song base remains pretty simple and sparse as the instruments and voices take turns soloing each for about 20 seconds before handing off to the next. Still, a great, very engaging song. (13.5/15)


3. "Plus Et Moins" (3:40) opens with a funky beat and female vocal presentation quite similar to Belgian Canterbury artists COS. Even the accompanying second, lower harmonizing female voice sounds a lot like Pascale Son. Catchy song, interesting vocal, and funky sound make for an above average song but it never really does anything extraordinary to make it stand out or make it memorable. Nice drum, bass, and guitar work. (8.25/10)

4. "Parenthese" (2:10) opens with subdued Fender Rhodes before catching speed with bass in tow. The duet is augmented in the third section as the two work beautifully off of one another. (4.5/5)

5. "La Danse Des Feux" (4:03) Led by a Mike Oldfield-like fuzz guitar in the lead, Gilles has strong support from from the drums (as well as bass and keys). This one drives along through a couple of nice movements--mostly in which guitar and bass change leads while keys do a little fill'n'flash. In the fourth minute the Mike Oldfield guitar is even double tracked. (8.75/10)

6. "Le Cinema" (3:30) more Canterbury-like humor with male and female vocal recitations backed with some dated 70s techno-pop keyboard sounds and playing (think Devo or "Rock Lobster"). (9/10)

7. "La Mort De Tristan" (4:20) a soft, sensitive vocal presentation sounding like a respectful funereal event that is interspersed with some synthesizer flourishes and electric piano passages consistent with the theme of respect and honor. (9/10)

8. "Les Deux Trucs" (4:13) 1980s French rap? No, but almost! (8.5/10)

9. "F.X." (7:18) nice jazz fusion with some interesting bass and keyboard play but nothing really very special to make this one stand out. (12/15)

Total time 40:37

87.63 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a solid contribution to the jazz-rock fusion side of Zeuhl--or just to Jazz-Rock Fusion in and of itself.




GUAPO Five History of the Visitation (2013)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Emmet Elvin / Fender Rhodes, organ, synth, harmonium & screech guitar (on "Visitation")
- James Sedwards / bass
- Kavus Torabi / guitar, santoor
- David J. Smith / drum kit, percussion, additional keyboards, santoor

Guests:
- Thomas Frasier Scott / soprano sax, alto sax, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon
- Dave Newhouse / baritone sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet, alto flute
- Chloe Heringon / bassoon
- Sarah Anderson / violin, viola
- Geri McEwan / violin
- Sam Morris / French horn
- Emma Sullivan / trumpet
- Antti Uusimaki / additional keyboards and effects

1. "The Pillman Radiant" (26:15)
- I. Visitation
- II. The Divine Vessel
- III. Wriggling Magnet
- IV. Mosquito Mange
- V. Devine Vessel's Reprise
2. "Complex #7" (4:47)
3. "Tremors from the Future" (11:15)

Total Time: 42:17




 


GUAPO Obscure Knowledge (2015) Despite a growing frustration with the high and vocal early praise that Guapo releases garner, I have decided to press on regardless in my patient getting-to-know, give-em-a-chance attitude to this band. Though my first exposure to them, the universally acclaimed 2004 release, "Five Suns," helped convince me that this might be (one of) the new direction(s) of Zuehl, I have now decided that the music of this band is less Zeuhl and more Avant Garde/RIO (which is probably the band's intention after all). 

1. "Obscure Knowledge (Part I)" (25:39) Opens with a fairly exciting six-minute section that is straight out of the Zeuhl textbook, but then transitions into a rather-prolonged ten-minute SWANS-like section which is all founded upon the repetetive ejaculation of a single guitar chord. The sudden switch into a kind of 1960s BLACK SABBATH blues-rock. At 17:30 the music leaps into a series of YES-like machine gun explosions which is then followed by a brief Steve Howe-like passage which is then transformed into a Robert Fripp-like riff which becomes the new theme foundations for a five minute section of continuous experimental sound discharges. This is then ended by the band's quick discourse into a Crimson/VDGG-like fabric which then gets the Kavus/Fripp treatment from the lead guitar. Nice section that ends in the 25th minute with a brief return to a variation of the SWANS-like theme. This is quickly cast off in favor of a very thick, heavy King Crimson patch. But, alas, this is too good to last as the band falls back into a prolonged single-chord format for the song's final section in which the bass, organ, Fender Rhodes, and second guitar are (thankfully) more prominent (though Kavus' single chord guitar is still far in the foreground). (42.5/50)


