Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I've always had a fascination with Northern Europe. I've had many dreams about it and tried to visualize sitting in front of a fireplace in Denmark or Sweden or Finland in winter with warm friends and a warm fire glowing. Some of the most outstanding music in the world has come not just from Western Northern European countries like Germany and Holland, but also from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland with also a few classics from Norway (mostly bad, but the first 3 Titanic albums are unbeatable. Also check out the AOR band Da Vinci who I may write up in the near future).
Ache And Finland's Elonkorjuu (the translation is Harvest) are among the very best. In fact, I'd go all out and say that Ache's 1976 masterpiece Pictures From Cyclus 7 may be the most brilliant progressive album ever to be recorded by a band from Northern Europe.
Ache had some successes early on with their single "Shadow Of A Gypsy" lifted off their 2nd album Green Man and you got to give credit where credit is due psychedelic heaviness never got more ambitious than their debut De Homine Urbano (The Urban Man) where just 2 sidelong tracks one vocal one instrumental graced the album. By Pictures... only two original members were in the band- driving force keyboard player/harmony vocalist Peter Mellin and guitarist Finn Olafsson. Joining them for this ambitious concept album were Stig Kreutzfeldt (Lead vocals, percussion), Johnnie Gellett (Lead vocals, percussion, guitar), Steen Toft Andersen (bass) and Gert Smedegaard (drums). So a 6 piece band now from what was formerly a four piece and a completely different sound.
Pictures From Cyclus 7 is a pretty dark and impenetrable concept album, but it is here that all similarities with their earlier work end. Instead of long psychedelic guitar and organ solos the sound is a heavy yet very melodic progressive rock/pop with lyrics from Bo Lillesoe and a dark moody vibe full of expressionistic imagery and some pretty creepy moments that manage to not dissuade from the highly melodic lush music on this brilliant album. The English vocals are sung really well with harmonies and smooth softly sung leads a very impressive feature. The music can at times bring to mind Procol Harum, Yes, and a bit of Lonesome Crow Scorpions (although that's more the vocal chants in "Still Hungry (Vampire Song"), and some of the best German bands of the early to mid 70s era. You also may detect a little of Genesis and Uriah Heep. However, having said that the sound here is unique. I bought this album in a trade with record guru Bill Paquin (still my friend after 20 years) 13 years ago and it never left my collection. I haven't found anything comparable to it. So I suppose now I should mention some of the songs...
The Cyclus 7 Introduction: A beautiful melodic pop/progressive crossover with upbeat rhythmic structures and sweetly sung vocals. Picture Yes if they went completely pop or Denmark's The Floor if they lasted into the progressive era. This is the perfect way to begin an album. The music comes off as unpretentious and without any contriving. It's pure, natural, and says "Come On In And Have A Listen" pretty much literally,
Roses (Registering)- I still don't know what this song is supposed to really say. It's very dark sounding in comparison to the introduction with more mellow vocals and some strong Yes-alike harmonies. The guitar takes on a heavy fuzz/phased sound which Finn will use for the entire album. A wonderful progressive epic this song builds and builds and goes through subtle changes with no problem. Ache master prog rock here.
For Still Hungry (Vampire Song) I have a strange tale to relate here. This album came to me in 1998 and I instantly associated the lyrics about waste, destruction, pollution, and decay with an evil looking man who looked just like Dick Cheney! Little did I know that the master of pollution, sickness, evil, and disease would be this stupid country's vice president! This is by far the darkest, creepiest song on the album and doesn't spare you from a lot of disturbing imagery and Gothic overtones. It stays melodic, very melodic, but is very unsettling. It is about a Vampire who carries a sack full of waste and poison to destroy the earth. The theme is destruction and pollution leading into What Can We Do which is about killing the vampire. Here Ache are back to their upbeat and melodic sound with a very European vibe. It's a brilliant little two part suite within a concept as its tied to "Still Hungry"
Still Registering is a soft folksy melodic ballad very short and with beautiful vocals.
