Hailing from Illinois, Starcastle were one of a few US prog rock bands (along with Ethos, Fireballet and Symphonic Slam) that achieved some recognition in the mid-'70s. After trudging the bar circuits under various names, the core of guitarist Steve Hagler, drummer Steve Tassler, keyboard player Herb Schildt, and bassist Gary Strater were joined by second guitarist Matthew Steward and vocalist Terry Luttrell, the latter previously in another Champaign band, REO Speedwagon. In 1974, they changed their name to Starcastle and signed to Epic records. To say that British prog rock influenced them is, of course, a huge understatement. "Lady of The Lake" reveals an easy-going Yes approach, with the emphasis on the vocal harmonies. "Elliptical Seasons" has a little more midwest grit to it, while "Stargate" goes symphonic. But if two things stick out immediately about Starcastle's music, it would be Luttrell's voice and lyrics; his high tenor unfortunately lacks any visceral punch (most evident on "Sunfield"), and the latter unfortunately seem like high school poetry. Musically however, the band is very playful, with rich arrangements that make the best of their expansive sound; check out "To The Fire Wind". Although the Yes-clone analogy runs tired, their accessible approach probably owes as much to another Illinois band - Styx. The album was well received and Starcastle even opened for some of their prog rock big brethren on subsequent tours, including Jethro Tull and Rush. Epic sent the band off to Montreal with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker to record their next album. The combination was uneasy, but there's little argument that Fountains of Light, released in early 1977, would be their definitive statement. The band released two further albums, but even short haircuts didn't change their prospects. Without a record label, the band folded in 1980.
Led by Robert John Godfrey, The Enid was a lesser-known progressive act that although having appeared mid-decade, had some staying power through the late ‘80s. Godfrey first appeared on the timeline in 1969, overseeing orchestral duties for Barclay James Harvest. In 1974, he recorded a solo album for Charisma titled The Fall Of Hyperion. Godfrey met long-time guitarists Francis Lickerish and Stephen Stewart at Finchden Manor, a public school for troubled adolescents. The Enid’s debut album, In The Region Of Summer Stars, is based on a Tarot sequence and had the same provisional title as Steve Hackett’s first solo album (also for Charisma). While the dueling guitars on “The Falling Tower” and the heavy arrangement of “The Last Judgment” reveal a progressive sound, the instrumental album presents a more symphonic and playful approach, as the title track suggests. In fact Enid’s second album, Aerie Faerie Nonsense, was nothing short of full-blown classical music, played - quite surprisingly - without an orchestra! Epic and cinematic, it’s more similar to a movie soundtrack. The band then switched to Pye Records and released two more records, with personnel changes on each: Touch Me in 1979 and Six Pieces the following year, before the band was dropped and subsequently dissolved. After releasing a string of singles in the early ‘80s, Godfrey and Stewart reunited, releasing further records under their own label, Enid Records.
Following Peter Gabriel's departure from Genesis, the band searched for a new vocalist (short-listed were Mick Jones, Steve Gould and Bernie Frost), ultimately realizing that they already had their man right behind the drum seat - Phil Collins. Of course, his voice, not that dissimilar from Gabriel's, had been heard plenty by now. That settled, Genesis entered the studio with the task of proving whether or not they could survive without Gabriel. Ensconced at Trident, the band brought in David Hentschel as producer and engineer; he had previously worked with the band as an assistant engineer and so successful were the results that Hentschel would man the recording desk for the band for the rest of the decade. And that's what strikes first - Trick Of The Tail sounds fantastic. Whether a bass pedal-driven rocker like "Dance On a Volcano" or the nimble "Robbery, Assault and Battery", or gentler romantic numbers like the twelve-string guitar-based "Entangled" and "Ripples", the band shines through the crystal clear production. Tony Banks takes the largess of writing credits, yet not without contributions from the others. However, it's songs like "Mad Man Moon" and the title track that give hint to the future; more narrative than before, Banks ditches the prog rock heavy for a much more lyrical approach. "Squonk" remains the album's highlight, with its theme again reprised on the closing "Los Endos"; both are testaments to the musical and instrumental might of the group, which of course is why the band survived Gabriel's departure. The album surpassed all previous others in sales, even reaching No. 3 in the UK and No. 31 in the US. The album's subtle change in direction would lend influence to an entire genre of neo- progressive rockers who appeared in the UK during the '80s. Drummer Bill Bruford would score something of a prog rock trifecta when hired to augment Genesis on their US tour later in the year.
With Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth in Majorca, the remaining members of Gong - Mike Howlett, Didier Malherbe and Pierre Moerlen - were left holding both the proverbial torch and a contract with Virgin Records to fulfill. Tim Blake had gone MIA to France to start his own solo career while Steve Hillage, already on his way to a successful solo career, would make one final guest appearance. So teamed with Pink Floyd's Nick Mason in the producer's chair, the album Shamal takes a turn on the old Gong formula: gone are nearly all traces of psychedelia, replaced here with a very modern jazz-rock, and the long groove-driven jams are refitted with tight and sophisticated arrangements. On "Wingful of Eye" and "Shamal" Gong even manage to punch a little funk into the mix. Newcomers Mireille Bauer (tuned percussion), Patrice Lemoine (keyboards) and Jorge Pinchevsky (violin) add the incentive for the change though the additional instrumentality isn't wasted in pointless soloing. The album still retains uniqueness, avoiding most of the then-current fusion, and most importantly the album never forgets to rock out! Even "Cat In Clark's Shoe" attempts to inject a little humor, lest we don't forget this is Gong. The band toured Europe on the album and live tapes reveal the full impact of Pinchevsky and Lemoine's addition. Unfortunately, none of that would last as the band divided over whether to include vocals or go purely instrumental. Howlett would put his bass down and turn to the production chair for a highly rewarding career, while Malherbe would last for one further album before fronting his own excellent fusion band, Bloom. Pierre Moerlen then took over the reigns and turned Gong into a full-fledged euro-fusion act; but that of course is another story.
Nektar's next album, Recycled, was recorded with the help of Larry Fast, aka Synergy. The band had now relocated to the US to capitalize on the chart action of their previous two releases, and undertook an extended tour between March and May of 1975, with Fast and light show in tow. The album picks up on the immediacy of its predecessor, but the differences are immediately clear; Fast's liberal use of synthesizers brings in more symphonic and electronic texture to the recording. The main theme of "Recycle" drifts in and out throughout the course of the first side which plays continuous. Moore and Howden provide a swift beat throughout, with Fast's synthesizers providing segue. The whole thing culminates with a huge choir and crescendo on "Unendless Imagination". Make no doubt, the album is a massive production - and that's just the first side! Nektar is as tight as ever; their brisk signature continues straight on through to the end of side two. The brilliant hook of "Marvelously Moses" captivates until the band finally rests on the apocalyptically titled "It's All Over". The album is definitely a new direction for the band, though it would prove to be an ending of sorts. It barley broke the US Top 100, reaching No. 91 and by the end of the year Albrighton would take his leave, forming Snowball with Curt Cress and Kristian Schultze of Passport. Nektar then recruited a new guitarist/vocalist, Dave Nelson, for the 1977 release Magic is a Child. The album moved into more calculated and commercial territory, and despite another brief US tour and album (in 1980) with Albrighton on board, Nektar then called it a day.
PFM's international fortunes had greatly improved, thanks in part to major touring in both UK and the US. Chocolate kings was the first of two albums the group would record solely in English for the US record company Asylum. True to their resolve, the band recruited the vocal talents of Bernardo Lanzetti, previously in Italian progsters Acqua Fragile. Educated in Texas, Lanzetti had a distinctive lead vocal, somewhere between Roger Chapman and Peter Gabriel. That wasn't the only change; gone was Pete Sinfield. Marva Jan Morrow contributed English language lyrics and Claudio Fabi now sat alone in the producer's chair. From the opening bars of "From Under", the album presents a harder, more dynamic PFM, anchored in the roar of Flavio Premoli's Hammond organ and the breakneck rhythm of Franz DiCioccio and Patrick Djivas. The elegant opening guitar lines of "Harlequin" and "Out Of The Roundabout" offer some escape to the manic, almost claustrophobic meters that the tracks eventually erupt into. "Chocolate Kings" continues the pace with a jig-like tempo. The longer tracks on the second side are hard driving in the same fashion. No doubt, there's little subtlety here, but the new edge is welcome. The album was a critical as well as commercial success, especially in Japan where the band embarked on their first tour, and in England, where they were even visited by the Queen Mother before a Royal Albert Hall performance. However, the group claims that the album was "boycotted" in the US market as a result of their performances at benefits to support the PLO. Nevertheless, for their next album, the band headed to Los Angeles to record.
