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The Enid - In the Region Of The Summer Stars CD (album) cover

IN THE REGION OF THE SUMMER STARS

The Enid

 

Symphonic Prog

4.20 | 179 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TheGloryofMusic
5 stars (This review is of the release which contains re-mixed and moved tracks, from 1984)

PREAMBLE

This collection is one of the greatest outbursts of beauty and glorious music in the history of the art form. In the Region of The Summer Stars fuses so many disparate styles and ideas into a cohesive album that it transcends notions of genre and classification. Beyond the guitars, floating synthesizers, percussive mastery, and orchestral imitation sits a world where Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Liszt, and Medieval Plainchant mix in an unprecedented array of colours. What is collected for redistribution in this album may have been intended ironically, but in reality it flows above and beyond what can be expected of human beings; it is the great music of our time.

Note:

I am not satisfied with comparing each piece on an album to what came before or after it; this review takes the form of a criticism of an entire whole, which this album certainly is. What many listeners may not realize is that the entire album takes on the form of a gigantic sonata. Sonata form was used extensively from 1760-1920, in many musical compositions by so-called Classical composers. It contains an exposition where all the themes and melodies are shown off, which moves to a development that mixes these themes together, and then a recapitulation of the original themes in their pristine forms. It usually ends in a glorious display of finality, an ending called a coda, which is Italian for tail (the tail-end of the piece!). I consider this note important because the inner meaning of this music is not apparent, due to the lack of singing. It is important to know the ideas which formed this music, and how it plays out in time. It is supremely ingenious in construction, and that alone should earn it great respect.

EXPOSITION

I. Fool: The influence of Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) is obviously apparent in John Godfrey's pianistic explosion which opens this seminal album. Not only does Mr. Godfrey perfectly imitate (or parody?) the crescendo from soft to loud which opens the aforementioned composer's second piano concerto (1902), but he adds even more climactic drama to it than parts of the original contained. After this exposition of power, bizarre swirls of synthesizer pads and effects fade into an ethereal background, filling the pure lonely space which the piano now falls into. The accompaniment alone adds an interestingly modern tinge to an album that might be considered a keyboard concerto in scope. Beyond even Rachmaninov, the slow piano part which comes between the two outbursts sounds as if it comes from Kaikhosru Sorabji (an eminent Parsi composer for piano, 1892-1988), whose dark explorations of philosophy and psychology in music are a testament to human ingenuity. Fool (or The Fool in the original) serves as an exposition of all the themes and instruments in this music: it is the first part, the opening, the entry of components so crucial to an extended sonata form, which this album takes. A solo horn enters over a world of water and screaming sea animals, lapping themselves against the ocean shore on what must be a sunny summer morning. It segues into an energetic piece called...

II. The Tower of Bable*: Spaghetti westerns and Mozart operas mix together in this very interesting explosion of piano, guitars, drums, synthesizer effects, and sheer power. There is a supreme confidence of intent and knowledge in the playing of this music, and it sounds as if it takes from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and foreshadows Dream Theater's keyboard runs. Mozart's more explicitly 'oriental' music (such as Abduction from the Seraglio) finds hidden references in this piece (it's very subtle and well-done!) There is nothing calm or mediocre in this sound, as it drives forward in its own condensed sonata form, the themes taking each other for a ride across distant lands and right back again, our imagination made all that more rich by the experience. An eerie tinge marks the centre of this piece, with distant bells chiming, echoing into eternity, but eventually giving way to the glorious recapitulation of the opening themes. A cacophony of drums, piano chords, string pads, and melodious guitar lines - which seem to be on fire from the sheer intensity - crash into each other in a passage which recalls Beethoven and remembers Yes (especially that band's 1974 release). After the crashing cadences and cascades of sound abruptly end, the music falls away into nothingness, introducing...

III. The Reaper: As is typical of music representing death or fate, there are chiming bells, other-worldly string pads, and treated guitar noises which fall together in the right order to create an Impressionistic snap-shot of how we humans see the end. There are no words in this music, but the music, the glorious music, sends out its own message regardless. After a passage where everything falls away into the peace of natural death, the drums and guitars make their entrance in full force, heralded on their way by a Hammond organ. Some of the music sounds very up-beat and it brims with life in many respects, but the undercurrent throws the listener aside and grotesque, deviant shadows fill the sky. Everything falls apart, a theme introduced in the previous track, leading into the most tender and beautiful piece of music composed in the late twentieth century.

IV. The Lovers/The Loved Ones: How can a person describe this music? The softness of touch and Romantic breadth of the piano playing which introduces this extra-ordinary piece is beyond capture, when using only our feeble words. From the darkness that ends the previous piece, this calm and wise piano seems to float straight out of the abyss, out of the darkness formed by the falling tower and death come to wreak havoc. A sheen of white light, the sun in summer, the meadows and fields of Elysium, and pure love come together in one of our greatest human achievements. Franz Liszt (1811-1886) himself could not have created a more tender expression of beauty and love than this. Much is owed to that composer's nocturnes which, along with Chopin, heralded such a revolution in piano playing in the early 19th century. The shimmering light hovers in unknowable areas of ecstasy and perfection for several minutes, while a synthesized orchestra moves in to accompany it. The aforementioned second piano concerto of Rachmaninov is a precedent for this, with its slow, moonlit slow second movement. As the music swells and becomes louder (a thing lost on much modern music), the orchestra explodes with Mellotron horns and flutes, and many string pads form together in a stroke of musical greatness. After the crescendo and climax, everything falls away, back to those muted strings and the lone piano, now expressing a supreme melancholy after the exertion of the previous minute. It fades away into the oblivion from whence it came, never to be heard again, but once more, in a distant land and in a different time. This is surely what it means to be human.

