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Faded but not entirely forgotten - 65%

DawnoftheShred, July 8th, 2015

German rock in the early 70’s tended to mostly consist of the often-rambling psychedelic rumble known as “krautrock,” a term first used as a pejorative by foreigners before being embraced as an endearment by its progenitors. Like any musical force, krautrock had its highs and lows, but its local ubiquity in the first half of the decade practically ensures that the few German bands of the period that didn’t adhere to that mold tend to stand out in one’s memory on those rare encounters with them. Just as it was fairly unusual for a non-German band to latch on to that distinctive, minimalistic flair (Nektar’s A Tab in the Ocean is remarkably krautrockish for a product of the British Isles), so too was it rare for a German band to appropriate the traditionally English symphonic sound. For years I had figured that the mostly excellent Triumvirat was the lone oddity in this department, until stumbling upon Faithful Breath, and on the Metal Archives of all places. With a tendency towards large-scale compositions and sporting a moniker reflective of that classic prog rock adjective/noun incongruity (Electric Sandwich, Mellow Candle, Glass Hammer, Soft Machine etc.), I was quite hopeful to have uncovered yet another obscure gem for my progressive collection.

Disappointedly, this wouldn’t quite be the case, as I’d find much of its beauty had faded long before I’d ever proffered a gaze in its direction. Side A of Fading Beauty is comprised entirely of the two part “Autumn Fantasia” suite, which is much less blustery than its name implies. For a large scale instrumental, it is a surprisingly restrained composition, mostly content to wash the listener in alternatively dense and minimalistic layers of Mellotron, acoustic guitars, organs, and pianos with the occasional somber electric melody to follow over top. There are a few climaxes to the ebb and flow, but much of the potential drama of this moody pseudo-classical dirge is lost because of its relatively sparse instrumentation. Compare this to another contemporary piece like ELP’s “Karn Evil 9” with its insane virtuosity and unmatched enthusiasm or Yes’ “The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)” with its arcane motifs, varied atmosphere, and the otherworldly logic of its progression and understand how this attempt is positively snore-inducing by comparison. It’s hard to think of another band that necessarily sounds quite like Faithful Breath do here, but their mostly instrumental, mostly inoffensive soundscape-focused affect is reminiscent of some of the 70’s less remarkable English groups like The Enid or Jade Warrior.

“Tharsis” comprises the entirety of side B and is a much more active, compelling accomplishment. Much of this is due to the simple addition of Heinz Mikus’ vocal contributions, which help break up the very similar keyboard-drenched monotony a bit. His voice is quite strong and tuneful to boot, despite some characteristic lyrical flubs here and there (he pronounces “bird” as “burt” just moments into his introduction, poor fellow). This is just as well, as it’s hard to take the lyrics too seriously anyway. Some heady allegory about giant space birds and nuclear warfare; curious for sure, but surely not intended for serious contemplation, at least I hope not.

The overall feeling of good intentions is present throughout, but the band seem stuck on the bridge between the accessible and the excessive sides of the progressive stream, writing imposingly long songs while providing little more than neat incidental music for much of their length. Personally, I’d have much preferred a conscious effort toward either direction rather than this indecisive middle ground. ’74 was one of the finer vintages of prog rock, with mature efforts from the veteran acts releasing alongside many promising second-wave groups from continental Europe, so there are scores of great records from both opposing interpretations that quite overshadow Faithful Breath’s humble debut.

It’s really not too shabby of a record, if a bit forgettable between exposures. The production is full and clear, which alone is an achievement considering the time period and geographical affiliation (when you’ve struggled through the basement-budget efforts of groups like Kyrie Elieson or Il Rovescio della Medaglia, you quickly develop an appreciation for professional recording quality in this genre). But it is the fact that Faithful Breath would eventually embark on the unusual evolutionary path towards heavy metal that is their most notable quality. That, or the peculiar coincidence that they had three different drummers named Jürgen over the course of their career.

Honestly? I can’t decide.

From Beauty to Turpitude, Pt. 1 - 65%

Xyrth, June 30th, 2015

Faithful Breath, originally named Magic Power, and renamed Risk during the mid-eighties, was a strange case of a band. They traversed different stages of rock music evolution, adapting and reforming with each of those movements. Each leap forward not only meant a departure from its previous name, style and aesthetics, but also a change in personnel and instrumentation. Darwin would have been impressed. The sole constant element throughout their whole history was vocalist/guitarist Heinz Mikus, much like the Robert Fripp or the Jeff Waters of this German outfit. His ability to transform his band from psychedelic/progressive rock from the 70s to a 100% thrash metal band is almost unparalleled.