2. "Obscure Knowledge (Part II)" (4:38) is an organ and bagpipe-led piece that again can't help but remind me of a SWANS song. All kinds of incidental "wind"-like sounds are thrown into the cauldron by the various other musicians, making for an interesting cacophony of babeldom. I actually quite like it! (9/10) 


3. "Obscure Knowledge (Part III)" (12:39) opens with some real blues playing before settling into a kind of Hendrix Haze. Still, this is real music, with foundation in real chords, keys, and scales. (21/25) 


86.47 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent contribution to the modern catalogue of Avant/RIO.    






GUAPO Elixirs (2008)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Daniel O'Sullivan / Fender Rhodes, piano, bass, guitars, harmonium, synths, autoharp, electronics, vocals
- Dave Smith / drums, percussion
With:
- Sarah Hubrich / violin & viola (1)
- Alexander Tucker / vocals (3)
- Jarboe / vocals (4)

1. "Jeweled Turtle" (13:09)
2. "Arthur, Elsie And Frances" (10:53)
3. "Twisted Stems: The Heliotrope" (7:32)
4. "Twisted Stems: The Selenotrope" (7:45)
5. "The Planks" (3:11)
6. "King Lindorm" (15:40)

Total Time 58:10




BONDAGE FRUIT -- III (1997) I don't get Japanese Zeuhl. I get French Zeuhl, Belgian Avant Garde, UK Rock-in-Opposition, Scandanavian Symphonic and Death Metal, Dutch Neo Prog, Krautrock and Berlin School Electronic, Polish Heavy Prog. I even think I get Rock Progressive Italiano, but I don't get Japanese Zeuhl. I understand that the Japanese are masters of imitation--that they are even capable of taking previously defined forms and elevating them in terms of precision with their virtuoso mastery of their instruments. But I don't get how Japanese bands like Happy Family, Koenji Hyakkei, Ruins, and these guys, Bondage Fruit, fit into the Zeuhl scene. I mean, is there a Japanese translation of Kobaïan? a blood/DNA connection to Egyptian king Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré? a notorized endorsement from Camp Vander?

Line-up / Musicians
- Kido Natsuki / guitar, organ, synth
- Katsui Yuji / vocals, violin, sampler, producer
- Ohtsubo Hirohiko / bass
- Takara Kuimiko / vibraphone, percussion
- Okabe Youichi / percussion, trap drum, electronics

1. "Odd-job" (11:40) opens like a ROLLING STONES sound check, sounds, pacing, rhythms, and even riffs sound as if they come straight from some Stones song(s). (It turns out that the song may have been recorded in front of a live audience anyway!) When things breakdown into quietude in the third minute, even the vibes seem to remind us that this is a "déjà vu" type of moment as he plays the famous "Twilight Zone" theme riff--which is later picked up and carried by the violinist. As far as I can tell, this is the strongest link to a structural thread that the song has (aside from the drummer's fairly faithful attention to carrying forward a beat on the "ride" or "swish" cymbal). More old 60s early blues-rock riffs are introduced and toyed with over the second half of the song with little effect in inspiring a whole-band ethic until, finally, at the end of the ninth minute, something clicks (sparked by Katsui vocalise?) and everyone starts to really jam--coherently and cohesively. It's truly magical, but really? Nine minutes of shit to get to this point? Have you ever heard of "practice"? or editing? Can't the drummer and bass player fly all-out like that all the time? (15/20)

2. "Kagee Ga Kieru" (8:18) opens with some very sensitive, melodic, and careful play from vibes, violin, electric guitar, and the occasional bass note. It's beautiful even if it does sound like a ROY BUCHANAN or JEFF BECK piece. And all band members are on the same page--playing what constitutes a loose, contrived weave. Even when drummer Okabe Youichi enters in the fifth minute he is restrained and delicate. (14/15)

