Saturday, July 9, 2011
Eloy a Decade in Space!
I've absolutely fallen in love with Eloy over the past few months! I remember seeing this band around all the time when I first started getting into 70s Prog 10 years ago. Not sure why, but I never really investigated them. Perhaps the breadth of their discography was intimidating and didn't really know where to start. And their name was kind of goofy, and it wasn't till recently that I discovered it was an ode to the race of people known as the 'Eloi' in HG Wells "The Time Machine." When I did get around to sampling them I don't think they hit me the same way bands like Gentle Giant and Magma were then so I pretty much ignored them since. As of late I've been wanting to immerse myself in a new 70s Prog band with a vast discography that I haven't touched on yet (considering there's always something new to discover in 70s Prog.) The problem with this is a number of great 70s Prog bands only had one or a very few albums. And the bands who had longer careers, either I'm already familiar with, or with many Prog bands who started strong in the late 60s/early 70s, by the time they got to the late 70s and definitely into the 80s, they started to stink pretty bad. What appealed to me about Eloy right off the bat, I was really wanting something drenched in keyboards, with lots of swirling spacey/fantasy sounds, but also where the keys don't completely dominate and play a complimentary and harmonious role along side the guitars. I absolutely adore primitive and early synthesizer sounds, there is something very cerebral about it all and it takes me back to the mythical era of the late 60s and 70s which is era of music I wish I would have been around for and experienced first hand. Well, I was born in the early 70s, but I was a baby then, and didn't really experience this stuff properly. Also seeing movies like the animated LOTR and The Hobbit as well as Fantastic Planet, Watership Down, Nausicaä, etc at an early age has always weighed heavy on my mind as non-musical inspirations on my taste in music, since a lot of this stuff went hand n hand with the musics I've always liked (Metal, Prog, etc.) So listening to a band like Eloy it brings to mind spacey images of winged warriors armed with both lasers and swords going off to battle some cosmic evil overlord in a fantasy realm of vast colors and psychedelic cheese. Hey that kind of sounds like Flash Gordon! We'll I'm no stranger to that fantastic movie, and there were some great synthesizer dominated anthems on the soundtrack done by Queen which I can also attest to being an early musical influence of my youth. Like Flash Gordon and it's memorable soundtrack, Eloy is histrionic and a little cheesy as well but that's part of the fun and what I like about them! Despite that, they were fantastic musicians that created some truly otherworldly and transcendent music without any shame. The first album I got from them was "Ocean" as it seems to be generally thought of as their best album. Well it's definitely awash in keyboards and epic fantastical imagery. The vocals (Frank Bornemann) actually threw me off a bit as they are heavily German accented English sung lyrics, but I've always had a thing for unusual vocals so they grew on me quickly. Sometimes they sound like a speak/sing style as he narrates the oceanic fairy tales. The album was great, but only had 4 long songs. I wanted more! So the next purchase was the previous album "Dawn." Which I was totally blown away by! After that I started to read reviews on the Prog archives on their other albums as well as listening to songs from various albums on youtube. With that I came to the conclusion that Eloy indeed had more great albums than just a few. So over the course of a few weeks I ended up getting all the rest of their albums from 73 to 82, which you see blow. I've been immersing myself in these albums over the past few months and it almost seems to be all I've been listening too. It's been fun hearing how this band progressed from the Hammond organ, jammy, Psychedelic Hardrock of their first few albums and slowing morphing into the spacey. symphonic juggernaut that they became in the late 70s and beyond.
This is actually their 2nd album, and I don't have their s/t debut album which seems to be currently OOP. The S/T is very much gravelly Bluesy Hardrock album (or early Heavy Metal), with the occasional "weird" Krautrock and psychedelic moments, lots of jammy parts, bluesy long winded solos, the works.... strangely no keys or organ present on this album, or very little. It's a beginning but doesn't excite me the way the rest of their albums do.
The 2nd album, Inside, they take their first step outside of the stratosphere. It's none more apparent then the first side long anthem "Land of No Body" with the great use of the Hammond organ as well as plenty of adventurous variety throughout the song which moves you higher and higher to the 3rd climactic act. This album still retains some of that Hardrock grit from the first album, but you can tell that they wanted to explore further in terms of sound and timbre.
Floating sees the band making even greater use of the Hammond organ as well as the first inclusion of other keyboards. There seems to be even more of a rocking energy to this album than the previous. Songs like "Castle In The Air" and the "The Light From Deep Darkness" are both highlights of the album, which are driving, melodic and adventurous with lots of parts and you can also hear the fantastical Epic side of Eloy starting to creeping in with these 2 songs. Great space rock here rivaling their contemporaries at the time Hawkwind. Frank Bornemann trademarked accented vocals seems to becoming more apparent on this album, oddly enough.