Rush were a Canadian trio who in just a few short years went from riff-laden heavy metal (read Led Zeppelin-style) to British progressive rock (read Yes- style). The band had an excellent and versatile guitarist in Alex Lifeson, while bassist Geddy Lee was known for not only his trebly bass, but also his high-pitched vocals. Drummer par excellence Neil Peart, who joined for their second album, also provided lyrics for the band's music. Their music had steadily "progressed" both artistically and commercially over a few albums, culminating here on 2112. Based in part on the writings of Ayn Rand, the album takes its title from the suite of songs that comprises the first side of the record. Of course it isn't that different from "The Fountain Of Lamenth" on the previous Caress of Steel, just more refined. The opening movement "Overture" is a blistering run through of Rush's brand of heavy rock. But as the band weaves its guitar-based rock through the suite's discrete sections, Rush definitely have a lot more to offer than your average head bangers. The second side kicks off with the ultimate hemp homage "A Passage To Bangkok". Subject matter aside, it's the classic Rush song, combining their pop sense for a great melody in a perfect heavy metal suit. The closing "Something For Nothing" follows the same mold. The album was their first commercial success, managing to reach No. 61 in the UK charts. Their US breakthrough took a little longer, the result of continuous touring with the likes of Kiss and Aerosmith. The live double-album All The World's A Stage, released in the fall, rose to No. 40 in the US.
Camel's fourth record Moonmadness is generally regarded as one of their best efforts. After the success of The Snow Goose, the band undertook the daunting task of a follow-up. Written quickly between tours, the focus remained on the instrumental flair and songwriting of Pete Bardens and Andy Latimer, with Rhett Davies now manning the production chair. The album opens with "Aristillus" (which should explain something about the US cover), a short track featuring Barden's synthesizer work. "Song Within A Song" barely resurrects vocals, with Ferguson taking the cue here. "Chord Changes" starts lively and then finds the band back to playing the blues. Barden's organ and Latimer's lead guitar exchange over a slow tempo that just so happens to sound a lot like Focus, but it's a welcome return to their earlier jam band feel, especially after the highly-arranged construct of the last album. But wait, "Spirit of the Water" sounds like a Snow Goose outtake (except with Bardens on vocals). "Another Night", also released as a single, highlights both the band's interplay (even the rhythm section gets in the foray) and Latimer's lyrical guitar work. It's a good example of Camel at their best. Latimer's flute features prominently on "Air Born", another well constructed track that showcases their lighter, easy-going side. "Lunar Sea" is a fiercer workout, supported by a firm bass line from Doug Ferguson, even venturing towards jazz-rock. The album was their most successful chart-wise, reaching No. 15 in the UK and becoming a best seller in the US. Bassist Ferguson would leave the band shortly after, however, to be replaced by Richard Sinclair, fresh from Hatfield And The North.
Drummer Jon Hiseman and bassist Mark Clarke initially auditioned a new Tempest with Irish guitarist Gary Moore, formerly with Thin Lizzy. Clarke opted out for Natural Gas, and due to record company pressures, the band were rechristened to the more sale-worthy Colosseum II. Featuring the talents of bassist Neil Murray, keyboardist Don Airey, and guitarist Gary Moore, and veering away from heavy rock, they would record a trio of perfectly serviceable fusion albums, with 1976’s Strange New Flesh arriving first. “Dark Side of the Moog” kicks off their debut album in fine fashion; a dark, heavy instrumental number, it exhibits all the might one would expect from the lineup. Both Moore and Airey are virtuosos, and there’s no shortage of play. But from there, the remainder of the album takes a turn, by way of vocalist Mike Starrs. The Joni Mitchell’s “Down To You” features his high tenor, though it’s Airey’s penned middle section that highlights. “Gemini and Leo” offers a typical mid 70s funky groove, punctuated by Airey’s keyboards and a convincing vocal from Starrs. “Secret Place” and “On Second Thoughts” occupy a place not far removed from Argent’s contemporary work. The finale, “Winds”, again provides ignition for the prowess of the band, in epic progressive form. Murray wouldn’t last (he was off to National Health), and bassist John Mole would join for the band’s final two albums, released in 1977, but all remarkably unremarkable. The band (with Rod Argent) appeared en masse on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1978 highly successful album Variations, a curious combo of classical (Paganini's 24th caprice) and rock music. Following Moore’s departure to Thin Lizzy, the band split before a fourth album was recorded, Airey would join Blackmore’s Rainbow, while Mole would move to sessions and further work with Webber. Hiseman would leave rock behind, opting for his own studio and soundtrack work with wife Barbara Thompson.
