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Van Der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts CD (album) cover

PAWN HEARTS

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 1368 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Musical schizophrenia

I always find it useful to consider and compare classic English albums with what the competition were up to at the same time. In this case Pawn Hearts was recorded at roughly the same time as Nursery Cryme, Meddle, and Fragile. They certainly outdid Meddle and Fragile, and probably even topped Nursery Cryme by a hair. Pawn Hearts showcases a darker effort than Genesis however and this becomes apparent quickly as you sink into its embrace. The music of Pawn Hearts is deliciously dark and unpredictable, harsh, alienating, and yet completely satisfying as a listening experience. Led by a mass of swirling organ and saxophone, propelled by tight powerful drumming and deep bass, it is a perfect platform for the theatrical vocals of Peter Hammill. Hammill possesses all of the passion of Peter Gabriel but with more grit and danger to his persona. The three long tracks are all superb with "Lemmings" being the most challenging, pure insanity in spots, lurching you around like a ragdoll. "Man Erg" is so amazing, beginning in almost soothing balladesque fashion which becomes downright uplifting until the moment it snaps--you then hear the screams of children as the darkness descends. This moment of a man apparently falling prey to evil is replicated so beautifully by the ensuing sonic assault, very powerful, and almost disorienting due to the simultaneous stereo panning tricks. Surely one of dark prog's most memorable moments.

They then knock down Suppers Ready by delivering a better side long epic earlier, beating their rivals to the punch. 23 minutes of pure drift on the progressive winds, I just love the feeling of getting lost here. First, while there is plenty of space and openness, the various keyboard passages given time to ripen, the overall effect can be claustrophobic tempered with flute and brass. Desolation has never been more beautiful. Midway through Hammill's vocal will lock into the rhythm and punctuation in effect becoming an instrument, the runs of keys increasing in intensity to the point of pure chaos. And then they do break the tension with something lovely until we build again, an exhausting cycle but in a good way. Here piano comes in as well complimenting the murkier organ swells. VDGG excel in creating soundscapes that are dissonant and harsh on the surface, but the patient listener soon peels this back to the great beauty of what lies underneath. The fact that the sound flips back and forth with such swiftness is what makes it feel a bit dangerous. I'm not certain yet if this is their masterpiece as I still have other VDGG titles to hear, but it is a thrilling prog-rock album that will please anyone with adventurous tastes. I can completely understand why this band was so revered in Italy where this kind of boldness was just taking off and pollinating with the Italian traditions to create some of the following year's great RPI.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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