Side Two all flows together like one big symphony whilst avoiding any of the hideously pretentious trappings of overblown symphonic prog which this mostly certainly is not. Symphonic yes, progressive yes, overblown not one bit. The lyrics go into a dark mode for the whole of Side Two and the energetic, but very laidback playing and strong urgency make for a brilliant experience. Ache (pronounced like the word "ASH" by the way and short for the river in Hell called Acheron) were now a band without long solos and similarities to late 60s British psychedelic rock of the more out there kind. They had become a truly progressive/psychedelic/pop crossover with atmospheric songs, strong melodies, and beautiful vocals. If you like your progressive rock with lots of atmosphere and a bit on the dark side, but you also crave harmonious vocals and strong melodies then look no further. For the sheer adventurousness and close attention to detail alone nothing can touch this album. It has gone up in value, yet remained obscure and one can only speculate how things may have worked out for Ache had they continued in this direction and not dismantled their career with a native tongue (Danish) folkrock album two years later. Ache have a website now and they seem to be one of those sad cases of heroes in their own country and virtually unknown outside of collectors circles in the rest of the world. This album won't be cheap, but it will cost you a lot less than the overrated rubbish of bands like Old Man And The Sea from Sweden and I honestly prefer this album to the good but derivative Hurdy Gurdy from Denmark. Along with The Floor's 1967 popsike masterwork 1st Floor Pictures From Cyclus 7 by Ache is a masterpiece, about the best progressive album in the world certainly the best from Denmark.
Finland's an interesting country. It is mostly uninhabitable, very cut off from the rest of the world, has a very difficult language, and yet it produces great athletes (for ice hockey at least) and some amazing music. Stratovarius, a Finnish band from recent years, have combined symphonic progressive with melodic heavy metal to startling effect over the years and I wonder if they heard Elonkorjuu, a band whose name is Finnish for "Harvest" and who recorded just one insanely expensive record in 1972 for Finnish EMI Parlophone.
Harvest Time, this brilliant band's one album, was reissued quite some years back with horrible sound quality, but more recently Shaddocks the pricey German label reissued the album with surprisingly good sound quality for a label whose sound is usually mediocre.
Guitar and a druggy, detached, trippy progressive vibe with much classical influence dominate the band's one classic, brilliant album, and you can hear a bit of the most symphonic of Ritchie Blackmore's playing in much of the solos and riffs on this album. Am I hinting at something? Yeah, I am. Deep Purple had 4 great musicians in the band. They also had a shit vocalist in Ian Gillan and hardly any good songs. Later on this kind of metal mediocrity would reach a new low with Yngwie Malmsteen's blatantly poor imitations of the masterful Blackmore. I have always tried to just tune Gillan and the bad songs out and focus on Ritchie, but I can't. So I'd say that Deep Purple aside from the few classics they produced (namely "Black Knight," "Child In Time," "Highway Star," and a few other bits of Machine Head) during the MK II era were much better with David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes on Burn- an exceptional melodic hard rock record. If Elonkorjuu can be compared to English bands of their era however Jethro Tull would probably be more apt than Deep Purple, but in a unique way they don't sound influenced by anybody.
Comprised of two guitarists/multi instrumentalists, bass, drums, and vocals, and with lyrics written by Esko Saarinen Elonkorjuu base all their music around classical influences bringing to mind the amazing Swedish group Rag I Ryggen. However, keyboards and flute just add some nice touches here while guitars lead the barrage. Not to say this is as heavy as you may have been led to believe it is. Elonkorjuu are definitely a heavy progressive band and not a heavy hard rock band in the straight sense of that word. You can hear the odd trace of Sabbath, but the resigned, slow, and gloomy sound here is too European to really bring British or American bands into the description. The vocals are obviously struggling with English, and sometimes Heikki Lajunen struggles to sing, but you got to give them full marks for trying really hard. The playing of Jukka Serenius and Ilkka Poijarvi on guitars is flawless and also Eero Rantasila and Veli-Pekka Pessi are a brilliant young rhythm section. The songs themselves are very strange and all try to make big statements about all the things that really matter including taking swipes at hunters and war mongering/war in general. This album was made from love. That is what makes it a masterpiece in the end I would say. This is a band who believe in their music and their message. They don't come on with any false pretentious and attempts to sound like whoever was in the charts somewhere else. They're Finnish and that's how you will perceive them. They are here to take you on a trip with them into Finland and into your mind. If you like heavy music that also can offer a retreat from overbearing bombast then look no further. While at times the songs seem to lack structure and even abandon it that only makes this album more unique and special. It has a warm sound that makes you think the musicians who created it are very loving people. Also, the classical influences in the playing are astonishing. Virtuosity is the word for the guitars as they frequently quote from the classics and yet even then there is no pretension here. I would recommend and say even that you have to find the expensive Shaddoks reissue of this album. The songwriting is a little uneven, but the amount of love in the music and the brilliant playing make it essential for any collection. One can only wonder how great this band were in concert where they could jam.
These two are two of the most impressive and enjoyable albums ever made. Find them and treasure them and remember that love is what should drive everything, especially music.