With Power and the Passion the band takes on its first concept album about time travel, and by this time you can safely say they are a full blown Progressive Rock band. This album, on a whole seems to be a bit more mellow then their previous works. They seem to concentrate more on the texture and floating atmosphere created by the organ, keyboards, moog and guitars. The vocals even seem to be a bit quieter for some reason. The only problem I have with this album is its non-imposing nature, sometimes the songs go by without you even noticing them. Not something to rock out in the car, but more for relaxing while lying in bed.
These 3 albums are their highpoint IMO.
Right off the bat you'll notice a difference in production with Dawn. As its louder, clearer, and more powerful sounding from the previous album. The song writing on this album is refined and the structures are intricate well layered and the most sophisticated they've ever been thus far. The guitar is only up front some of the time, but for the most part shares the stage in perfect harmony with the rest of the instruments for the sake of atmosphere. There is string section added, as well as plenty of keys and synths making this a very dense and ambitious album. I think this is Eloy coming into their own and finally carving out their own musical language in the vast universe and Progressive Rock.
Ocean is an even grander attempt and generally thought of as their masterpiece. I think I prefer Dawn (as well as Silent Cries) just a bit more only because there seems to be more variety and tempo shifts present. Ocean is brilliant in its own right though and I can understand why its lauded as their best. Songs are slow to build but beautiful to behold, unveiling 4 ambient, monolithic songs..., each are like gods drifting slowly across the sky in all their titanic majesty! Probably best listened to without any other distractions so you can absorb all the detail and loose yourself in the grandiose nature of this album.
Silent Cries and Mighty Echoes follows the lofty symphonic path of the previous 2 although it definitely has some qualities that keeps it distinct from the rest.
This album has a slightly more 'modern' production of the late 70s, but still very 70s sounding. Lots of extravagant keys and synths drenching the songs in surreal beauty. And this time around they even have some deliberate hooks. Songs like "Master of Sensation" and "Pilot to Paradise" seem to construct somewhat pop structured songs with verse and chorus, combined with the spacey Prog style in which they mastered on the previous 2 albums. These songs are still very long and instrument driven so I would only say they flirted a bit with pop structures on this album, in which I think it came as a benefit as the songs have a memorable quality all the while still epic and complex. The song "The Apocalypse" is the longest sprawling song on this album, so if you didn't quite get enough of those giant tunes off of Ocean, you got one here to satisfy the pallet.
Now this album stands unique in all their catalog. You can already see a bit of a shift in style on Silent Cries, but Colours is very much a crossover from their Epic Prog into the shorter tighter style of songs they continued to write on their next 2 albums. Colour is the last album in which they still use an analog production keeping it grounded in the warmth of 70s tones. The late 70s was definitely a tumultuous time in regard to the trends in Popular music and a lot of Prog bands who had some great and creative albums during the early/mid 70s were left floundering in the winds of change. A band like Eloy was never going to find the success of a Prog band going Pop the way Genesis did, nor do I think they had the right frame of mind to create something truly progressive and groudbreaking as This Heat or Art Bears. So it would seem like they were heading for something more terse and accessible than ever before with Colours. Although they didn't go Pop, at least not on this album, they still retain some incredibly complex musical arrangements and I might even say it's the most rhythmically dense album of their career. On the surface one might think the album is simpler than their previous efforts but that's definitely not the case as Colours is very involved with a lot syncopation going on and can even be described as a bit funky at times. Not an easy album to wrap your head around though, there's a lot of melodic counterpoint and polyrhythmic passages to keep your mind busy. A challenging album that will guarantee much reward upon repeated listens. The spacey and fantastical trademarks and imagery are still in place as well making this very much distinctly an 'Eloy' album.
Planets and Time to Turn
These 2 albums definitely have the stink of the 80s on them. The production and keyboards are all digital now, and there's a bit of an AOR flavor as well. But you know?... I still really like these albums! And for my money these are both very worthy Eloy albums never betraying or scoffing at anything they've ever been about in the past. Songs once again, are still spacey and fantastical, still plenty of cosmic swirling synths, they don't go for more 'mature' lyrical content and keep everything grounded in fantasy and Scifi themes they've always been comfortable with. The synths are 'colder' and more sterile sounding which was a common trend at the time but to me that brings a new robotic and somewhat technical atmosphere which compliments Eloy's extraterrestrial style of Space Rock quite well. With that said, there might have been a bit of a stab at mainstream success by the some of the more simplified and hooky structures present here and I wouldn't say these are prefect albums by any means, but they are still incredibly enjoyable. Even if you don't like some of the Poppier elements found within these 2 albums, there are still songs like "End of an Odyssey" which is a slow building Epic hearkening back to the days of Ocean. And not to mention many other songs which clock in over the 6 min mark, which all display great complex structuring with plenty of variety and great key and guitar work.
And that's about as far as I went with Eloy. The band continued beyond this point but reading reviews on the albums that go deeper into the 80s and 90s the reviews seem to be mixed, but generally in the negative. I'll take the majorities word for it. I may check into the supposed 'back to form' albums "The Tides Return Forever" and "Ocean 2" somewhere down the line, but I'm pretty satisfied with the 9 albums I have now.