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Surprise - Assault On Merryland CD (album) cover

ASSAULT ON MERRYLAND

Surprise

 

Symphonic Prog

3.32 | 17 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
3 stars Pretentious concept album with some shining moments!

Surprise are a real obscurity that came saw and conquered in 1977. As soon as they were on the scene they quickly disappeared but released one concept album based on a mystical journey in a space playground, a fantasy realm reminiscent of early Genesis or ELP at times. There is a definite emphasis on catchy melodies and lengthy instrumental jams, with many time sig changes and mood swings from heavy distorted guitar, stabbing Hammond to ambient sustained keyboard pads and spacey guitar passages.

It begins with Eve Of The Assault / Merryland, the longest track at 6:52. The playground sound effects are the first of many special sound effects that permeate the album and attempt to create the overblown concept. At times it actually works. In this case it is a wonderful start. The guitars and synths kick in with a steady beat and some great twin guitar playing. It is an uplifting sound created. The vocals are clean and sound like King Crimson or ELP. The lyrics are pretentious admittedly borrowing from the prog bands of the era, "trumpets sound aggressive in war of minstrel puppets in the gallery", (Jethro Tull anyone?) The harmonies are quite nice and there are even sounds of crickets chirping and a robot voice heralds the heavier part of the track, an ELP type effect reminding me of Karn Evil 9's robot voice. Hammond flourishes are well executed and there is a constant upbeat time sig, and it settles eventually into a softer prog ballad; "ride on our whirlwind to the edge of the night, on the wave that takes us away, dance on the sun shore? with a cool blanket breeze in the air."

The Acrobat Between The Stars is another of the longer songs at 6:15 that begins with a massive synthesizer riff, that locks in to an acoustically driven off beat rhythm. The lead guitar solo is very well played and then the beat gains tempo in a fractured metrical pattern. The twin guitars are terrific, and then the vocals return, echoed and mystical; "shivering sequins reflect the seasons on the waters below, majestic mountains and snow and ice protect us in our paradise." It uses every prog cliché in the book but somehow it makes sense with the overblown treatment of the music. We hear about a paradise with romantic valleys, mystic forests, flowers that blossom in the sun, the acrobat between the stars is the paradise fantasy world of escapist dreams. The flute is used well on this track and the electronic swells are indeed spacey and effective embellishments.

Palace Of King Ferris begins with the crickets chirping cliché so we know it is night and it is isolated. The harmonics on guitar are divine and then the reflective vocals chime in, full of intense prog clichés; "a gold drop of nectar falls in the dandelion swinging, dancing with fairies, trace the skyline, starlight minstrels over the ocean of glass over the palace of King Ferris, over a cosmic dust shower, under the bridges along the foggy night, cupids are dancing their way to your heart, the angels are singing in harmony" and it goes on. So let's forget the naff lyrics and focus on the music. Well, it is good, lots of enchanting flute and keyboard sounds.

Tyrangatang has a bouncy guitar riff and multi layered echoed vocals. The heavy chugging riff is like Hawkwind. I love the way the Hammond crunches along on this. The time sig changes suddenly in a quieter section and then it returns to the chug-a-chug rocking riff. Pretty good track for sure which has a crackling twin lead break and some crashing drum passages. The synth and guitars trade off too in the instrumental break. Perhaps the highlight of the album.

Dance Of The Tarantella begins with someone crunching along with footsteps on gravel, or is it digging up graves?. The eastern sound is very Tarantella like, and this continues through the track. The synths are weird on this, quite spacey. The lyrics are concerning a witch looking for buried treasure, and a murder of this beast, magic spells from hell, a demon of mischief, and all sorts of delightful mystical stuff that nobody cares about. The music again is wondrous and certainly well executed especially the flute passages. I love the guitar here doing the Tarantella traditional theme. Quite a fun track.

Tournament Of Love has a cool guitar riff driving it, and settles into a melodic beautiful song. The instrumental break is fair but this is one of the lowlights of the album, too soppy with naff harmonies and appalling lyrics. "There I serenade you from a friendly feather pillowed cloud?." Please!

March Of The Squatamaudars is a heavy riffing track, a real surprise from the previous waffle. The keyboards are fantastic on this, like ELP really, and heavy riffs blend with an uptempo beat and bright vocals. There are effects of a princess party, complete with clinking glasses and laughing; you can't accuse the band of being subtle. The lead guitar break is great too and we have another highlight. A Day Without Light is another ballad and once again saccharine sugar sweet with chimes, acoustics, and romantic fairytale lyrics and heartfelt vocals. Perhaps this was meant to attract the female audience, but it's more pretentious than portentous.

The Wonderful Sunshiner / Grand Finale is the huge big finale obviously. It begins with swells of spacey synth and more acoustic, and gentle vocals. The lyrics tell us they were "watching the cinema show late at night", (Genesis anyone?), and then whispers are heard over a flute musical backdrop. The lyrics are as silly as ever until a nice little twin lead solo. The vocals come in with "ladies and gentlemen, I hope you're all well?", (ELP anyone?) and then some cool little guitar riffs help things out. The synth solo is rather nice, and a great Hammond sound over a fast paced chugging riff blazes away, and this is where the band are at their best. The time sig changes again and loud guitars finish it all off in a crescendo.

Tyrangatang (1994 remix) is a remastered better version of the earlier track of the same name. I do love this melody and it is definitely the best thing they have done. It is a bit like Deep Purple meets Moody Blues at times if that were possible. The lead guitars are very good and thus an album ends.

Conclusion; this is a satisfactory prog album from the late 70s and deserves it's place somewhere in the prog archives. The band borrow every cliché they can and the result is it is overblown and pretentious and could have really done with a decent lyricist. However this is quite an entertaining little jaunt into excessive conceptual album territory.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 3/5 |

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