The success generated by the previous year's Free Hand and the extensive touring to promote it presented the band with a considerable amount of pressure for the follow-up. They entered the studio in February reputedly less prepared than they'd hoped, but what they delivered was something a little more straightforward and precise than any of their earlier efforts. As the title, Interview, suggests, the concept of this, Gentle Giant's eighth album, is a mock interview with the band. The title track chops along under a huge organ riff, its lyrics offering a rather wry and jaded answer to questions they've probably been asked a thousand times before. "Give it Back" is unique; its reggae rhythm is obviously a departure for the band, but it breaks into a great instrumental middle section that's certainly more familiar. "Design" is the obligatory (and by now tiring) a cappella track. The second side starts off with "Another Show", a rather straightforward rocker in typical Gentle Giant fashion. "Empty City" is a gorgeous song, layered with multi-tracked guitars and a beautiful synthesizer line. When asked by the interviewer (Sounds' Phil Sutcliffe), "What kind of music do you play then?" the Giant responds with "Timing": a fitting track, it's chock full of all the things one's come to love about their music. But the best is saved for last: building up with a mélange of harpsichords and other keyboards that make their rounds underneath a gentle Minnear vocal, "I Lost My Head" erupts into another full-on rocker. Gentle Giant would again embark on a world tour in support of the album, documented on the exceptional Playing The Fool double-album the following year. However, the changing landscape of popular music would usher a different course for the Giant. This would be the end of an era for the band.
Hoelderlin's third album was recorded less than a year after their last, and again consolidated their grasp of British prog rock. The band also experienced changes: Hans Bäär now replaced Peter Kaseberg on bass, while Joachim Kaseberg put his guitar down to concentrate on live sound, the first member to switch to the business side of the band. Guest Jörg- Peter "Büdi" Siebert, in a recurring role, arrived to add wind instruments. As the title suggests, the album is indeed divided into two halves. Side one, the "clown" side, consists of (more or less) songs-proper. The spiky clavinets of "Mad House" open, quite reminiscent of Genesis. As Jochen Grumbkow's keyboard guides the track along, Nopps Noppeney delivers an excellent vocal, with Siebert's sax rounding out the arrangement. Jochen then takes his turn at vocals on "Your Eyes", his voice more sympathetic to the elaborate but delicate composition. Brother Christian Grumbkow's guitar is understated throughout the track (and indeed, record), barely rising above Noppeney's violin at the end. "Circus" has a more complex structure, yet its several sections merge together effortlessly. Jochen's organ takes prominence as the band plays through the remarkably complex and melodic arrangement. Side two, the "cloud" side, offers a pair of compositions based more on atmosphere and instrumental improvisation. The simplicity of the Bäär penned "Streaming" belies its effectiveness: fluid and ethereal, it rides effortlessly on top of Michael Bruchmann's crisp drumming. The track then segues into the lengthy "Phasing". Guided by a gentle electric piano and violin, the main phrase swells over a hypnotic bass line as it approaches critical mass. Siebert and Noppeney again providing the soloing, and it's simply transcendent. Clowns & Clouds remains as impressive and unpretentious a display of progressive rock as any in the timeline. As before, Hoelderlin's album was immaculately recorded and produced by Conny Plank and again released on the Spiegelei label. In addition to significant touring, the band recorded several concerts for German TV around this time. In fact, the band had the good (monetary) fortune of the ZDF TV channel using a track as the signature music for one of their programs.