3. "Shortwave From Outer Space" (2:52) is a contrived construct to fabricate exactly what the title says it is. Keys, electronics, percussives. I have to admit: it's pretty good. (5/5)


4. Frost And Fire (12:32) opens at a gallop (the drumming literally sounds/feels like a horse's hoofbeats at a running gallop). In the third minute Kido Natsuki's guitar and Katsui Yuji's violin synchronize (bass is mixed way in the background) and mirror one another in trampsing through some Fripp-McLaughlin-like scales of chromatic dissonance. In the third minute the duet becomes a duel as violin drops out and searing guitar surges forward. Very Mahavishnu-like until he starts playing chords, but mostly he's playing single-note runs at breakneck speeds. Six minutes into the song, the guitar solo stops, Kido pairs up again with the violin, until Katsui breaks free to solo over the bare-bones help of Okabe Youichi and Takara Kuimiko's percussion play. Starting out slow, even melodically, Katsui builds and shifts gears as the crazy guitar strumming and percussion play provide the impetus for what becomes an almost deranged solo. Pretty cool. (I still don't get how or why this is "Zeuhl.") The two come back together at the very end to punch and drop dead. (Crowd clapping at the end! WTF?) (8.5/10)

5. "Récit" (28:19) opens with some guitar riffs from YES's song, "Close to the Edge," played over electronic chirping bird sounds. Violin then takes the next shot, playing some Mahavishnu Orchestra-like riffs before the whole band engages in the third minute. As the title suggests, perhaps this song is merely a clever merging of the recitation of many of the most famous or impressive riffs and motifs from the "classic era" of progressive rock music. I cannot name them all, but each individual melodic riff put before the drums and Zeuhlish bass by the guitar, vibes, and/or violin seem so familiar that I feel guilty for not being able to name them immediately. 
    The drum work, once it has begun, remains fairly constant in its breakneck, KEITH MOON-like pace and busy-ness. The other instrumentalists have merely to play whatever they wish--and they do, now mixing separate riffs as if standing alone with the drummer, oblivious to the other band members. I suppose some might find this entertaining, even an exciting intellectual challenge (to solve the "name that tune" mystery puzzle pieces), but I am not of this group. The test for me would be to see the band "recite" this song in full replication in a live setting. (Much of it seems as if it could have been improvised and would, therefore, be quite difficult to replicate. Ever.) 
     Somewhere in the twelfth minute the sound engineer is suddenly called out of the sound booth. Seeing no reason to continue, the band drop their instruments and head off to the lunch room, Thus, around the 13:00 mark we, the listener, are treated to a spacious reprieve as all band members walk out of the studio for their lunch break leaving only vibes player Takara Kuimiko alone  with the admonishment, "You need to practice!" 
     After their bento boxes have been emptied, guitarist Kido Natsuki and violinist Katsui Yuji return to tune their instruments while bassist Ohtsubo Hirohiko takes extra time to get out his double bass--which he, likewise, has to tune. All of this, of course, is still being recorded as the sound engineer had to go get take out and forgot to push "pause" on the console. Drummer Okabe Youichi has to eat twice as much as the others as he is expending many more calories than the others, but eventually, in the eighteenth minute, he, too, returns and begins tuning and adjusting his instrument. Somewhere in the twenty-first minute the engineer returns so the band members start to jam just to let him thing that they've been working hard. The odd thing is--and this really surprises the band--is this time it really works! The whole "Close to the Edge" riff jam thing finally comes together into an interactive, full-band explosion. But, then, after about five minutes of that, the band has had enough and try to shut it down, but, as most musicians are rather hard-headed, they can't decide who gets to have the last word so they're all left there standing as the feedback from the amps and monitors slowly decay and fade. 6. Kinzoku No Taiji (Live *) (8:39) opens as the whole band, Takara Kuimiko on vibes, bursts into form and function. Bass lines from 
Ohtsubo Hirohiko are flowing like machine gun fire, the violin sounds as if it's going to start smoking, while Kido Natsuki restrains himself (as long as he can) to wild flailing chord play. After five minutes of "holding space" for others, he can no longer restrain himself, joins the fray of soloists, gradually pushing Katsui Yuji out of the soundscape (he tries to re-approach several times but is thwarted each time--the third time by the vibes!) Now, this, might qualify as Zeuhl--though Mahavishnu Jazz Fusion is more like how I'd describe it. Special shout out:  Well done, drummer Okabe Youichi! (20/20)   * Recorded at Shinjuku Pitinn on 25 Feb. 1997 

