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The Psychedelic Ensemble - The Tale Of The Golden King CD (album) cover

THE TALE OF THE GOLDEN KING

The Psychedelic Ensemble

 

Neo-Prog

4.07 | 199 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

BrufordFreak
5 stars He's done it again, folks! TPE has created another masterpiece of progressive rock--this time a "prog rock drama" telling an original story synthesized from medieval sleeping hero and mountain king legends, The Tale of The Golden King. A benevolent, Arthurian-like king is rewarded by the gods by being turned into a gold statue with the attached promise to his sad reverent subjects: When the time comes your king will return. The Great King's disappearance results, of course, in the invasion of a greedy and oppressive lot, "The Henchmen." Fear and despair fall upon the citizens until finally a revolt is planned--with the ensuing battle, victory and celebration. The "return" of The Great King, however, is not as one would expect, which is the clever twist in this allegory for a new age. Musically, TPE has surpassed all previous work by not only expanding upon his multi- layered, multi-instrumental wizardry but also by exploring a broader variety of musical genres than previously--using more medieval and theatrical jazz instrumentation and themes. Also, TPE has expanded his horizons by incorporating orchestration in the form of The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra and guest vocalists, including the crystalline voice of Ann Caren for female leads and background vocals. And, as usual, the artwork of TPE's CD and booklet are breathtaking.

1. "Overture - Our Great Kingdom" (7:22) Opening with a Gong, a background note held by some Gregorian monks, and a wooden flute, and oboe, you just know this is going to be epic. Next, the acoustic guitar and lone synth present some themes that you'll hear a lot? followed by electric guitar with another theme. Shortly the whole band is in sync, multiple synths, electric guitar, and calmer-than-usual drums, the themes weaving together, "Hail, Great Kingdom" repeats the vocals in self-proclaimed glory. The classic TPE layers of multi- instrumental melody weaves, with numerous individual instruments taking turns to step into the spotlight to solo, even if ever-so briefly, is well-established by song's end. I've never heard any artist or band so clever and masterful at this multi-multi-instrument solo-weaving. The themes here, unfortunately, seem a bit too familiar--as if I've heard them in other TPE songs. (8/10)

2. "The Prophecy of The Seer - The Transformation of The King" (6:04) begins with a kind of midnight lull, a gentler, calmer feel to the music--as a messenger is presented to The King. At the one minute mark a RICHIE HAVENS-like voice enters as The Seer--and awesome and majestic is that voice! This whole section is quite magical and sophisticated. I have to admit that, for me, the sound and presence of even more guest vocalists would be a welcome addition to the TPE sound. The break-neck speed and awesome guitar and synth soloing of the fourth minute are big highlights of this one. It's a very ELP-sounding section. Awesome! At 4:40 an eerie church organ provides background to the proclamation of The Gods as, all the while, the band of subjects tries to intersperse with some of its themes as if to convey a sense of normalcy, while actually expressing denial and an unwillingness to hear the prophecy and "curse." Great theater. Awesome song! (10/10)

3. "The Golden King" (9:24) opens with a return to orchestral presentation while TPE instruments singly interject themes and voices. As the song takes full form around 2:15, an absolutely gorgeous and infectious melody and vocal presentation is opened and developed?all occurring with a full and very intricate weave of endlessly soloing multi- instruments dancing and sparring in the background. Awesome bass lines throughout this one, too. Incredible guitar solo initiated at the five minute mark, which is then masterfully tied into the main themes before decaying into a gorgeous piano-based section before returning to the main vocal theme. At 7:45 the 'rock' sounds and themes of the song stop, making way for a gorgeous orchestral section, led by a beautiful flute solo. Gradually the orchestra builds around the flute's melody, crescendoing as an electric guitar caps off the celebration of this theme. This song is definitely the high point, musically, of the album for me. (10/10)

4. "Captive Days" (4:12) is an instrumental that begins with a wonderful almost-pensive medieval sound and feel. It evolves by the second minute into what sounds like a kind of Broadway jazz dance scene--Bob Fosse would've had some awesome choreography to this piece. Pianos, brushed drums, big orchestral accents. The congas and fretless bass rising to the forefront in the third minute are a nice touch. (9/10)

5. "The Queen of Sorrow" (8:22) opens with a solo lute before piano, acoustic guitar, distant drums and some orchestral background break out to support the crystalline and angelic if melancholy voice of the Queen of Sorrow, the wonderful Ann Caren. The syncopated background piano chord play is a highlight for me in this song. At 3:45 there is a shift in the music to a kind of clandestine, hidden and very eerie section in which odd Arabian horn-like instruments flit and float around behind The Queen's almost-whispered, fear-filled vocal. The ensuing instrumental solo section is very Keith Emerson/ELP-like. Cool! At the six minute mark the piano play, Queen's vocal and background vocal mix is extraordinary. Devolving with support of cello into the final 100 seconds of orchestral supported medieval sounds while The Queen once more states her case. (9/10)

6. "Save Yourself" (6:10) opens with some mood-setting sound eerie sounds-like we're in the catacombs beneath Paris. The music enters with some jazzy popping, fretless bass and jazz-styled drumming. Great vocal melody is supported by some synths, organ, and twangy electric guitar. Great section! Great organ sound and solo at the two minute mark. This is so fun! The follow-up guitar solo is also vintage early 70s jazz fusion guitar--like Steve Khan or Larry Coryell. The bass solo shortly after the four-minute mark once again reminds me of what a bass virtuoso is TPE. Electric piano and fuzzy guitar finish the soloing as we get back to the story with this excellent vocal and haunting melody. (10/10)