In the varied landscape of progressive rock, SFF were surely an odd trio: two Mellotron players and a guitarist with a Les Paul/Rickenbacker double-neck guitar! This apparently caught the attention of Frank Zappa, but unfortunately scheduling prevented the American from producing the band's debut album. In 1974, drummer Eduard Schicke and guitarist/ bassist Heinz Fröhling formed SFF out of the Oldenburg band Spektakel, when a similar minded Gerhard Führs joined the pair on keyboards. Signed to the Brain/Metronome label, the trio's debut album more than lives up to its name, Symphonic Pictures. The album's second side, consisting of the epic album-side long "Pictures", is the crowning achievement. Dynamic and unrelenting, it shifts from theme to theme, reprising its sinister main refrain over whooping Moog lines and Mellotron breaks. Technically they're unprecedented, yet considering the album's no-overdub nature, Dieter Dierks' production is effectively scuttled. Führs fills the bass line on keyboards when Fröhling switches to guitar, and more often than not it seems that everyone is playing a Mellotron! The purely instrumental album avoids most of the bombast of its English contemporaries, but that doesn't mean it's not without aplomb; not even King Crimson could get over a Mellotron sounding like a Mellotron. The band's fortunes grew on their considerable live reputation, and the album sold a reputed 12,000 copies in Germany upon its release. It remains a classic of the era. SFF would release another two like-minded albums, and following Schicke's departure, the duo of Führs & Fröhling continued on, recording a series of new age-y albums for the Sky label.
VDGG spent the balance of the 1975 on the road, completing tours of both England and Europe. The band entered the studio in January for a few weeks to quickly complete Still life, one of both VDGG and Peter Hammill's most balanced and enduring records. It is a bit of an understatement to call Hammill's prose here merely lyrics; he explores love, life and the meaning of it all with enough depth to sink a black hole, with his powerful and direct delivery right up front throughout the album. Of course, the music is perfectly suited: complex, engaging and foremost, rocking. "Pilgrims" remains the anthem and "Still Life" the hymn; their forthright message delivered concisely over Evan's crisp drumming and Banton's shimmering organ. In fact, the album is a veritable showcase for Banton's considerable talent, and anyone who digs the Hammond's tone. The opening notes of "La Rossa" belie the ferocity to come. VDGG literally blast through the song, one of their finest on record, monkey and all. "My Room" slows the pace, with Hammill retreating to a more sympathetic vocal, while "Childlike Faith In Childhood's End" remains a favorite of the band to this day. Like "La Rossa", it charges through its different movements, the band trailblazing right to the end. Again, the band played a Peel Session after the album's release; however, instead of immediately hopping on tour, VDGG entered Rockfield to record their third album in just over a year's time.
After leaving Gong in 1975, Daevid Allen, with Gilli Smyth and their children, moved into semi-retirement in Majorca only to emerge a year later with the excellent Good Morning album for Virgin Records. Recorded with the Catalan group Euterpe, the record is primarily an acoustic affair, showcasing Allen's idiosyncratic songwriting. It's a bit of a lo-fi venture too, save for the Gong sleeper track "Wise Man In Your Heart" recorded with a visiting Pierre Moerlen and Mike Howlett. Fuelled by Moerlen's percussive riff, it has a massive groove, coated with Allen's patented glissando guitar. Allen recorded another acoustic album in the same vein before returning to England and forming the "punk" Planet Gong with the Here & Now band in 1978. Short-lived, Allen then recorded a third album N'existe Pas in England (with Chris Cutler) before eventually winding up in New York at the end of the decade. There he sired another band, New York Gong, this time with the future members of Material, including Bill Laswell. Smyth also sought a solo career post-Gong, recording her first album Mother and the similar Fairy Tales in 1978, both indicative of her non-singing style and she-wisdom. She then split-up with Allen, and would embark on the Mother Gong trip with Harry Williamson and the Foel studio gang. However, the 1980s would hear little of either Daevid or Gilli, both in extended retirement in Australia.
With ex-Carmen bassist John Glascock now on board, the interminably titled album, Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die, followed quickly after the last record. Originally intended as a musical (I've heard that before), Ian Anderson wrote the album around the story of an aging greaser, Ray Lomas. Perhaps regrettably in retrospect, most took it as being autobiographical. And considering the likeness of the comic illustration that adorned the gatefold sleeve - well, what were you thinking Ian? "Quizz Kidd" is a raucous opener, followed by "Crazed Institution", a strict adherent to the now (mostly) static Tull song formula. Tracks like "Taxi Grab" and "Bad-Eyed And Loveless" have a bluesy feel to them (something absent for quite a few albums), while "Big Dipper" isn't unlike a Led Zeppelin tune from the same period, and Martin Barre sounds particularly electric, the Jimmy Page influence undeniable. David Palmer's broad arrangements grace a few tracks, along with his first contributions as a performer. So what Anderson and company offer are some great songs, uniquely (and typically) Tull, but for whatever reasons the album just doesn't click. The title track was released as a single, but was indeed too old to rock-n-roll. The album was still successful, reaching No. 25 in the UK and No. 14 in the US.
