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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Eloy

Metromania

Review by John Pierpoint

This was the first studio album to be released by Eloy after the pairing of Planets and Time To Turn. This time, there is no connecting narrative to the songs, although they certainly seem to have a linking theme of the alienation of modern urban life and technology – as so superbly depicted in the Rodney Matthews cover art. At this point, I should mention that - as with Matthews' artwork for the UK versions of the aforementioned albums - that cover alone must have drawn in many new fans on impulse, who then stayed for the music. Overall, the mood is darker, and the music is heavier, with more opportunities for guitar than on previous albums. Metal fans in particular will enjoy the heady brew of guitars, powerful bass and atmospheric synthesizers.

The expertise in arrangements on this album is dazzling. While the musicianship and songwriting are superb, it's how the whole package is assembled that is key to Eloy's success, particularly in the expert blending of guitar and keyboard tones to produce unusual composite sounds. Although this album shows its 1980s genes in the use of electronic drums and certain keyboard sounds, it transcends the era to become a timeless classic.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Escape To The Heights

Guitar harmonics, keyboard washes and disturbing sound effects fade in as the album opens, following Eloy's normal pattern. But nothing prepares the listener for the sudden onslaught of the main theme. Overdriven guitars combine with brittle and piping keyboards to great effect, as Frank Bornemann bellows like a true rock frontman. On this track, Eloy have become a metal band! The music is peppered with short rampant bursts of brass (presumably synthetic) which only serve to heighten the sense of anarchy and chaos. This attention-grabbing opener whets the appetite for more.

Seeds of Creation
This serves as an antidote to the relentless strife of the opening song. Although the opening lines are of desperation: “I've spent my life in darkness / Blind, enslaved on the factory floor,” the song soon shakes off the shackles of oppression and becomes a celebration of life, nature and renewal. Electronic drums bring in a beat that is played across by the other instruments when they enter. The bass pops and slaps. Female backing singers join in on the life-affirming chorus. There is a wonderful swooping bass part on the bridge.
All Life Is One
The most unusual and impressive track on the album, this grows in power with every listen. A gentle tinkling Japanese-sounding keyboard ornament introduces the piece, which then begins a relentless, slow bass beat, accompanied by heavily-treated drums, reminiscent of Steve Hackett's “The Steppes.” The vocals are initially piped through a vocoder, with just a faint echo of the untreated vocals; but the blend changes as the song progresses, until by the end it's the other way round - lending an uneasy atmosphere. The arrangement slowly builds through successive verses, as does the tension. Eloy's sonic mastery is such that they don't need to play harder and faster to become more powerful. Klaus-Peter Matziol's precise bass is key to grounding the mood as the soundscape shifts about it. A Howling Gilmour-like guitar solo rips through the fabric of the song. Then the bass doubles the beat to drive the tune harder through the final verses.
The Stranger
A driving bass starts this song, with multiple-echoed guitar punctuation and Asian keyboard fills. Heavy guitar riffing builds up to a solid, punchy chorus. The mood and lyrics conjure up a vision of a dark and oppressive cityscape from a William Gibson novel, through which the protagonist wanders incognito. A sudden pause introduces a growling guitar solo, followed by an Instrumental section with echoes of Space's “Magic Fly.”
Follow the Light
An intro generates slowly through sequences of atmospheric synth pieces, cranking up the power until we reach a sequencer loop (a flavour of Peter Gabriel's “San Jacinto”) with heavy guitar riff. Bornemann's vocals for a moment here remind me so much of Saxon's Biff Byford, that it's almost uncanny. The female backing singers take the lead for the next section (which sounds like it's the chorus, but that actually comes in later. . .), accompanied by churning bass and intricate sequencer parts. Then the true, anthemic, chorus appears, courtesy of the backing choir. The tune shifts to an instrumental breakdown. Keyboards and guitars swap leads while KPM's gutteral bass holds the root, throwing in some sporadic harmonics. Disappointingly, the tune then veers off briefly on another tack - rather than building up this section further - before returning to the chorus. I'd like to have heard this section developed further. The song ends on a quiet keyboard coda, reminding me of a Dave Greenslade instrumental.
Nightriders
Possibly the heaviest track on the album, this comes straight in with heavy, low guitar riffing - like something Jethro Tull's Martin Barre would produce - while the bass growls underneath. Rasping synths compete with the guitar. The lyrics could be describing a Judge Dredd comic – references such as: “Law enforcement soldiers men made for war / What was once called justice / Stands unopposed as the law.” A guitar solo interrupts the flow of gothic imagery, before the tape wind-down ending.
Metromania
An urgent sequencer beat fades in, with keyboard-brass accents and wonderful Chris Squire-like bass fills. The lyrics – like so many of the others on this album – are about transcending doubts and fears, and finding a way to come to terms with life. There even seems to be a direct reference to the character depicted playing his guitar on a rooftop on the album cover: “Here from my roof I see a scheme / Of things which please me / No desperation no fear and no doubt / I used to kneel //And pray that I could someday break away / But I don't need to / I've found my way out.” A synth melody lifts the tune. Suddenly it's not a song about the depression of metropolitan existence; it's an affirmation of life. An Eastern keyboard riff resounds to a pounding drum and bass section, and then a beautiful synth melody. It then drops down into a bass-led groove, before (all too soon for my liking) resurfacing again. The song ends  - and the album closes - on a repeated simple reedy synth melody.
 
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