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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Secret Oyster

Straight to the Krankenhaus

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve read where a lot of people say that this disc is where Secret Oyster turned away from the prog rock meets fusion elements of their debut to turn straight jaxx. Well, they must have listened to a different disc that what I have here. This does have a lot of fusion, but there is probably an equal amount of prog rock, at times leaning towards King Crimson, others in the direction of Frank Zappa, sometimes toward Genesis and in other places completely different directions. I’d have to say that as strong as that first disc was, this just plain beats it out, hands down.

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Track by Track Review
A super heavy sound leads this off. The band seem to be threatening to jump out into a Rush-like jam. Instead fast paced melodic lines journey over the top in killer fusion fashion.
Straight to the Krankenhaus
This one comes out with a texture that reminds me of early Chicago in terms of the rhythmic structure. The keyboard overlayers add more of prog rock type of sound. As this introductory mode ends they jump out into something that feels a lot like Frank Zappa. They come back to the opening modes later with some smoking hard rock guitar lines laid over the top. The cut alternates between these two stylings, expanding on each one with the returning iterations. This is a bit strange at times, but also very fun.
My Second Hand Rose
Horns in tentative start and stop mournful wailing bring this in with a decidedly jazz oriented bent. The rhythm section joins with modes that feel a bit like the more metallic of Red era King Crimson. This alternates and grows gradually. Then it drops way back for a pretty instrumental section where waves of keyboards serve as the backing for horn and bass solo sections. Truly the horn carries this piece, at least in terms of melody, though.
High Luminant Silver Patters
This feels a bit like a jazz oriented Genesis. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the disc based on its awesome musical tones and textures. They turn in some great instrumental sections on this, with different instruments taking the lead at different points. Some of the sounds on this one are simply incredible. The guitar extended solo section later in the track is particularly tasty. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone could hear this and say these guys are jazz and not prog on this disc. They move it back to the more Genesis-like modes later, but for only a short time. Then they modulate back out to the harder rocking sound and then we get another short reprise of the Genesis sounds. A brief Zappa meets Dregs section ends the track.
As the keyboards tentatively start this in moody (and very pretty) modes I can’t help but be reminded of Pink Floyd. This rises very gradually with keyboards swirling and weaving lines of sound all over this backdrop. Eventually this soloing drops away and gives way to saxophone sounds. Here it feels a lot like Red-era Crimson, the more mellow, moody section of that sound. The guitar solo segment later and the overall musical themes of the later segments of the track are more in keeping with Pink Floyd again. They move out into a more free-form jazz segment, with some rather noisy, squally keyboards leading the way as they bring the track to its conclusion.
Stalled Angel
Here is where the more pure jazz sounds come in. This groove is little rock, and more pure jazz. The feel of this one is very much in an R & B meets jazz motif. Keyboard soloing makes up a big piece of the melody of the number. There is a segment later that’s more like the Genesis textures that have shown up from time to time, though. Still, the killer keyboard solo section later is very funky – I hear Edgar Winter on this.
Rubber Star
Slow, tentative and more jazz oriented, this one grows slowly in mysterious ways until it shifts out into something that feels vaguely Asian to me. As they move around and rework the themes I again hear traces of King Crimson on this arrangement. They even make their way through a short neo-classical motif.
Traffic & Elephants
Those suggesting that the band shifted more towards pure jazz might be referring to this track. Here we have a funky jazz groove that has a lot in common with a number of jazz acts that were contemporaries to the first coming of Secret Oyster. This represents a nice change of pace and extremely strong track, especially as they ramp up the speed and intensity later. Some of the soloing on this one is purely magical and the constant upward climb of the piece is powerful. I suppose that you could say that this one has very little progressive rock in the mix. That doesn’t mean it’s not a powerhouse that will appeal to fans of prog rock, though. I challenge you to not get caught up in the energy and momentum of this one.
Leda & The Dog
Now this one feels very much like some of the more moody early King Crimson to my ears. Mind you there are other musical elements here, as well, but there are plenty of moments that take me back to the earliest period of KC’s history. If the last track was pretty much pure jazz, this one leans far more towards the progressive rock end of the spectrum than anything else on the CD. The powerhouse jam later in the track has swirling lines of sound that almost make me think of Rush (at least in terms of the way it moves) and the sounds that are placed over the top might call to mind Traffic at some times. With an extremely tasty guitar solo this one is another winner on a disc that’s full of them. It turns a bit more noisy as it moves forward. This thing really rocks and is probably my favorite piece on show here.
The first of two bonus tracks added to this remastered version, this one is pure funk. It’s a great little bouncy track, but very different from anything else on show here. This is a killer jam that has some more of those Zappa-like moments. It’s every bit as good as anything else here, but the difference between this and some of the other stuff explains to me why it initially missed getting placed on the disc. That was a shame because this smokes, but at least you can understand the reasoning. The guitar work on this might be the most impressive of the whole album. I actually hear a bit of Topographic Oceans period Yes on this one, too.
Glassprinsen (Glass Prince)
This is another number that could be seen to add fuel to the argument that the band had gone fully jazz by this point. If this song and “Traffic & Elephants” were the only two on the album – or if everything else sounded like these, then I’d agree. The truth is, they are the exception to the rule, though. This is a great fast paced fusion jam that’s just plain fun. It might not be the first choice to close the disc, and in fact, it wasn’t there first choice. It works well in that slot, though. There is a great percussion solo segment with all kinds of tribal drums and weird sound effects playing off of one another for great effect. This turns a bit noisy and weird after a time, but it still works quite well. This also includes some incendiary guitar soloing and enough twists and turns to keep you occupied for a while if you were to try to draw out a map according to this musical journey.
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