Novalis were reduced to a quartet for their next album, Sommerabend. Produced by Achim Reichel, the symphonic record again bypasses the overt complexities of most prog rock of the day. Written by Lutz Rahn, the instrumental “Aufbruch” kicks the album off. After the spicy intro, the large, sweeping Novalis melodic lines take over propelled by Hartwig Biereichel’s forceful drumming. Detlef Job’s guitar is at the fore and Rahn lays his hand on a few more keyboards. “Wunderschätze”, written by Job, follows in the footsteps of the previous album, again using a text from Karl Friedrich von Hardenberg for its lyrics. The crowning achievement of the album though is the title track, which encompasses the entire second side. “Sommerabend” contains five discrete sections, ranging from the lightly melodic “Wetterleuchten” and pastoral “Am Strand” to the foot-stompin’ “Ein Neuer Tag”. Throughout, the sections flow seamlessly together, with the band’s execution absolutely precise. The album and subsequent tour would be a commercial peak for the band. Novalis then added a vocalist, Austrian Fred Mühlbock, who made his debut on the 1977 live album, Konzerte. Their music then moved into a more commercial direction on the ensuing Brandung, which featured the single “Irgendwo, Irgendwann” (“somewhere, sometime”). It’s for the most part easygoing rock with some creative instrumentation (in particular the extended instrumental sections of “Sonnenwende” (“solstice”). Novalis would then skirt the Neue Deutsche Welle and, as the Freeman brothers assert in their encyclopedic “The Crack In The Cosmic Egg” book, “go on about five years too long” as Biereichel, Job and Rahn would carry on with varying lineups until the mid-‘80s.
Cyrille Verdeaux's second album for Virgin was again recorded at the Manor in the UK, with Mick Glossop now producing. Clearlight was a six- piece band by now, yet the album still sported a most stellar guest list, and while the compositions are shorter this time around, the diversity on the album stands even greater. The opening track "Chanson" is a lush affair, its under-mixed vocals an exceptional effect. Christian Boule's "cosmic" guitar on "Without Words" is classic and should please any Gong fan. But it's Verdeaux's rich polyphony of sounds that give the arrangements a totally unique feel, somewhere between the density of Magma and the anarchy of Gong. Just check out the excellent "Way", written by ex-Zao bassist Joël Dugrenot. And if you thought David Cross (from King Crimson) couldn't play violin, listen up. The slightly more conventional "Ergotrip" segues into the keyboard driven "Et Pendant Ce Temps La" and dominates the second side. The band is in exceptional form, weaving a dense arrangement around the composition. This would be the last album on Virgin Records. However Verdeaux would record two additional albums under the Clearlight banner, each again featuring a bevy of different musicians. Les Contes du Singe Fou (roughly "crazy monkey") was released in 1977 on the Isadora label and featured Ian Bellamy on vocals (in English). The last Clearlight album, Visions, was released on Polydor in 1978. In the early '80s, Verdeaux would embark on a career that straddled new age music.