DEVELOPMENT:

V. The Demon King. The first four movements of this true sonata suite encompassed the classical exposition of themes, and now, after the love of eternity has faded, the music moves into the development of themes. It is here that the grandeur of the introduction, the energy of the second and third pieces, and the tumultuous ground of love in the fourth piece find their mixing ground, their place of combat to decide which theme takes the foreground. A sinister piano opens this second part, seeming to spiral up and down in a chaos of some sort of over-the-top musical theatre. The energy of the middle of the exposition is here dominant, with the piano of previous piece transformed into a flash of bizarre inspiration. It is more sarcastic than anything else, and the music takes an almost humorous turn with the marimba-inspired keyboards and whirling guitars. Everything is a mess of Bacchanalian fantasies and drunken revelry, as might befit a king! This is definitely the ground of The Tower of Babel and The Reaper, a Totentanz (dance of death) that even dares to poke fun at The Loved Ones. It is a great example of musical humor and imitation of one's very own music, taken from the great Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). It ends, like its ancestors in the second and third tracks, quickly and jokingly.

VI. Dawn: Here, a reversal of fortunes comes into play, and sinister notions fall away, giving in to the pre-dawn world where dust motes float in the early morning sky, and nothing seems to move but the clouds. All his silent and peaceful once more, as the perfect trumpet playing comes in over the hills, heralding the coming of day, which arrives after a huge ascent by the trumpet.

VII. Sunrise: A utopian world of small villages, rolling hills, green fields, lush forests, and, of course, the rising sun all coalesce into one bright and vibrant picture. Everything comes to life again after the rush of death in The Demon King. I do not speak here of individual instruments, because each and every member of this ensemble proved himself completely up to the task of creating a great symphony (that is, 'sounds together') of ideas and music, with tender spots, powerful spots, and quiet spots. The music seems surprisingly long (in a very good way!), despite coming in at only three-and-a-half minutes. It ends in a luscious array of synthesizers and keyboards.

VIII. The Last Day*: The music of death and fate returns again, marking a departure from the jesting death of earlier parts. Everything has become solemn and dramatic, for the world is falling apart in time for the final judgment. Drums introduce the music, which is much more than a reference to Maurice Ravel's infamous Bolero of 1928, but a very dark and sarcastic parody of the militarism that always unites death with humanity. There is no political message, assuredly, but the music seems half-serious and half-jeering at huge columns of Romans and Spartans marching to battle. This is the end-time, and it is portrayed with stark brutality and a Shostakovich-like grotesque atmosphere. The music eventually reaches a full climax of crescendos and awe-inspiring statements of militaristic power and the Imperial domain of death over all things. Even as the trumpets pound out a gigantic hymn of power and control, there is an elegiac sadness to it all, and out of this great march comes... the opening theme! The development ends and falls away to a tender flute and floating harp-like arpeggios at the end of this piece. The journey is over, and yet there is still much more to say, for we must return home.

RECAPITULATION

IX. The Flood: Like all great stories, even in wordless music, it begins where it ends: the sea-shore, the lonely trumpet of Fool and Dawn telling us that it is time to come back. It fades away, as it always does, breathing life into...

X. Under The Summer Stars*: Here is one of the great achievements of progressive music. The familiar string pads of all the other pieces come back, but the great and varied keyboard playing on Mellotron and various other synthesizers adds a finality that did not show itself in the exposition. This is ending music, a purely ecstatic finale of all the themes. After the break-down and destruction of everything in the development (central) section, it all returns and is put right. Pads, guitars, arpeggios of flowing synthesizers, and an ethereal atmosphere pervades this whole world, a world purely of the imagination. It is a reflection of all that came before; it is the stars, and it is the moon. Its qualities of ghostly floating sounds add the greatest feeling that we have come to the end of something, and it works up to a grand, golden coda that sweeps away all tension and brings us, ever-forward, into a world where a light is shining down upon each and every listener. Whether it brings a sense of drama, beauty, serenity, or power, it is a great ending to a revolutionary work. All that has been said and done here is extra-ordinary and new, and it falls away into what must be one of the greatest endings conceived...

XI. Adieu. Harking back to what seemed to be lost in the tidal wave of death and glory, this epilogue gives a voice to those shadowy ones, The Lovers, who appeared but once, and then were never heard from again except for humorous imitation in The Demon King. This piece comes right out of the previous one, acting as the ending, the consummation of the journey as a thing to be remembered. It is a tender and beautiful recapitulation of a theme from The Loved Ones, gently falling away from piano to guitar to strings, and eventually all that remains is a singular harp, swirling slowly and softly away into the distance, with nothing else to care about but the peace it leaves in its aftermath.

CODA

Not only is this one of the great achievements of rock music, or of classical style and form, but it is an achievement for all time. It is a testament to the greatness of ideation and imagination that is at the centre of the human experience. Not only does this altogether seminal assembly of musicians perfectly assemble a classical sonata tinged with Romantic and Modernist turns, but they execute the music itself with such potent virtuosity (as far as virtuosity extends to rock music) that it goes beyond ordinary prog. It is a thing of the past and the future, and it will live on thanks to musicians and artists such as The Enid. This is what it means to be human. 5/5 all-round; it is a must-have for anyone who enjoys music. Period!

* These three tracks are mixed into two bonus tracks, called Judgement and In The Region Of The Summer Stars, which are merely re-workings of previous material in different ways. They are not central to the overall arch of this structure.

TheGloryofMusic | 5/5 |

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