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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Van der Graaf Generator

Merlin Atmos: Live Performances 2013

Review by Gary Hill

This is a legendary band. This live album presents a solid helping of VDGG music. They do a great job of capturing their music in the live setting. I have to say that I have problems with the vocals here a lot of the time, though. I know there are people who really like VDGG’s vocals, but it just doesn’t do it for me for the most part. Still, this is a strong album with some pretty amazing music. Fans should love this. For those like myself, it’s still worth having.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1: Merlin Atmos

  
Flight

They open with an epic piece that stretches almost 21 and a half minutes. It comes in with a dramatic, but somewhat mellow introduction. Then it drops to moody keys with equally moody vocals. It grows out gradually from there with a definite symphonic prog element. There is almost an atmospheric element to it. It’s around the three and a half minute mark before the cut really works to anything resembling rocking sound. The cut works out to a dramatic section that’s rather Rock In Opposition styled and a bit crazed. It continues to shift and change, dropping to more stripped back keyboard and vocal stuff. More variants on themes emerge as this continues. It’s very classical in nature for a lot of the time. Then around the eleven and a half minute mark it work to a more traditional progressive rock jam. As the piece continues to develop, it really gets into some awesome musical passages.  This is a very dynamic and diverse cut, shifting from more rocking to mellower and back throughout the course.

Lifetime
With a lot of spoken vocals, this is subdued and yet very dramatic and powerful. It’s considerably shorter than the previous piece. I like it better, though.
All That Before
This comes in with some hard rocking prog that’s very meaty and tasty. This is one of my favorites here. It’s left of center, but somehow also quite accessible. There is a weird bit of space music mid-track. The more rocking stuff returns later to reclaim the control.
Bunsho
There is a lot of classical music and some operatic elements on display here. Yet, there is also quite a bit of vintage prog.
A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers
Here is another epic, stretching to over 24 minutes. It comes in dramatically and then drops to more less just keyboards to move forward. This grows into some powerful rocking music from there. I love when it explodes out into a faster paced jam that makes me think of ELP just a bit. It’s quite jazzy during that movement. It gets a bit more grooving for the return of the vocals, but there are still valid comparisons to ELP to be made. This works through and eventually reaches a climax of sorts. Keyboards build into a pretty mellower, rather spacey section from there. It eventually builds out to more rocking music from that point. By around the twelve minute mark, we’re taken into a swirling, chaotic (but so cool) jam that’s part classical and part prog. That resolves out to a reprise of the previous vocal section. Then a crescendo gives way to another mellow movement. The piece keeps evolving from there. This works through some really crazed stuff later. There is some great jazz and space here. It’s a rocking, fast paced jam that is challenging to the listener, but well worth the effort. That resolves to a pretty and rather mellow movement for the ballad-like vocals that come next. It works forward from there, getting rather intense at times. Keyboard take over after a while. Then it drops to just piano before they burst out into a powerhouse keyboard arrangement to take it to the close.
Gog
This jam is quite strong. It definitely has elements that make me think of ELP quite a bit. It has an almost angry edge to it. It literally screams at times. It has plenty of crazed, rather off kilter jamming, too.
Disc 2: Bonus Atmos
  
Interference Patterns

I love the keyboard sounds that open this. The cut grows out as just keyboards and drums. The vocals join before the one minute mark. This gets pretty intense as it builds out later. It is crazed prog rock with an emphasis on the keyboards.

Over the Hill
This is mostly just keyboards and vocals for quite a while. It eventually works out to some pretty intense prog jamming. Then we get a strange little keyboard based section. From there we’re taken to more of a full and mainstream arrangement. It works to more jazzy but mellower stuff after that. They take it to an almost ELP like jam later. It works back to the mainstream section as it continues. A mellower movement ends it. At over twelve minutes in length, this is quite extensive.
Your Time Starts Now
This cut starts with a more mainstream mellower movement. It works through much like that. It’s one of the most accessible things here, but it’s still prog.
Scorched Earth

 Another extended piece, this rocks harder than some of the rest. It’s dramatic, dynamic and powerful. There are more classically oriented sections. The whole thing really rocks. It’s quite powerful, really. I love the movement around the seven minute mark. It makes me think of ELP and Genesis a bit.

Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild
This piece is epic in proportion, landing in at over 15 minutes length. It’s epic in terms of its scope and its power, too. This is dramatic and has a great balance between more rocking and mellower sections. It’s packed with evocative textures and great jamming. It’s one of the most effective numbers here. In fact, I think it might be my favorite of the whole set. This thing is just so cool.
Man-Erg
Another extensive piece, this reminds me at time of some of Roger Waters’ stuff. At least that’s true of the mellower sung parts. Other sections get very crazy and strange. It works out to a noisy space jam before dropping to a melodic mellower movement. That heralds the return of the vocals. The piece continues to evolve, at times revisiting themes and expanding on them, at times moving in new directions.
Childlike Faith in Childhood's End
This is another epic piece. It’s a more rocking one than some of the others. For my money, it’s also more effective. There are mellower sections. This is another with a lot of variety. There are some sections that make me think of early Genesis. This is another of the more effective numbers here.
 
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