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Machiavel - Machiavel CD (album) cover

MACHIAVEL

Machiavel

 

Eclectic Prog

3.32 | 60 ratings

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ExittheLemming
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great (Niccolo Machiavelli)

I've only ever been in Belgium once (passed through on my way to see the Rolling Stones on their Street Punks with Bus Passes tour during the early 80's) but even limited to this 30 minute stopover can see why the inhabitants may have chosen to shut themselves away in attics to rehearse and record music such as this prepared by Machiavel in 1976. God, it's a desolate and featureless place. Little wonder they have their own annual music festival which goes out under the moniker the 'Dour Festival'....

'Johan's Brother Told Me' - This carries a hint of Barclay James Harvest via some arresting string synth work at the outset and does have a memorable tune sung exceptionally well by Marc Ysaye. Although Mr Y is saddled with the obstacle of a very thick Flemish accent which lends his 'second tongue' delivery a rather unwitting comedic element, he is the owner of a very fine and plaintive voice. Refreshing to hear a band who do not automatically reach for the 'tron whenever a lush pad accompaniment is called for (albeit they may not have been able to afford one from Mellotrons R' Us in Brussels) Jack Roskam contributes some very melodic and tasteful guitar here exploiting a thick meaty tone that is neither 'balls to the wall' fuzzed mayhem or blandly squeaky clean. This kind of sound is notoriously difficult to achieve and is perhaps redolent of a similar texture obtained by guitarist Andrew Dalby in Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come outfit. The mood on this track sets the tone for much of the rest of the record as there is a bleak melancholy and wistful yearning at the heart of this music that is very endearing and sincere.

'Cheerlesness' - (Not an uptempo rocker then?) Nah.

I was reminded of Scottish insularists 'The Blue Nile' here, as the excellent vocal melody is the focal point around which all the instrumentation is subservient. Unusually for a prog band, minimalism is the key on this track and the players restrict themselves to just subtle string synth washes and electric piano with which to lend gentle harmonic support. Thereafter we enter a classically hued developmental section with a nod in the direction of Bach but even here at a quicker tempo the feel is still laid back and unhurried. As melancholic and downbeat as this track is, I do fear that the translation dept at the record company may have fluffed their lines on the title (Or perhaps with hideous irony, the Belgians do not have a word for 'sad')

'Cry No More' - This carries an echo of a Celtic folk ballad or 'Simon and Garfunkel after Mogadon' with some acoustic guitar arpeggios overlaid with some more yummy lead guitar from Mr Roskam and a surefire 24 carat hook from the synth of Albert Letecheur (right on Albie baby) Towards the end Machiavel finally shake off their cobwebbed blues and kick into a heavyish riff which (paradoxically) lightens the mood considerably and as beautiful as the preceding music was, you can have too much of a 'bad' thang y'all?

'When Johan died, sirens were singing' - Kicks off with, dare I hazard a 'sprightly' piano motif supported by yet more delightful and understated lead guitar from the unerring Mr Roskam. Here the mood is less wistful and more defiant as reflected in Marc Ysaye's declamatory vocal. He seems quite unequivocally to be grieving the death of his lady love (but Johan would be an unusual name for a chick even in Belgium yes?) The transitional section borders on the 'funky' compared to what preceded it and over this infectious syncopated groove appears a delightful raspy and resonant synth followed by a distorted organ solo from our old buddy Albie the Belgian Ivorian Tickler. (mercifully the charges were dropped)

'I Am' - Expertly performed but rather pointless short unaccompanied guitar solo in a hybrid classical Spanish /folk finger-picking style. This would have perhaps been better employed at the start of the album and rearranged for the whole band.

'Leave it where it can stay' - This track suffers from a rather haphazard arrangement i.e all the constituent parts are strong but Machiavel seem unsure where to put them or in what order. There are faint traces of Albinoni's Adagio and the feel during the beautiful guitar solo is reminiscent of Focus's particular take on the European classical repertoire (which certainly ain't a bad thing) At one point we are interrupted by someone opening a door and letting us hear what must be the cold desolate Belgian wind lashing the surrounding countryside? It probably sounded like a great idea at the time but in the cold sober light of day, just sounds contrived. Despite these niggles and some unnecessary repetition, this is a very finely composed piece that contains many moving and inspirational passages.

Belgium have never won the world cup and on the evidence presented by their happy go lucky progsters Machieval it does not require a quantum leap of thought to deduce why (as soon as they concede a goal, the whole team would retire to write a sulking concept album about their defensive shortcomings)

What puzzles me about this record is I am unsure as to when it was recorded. The archive clearly states 1976 but it sounds considerable older and perhaps more dated than that? This is a very fine album that is free from the usual excessive virtuosity and pomposity of so much other prog and occupies a particularly deserted niche by being a welcome antidote to the mindless clatter of the 'terminally cheerful'.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |

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