Fading Beauty is the band’s debut, released during the heyday of the progressive rock movement of the seventies. It is structured like many of the classic and greatest albums of the style; two over ten minute tracks taking one side of the LP, while a twenty minute suite takes the whole other side of the vinyl. Van der Graaf Generator’s progressive rock 1971 masterpiece Pawn Hearts, Yes’ 1972 seminal Close to the Edge and Relayer, released in the same year than Faithful Breath’s debut, share this arrangement. There are other examples of course, and variations, such as having a suite on one side and several shorter songs on the other, or a suite that lasts more than just one side of the LP, such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Karn Evil 9” or, even longer, Jethro Tull’s monumental “Thick as a Brick”, which takes the complete disc. These records of lengthy tunes would end up being broken eventually, with the advent of CD format, which granted more space for music. In the case of the band in question, the curious thing is that the material here greatly contrasts with the shorter songs they would go for later.

Side A is pure instrumental, and both compositions can be considered a suite of their own, since they are labeled “Autumn Fantasia: Movement 1, Fading Beauty” and “Autumn Fantasia: Movement 2, Lingering Gold”. Not the most interesting of progressive rock I’ve heard, but very atmospheric and mildly enjoyable, the tracks unfold slowly with the use of the characteristic wall of sound comprised by organ pipes, the ever melancholic mellotron, piano and other keyboards that were all the rage in those years. The four band members contribute to chanted choral arrangements, while the acoustic guitars show their presence from time to time. Percussion’s pretty slow and simple most of the time, quite taciturn and minimalist during “Fading Beauty”, and a bit more vivid during “Lingering Gold”, vanishing entirely from the two compositions from time to time. In the second movement, there are some soprano female vocals, attributed to Renate Heemann. The overall feeling of the “Autumn Fantasia” suite reminds me of Procol Harum’s hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, though lengthier and more complex.

Side B is the exclusive lair of “Tharsis”, a 21 minute suite that tales the story of the namesake humungous cosmic bird, and its also humungous cosmic egg (no relation to Wolfmother’s album of the same name), which happens to be the very Earth on which Mankind dwells, quite merrily listening to metal and prog while the brood continues to grow in the center of the planet. A prophecy foretold about this little issue but nobody paid heed, so when earthquakes and cataclysm start, the people realize they’d be fucked unless they find a way to survive. Ultimately, they choose to nuke Tharsis offspring’s ass, with the RISK (ha!) of nuking their own as well. The tale ends by telling that it is unknown if the people of Earth were victorious or failed, in whatever case they’d be confronted by Tharsis itself, so, logical thing to think is that Mankind ultimately dies. As for the music, it is fairly similar to Side A, but not as good, which is bad news for a song this long. I’m afraid the concept is much more interesting than the uneven composition, even if it counts with Heinz Mikus decent lead vocals, which are melodic and sort of melancholic like the rest of the album, without being overdramatic.

The sound found in Fading Beauty wouldn’t be reproduced for their 1980 sophomore, Back to My Hill, that eschews much of the classic music inspired prog rock found here for some shorter, more varied tracks, ranging from hard rock to folk. It that regard, this album is pretty unique, though not that outstanding when comparing it to the works of other progressive rock acts of its day. In 1974 some serious badass prog rock albums were released, like King Crimson’s immortal Red, Starless and Bible Black, Camel’s Mirage, Eloy’s Floating or Genesis ambitious double LP The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, stuff not even Tharsis could compete with. There’s also similarly sounding material to this, like Turn of the Cards by Renaissance, which turns out to be way more fulfilling and intense. So, treat this no more than a curiosity… for the prog rock fan, that is. Metalheads will not find much of interest here, I guarantee that.

