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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Khan

Space Shanty

Review by Gary Hill

The world of progressive rock has always been a strange one. It has always amazed me how certain bands became complete legends of the genre and other, equally talented, acts were relegated to the ranks of obscurity. Such is the case with Khan. I suppose the same thing happens in other genres, but because of the musical talent inherent in this genre of music it seems that much more disappointing and heartbreaking. Two members of Khan have had memorable careers (Steve Hillage and Dave Stewart), but the band has remained virtually unknown all this time. This disc was their 1972 debut (their only release), and it really shows that they had what it takes to be on the same level as other prog rock bands. While it's a shame that they never made it, it is a blessing that this music was preserved and can still be acquired.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Space Shanty (Including The Cobalt Sequence and March of the Sine Squadrons)
The title track opens the disc. They start it off with a crescendo, then drop back to a balladish mode for the first vocals. As these lines come in they are accented by pounding, metallic prog. This whole arrangement reminds me a lot of early King Crimson with perhaps a hint of Uriah Heep. As they move it out into the more flowing segment that follows that Uriah Heep sound is even more prevalent. However, they quickly move into an instrumental segment that seems to have elements of Genesis, King Crimson and other progressive rock outfits. They move this out into a new segment about three minutes in and then explode that out into a storming progressive rock powerhouse. This is moved through a number of changes and movements as it works through, then drops back down to a playful sort of mellower section. This gives way to a weird little melody that has some twisted carnival music thrown in. Then a guitar screams out a tasty solo, followed in short order by an odd keyboard journey. At about five minutes into the song they move this into a spacey sort of riff-fest where echoey lines of guitar flow around. Then it drops back to an ELP-sort of movement. This gives way to a more melodic resolution to carry the track through a number of segments on its journey. They eventually drop it back to the balladic style to move it onward. The arrangement here is quite evocative and the next vocals come over the top of this section. A short reprise of the Uriah Heep-styled segment takes the cut to the crescendo that ends it. This roughly nine-minute mini epic is a strong opener.
Stranded (Effervescent Psychonovelty No. 5)
A gentle guitar melody starts this one of and the band work at gradually building this up. This moves out into a great somewhat Genesis-like ballad structure with some extremely tasty keyboard work. They drop it back to a very sparse arrangement for the vocals and work this in with sort of an early Styx meets Yes approach for the verse. This grows upward in a triumphant display after the first verse. Later this moves out into an extremely powerful classic prog sort of instrumental exploration. They run through a number of themes and variants, creating all kinds of structures and textures as they carry forward. This one is quite a powerful piece of music and has a very satisfying conclusion that feels a bit like Yes and also like Nektar - with a little Genesis thrown into the mix.
Mixed Up Man of the Mountains
This one starts off pretty, but also just a little mysterious in texture. As the vocals enter over a fairly sparse arrangement it feels a bit like Genesis, but as this grows that feeling sort of wanes. They explode this out later into a jam that feels like Mountain if they were a prog rock band. As they take it into the next verse I hear quite a bit of early Grand Funk Railroad in the approach. After this ends, though, they launch into a short fast paced progressive jam, then drop it back to atmospheric textures. They come back to the Genesis-like textures for the next verse - another sparse one. It launches out after this into another fast paced progression. As they embark on a series of alterations they prove once again that they can captivate and create with the best of them. A section later with a fast paced crunchy riff that gives way to some non-lyrical vocals in layers reminds me a bit of Flash, but after they resolve that out they move into something that calls to mind Starcastle a bit. This then gives way to a guitar hero rocking sort of break. The vocal section that follows combines a powerful positive '70's hard rock texture with the progressive rock tendencies to a movement that is simply amazing. This segment carries on to become the outro to the number.
Driving to Amsterdam
Imagine a southern rock band jamming with Emerson Lake and Palmer. That pretty much sums up the opening segments here. The group move quickly out from there into a fusion-like jam that's highly melodic, but the opening section returns afterward and they launch on another dynamic series of movements and textures. This is powerful and dramatic. At times they really scream out on this one, but they drop it down towards the sedate to carry on for the vocals. This has a lot of Nektar-like moments in it. This might well be my favorite piece of music here. It has enough prog changes and instrumental prowess to please, but the vocal segments are catchy enough to pull you in on the first listening. As they make their way around the instrumental segment that runs throughout this cut they touch on the sounds of Genesis, Nektar and even move into a smooth fusion groove. It, like all the music here, has a strong classic prog texture and exceptionally complex, yet accessible, structure.
Stargazers
This one feels like King Crimson meets Emerson Lake and Palmer in a way. However, the band that came afterwards, Pentwater is truly one that fully captures the sound that the fast paced introduction to this one has. This drops to a more melodic segment for the vocals and the band launch into another classic progressive rock exploration. It drops to a killer guitar based fusion like groove later to move forward. The weird opening segment returns later, though and the band launch out into an extended jam on this element. They move it back to the main themes after a time and this one has another extremely dynamic arrangement all the way through.
Hollow Stone (Escape of the Space Pirates)
Starting with sedate keys, a ballad approach serves for the opening lines of this track. They move onward by powering up the basic themes that started it, but not really making alterations to it. I hear a bit more of that Uriah Heep texture on this track, but as it drops to the more dramatic fallback approach I hear a good chunk of King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King" here, too. This is the most cohesive cut on the disc running through in this melodic ballad section virtually unchanged for the bulk of the piece. It is only until five or so minutes in that they launch into a harder edged instrumental jam that eventually turns to chaos to end the track.
 
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