Total time 72:20

82.69 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; an unusual album of Mahavishnu Orchestra-like jazz fusion. The songs often have trouble coming together--seemed improvised--as might give reason to doubt the truth that this was released under the auspices of being a studio album when all but two of the songs have audience clapping at the end.




BONDAGE FRUIT - IV (1999) I'm not really sure why this is categorized as Zeuhl (especially as GUAPO is not). To me this is Avante garde, at times free form jazz and even psychedic jazz rock. Two of the first three songs (bookending a quite Interesting version of The BEATLES' "Norwegian Wood" [7/10]) (6/10 each) are quite free flowing and incorporate a lot of seemingly random and improvised soloing from a plethora of instruments and effects. Unfortunately, this is just too much cacophony and screaming noise for my tastes, thank you very much. This isn't even cognitive dissonance, it's acid trip or Krautrock dissonance! 

My favorite song is the one with the most structure, "Storm Bird, Storm Dreamer" (9/10). It's like hearing a jam war between 70s SANTANA and DJAM  KARET. Many interesting sounds (Frippertronics, 'humpback bass,' TRAFFIC-like lyricon?or is it J-LP electric violin?, TANGERINE DREAM synth waves and arpeggios, and more). Great jam.

The wild and unmelodious "Sono-bank" (6/10) reminds me so much of TODD RUNDGREN's 36-minute "Treatise on Cosmic Fire" from 1975's Initiation. I'll take Todd. Sorry. 

A good album, not necessarily recommended for all. If you like jam bands and/or free form jazz (not quite Ornette Coleman), then, by all means, try it, you might like it.




DUN - Eros (1980) This is a jazzier, more up-beat expression of Zeuhl (if in fact, it is Zeuhl. I mean: how does one become 'Zeuhl'? Call up Christian Vander and ask approval? I've heard some groups assigned the 'Zeuhl' sub-genre moniker are disappointed [XING SA] and others who so obviously should fall in this category based upon their musical style aren't [GUAPO]. But then again, bands change and, unfortunately, this site hasn't seemed to figure out how to let individual albums receive their own individual assignations, instead of a band once and forever being labeled 'Symphonic' [GENESIS] or 'Crossover' [BIG BIG TRAIN] or 'Black Metal' [ULVER]  [really, 'Post Rock/Math Rock'] or 'Experimental/Post Metal' [THE GATHERING] when the whole of their catalogues hardly express the sub-genre of music to which they were originally assigned. Somehow they've managed it on the new JMA (JAZZMUSICARCHIVES.COM) that Max et al. have created.)



1.  "L'épice" (9:25) is, to my mind, a mix of some of the more dissonant musics of CHICK COREA/RETURN TO FOREVER and the Avant Garde stylings of YUGEN or UNIVERS ZÉRO (with, of course, the variation on HENRY MANCINI's "Peter Gunn" bass line). Kudos to the searing jazz rock guitar and warbled bass sound in the first section. More KOTEBEL-like flute in the second section. (I know I'm terribly guilty of assigning similarities between two different group's sounds even when one far predates the one I'm comparing it to. Je m'excuse.) (12/20)

2. "Arrakis" (9:36) is, to my mind, the most nearly true Zeuhl song on the album, yet still more jazz-sounding and uplifting than most MAGMA work. It's very similar to the sound EUMIR DEODATO created on his two studio albums from the early 70s, Prelude and Deodato 2. The first 4 minutes and 15 seconds are quite enjoyable. The up-tempo middle section (4:15-6:50) is a bit tedious (mostly for the straightforward time signature held by the metronomic drumming), but the last sections are again quite fun (even the drum solo?at times flanged; a very cool effect, IMO).3. "Bitonio" (7:09) begins like a staccato all-band percussion jam from the PAT METHENY GROUP song. Then piano arpeggios take the song into a different  direction?one of flow and linearity. The next switch into the distorted/treated bass and decaying synth notes is interesting, but then it just as suddenly ends, to be replaced by a very spacious and suspenseful movie soundtrack scene:

(Now he's there, in front of you! He's chasing you!)

