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Arzachel - Arzachel CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.66 | 219 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars One of the big bangs of Canterbury Scene talent began right here after three young students: Steve Hillage, Dave Stewart and Mont Campbell met in 1968 at the City of London School. They soon hooked up with another, Clive Brooks and formed a simple blues rock band called Uriel (named after one of the archangels in Hebrew tradition) playing covers of Cream, Hendrix, John Mayall and The Nice. Then it got a bit complicated. After visiting London's famous Middle Earth Club they were indoctrinating into the cult of 60s psychedelia which steered their musical interests into completely new arenas. The new Uriel quickly caught the attention of Decca records but because their name sounded too much like "urinal," were forced to changed their name to Egg, however the contracts were signed as a trio without Hillage who had planned to return to his education and due to legalities when the band wanted to release an album together they had to choose yet another name and settled for ARZACHEL which is the Latin truncation of the Arab Muslim astronomer Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī who created all kinds of new gadgets but the name was inspired by the crater on the moon. While Egg would soon deliver their debut album ARZACHEL managed to record this one single album that was recorded in a single 8-hour session and released it before Hillage quit the band to return to school. As expected from the influences on board this Canterbury Scene related act delivered a healthy dose of psychedelic blues rock although nothing on ARZACHEL's eponymous album really displays where Hillage would go with Khan, Gong and solo and likewise displays little of what the rest of the members would conjure up with Egg and later National Health. The strange thing about this one is that not only did the band change their name at the last minute for this album but the members all adopted aliases as well.

Basil Dowling (Clive Brooks) / drums Njerogi Gategaka (Mont Campbell) / bass, vocals Sam Lee-Uff (Dave Stewart) / organ Simeon Sasparella (Steve Hillage) / guitar, vocals

ARZACHEL threw together two distinct sides on their LP. Side one consisted of four groovy psychedelic blues tracks mostly with vocals all quite distinct from one another whereas side two consisted of more extended jamming sessions that offered a couple very tripped out acid dripping experiences. "Garden Of Earthly Delights" is probably the most Canterbury sounding track on the album with the harmonizing vocal effect of Campbell and Hillage and apparently made enough of an impression that the title (which originated from the Hieronymus Bosch painting) inspired the beloved prog rock label of the same name. "Azathoth" is an organ based piece that has a rather trip hop sort of beat to it and i could easily see this appearing on a DJs set list. Another vocal track that continues the Canterbury vibe without emphasis on the blues. The instrumental "Queen St. Gang" has a more funky bass groove to it and has the ultimate chilled lounge lizard vibe with lots of organ gymnastics. "Leg" begins as a psychedelic stew of organ noodling but breaks into a Cream sounding heavy blues psych number.

"Clean Innocent Fun" begins as a call-and-response between a unified vocalist / blues guitar lick and the hard and heavy organ which reminds a lot of the very first Led Zeppelin album that came out the same year only drenched in intoxicating doses of Pink Floydian psychedelics with heavy organ attacks, blues guitar runs and atmospheric freak outs. The yummiest treat of the album is the closing 16 minute and 19 second instrumental "Metempsychosis" (a fancy term for reincarnation) which is the most psychedelic and free form track on the album. It is obviously inspired by early Pink Floyd and while having the same alienating effect as their "Saucerful Of Secrets" track however the guitar is clearly more derived from their "Astronomy Domine" track. This one goes into interstellar hyperdrive with a heavy rhythmic drive and sizzling guitar solos, psychotropic organ runs and very much incorporates the most detached aspects of Floyd while going on a huge meandering jamming tangent that adds some of the best musical chops the band has to offer ushering the album out with a big bang of cacophony.

ARZACHEL is clearly a mandatory listen for anyone interested in the development of progressive rock's Canterbury Scene branch as it is the antecedent of the much greater works of its members at an early stage. While not as accomplished or original as their respective works as solo members or with Egg, Gong and National Health, ARZACHEL does have its own appeal as a psychedelic blues rock album. While clearly steeped in the influences they wear on their sleeves with not quite enough time to simmer them down into their own cohesive sounds, it's still an interesting listen nonetheless. The musicianship is clearly of the highest quality and although i've heard that the production values of the earliest pressings were not the best, my 2014 Prog Temple remastered CD sounds like it could have come out in modern times. This is an album i teeter back and forth about rating. The first time i heard it i loved it and it was a 4 star album. The second time i was less enthralled and it dropped down to 3. The third time i loved it again and it was once again a 4. While being fully aware of the weaknesses of the album which mostly resides in the lack of creativity in the compositions, despite this i love to listen to this one as it not only has addictive bluesy hooks with psychedelic fixings but also resonates as an interesting historical artifact of the prog rock world. When all is said and done this is an essential album to be experienced.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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