Halloween is on a Monday this year, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to get spooky with a Lesser Known Gem. I compiled a short list of about ten albums from which to choose. Some, like Jacula’s In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum, were written to be as occultic and creepy as possible. Others, like Message’s From Books and Dreams, were considered more for their album art. In the end, I decided on a pair of Czesław Niemen albums, Niemen vol. 2 and Niemen vol. 1.
Czesław Niemen (pronounced roughly Chess-woff Nyem-en) is an artist I’ve wanted to talk about for a while. Sort of like Guruh Gipsy were a big deal in Indonesia while remaining obscure elsewhere, Niemen is a major figure in the history of 20th Century Polish music. The National Bank of Poland has released three commemorative coins with his likeness, multiple streets around Poland bear his name, and his childhood home in modern-day Belarus has been converted into a museum.
After starting out playing straightforward rock and soul in the 1960s, his 1970 album Enigmatic saw him radically shift his style to the emergent genre of progressive rock. From 1971-1973, his backing band was the Silesian Blues Band, who eventually shortened their name to SBB and became another highly-influential prog act in their own right. (They are also a band I’ve considered for a future Deep Dive, though that’s far from imminent.)
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Lesser-Known Gem. I’ve got no shortage of new music in my queue to cover, but I also love highlighting more obscure releases from the past. Today’s topic is one of my favorite albums of the 1990s. I have not been shy about my general indifference (often bordering on distaste) for a lot of prog from that decade, but Hydrotoxin’s one full-length release, Oceans, is one of the best distillations of the classic ‘90s prog metal sound.
I discovered this album when I was 18 or so and I searched “progressive metal” on YouTube. Somehow, the nine-and-a-half-minute title track was one of the top results. (It might have even been the top result.) Running that search now will yield primarily playlists and contemporary releases, which makes more sense. 2008 YouTube’s search function often left something to be desired, but in this quirkiness it was sometimes easier to find interesting oddities.
Very, very little information about this band can be found online. ProgArchives has the most information, but even that source is sparse and effectively limited to the band members’ names. Rate Your Music claims they put out an EP in 2007, Signal Denied, but I’m willing to bet that this is a mix-up with an identically-named band since neither Discogs nor ProgArchives lists this EP on the band’s page. (Note: I cannot find an easy way to legitimately acquire a digital copy of Oceans. CDs can be purchased through private sellers on Amazon UK and Discogs.)
It’s been a while since I posted a Lesser-Known Gem entry. There’s been a ton of fantastic music released lately, and I can’t keep up with all of it, but there have always been great albums that simply get missed. El Profeta is one of those records. Released in 1978, this album failed to get much traction outside of Uruguay at its release, or in following years.
Armando Tirelli, prior to releasing his solo album, was the keyboardist for the Uruguayan jazz-rock group Sexteto Electrónico Moderno. SEM was not a prog band, but there were ample classical and jazz influences. I’m no expert in South American music (so I can’t specify genres), but SEM also had a distinctly South American feel to their music. Tirelli would use a lot of that classical and jazz experience when composing El Profeta.
Band: Guruh Gipsy | Album:Guruh Gipsy | Genre: Progressive rock, Gamelan music | Year: 1977
From: Jakarta, Indonesia | Label: Paramaqua
For fans of: Yes, Genesis, ELP
In Lesser-Known Gem entries, I’ve explored acts that combined progressive rock with Orthodox chants, flamenco music, and country and honky-tonk. The act I’m writing about today also blends progressive rock with the music of their homeland. That homeland, though, is Indonesia (specifically Java and Bali), which is quite far from progressive rock’s European homeland.
Guruh Gipsy were a one-off project. All the music was written by artist Guruh Sukarnoputra (a son of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno), and he worked with the band Gipsy to record the material. Unlike the previous acts I’ve written about, Guruh Gipsy’s sole album was a widely-acclaimed and highly-influential success upon its release in Indonesia. However, as of the time of publishing, I’ve had exactly zero Indonesian readers of my blog, according to WordPress’s stats. It’s probably a safe bet that this is a rather unknown album to most of my audience. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Guruh Gipsy – Guruh Gipsy”→
Band: Zerfas | Album:Zerfas | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Folk rock | Year: 1973
From: Indianapolis, USA | Label: 700 West
For fans of: The Beatles post-1967, Yes, Yezda Urfa, The Grateful Dead
Zerfas are one of those bands that there isn’t much information about beyond their music. I’ve ascertained they were formed in Indianapolis in the late 1960s by brothers Dave (drums, vocals) and Herman Zerfas (keys, vocals), and they persisted under a series of names until the early 1980s. They released one album, Zerfas, in 1973.
Zerfas, however brief their career, showed a lot of potential to fill several niches in the realm of progressive rock. Prog is a genre notorious for taking itself too seriously, with the music being played with near-surgical precision. A lot of the music on Zerfas, while structured and arranged in uncommon ways, has a loose, fun atmosphere to it. The timbre is frequently warm and sunny, thanks in large part to the vocals. Imagine if The Beatles (c. 1968) had tried to record a progressive rock album, and you’ll get a decent idea of what’s here. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Zerfas – Zerfas”→
Band: Mezquita | Album: Recuerdos de mi tierra | Year: 1979 | Genre: Progressive rock, Flamenco-rock
From: Córdoba, Spain | Label: Chapa Discos
For Fans Of: Yezda Urfa, Gentle Giant, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Flamenco music
Córdoba was a stronghold of Islamic culture and influence from its conquest by the Umayyads in 711 until its recapture by the Castilian-Leonese king in 1231. Those five centuries of Islamic rule left an indelible influence on the region’s culture, most notably in music and architecture.
Mezquita was formed in Córdoba in 1978, in the wake of the death of Francisco Franco and Spain’s transition to democracy. This quartet drew heavily upon local Andalusian history as a center of Islamic culture: “mezquita” is Spanish for mosque, the album cover features Arabic text, and the music is powered by Moorish influences alongside Spanish ones. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Mezquita – Recuerdos de mi tierra”→
I have an inexplicable affinity for Eastern Bloc progressive rock. I suppose it extends to music from oppressive regimes more generally, but Communist Europe had a rather thriving artistic scene (outside of Albania). Epos was among the most distinct groups to come out of the Soviet Union, a bizarre blend of cosmic synthesizers, earthy strings, and haunting vocal arrangements. That being said, there is almost no information available about the band. The musicians’ names are listed on the back of the record sleeve, but the (English-language) internet holds very little background about the group. Even looking through the first two pages of Russian-language Google results didn’t yield anything at the time of writing.