Tuesday 25 July 2023

Eloy - Echoes from the Past (2023)

Country: Germany
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 23 Jun 2023
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Eloy are another band I remember from back in the day that I'm surprised to find still around and releasing new material. Most such bands date back to the eighties, maybe the late seventies, but this German prog rock band is older, starting out as far back as 1969 and releasing their debut the year I was born. Their brand of prog rock is heavy on keyboards, founder member Frank Boremann the only guitarist but Hannes Folberth and Michael Gerlach both playing keys.

That's one reason why they often drift into space rock in my mind, though those keyboards remain orchestral rather than driven by sound effects. Perhaps symphonic rock would be a more accurate term to use but a less useful one. There's a lot more Tangerine Dream here than the Moody Blues, especially in instrumental sections, such as the beginning of Warning Signs or the last two thirds of The Pyre, which are primarily keyboards. When Conspiracy, the opening track, kicks in, it has an interesting vibe to it that's sometimes Pink Floyd and sometimes Hawkwind.

It seems that they've only really split up once, from 1984 to 1988, but they've not always remained active. Even with that gap, they released more albums in the eighties than nineties and then took over a decade to bring out Visionary in 2009 and eight more years to kick off a duology, The Vision, the Sword and the Pyre. Now, only four years on, they've put out another album and this one has been much better received, it seems, than anything else they've done this millennium. I have next to no time to delve backwards so probably wouldn't have been able to check those out anyway but that may be the best option aesthetically too.

Their sound is as rich as ever and the grand sweep of these songs plays very well to me. In fact, the longer the songs get, the more impressive they become. The shortest, Compassion for Misery at a skimpy three minutes, is a decent song but it tends to get lost in between the dynamic opener and the highly memorable title track. The longest is The Pyre and that's a nine and a half minute epic that only features vocals for its first two. It gets its teeth into those extended keyboard solos and textures and could have continued on for another nine.

The Pyre is my highlight, but a few others trail strongly in its wake. The title track isn't far behind it, with some fascinating drumming from Stephan Emig, a solid beat and a wild set of fills, as if it's two separate drummers on two separate drumkits. Warning Signs is another highlight, kicking off like Tangerine Dream, pure synths working with each other, but growing into something more, an almost perky pop setup over more interesting drumming and prog time changes. It also features some honest to goodness singing from Bornemann, which comment I should explain.

I don't remember this from back in the day, but the least successful aspect to the album has to be the vocals, which Bornemann most often delivers in what's best described as spoken word. That's appropriate for the opening track, Conspiracy, simply because of its lyrical content and theme, but it gets a little offputting as the album runs on, as if the four other musicians in the band are there only to accompany his poetry. Now, I'm not suggsting that's the case, because there simply aren't enough vocals to warrant that assumption, but it feels that way. A singing voice is just another of many instruments and they merge together into a song. A spoken voice has a different effect, like it has something important to say and we should blot out everything else to listen.

It's telling that my favourites here are The Pyre, a primarily instrumental epic, and Warning Signs, with Bornemann's most obvious singing. Echoes from the Past takes its time getting to vocals too, with a fascinating intro that's part Alan Parsons, part Phil Collins. Those vocals do arrive and they arrive spoken,but they give way to a delightful guest vocal from someone I sadly can't credit. They feel celestial, as if they emerge from the sky and beam down at us. The cycle is spoken word, then melodious guest vocal, then Bornemann singing, and the contrast works.

I've had this on replay for most of two days now and I'm revelling in the lushness of the keyboards. It's great to hear new material from Eloy, but it's clear that the more Bornemann holds his spoken word approach back the better the results. It works as a contrast in Echoes from the Past and as an introduction to The Pyre. It doesn't work as a replacement for a singing voice on other songs. That means that a bunch of this is worthy of an 8/10 but as much and probably more is fairer at 6/10. I'll even that up for a 7/10 overall.

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