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Black Bonzo - Sound of the Apocalypse CD (album) cover


Black Bonzo


Heavy Prog

4.03 | 169 ratings

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5 stars Black Bonzo have produced one of the most exciting prog concept albums of recent years

This is an astounding prog album from a relatively obscure Swedish band that may be the Swedish answer to Yes. Certainly the first thing one will notice when hearing this album is the striking similarity of their style to the classic 70s eclectic prog of such artists as Uriah Heep, Kansas, Emerson Lake & Palmer (ELP), Gentle Giant, Caravan, Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Camel and Rush, to name a few. They are heavily influenced but are not mere imitations, rather adding their own inimitable style to the progressive genre. Every track is masterfully executed with technical precision and artistic flare all wrapped up in a concept album. The album artwork is sublime presented in a 3-gatefold widevision apocalyptic scenario. The imagery is sumptuous and compliments the conceptual material admirably.

The high-powered concept of an apocalyptic event from the pages of Revelation begins with 'Thorns Upon A Crown' that is driven by the hard pounding of an Emerson-like Hammond and Greg Lake-ish vocals. It ends with a backwards glass effect, perhaps we are sliding into the mirror of the future.

Track 2 is 'Giant Games' and sounds a little like Gentle Giant ironically enough. It is an excellent progressive rocker with a huge shuffle and shifting time signature changes throughout. The relentless Hammond and angular guitar riffing are exceptional. It even fades out in the tradition of 70s songs. The lyrics are about the 911 conspiracy, if such a thing exists.

The next track, Yesterday's Friends, is a 7 minute killer that speaks of loneliness, emptiness, alienation, lost friends and feelings of remorse. Somehow through the midst of this despair Black Bonzo's musical prowess injects a ray of hope, in a similar way Peter Hammill does in Van der Graaf Generator. The words are potent: "Why can't we be friends like we were yesterday? Sun was shining and you held my hand. Trapped in shackles, thrown to the jackals. I am struggling just to breathe." The vocals are similar in style to Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour and there is a jagged Robert Fripp-style guitar riff that crashes throughout. It's absolutely stunning and at 3 mins in, the track transforms into an off-kilter syncopated rhythm with Keith Emerson style staccatos on the Hammond. Yes, it's that good.

Could it get better? Absolutely. Track 4, 'The Well' is my favourite track because it sounds uncannily like a 70s throwback to the heavier side of Caravan with Pye Hastings type vocals. I love the lyrics: "The hammer is falling down so hard, it won't catch your very eye." powerful and emotive. The track is driven by a relentless heavy guitar and keyboard riff with swirling synth answers. The excellent melody is beautiful and it twists and turns in surprising directions. I admire the way the band has captured that eclectic 70s prog spirit, unashamedly, and they have hit it right on the head; not only paying homage to the classic prog sound but somehow reinventing it with their own original finesse.

Track 5 is a short intermission that reminds one immediately of Jethro Tull with flute and irregular vocals.

'Ageless Door' follows and send us back to the Hammond and aggressive guitar stabs. The off-beat drum patterns are similar to Bill Bruford's style, and they punctuate the track throughout as the more abrasive vocals are heard: "An echo in the corridor of time, a memory collapsed, a fainted will, a transcendent crime, spare me all hypocrisy and blame." The track rocks hard but never quite keeps rhythm, missing beats and jumping rhythm patterns. There are lots of double guitar licks, an interlude with strange effects over a lead solo from Karlsson, and Hammond stabs, sounding at times like early ELP; it is delicious prog bliss.

Track 7, 'Iscariot', is a fantastic song that moves in many directions. 3 mins into it the tracks changes gears into a psychedelic freak out. The thematic content concerns judgement day and sin and the consequences of the Judas kiss. Ahlund excels again on the scorching Hammond. Black Bonzo have stamped their authority on the use of the Hammond on this album.

How do you end such a brilliant album? Why, with a 13 min multimovement mini epic of course. 'Sound of the Apocalypse' is a scintillating excursion of musical virtuosity that includes mellotron, multi vocal harmonies and a wonderful vocal performance. It is broken into three sections in the tradition of such prog classic bands as Caravan. These meld together seamlessly to form a bonafide prog classic. Part 1 is 'Twins' (the Twin Towers?) that begins with a series of chilling minimalist piano chords, something like GodSpeed You Black Emperor's minimalist style. We hear a voice talking: "Changes to the chemistry of the oceans. of the atmosphere..." The Dave Gilmour style vocals begin and it builds slowly into a huge wall of sound with Mellotron and multi-part guitars. At 5 mins into the track, it suddenly changes time signature pace into part 2 'Towers Collapse' (Must be a reference to 911, though the lyrics are subtle). This is an instrumental with erratic piano and jazz drums. There are strange saxophone sounds and it reminds one of the off-kilter middle section of King Crimson's '21st Century Schizoid Man'. This is a showpiece for these musicians. Part 3 is 'The Boiling Point' and the track returns to the opening stanza but it is more of an irregular time pattern. The swirling keyboards build to the type of majestic finale as Yes's 'And You and I' - the soundscape of symphonic Mellotron is backed by Karlsson's searing guitar solos. The heartbeat of a bass continues underneath it all and it builds to the crescendo of finality, as good as I have heard, and then it is all over. And I immediately put the CD on again and listen to it knowing this is one of the best in my prog collection.

So there you have it. Overblown and curiously true to the retro 70s classic Golden era of prog, Black Bonzo have produced one of the most exciting and surprising concept albums of 2007.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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