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Tracklist: 1. Human Element 5:22 2. Chrome Plated 7:24 3. Bring Them Back Preserved 4:12 4. Sign My Name 7:01 5. Down She Said 4:05 6. Grungar Rangar 4:10 7. Stormy River 5:33 8. Song For Cats 3:01 9. Satellite 3:37 10. Norman's Kitchen 6:00 11. Right On 5:45 Line-up: Chris Kelly - vocals Giles Dron - guitars Guy Eastwood - keyboards James Francis - bass Andy Ahead - electronic drums & percussion All music & lyrics by APCG. Produced by APCG. Recorded & mixed by APCG & Spike at "Sable Rose" studios, Coventry. Mastered by Denis Blackham (of Hi-Note staff) at "Country Masters", Surrey.
Hi-Note Music online:
Prologue. Thank God, recently I've received quite a large number of CDs full of extremely complex, intricate, thrilling, truly progressive music (the kind I especially love and appreciate). Most of these CDs came from excellent UK "Hi-Note" label, whose back catalogue is by no means gigantic yet is so rich in brilliant progressive works from the days past and present, that it easily surpasses even most of the Cyclopean labels, especially the self-styled premier ones. So far the only APCG album "Essential Headware" is just one of Hi-Note's contemporary gems.
The Album. Like I said, APCG's "Essential Headware" is a brilliant, though a bit rough album. More than a half of the songs on it are so enormously filled with the things we usually call "progressive ingredients", that at the same time tend to change each other promptly as if in themselves, that I would need a whole week just to describe each of them in detail. There are two chief Progressive genres and no less than three sub-genres in the game: Classic Prog-Metal along with the Techno-Thrash and Doom-Metal elements on the one hand and Classic Art Rock (Symphonic Progressive) with the Space-Rock elements, on the other. And these are the songs where rearrangements of the genres (exactly, Metal and Symphonic) are especially frequent, even kaleidoscopic sometimes: Human Element, Chrome Plated, Bring Them Back Preserved, Sign My Name (i.e. track by track 1st to 4th), and Grungar Rangar (track 6). Powerful, true Prog-Metal arrangements, headed by the electric guitar's either fast and thrash-y harsh'n'heavy moves or slow to mid-tempo doom-y riffs (that all are always diverse and unpredictable), supported by a tight, thunder-like rhythm-section, often crash in a most unexpected way only to immediately transform into a symphonic duet of semi-acoustic guitar and keyboards that, according to the laws of harmony, play their own, diverse roulades to the accompaniment of a quietly sounding rhythm-section, with a 'current' tempo that resembles both the previous and following ones as much as the wolf, bird and fish resemble one another. The vocalist here is really a perfect match to the other four outstanding instrumentalists, who handle their instruments like real jugglers (by the way, there is a kind of a clown's laughter by the end of Bring Them Back Preserved). Although originally Chris Kelly has a very male, often really rough voice, as a singer he's a kind of chameleon (where King Diamond is Number One, unconditionally, while Mr. Doctor, the leader of a great Slovenian band Devil Doll, is probably one of the best King's followers). It's pretty strange then that Chris employs his unique vocal qualities not that often on the album (of course, I don't consider the lack of other vocals, apart from rough, a less bright point of the album, as it is most likely non-conceptual). Anyhow, Human Element is unfortunately the only song on which his singing reminds of a very active dialogue between a human being (who sings like a human) and a kind of demonic entity (then Chris's voice sounds sinister). With these two so clearly different in emotions figures, the first track looks the most impressive on "Essential Headware", at least vocally. While it seems the fourth track Sign My Name vocally also represents a dialogue between two different characters - hooligan and dramatic (or these are just different states of mind: the problem is that no lyrics are printed in the booklet, whereas with several CDs that I'll have to review soon, I can't allow my Russian ears to listen to each track until I'm fully aware of their lyrical conception), all the remaining ones have the brutal brother of Chris's traditional voice either behind it (back vocals on the same Chrome Plated, and on Stormy River too, on which the main character cries "Stormy river, take me away", and the evil genius of his echoes "Take, take him away") or don't have it at all. That said, even using only his real voice, Chris sings very diversely most often on the album. Now it's time we talked about the other category of the songs that feature mostly the second part of "Essential Headware". Listening to the first two third of Down She Said (track 5), I imagine a beautiful, fairy Eastern town, built in a cloud-land and full of local colourings and melodies that flow right from there. Moreover, this brilliant song could not only keep in line with tracks 1 to 4 and 6, especially since its final part sounds as heavy, intriguing and complex as the songs that surround it, with all those wonderful Eastern motives it also shines as a real album's centerpiece. However, most of the songs that follow Grungar Rangar (track 6) have more or less the same structural schemes as Down She Said: about two third of Stormy River, Satellite, and Right On (tracks 7, 9 & 11 respectively) sound like pure Art Rock / Symphonic Progressive (though, already without fairy Eastern colours), while Prog-Metal rears its head and dominates in the final parts of them. Finally, Song For Cats and Norman's Kitchen (tracks 8 & 10) are completely free of Prog-Metal structures: both these are songs of the Classic Art Rock genre (though, Norman's Kitchen sounds way too optimistic in comparison with the rest songs). All songs that make up two more categories in addition to that "most bombastic" one, depicted above, are also chock full of the essential progressive ingredients. So it's really good that such a masterpiece as "Essential Headware" is musically so diverse in itself, but it might have been better if the songs that different one from another, as Prog-Metal is different from Art-Rock, had been properly intermixed, while now the album as a whole looks divided into two (too) distinct parts.
Summary. I don't know why exactly the songs of two, too different in themselves, genres were divided within the length of the same album in this straightforward way. Really, all the Prog-Metal songs are crowded in the first half of the album, while all the Symphonic ones are, respectively, in the second half of it. But in all, such a uniform forming the album's tracklist (in genre order) is wholly'n'only on the producer's part (sadly, such an important person doesn't even get a mention in the booklet). It could be a justified step if only "Essential Headware" were a double album like Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffity" 2LP of 1975. Well, I'll force myself to regard so far the only yet quite long APCG album as a mini double CD with about 28 minutes of playing time each, because I don't want to reduce such a dashing masterpiece even a tad lower because of the bungling of the producer.
VM. September 5, 2001
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