Sometime Goblin Roller In 1971, keyboardist Claudio Simonetti and drummer Walter Martino first teamed up together in Il Ritratto di Dorian Gray, a band from Rome that specialized in British style prog rock. In 1973, Simonetti, now with guitarist Massimo Morante and bassist Fabio Pignatelli, travelled to London and recruited an English singer, Clive Haynes. Adopting the name Oliver, the band reputedly sparked the interest of producer Eddie Offord; it’s not surprising as music from this era sounds a lot like Yes! However, nothing every panned out and returning to Italy in 1974, the band signed to Cinevox, a company that specialized in soundtracks. With Tony Tartarini now on vocals, their first recordings for the label were released in 1976 as Cherry Five. The story may have very well ended here if it were not for a fortuitous relationship the band struck with director Dario Argento. Hired for his debut film the band, now called Goblin (and with Walter Martino back on drums), struck gold. The ensuing soundtrack to the cult horror classic Profondo Rosso (“deep red”) was an instant success, selling over a million copies after topping the Italian hit-parade. It’s easy to see why; the title track’s theme (not that dissimilar from Mike Oldfield’s excerpt for “The Exorcist”) is outfitted with a classic prog rock arrangement: trebly bass, big organ sound, and a spacious production. The next album, Roller, was in fact a studio record, though the context was the same; the symphonic refrain of “Roller” features more of the same sonic textures. “Aquaman” offers Morante’s guitar to the fore, while the short “Snip-Snap” is a quick-take at fusion, Italian style. “Goblin” is the compositional highlight, while the closing “Dr. Frankenstein” is indeed cinematic. Goblin’s music is by no means lightweight, but there’s a certain formula that renders it familiar; it’s never hard to digest. In 1977 the band would score Argento’s Suspiria to very similar effect and in 1978 render the same services for George A. Romero’s Zombi (US title “Dawn Of The Dead”). That same year, Goblin would record a final studio album, Il Fatastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark, which even featured vocals from Morante. However, steady film work kept the band busy, and despite a personnel changes they continued until the mid-‘80s churning out album after album of movie soundtracks.
Heldon’s fourth album (also carrying the subtitle of Richard Pinhas’ then-girlfriend, Agneta Nilsson), released in early 1976, offered more polished production than previous efforts. The big change was the middle section of the album-side long piece, “Perspective IV”. Aided by Coco Roussel on drums, Alain Bellaiche on bass guitar and Patrick Gauthier on Mini-Moog synthesizer, Heldon offers very aggressive rock-n-roll. The approach was continued on their next album, Un Reve Sans Consequence Speciale (US title A Dream Without Reason), where we find Heldon a trio of Pinhas, Gauthier and drummer François Auger. “Marie Virginie C.” finds a potent combination of sequencer and drums. And yes, while there is a certain resemblance to the power-trio era King Crimson, Heldon is far darker and experimental, and indeed, violent: it’s a savage mix of lead guitar, lead synthesizer, manic drumming and incessant sequencer. “Elephanta” is pure percussive mayhem, while “MVC II” is again altogether different: lumbering over a slower sequence, it’s a lot closer to what would be known as “industrial” music later in the decade. “Toward The Red Line” features bassist Jannick Top, but his contribution is difficult to discern: the track is back to the extreme electronic improvisation of earlier works. The album saw major distribution on the French Cobra label, and even a US release on the Aural Explorer/Inner City label. Heldon would release two further albums, both offering further refinement (and slicker production) to the approach first presented here. Interface saw release again on Cobra in 1977, while the 1978 release Stand By saw a switch to the Egg label, and Didier Batard on bass. In 1976, Pinhas also launched a parallel solo career (mostly synthesizer works), and continued recording well into the 1980s
Seems not everyone had their fill with Topographic Oceans; built around a story inspired by Roger Dean's flying starships on the Fragile cover, Anderson's Olias Of Sunhillow is chock full of sci-fantasy spiritualism. Dean wasn't present for the art (he was always closest to Howe), so the jacket sports a lavishly illustrated sleeve from one David Roe. Anderson had previously struck up a friendship with Vangelis, one that would eventually evolve into a successful string of albums for the duo. But more immediate is the influence Vangelis had on this recording. Just check out the opening moments of "Ocean Song". Anderson wrote and recorded the entire record himself, something of a self-proclaimed "coming of age" for the non-musician. So think of it as Yes without the virtuosity. Dipping mostly across the strings of harp and guitars, there's also a fair amount of electronics, again a result of Vangelis' influence (or perhaps unconfirmed playing). Of course, Anderson's unique voice is always front and center. He pens a good melody and Olias' dozen songs are no exceptions: "Meeting", "Flight of the Moorglade Mover" and "To The Runner" rank right up with the best of Yes' tunes. Most importantly, the album flows from start to finish. Maybe it's Mike Dunne in the engineer's chair to thank, but the cohesion is genuine. The album was the most successful of Yes' solo efforts, reaching No. 8 in the UK charts and breaking into the US Top 50. However, the rest of the band was waiting for Anderson in Montreux, already planning Yes' next move.