Another unknown Gem - 82%

VeryEvilScreenName, April 28th, 2005

Now, I seriously think 70s Hard Rock/Prog/Metal is an extremely underrated Genre. People today bang on about how "Brutal" one band is and how "Tech" another is etc. Even the Thrashers bang on about how Thrashtastic some boring late 80s Metalliclone is, then tell people Metallica are crap and always were (hahahahahahahahahaha). I adore Modern Metal, really do, I just don't think any genre is as consistently good as the 70s was, especially early 70s to mid 70s. Yet, It's like people are scared to go further than 20 years beyond what they already know (which is very little). Bold statement I know, but a lot of 70s Rock & Metal was a LOT purer than 80s+. When I listen to most early 70s LPs, it sounds like they had nothing to really prove, just wanted to make top class Music while getting off their face on copious amounts of Drugs and fuck lots of Hippy women without silly added fads or fashions (unless you count getting off your face and chilling out a "fad"?). Even if I don't really like a release I hear from the early 70s, there's still something honest about it's music that I respect, it tends to be the vocals or something else that spoils it, rather than the Music. For example, a few blues come proto rock bands didn’t know whether they wanted to be “Rock n Roll” or Blues or not. Judging by the almost Hard Rock sound they had, yet that emotionless drone of the typical Blues singer (for example, see early Creedence Clearwater Revival). Blues was a pretty important genre as far as the movement of Rock (thence Metal) was concerned, but there’s only so much you can take of a different band in the 60s+ basically releasing what was already released back in the 1930s. The only reason I'm bringing this up in this review (because usually I try not to era/genre bash), is because it pisses me off that people (especially Metalheads) seem to have forgotten the 70s and this band are a perfect example for my next point.

My next point being, that the late 70s/early 80s to mid 80s was an absolute vital time for Metal. Indeed, this was the seed and almost birth to extreme Metal. Thrash (that from the birth of Heavy/Speed), being one of the most addictive genres of Metal to date. But, with this great 80s phenomena, came the damn fads, fashions, unwritten rules and bands like Sadus (great band) making demos called "Death To Posers" (Great demo). Great, thanks a lot, now every dork today who is trying to be so "Metal" goes around calling EVERYONE he deems not "Metal" a "poser". Thanks Sadus. I mean, really, in general, these people (80s Metalheads) might have been creating something big, but they were also dressed in leather, trying to act all tough, nothing much to say at all yet being as anti-society as they could, who were the real posers? What did the supposed "posers" in the 80s "pose" as? "Real" Metalheads? =S Nothing wrong with the guys in the 80s wanting to rock out, get drunk off their faces on Beer and make some class Metal, that's what it should have been about, just not so sure it was purely about that. But, with that said, this point enhances my previous point about the 70s being pure with nothing much to prove. Now, the reason I use Faithful Breath as an example, was because, early 70s they made a beautiful prog gem like this, then went all out Hard Rock and then later jumped the trend band wagon. Their 80s work was a shambolic attempt at Heavy/Speed Metal. Which then led them to change their name to "Risk" in the late 80s (because their current band name wasn't Metal enough), and continued with their new "progression". Admittedly, the work they put out with Risk was a hell of a lot better than FB's 80s work. But still, they went from that pure 70s band, to another tag-along. Great =/

But, with that ramble off my chest, now to the most important part, the Music.
The LP consists of only 3 songs, which are all epic songs, all combined at nearly 45 minutes. The first 2 tracks, are allegedly one 23 minute Instrumental song called "Autumn Fantasia" split into 2 parts.

The first part, which is named "Autumn Fantasia: Fading Beauty", starts off with an organ build-up, sounds like something you'd hear in a ceremony in a Church or something (but not a gay Church of god, well actually, they probably were Christian then changed when they changed their style). After a minute and a bit of harmonizing Organs, the main Organ drops out, to leave the subtle Organ backing as it drops into a simply beautiful melody with a very simple beat. Hail the 70s, this is fantastic. Great keyboard work to follow, as it appears to get more "serious". The beauty has stopped and it's got a simple theme now. Great bassline comes in, then drops onto a much more calm moment. This band has great musicianship. Interesting idea to leave the first 2 songs vocal less, but it fully works, because most vocals spoil good music. Ah, though, it's also a shame when good vocals aren't fully complimented by the Music also. Anyway, after the 6 minute mark, the song breaks, the beat stops to allow a new acoustic melody, which is a great early acoustic sounding melody, something which 30 years later will be over copied, over used and put totally in the wrong places by amateur bastards (In Flames, Shadows Fall, Opeth and many other 90s/00s Metallica (because it’s the only 80s band they know) clones, rubbish “Melodic Death Metal” bands, the list goes on). After this mini acoustic melody has had it's bit of minute long fun, the beat and earlier organ theme of the song comes back in. I mean, wow, this song changes it's moods very swiftly, but it does it in a way you don't instantly notice if you were say listening to it as backing Music. Just before the 10th minute, it slows right down, leaves the beat behind, absolutely brilliant. Which after a few minutes, drops back into another happy sounding melody, with a great simple bassline that compliments it perfectly. The song ends very abruptly, which doesn't really indicate that the first 2 tracks go well as one song at all, but a total minor thing that has no relevant affect on the Music, therefore has 0 relevance whatsoeveeeeeeeer.

