Thursday 24 October 2019

Eloy - The Vision, the Sword and the Pyre, Part II (2019)

Country: Germany
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 5/10
Release Date: 25 Sep 2019
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I remember Eloy from the eighties, with albums like Colours, Planets and the soundtrack to Code Name: Wild Geese, though Frank Bornemann had formed them as far back as 1969 and the seventies saw them busy and successful. I hadn't realised that they'd called it a day in 1984 and then got back together four years later, but they haven't gone away agian since and this appears to be a twentieth studio album for them. Their line-up has been pretty consistent as of the reformation, with only the drummer changing recently.

As the title suggests, this is the second half of a long concept album, the first of which had exactly the title you might expect and which saw release a couple of years ago. It's a rock opera about Joan of Arc, something that Bornemann (the only founding member to make it past 1975) had been planning since the nineties. I haven't heard the first half, which might help, but I didn't get much of a sense of flow from this second half and I can see a few reasons for that.

One is that some of the tracks don't feel as if they're meant to be songs at all and are presumably only here to serve as links within the bigger story. Some are spoken word pieces like Résumé and Rouen, while others are musical like the clumsily titled Between Hope, Doubts, Fear and Uncertainty. Maybe if the flow was more obvious (and, of course, it might well be if we listen to both albums together as a pair), this might work but, for me, these only served as interruptions.

Another is that the songs that did grab me often ended far too quickly, like Patay, which reprises the driving Pink Floyd approach that feels so tasty on the opening track, An Instant of Relief... Still the War Rages On. That one runs six and a half minutes, the longest song of thirteen, so it feels like a complete piece, but Patay drifts away without really being over. I wonder if Bornemann didn't want any one song to dominate and so trimmed everything ruthlessly to keep us moving on. Even the final song, the culmination of the two album set, feels acutely underwhelming, another link but to nothing.

A third is that some of it feels forced, as if the lyrics and the music were composed entirely separately and then jammed together. This works both ways too. Songs like Armistice or War? feel like they're pretty strong musically but the words had to be forced to fit. Paris feels more like it's a stronger lyrical piece but the music isn't much more than mild accompaniment.

The result of all this didn't impress me on a first listen much at all, but some of it improved on a second time through. I like the opener a lot. That Pink Floyd sound is the sound from songs like Empty Spaces and One of These Days, a real emphatic sound but one that's still commercial. This is akin to an accessible Floyd but where the lyrics aren't as important. And Patay and other songs like Abandoned go back to that. They're the highlights.

I really ought to check out Part I before dismissing this as vaguely decent, occasionally beautiful and powerful but more often routine and forgettable. However, this isn't just an album or even half of a double album, it's what Bornemann has been building for decades, the only project to see light under the Eloy name since Visionary in 2009. For something that meaningful, it's surely a disappointment.

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