(Run!)

(A hiding place! Stop! Don't breath! Be invisible! )

(Is he coming? Should I check and see? No. Yes.)

       (There he is! Run!) 

(Hide!)

(Run!)

 (Hide!) 

(He's caught you! It's over!) (9/15) 

4. "Eros" (10:17) takes one on quite a diverse journey. Because of the wonderful flute work in the rather pretty first section, I am reminded of several of the songs on EUMIR DEODATO's 1973 classic, Prelude. The second more avant garde section reminds me of KOTEBEL as well as Andean pipe musics. I like the ingenius effect as the weave of the guitar, bass and drums tightens and comes forward to overcome and then take over for the flute before settling in to support a funky synth solo. This is followed around the eight minute mark by a return to more avante jazz sounds and structures. An unusual crash and lull-to-fade completes the song. (16/20)

Overall this album provides the listener with an experience more similar to that of UNIVERS ZERO than MAGMA, IMO.

73.33 on the Fishscales = C-/three stars; a fair album. Great composition and performance but lacking in accessibility and pleasure. Recommended for the experience--and for "Arrakis."



 


TEDY LASRY -- E=MC2





HELDON Stand By (1979)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Richard Pinhas / guitar (1,3), programming (2), Moogs & sequencer & vocoder (1)
With:
- Patrick Gauthier / MiniMoog, PolyMoog & piano (2)
- Didier Batard / bass
- François Auger / percussions
- Klaus Blasquiz / voices (1,2)

1. "Bolero" (21:44) :
- Apprehension
- Bolero proprement dit
- Recognition
- Repetition
- Rote Armee Fraktion
- Production
- Distribution
- Deterrioration
2. "Une Drole de Journee" (3:59)
3. "Stand By" (14:04)

Total Time: 39:47



HELDON -- IV: Agneta Nilsson (1976)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Richard Pinhas / Mellotron, 1954 Gibson Les Paul guitar, synthesizers (1-3,5)
- Michel Ettori / guitars, composition (4)
- Alain Bellaiche / bass (5)
- Gérard Prevost / bass (4)
- Patrick Gauthier / Minimoog (5)
- Philibert Rossi / Mellotron (1)
- Coco Roussel / drums, percussion (2,5)

1. "Perspective I (où commence le nihilisme actif)" (10:26)
2. "Perspective II" (3:13)
3. "Perspective III (Baader Meinhof Blues)" (10:48)
4. "Bassong" (2:59)
5. "Perspective IV": (21:45)
...i Perspective IV (7:07)
...ii Virgin Sweedish Blues (7:28)
...iii Psylocybine (8:34)

Total Time: 50:24






HELDON II (1975)

Line-up / Musicians
- Richard Pinhas / VCS3 synthesizers, guitars, A.R.P.
- George Grunblatt / Mellotron, guitars, A.R.P.
- Alain Renaud / guitar (2)
- Alain Bellaiche / bass (3)

Side 1
1. "In the wake of King Fripp" (6:36) brilliant music of Frippian electric guitar drenched in Mellotrons.(10/10)
2. "Aphanisis" (2:22) all acoustic guitar--he's quite good--between William Ackerman and Paco DeLucia. (9.5/10)
3. "Omar Diop Blondin" (7:26) full-blown Frippertronics played over two slowly pick'n'strummed electric guitars for the first half, then slow, almost C&W bass strings riff beneath which lead solos in increasing Frippertronicisms. (11/15)
4. "Moebius" (1:52) experimental synthesizer work in line with TD, KRAFTWERK, and JARRE. (3/5)
Side 2
5. "Fluence: Continuum Mobile Disjonction inclusive" (12:14)  (/20)
6. "St Mikael Samstag am abends" (6:18) (/10)
7. "Michel Ettori" (4:17) (10/10)

Total Time: 41:05