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3.18 | 28 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
3 stars It's hard to believe that if you dig deep enough in the more esoteric arenas of the world of progressive rock that at some early distant point some of the most unlikely musicians crossed paths. Such is the case of Daniel Denis who founded Univers Zero. Denis actually started out in one of the best kept secrets of the early 70s. The band ARKHAM not only developed the seedlings of what would become the avant-prog chamber rock of Univers Zero but would also produce a future member of Magma. ARKHAM was formed in Brussels, Belgium in 1970 when drummer Daniel Denis and Jean-Luc Manderlier met and expressed a mutual admiration for the English progressive rock style known as the Canterbury Scene after hearing the phenomenal warped jazz-rock sounds that were emerging from bands like Soft Machine, Egg and Caravan.

After acquiring bassist Claude Berkovitch, the trio enrolled in a musical competition called "Guitare d'Or" in Ciney, Belgium and won the contest which propelled them into the live circuit and become one of Belgium's most interesting early progressive rock bands of the early 70s. The lineup changed quite a bit with bassist Patrick Cogneaux replacing Berkovitch and then joining Pazop and being replaced by Paolo Radoni and Christian Ramon before the band finally splintered off into different bands. In 1972, the final year of the band's existence, François Arnadeau joined to play guitar and Claude Deron was added for trumpet and flugelhorn, however the band's evolving sound pretty much revolved around the esoteric avant-garde musical visions of drummer Daniel Denis and keyboardist Manderlier.

Despite playing for three years, the band never was able to record any studio recordings however many live recordings were collected over the years and finally in the year 2002 the music of ARKHAM was finally released in the form of this self-titled live album. While not exactly an essential release mostly because of the poor production qualities as these concerts were recorded haphazardly on the road, this story of ARKHAM is essential for those trying to connect the dots of the evolution of how the Rock In Opposition world splintered off its angular avant-prog sounds from the early world of jazz-fusion, zeuhl and the nascent Canterbury Scene. This live collection of recordings displays a band that should've been one of the hottest items in the world of progressive rock during the day but was left behind while the more famous English and Italian bands captured the world's attention.

There are two versions of this album. The original 2002 version that contains 9 tracks and a remastered 2013 album from the Japanese Arcangelo label that includes three bonus tracks. The album runs the gamut of the band's early inception in 1970 to the final days of 1972. The music captured a unique crossroads where the early Canterbury sounds of Egg and Soft Machine collided with the bubbling zeuhl rhythms of early Magma along with bouts of complex jazz-fusion sensibilities from the likes of Nucleus. While Belgium wasn't known on the prog scene until bands like Univers Zero came onto the scene in the late 70s, it's quite fascinating to hear how that band emerged from the ashes of this fertile crossroads of early prog rock sensibilities. Denis' fascination with the world of H.P. Lovecraft is apparent even at this early stage with the name ARKHAM coming from the fictional town from the Lovecraft mythos.

The first track displays a unique truce between zeuhl rhythmic drives and Canterbury jazz flavors but tracks like "Eve's Eventful Day (part 5 & 6)" and "With Assays Of Bias" display the clear connections between ARKHAM's angular juggling of polyrhythms and the experimental avant-garde which evolved into the complex chamber rock prog styles that were fully developed on the earliest Univers Zero albums. The album is primarily based on improvised jamming sessions but clearly with some structural analysis before preceding with reckless abandon. The music is already quite developed at this stage but lacked the cohesiveness that masterpieces like "1313" and "Heresie" evoked. This collection is an interesting mix of styles where some tracks focus on the Canterbury sounds, some on more traditional jazz-fusion and some on the completely detached world of avant-prog.

This is actually a really excellent set of musical bliss however the sound quality is crap. This is one for the hardcore musical sleuths who love to know the roots of their demented musical tastes. Well worth the experience checking out even if this won't go down as the world's most essential release any time soon. Denis would of course go on to found Univers Zero while Manderlier was invited to join Magma after crossing paths with Christian Vander. The band in its short duration also featured Vincent Kenis, later of Ask Maboul and Claude Deron who formed Necronomicon in 1974 which evolved into the world of Univers Zero. This band was more like a progressive rock hatchery than a bona fide classic act itself but judging from the musical performances on this set of nine live tracks, this band was more than ready for primetime and had these guys resided in the English countryside may very well have been considered some of the top talents of the era next to the likes of their influences.

3.5 but rounded down. The sound quality is just too poor to round up.

siLLy puPPy | 3/5 |


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