Next track, "Autumn Fantasia: Lingering Gold", is nothing like the last track, with exception to the usage of the same instrumentation. It starts with a lovely acoustic plucking with an echo effect that a lot of decent, non-metal bands today use (check out Rothko, fantastic Instrumental band), which then adds tempo after 30 seconds and a brilliant keyboard part. Great song. Great overlaying Guitar part comes in. This is exactly what I previously meant when I said "pure". What great Music. Then it breaks down, to allow that Organ back in, which builds up for a few minutes, to then drop into a more mellow part. I mean, this is a real test of your senses and the level in which you have the ability to sit back and relax. I challenge anyone to listen to this and not feel incredibly calm. Then the tempo builds up again, with the very, very simple beat. Once again, stopping and starting again, but in the most simple way possible, as opposed to the annoying modern type of "stop starts". Except this time, when it starts up, there is an added female choral type vocal added as backing and an EVER so faint male choral vocal too, which you can only slightly hear if you listen closely to the vocal fade out, as the male vocals are slightly louder on the actual fade-out. This works very well. This all stops, AGAIN, haha. To allow a strange rhythm to make way, probably the most "hectic" moment of the LP so far, strange beat too. This then stops to halt, to allow a moment where the backing female vocals have become a more prominent headlining factor in the song, with amazing backing keyboard work which most people wouldn‘t notice, due to concentrating on the vocals (which, I take, is what the band want). This hits you, rather than builds, which means the last stop before this is probably the most important one of the LP so far, especially as it’s the 3rd time the song stops in about 15 seconds. Brilliant. This lasts a few minutes, to then again stop and allow a previous simple acoustic melody back in. The song slowly builds up again, to allow a great bass in the background to compliment a very frontline authoritative part to come in. You know what I mean, the over dramatic slamming of the notes? Wake-up time, etc. Good. The initial simple choral part eventually comes back in, and after nearly 11 minutes, the song dies down slowly and finishes. Great stuff.

The next song is "Charsis", which is an epic at 22 minutes. But, for me, probably the worst song on the LP. Starts off as a quiet build up then has this cheesy feel to it. Not totally fond of this song so far, but it does get a LOT better. It all stops to allow a simple few notes on the Organ to be played. Then out of nowhere, 1:30 in, and wow, lead vocals, for the first time. Great voice, typical of that legendary early 70s vocal sound. At this point, I realise this song has turned out to not being that bad at all and I start to really like it, despite the average intro to the song. When the vocals stop, the song is very calm and simple. This Organ backing carries on underneath a very good simple guitar lead. Nice. It's fitting that this is the only song with a simple formula, especially as it's the only song with vocals. It's also good that the singer doesn't sing too often on this song, just a minute here and there, which is great. The song never really picks up, or goes anywhere, which I think is the complete intention and works ever so well. After 10 minutes, the song does a pseudo fade-out, which is a bit daft, but an easy way to totally change the mood of the song, I suppose, heh. Well, in saying that, the same mood comes back in, to allow the vocals again. Great guitar part 15 minutes in. The song totally changes on the 20th minute, with the first acoustic part of the song, with simple vocals to come in. Personally, I think this song would have been better off ending on the 16 minute mark or even on the fade-out, even at the 16 minute length, it's far too long. Lengthy songs can be annoying if there is no apparent reason for their length. You should be epic for a reason, not because you WANT to be epic (check Opeth, what a crap, crap, crap, crap, band), that's pointless doing that and proves it on this song. Even with me stating that, I don't let it affect my view on the good Music, even if the last song is 100% inferior to the other 2.

Overall, a great release that I think most people would enjoy. It's just a shame I have to knock off a lot of points literally because of the last song. But I don’t really think it’s that important. Not that people ever gave a shit about Metallica droning on for FAR too long in a lot of their songs, instead people just threw their horns in the air and screamed, “\/\/( )\/\/, epic is coooool”, hahahaha, oh my. It takes real masters to perfect Epic Music (check out Esoteric, best Epic band on the Planet).

Anyway, this release. Check it oot.