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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

4.11 | 201 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
4 stars The Psychedelic Ensemble continues on its anonymous path, creating mystifying progressive rock that blurs the line between the two perennial boogeymen genres that seem often being at odds with another, a Symphonic prog base with occasional flickers of Neo. On one hand you have the gigantic synthesizer fireworks, trebly bass rumbles that recall the Squire, screaming organ flurries and breakneck speedy drum fills. On the other, lead vocals that harken back to more Gentle Giant- friendly themes, using a variety of male and female vocalists to huge effect. It's a New York kind of album, everything going on together and separately, various layers and absolute density, hectic, urban and totally overblown. TPE also throws in a full manned orchestra, thoroughly bombastic and hyperactive a la ELP. If there ever was a prog multi-genre buffet, TPE would be both the flag bearer and the torch carrier!

There is more soloing on the opening track, "Overture-Our Great Kingdom" than on many entire albums by other, less exuberant artists. Love it when American musicians get all stitched up with monarchy, kings, knights and damsels and such other regal accouterments. The story line parallels the classic King Midas story, a ruler with a golden touch that ultimately spells his doom. There is also some strong retro flashbacks to Wakeman's early albums (The 6 Wives of Henry VIII and Myths & Legends).

"The Prophecy of the Seer" provides a folk backdrop with pastoral acoustics, choir galore, whistling synthesizers that rekindle fond memories of Patrick Moraz and Manfred Mann. The contrasts between calm and hurricane are startling, again blurring the line between unbelievable technique and lush creativity. The acoustic guitar does a fluttering waltz between the Gentle Giant-like a capella vocal work, sensational lead vocals as well, all united within a strong melody. The rambling organ nods at the aggressive bass and they forge forward together in pummeling harmony. Screeching guitars only add zest to the fire as the sizzling synths erupt from the maelstrom. A sensational track, to say the least!

"The Golden King" twists, pirouettes and turns like some manic whirling dervish, lot of polyphonic sounds, multiple melodies colliding, interspaced with instrumental snippets that recall all the classic symphonic prog procedures. The Moraz-Mann synth bending is phenomenal, sonic butterflies that explode out of seemingly nowhere, in organized madness. There are obvious Yes tendencies in the details, some Genesis flavorings in the pastoral moments and even some ELP-like blowouts. Throw in The Enid-like big orchestrations as a finale and you get the idea!

On the short "Captive Days", the mood shifts into a more piano dominated etude, synths in pursuit as well as some colossal fretless bass and hard core drumming. Ann Caren's lovely voice adorns the velvety "Queen of Sorrows", a modern/medieval pop song if I ever heard one, buttered by some intricate instrumentation both acoustic and later, electric guitars being in fine form. String quartet, flutes, choir extracts and fortress echoes give the piece a prog sheen that impresses, as the maniacal synthesizers weave sophisticated patterns that bedevil and exalt. The lute-like shimmer is truly beguiling as Ann's vocal stresses her anguish even further.

The mood veers into jazzier terrain on the wispy "Save Yourself", bolstered by some exceptional organ work that recalls the legendary Brian Auger, smooth electric guitar in the Larry Coryell/Lee Ritenour mode and most of all, a nice wobbly bass solo that boggles the mind. What virtuosity! The piano and axe duel ferociously as if attending a classic Return to Forever blow out! Voices sounding like Kerry Minnear only add to the intense pleasure.

How about showing off some bluesy tendencies? "Make A Plan-Golden Swords" will take you into death-defying realms that has so many exit ramps, you forget what you are being driven in and as such, shows off the only TPE weakness that I keep detecting within all their albums, and that is a tendency to overdo and over-complicate the arrangements, verging too close to technical prowess displays (a personal pet peeve in prog and its Achilles heel in some cases). This tendency is sometimes brilliant and eagerly displayed on the bubbly "The Battle" which sounds a lot like ELP on speed. TPE does show off BUT here you really get the sense of a ferocious scuffle going on, bloodied synths slicing through the air, the bass chopping off limbs and the drums pummeling the walls like a battering ram, all combining to describe the confusion and despair of combat.

" The Great Day" returns to the classic Yes sound, the female voice recalling the elfin Anderson to the point of disbelief, pastoral quivering as the bright sunlit synths illuminate the arrangement , clanging Howe-like guitar licks (that country feel we all know), dizzying organ shuffles amid the trebly bass counterpoints and all is held together by Bruford-esque drumming. All that and yet it's the various voices that rule the roost, giving this a clear Fragile/CTTE/Going for the One feel.

The album ends with the aptly titled "The Finale-Arise", a cinemascope soundtrack-styled ending with dense orchestrations, encapsulating all the previous themes into one final hurrah. Frankly, this is a premise I am never too fond of, this reprise formula is never quite to my liking unless performed with unabashed insanity , like with Roxy Music's sublime "In Every dream Home a Heartache", throwing in a healthy dose of delirium! Unfortunately here, this kind of CV/résumé track just defeats the entire purpose. TPE could have kept this off an already very long album.

All in all, an entirely enjoyable release that will please prog fans of every stripe, which is perhaps the intended plan devised by the talented anonymous multi-instrumentalist behind the TPE. I personally would have preferred less Yes-isms and more atmospheric, less exuberant contributions. But that's just me.

4 Laurel wreathed Monarchs

tszirmay | 4/5 |

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