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Third Ear Band - Alchemy CD (album) cover

ALCHEMY

Third Ear Band

 

Indo-Prog/Raga Rock

3.08 | 40 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars The year 1969 was amazing year of explosive experimentalism in every direction with artists like Cromagnon, Amon Duul II, Captain Beefheart, early Alice Cooper and not to mention prog classics like King Crimson and East Of Eden hitting the marketplace leaving listeners grasping for new nomenclature to slap onto the hitherto unheard sounds spewing forth. While free-form and improv were certainly nothing new having been a staple of the jazz world for decades, the rock scene was relatively new to the game and the freedom that the 60s offered gave a green light to artists far and wide to fly their freak flags as high as they could possible fly.

One such band was the THIRD EAR BAND which was formed by Dave Tomlin who participated in free-form jazz sessions at the London Free School and took the show over to the famous UFO Club where he would solicit a free-form group of audience members and band members after hours to engage in spontaneous jams around Indo-raga, European folk, Medieval classical and experimental styles. While they gained the name Giant Sun Trolly, they soon attracted the attention of the EMI Harvest label, changed their name to THIRD EAR BAND and found minor success with their first two albums. This debut ALCHEMY displays all the styles that they set forth in the club scene in all their improv jam session freedoms and laid down to tape.

While loosely tied in with progressive rock, this isn't rock at all but rather a strange mix of tribal percussion such as chimes, tabla and hand drums, chamber rock style oboe along with violin, viola and cello and other strange instruments such as slide pipes. This first album was actually promoted by the great DJ John Peel who contributes jew's harp on a couple tracks. The music flows much like an Indian raga in a linear way with the percussion keeping a constant rhythm while the strings and winds are allowed to float off into a fantasy world as they create fluttering melodies and build up tension until they transmogrify into too-fast-to-hear-individual- notes-ish type droning. The recorder seems to bring about the Medieval flavor which makes this album sound sort of like a Indo- raga prototype of Gryphon's first album.

While ALCHEMY may have come as a shock to the rock'n'rollers engaged in the psychedelic branch of the genre at the time, in reality it wasn't overly different in approach to what Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra were dishing out on their most outlandish albums at the time. Sun Ra would regularly use similar sounding tribal drumming with his improvised jazz section with similar bouts of dissonance and avant-garde compositional structures. THIRD EAR BAND takes a similar approach with more of a classical chamber ensemble of instruments that creates thick and impenetrable counterpoint melodies between the string section and the woodwinds. The tension is thick and it all comes across as a war march through the streets of the capital city (wherever that happens to be) as to rally the troops for an impending attack on a neighboring city state. Somehow they manage to keep a Medieval sort of feel throughout.

ALCHEMY was one of the earliest forms of psychedelic freak folk that showcased dueling woodwinds, completely unhinged violin and viola freak outs alongside meditative percussive beats. While most of the tracks adhere to that description, the near ten minute "Egyptian Book Of The Dead" sounds more like an early electronic industrial album as it creates and eerie atmospheric soundscape out of chimes and woodwinds that sound like the wind revealing esoteric knowledge in coded form. The track builds tension as the instruments come to life and eventually a sort of Native American powwow beat occurs but the crazy noises that come out of the cello are startling and totally frightening! This track is totally unhinged and the most successful at totally freaking me out with all the demonic tones, squeaks and frenetic entropy breaking out at the speed of light. The drums ratchet up the tension as the track nears completion as the squawking swarm of instrumentation begins to sound like a plague from hell ready to consume all of reality. OMG! I can't take it anymore. This has to be the scariest and most intense track of all the 60s!

After all is said and done, THIRD EAR BAND leave you feeling like you've heard something that you have never experienced before and even well into the 21st century, i still have never heard any other artist that sounds even close to the style that they displayed on their debut album ALCHEMY. While the band would change things up over time, this early artifact is a gem of avant-garde musical improv expression and most likely one of the major influences of many of the free-form electronic thinkers such as Throbbing Gristle, Coil and Nurse Without Wound that would take a similar stylistic approach only direct it into the world of electronica rather than the Medieval freak folk instrumentation. This is certainly a jarring one, but a totally unique musical experience that only could have come out in the completely tripped out year of 1969. While not as musical as Comus or Spirogyra, this one more than makes up for its lack of compositional complexities with clever sprawling drone inspired raga marches.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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