7. "Make A Plan?Golden Swords" (7:10) opens with a bluesy feel: electric guitar filling a large-room sound and a kind of blues-styled vocal intro. Soon the usual cast of synth characters noodle their way in, though organ, bluesy piano, and fuzz guitar seem to be the constant sounds threading this weave. The drums are, thankfully somewhat muted and mixed in the background for in the third and fourth minutes their rapid fire gattling gun sound gets a little overwhelming and distracting form me. The vocal performance of the wise elder, The Court Blacksmith, could have used, in my opinion, a different voice or style--if only to help convey that wisdom that has supposedly earned the respect--and ears--of the rest of the kingdom. (7/10)

8. "The Battle" (4:16) is an instrumental that uses some interesting sound and rhythmical constructs to convey the march into and conflict--there is a definite sense of confidence and insistence conveyed through this music. And with many underlying and tangential sounds strings moving around, behind and from within the main music, it has the very cool effect of evoking the minor skirmishes that invariably occur within and at the edges of a battle. The ghost-like synth floating background is also an ingenious tool which serves to convey the fog-like precariousness of the conflict and the tide-like ebb and flow of the potential outcome. (10/10)

9. "This Great Day" (7:35) opens with some relaxing pastoral acoustic guitar play--joined shortly by a strumming 12-string and a flute-synth. The Queen's voice enters with a melody that harkens back to Jon Anderson's classic solo "Your Move" section near the beginning of "I've Seen All Good People." As a matter of fact, the entire first two minutes is quite strong in its evocation of YES: "Your Move," "Wond'rous Stories," Wakeman. Then a very cool electric guitar solo takes over, bridging out way to music with a kind of celebratory mood. Here some multi-level, rondo-like vocal harmonies are used to great effect--as is the continued use to the kind of country twang-and-delayed electric guitar. Synths, piano, and guitars go into a kind of collective game of hot potato--each taking turns to burst forth a brief solo. The song finishes with a brief return to the opening YES theme with a collective harmonized chorus, "Yesterday is gone, it's through, The past has flown away. All you thought and all you knew, Have turned the other way. This Great Day!" (9/10)

10. "Finale - Arise! - Great Kingdon" (11:39) opens with "celebrate the dawn"-like music as presented by The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra. Beautiful recapitulating weave of the album's themes. With the third minute comes a modified reprise of the "Great Day" mixed with the medieval instrumentation of "Captive Days." The singing is quite celebratory--apparently the prophecy has been fulfilled-not in the expected form of the King arising from the dead/gold-preserved form, but, rather, the Kingdom has arisen--using the very gold of the statue of the Great King to forge their weapons of rebellion and victory. This song is replete with layers of recapitulated themes and instrumental ejaculates all morphing in a seemingly constant and unending mobius strip weave. Cool if perhaps a bit drawn out. (9/10)

If I've ever had any complaints with TPE's music it would be in the drum sound (particularly one tom-tom that is often used over-exuberantly a la Keith Moon), the drumming style (snares and toms used to mirror exactly the flash-speeded keyboard and guitar soloists) and the vocals. With The Tale of The Golden King both have been improved wonderfully. The drumming employs a greater variety of drumming sounds (and is mixed further back into the middle of the soundscapes) and nice mix of styles (brushes and jazz styles, to be exact), and less frenetic tom-tomming. The vocals have been improved with the use of other vocalists (particularly the wonderful voices of the Richie Havens-like "C. Francis" and The Queen of Sorrow, Ann Caren) and through the use of much more intricately layered and dispersed background and harmony vocals. I am also quite pleased to hear a broader spectrum of musical influences and sound styles: the increased use of piano and the jazzier rhythm sections are employed quite nicely, and, of course, the presence of The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra is a wonderful and quite welcome addition. (More, please!)

The story of The Golden King--supposedly "a true story invented by The Psychedelic Ensemble" and "based on medieval sleeping hero and mountain king legends"--is a bit simple and somewhat predictable, but these are the kind of mythological tales that are popular in the mainstream (witness: The Lord of the Rings/Hobbbit, Game of Thrones, and Hunger Games movies). While I love an allegorical concept album, this one, in my humble opinion, falls a bit short. Lyrically there is a bit too much repetition and something too cliche in many of the phrases used. Plus, the word choice is just missing something . . . something from the realms of dark mystery and poetic creativity.

I really enjoyed experiencing the greater variety of musical styles and vocal and instrumental choices (including those of the wonderful Ann Caren and of TPE orchestra) used in this album. It's always quite ambitious to undertake A) a concept album and B) one which tries to tell an epic or mythological tale--especially if this tale is trying to convey a social-political message. I wonder if the Great King is a metaphor for American Democracy or one of The United States' iconic Presidents (Washington? Lincoln? Kennedy? The hyped- and hoped- for Barack Obama?). Is the tale presenting the theory of possibilities for a society's potential to realize its release and freedom from bondage and darkness through taking the power of democracy back into our own hands and fighting as a people, tooth and nail, with the golden essence of that democratic ideal--that we might realize that the true power of our democratic ideal was not in the idolized word and fear-inducing and disempowering form our government but in the action of our own hearts and hands? I wonder.

TPE's unique multi-layered multi-instrumental sonic weave and sophisticated composition skill always make for a listening experience that I HIGHLY recommend for all music and prog lovers. The music TPE creates is fascinating, creative, and intricately worked--and masterfully performed. Check it out!

Another masterpiece of music that is difficult to compare and categorize and yet awe-some to behold.

BrufordFreak | 5/5 |

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