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Hermetic Science - 2006 - "Crash Course"

(135 min 2CD, 'Magnetic Oblivion')


Prolusion. HERMETIC SCIENCE is a brainchild of Californian multi-instrumentalist and composer Ed Macan. This double CD outing, "Crash Course: A Hermetic Science Primer", is the group's fourth release, following their three studio albums, namely "Ed Macan's Hermetic Science" (1997), "Prophesies" (1999) and "En Route" (2001), each consisting exclusively of instrumental compositions. In the lineup above I've listed all the musicians who've ever participated in the project, but it needs to be said that Hermetic Science is a trio actually, with Ed being its only permanent member. Mr. Macan is also well known as a writer - above all for his profound essay-exploration "Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture" (1997, Oxford University, New York), though he has recently issued one more book, the monstrously voluminous "Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake & Palmer" (2006, Open Court, Chicago).

Disc 1


1.  Esau's Burden 5:12 
2.  Fire Over Thule 9:26 
3.  The Sungazer 11:09 
4.  Fanfare for the House of Panorama 4:05 
5.  Intrigue in the House of Panorama 4:19 
6.  Trisagion 8:12 
7.  Barbarians at the Gate 4:37 
8.  Hope Against Hope 6:56 
9.  Last Stand 6:31 
10. Lament 4:55 


Ed Macan - keyboards; mallet percussion
Andy Durham - bass 
Joe Nagy - drums 
Nate Perry - bass 
Matt McClimon - drums 
Donald Sweeney - bass 
Michael Morris - drums
Jason Hooper - bass, electric guitar

Analysis. "Crash Course" includes all nineteen of Hermetic Science's ever-released original compositions plus their interpretation of Gustav Holst's Mars the Bringer of War, all tracks having been remixed and re-mastered from the original master tapes especially for this edition. Only five pieces from the group's entire song catalog have been omitted, all being their cover versions of others' creations. When I got the album I was pleased to find that the representatives of each of the group's three studio CDs aren't intermixed among themselves here, so the set allows the listener to trace the development of its makers' work step by step. The five tracks from "Ed Macan's Hermetic Science" are the most unusual. Four of them, Esau's Burden, Fire Over Thule Fanfare for the House of Panorama and Trisagion, present the outfit as a trio of vibraphone, bass and drums. I think all of them were recorded live in the studio, only the latter two featuring some obvious overdubs - those of assorted mallet percussion. The sonic palette of The Sungazer is more saturated, which results from the addition of a piano to the instrumentation, but I wouldn't say I like this piece better than the others. All five are equally impressive and are excellent to my way of thinking - no matter that most of this stuff bears a certain likeness to Gong circa "Time Is the Key" and (to a much lesser degree though) to classic ELP. Inasmuch as the music is never distinctly symphonic or purely improvisational either, quasi Jazz-Fusion should be the best general term to define it. The trio's joint intense movements are predominant, but there are episodes that find Ed delivering cascades of vibraphone solos all alone. Somewhat less stylistically integral than the debut Hermetic Science CD, their second offering, "Prophecies", is nevertheless their only totally unique album (at least it doesn't arouse any direct associations in my mind), even though one of the tracks from there, Intrigue in the House of Panorama, is still the product of a 'vibraphone' trio, therefore having a sound that is typical of most of the first recording. Barbarians At the Gate and Hope Against Hope both are notable for their ever-morphing interactions between vibraphone, marimba and bass, often riding over thunderous drumming, some of the bass solos sounding almost like heavy guitar riffs. Last Stand steers in a similar direction, but is much quieter overall, without any aggressive attacks, particularly on the part of the drums. On the other hand, both Hope Against Hope and Last Stand appear to be the first signs of an approaching symphonic sound, as each contains some beautiful passages of ARP string ensemble. Lament concludes the first disc on a major note - with some really grand passages of Grand piano running all through it.

Disc 2


1.  Leviathan & Behemoth 9:52 
2.  State of Grace 8:17 
3.  Mars the Bringer Of War 7:15 
4.  Against the Grain I 6:39
5.  Against the Grain II 5:31
6.  Against the Grain III 4:57
7.  Against the Grain IV 3:38
8.  La Bas 7:58
9.  Raga Hermeticum 9:00
10. En Route 6:45

Analysis. It came as no surprise that the remaining two tracks from "Prophecies" did indeed find their haven on the second disc - along with those from Hermetic Science's third studio recording, all sounding as though being performed by a quartet of keyboards, vibraphone, bass and drums, the keyboardist being a high-skilled musician playing two instruments simultaneously. Leviathan & Behemoth and State of Grace are both typical patterns of classicism in Symphonic Progressive, which in turn is what the entire "En Route" album is about overall. Melodies, harmonic turns, executive devices and even the selection of keyboards (Hammond organ, Grand piano, ARP synthesizer and so on) - everything points to a direct relationship between this stuff and English vintage symphonic Art-Rock in the hands of a classic keyboards trio. The comparisons with ELP are inevitable, but only three of the ten tracks on Disc 2 reveal traces of any direct influences by that ensemble. These are the last part of the four-act suite Against the Grain, La Bas (the latter immediately evoking "Pictures at an Exhibition") and, surely, Mars the Bringer Of War. Hermetic Science's version of the most popular piece from Holst's "Planets" cycle is woven of dense and, at the same time, rather transparent textures. While being as rockingly precise as the one that Emerson, Lake & Powell presented on their eponymous LP in 1986, it is richer in sound and somewhat better suits my personal taste in general. Just like Keith Emerson, Ed appears to be a really dashing 'horseman', standing out not only for his masterful performance as such, but also for his ability to combine Art-Rock tonal constructions with those of adjacent genres, such as Jazz-Fusion (as is in the case of the first three parts of Against the Grain) and Classical music, which is brightly evinced on Raga Hermeticum and En Route. These two are simply mind-blowing compositions, the former piece blending together European and Indian schools of Classical music.

Conclusion. Edward Macan is a really charismatic person grasping Symphonic Progressive to the last detail. The music of Hermetic Science is cunning and intricate, somewhat cold, yet instantly attractive and very interesting all alike. Highly recommended.

VM: November 1 & 2, 2006

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