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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Black Fortress of Opium

Black Fortress of Opium

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve included this in the progressive rock section of Music Street Journal more because of the unique combination of sounds than anything else. Much of the disc doesn’t feel like what you would call “progressive rock” right out of the gate. Still, the group’s meshing of traditional world sounds, folk music, classical elements and rock music makes them a likely candidate for prog. This is a brilliant CD that’s dark and moody. I like it a lot.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
House of Edward Devotion
This starts with traditional instrumentation in a very ethnic folk motif. It carries on for a while this way before rising up to a rather metallic jam. This then gives way to a dark segment that’s a bit like Jefferson Airplane meets Mazzy Star. They alternate between this and the harder rocking section and this soundscape is extremely powerful.
Black Rope Burns
A klesmer-like introduction gives way to a stripped down alternative rock styled balladic motif for the first vocals. This doesn’t move far, but rather gets a more powerful approach as they carry on. It’s a cool tune.
Ari
A dark balladic styling that’s very sedate creates the soundscape for this one. Classical sounds and instrumentation are added to bring more drama and power to the arrangement. Things are dropped way back down to a mellow and a bit strange return to the balladic verse. This section reminds me a bit of Jefferson Airplane. They shift this out to a rather metallic format as the carry on. These two motifs are used in an alternating pattern to complete the picture. This is a powerful piece and one of the highlights of the disc. At over seven minutes in length, it is also one of the longest tracks.
Crack + Pool
This never really leaves the world music zone. It’s a balladic one that’s entertaining, but I have to say that one section where the vocals are exceptionally traditional kind of turned me off. Still, this works pretty well.
Twelve Gross
This is the most blatantly progressive rock oriented piece on show here. It’s still dark, but also pretty well amazing. It builds gradually with moody, prog that has lots of mood and atmosphere. They move through a number of changes and alterations, but nothing changes severely or abruptly. The Jefferson Airplane and Mazzy Star sounds are here, too. This gets extremely powerful at times.
Your Past
They jump right in here with more rocking modes, but after a chorus it’s dropped way back down to the balladic motifs like we’ve gotten used to here. This is far more ambient and spacey at times than some of the other music. Once more, they alternate between the harder rocking and the more sedate.
Model Café
This has a countrified folk approach and probably has more in common with the country music based output of the Grateful Dead than it does with progressive rock. Still, it’s a cool tune and an intriguing change of pace.
Crack + Pool (Reprise)
While one might think that we’re about to get a shorter version of “Crack + Pool,” that would be wrong. This is a powerful, progressive rock instrumental (there are non-lyrical vocals) that’s pretty amazing. It’s one of the highlights of the CD.  There is definitely a lot of psychedelia in the mix here.
From a Woman to a Man
Organ starts things off here and they move out into a slow blues grind that’s just plain magical. It stretches out later into something closer to the rest of the disc, but they still manage to maintain these bluesy sounds.  An instrumental movement brings us back to the blues for a time, but then wanders out into more expansive areas before dropping back to just the organ that lead things off to take it to the short concluding segment. 
Dulcet TV
At nearly ten minutes, this is the CD’s longest piece. Sound effects and noises bring this up in a way that calls to mind early King Crimson. This gives way to a moody, rather psychedelic motif that serves, in a stripped down format, as the backdrop for the first vocals. It develops very slowly and gradually before bringing in some ethnic music in an instrumental section. This leads us back to the song proper from there. We get another excursion into ethnic music and then they take us back to the verse – and this time it gets extra layers and textures lending a spacey texture. This pattern of alternating sections continues for the length of the track, but each reiteration seems to become more powerful.
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