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Surprise - Assault On Merryland CD (album) cover

ASSAULT ON MERRYLAND

Surprise

 

Symphonic Prog

3.31 | 16 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The very definition of the "lost prog gem"

"Assault in Merryland" is a true lost gem of the late 1970s, an ambitious conceptual fantasy-prog album by the St. Louis, Missouri based band Surprise. Their lone album was inspired by classic Yes and Genesis although the final product here is more in line with bands like Druid, Rousseau, Kansas, or Sebastian Hardie. I really enjoy the album and the fact that the music was written by a very young guitarist named Rick Bess, who was only in his late teens at the time, is even more impressive. Just out of high school, Bess and keyboardist Blair Blake would grab some Pepsi and their guitars/notebooks and head off to the woods near their home to work in silence on their prog opus. In the 90s the album was rescued by Zarathustra Records' Geoff Logsdon, who lovingly crafted a CD reissue with improved sound and a nice booklet, with the assistance of the band members and Benny Quinn.

While I confess that I don't pay much attention to lyrics these days (I'm a music guy), the grand story here revolves around Kings and Queens, enchanted black forests, and magic. Sometimes the music reminds me a bit of Wishbone Ash's "Argus." Their English symphonic prog influences are crossed with the US penchant for more prominent guitar, so imagine a heavy shot of Kansas/Styx injected to the mix, with the results being somewhere between the two. Despite being accused of being too cheesy by some reviewers, "Assault on Merryland" is an ambitious effort and a very good upbeat melodic prog album. The compelling music deserves much more respect than it sometimes gets. The album contained a wide variety of emotions, moods, and energy levels. It was lush and symphonic and adorned with a wealth of instrumentation.

The opening track begins with sound effects from Merryland before the grand entrance of Bess' majestic and melodic guitar leads. He can also get some grooving and crunchy power chords going, or some beautiful mellow acoustic passages, and he covers the bass. Keyboardist Blair Blake soaks the album in great color with mellotron, synths, and piano. Dave Kelly is a damn tight drummer who plays lots of cool fills and interesting percussion devices. Vocalist Mark Biehl has a modest range but an acceptable voice and adds some beautiful flute and piccolo to several tracks.

Mostly the album wins me over with its heart and sincerity. The songs deliver moods of fantasy lands, of a different time and place, of battles on the plains, of campfires on the edge of forests during the dead of night. But it doesn't go too far at the expense of rock and roll. The band still rocks and stays engaging. "Merryland" (the song) delivers lovingly overblown songwriting while "Palace of King Ferris" is sweet and pastoral with folky acoustic guitar and flute. On the flip side "Tyrangatang" delivers a Tommy Shaw styled punchy rock and roll with a blistering solo. The ending is flat-out scorching. The CD booklet, which was designed by Logsdon, contains complete lyrics, and his reissue includes a remixed bonus cut of "Tyrangatang." It's a shame these guys broke up so quickly as I would have loved to have heard their next one.

Sometimes these obscure one-offs are a disaster and sometimes they prove to be formidable. This one, while well short of a masterpiece, is one of those really good ones if you don't mind the whole overblown fantasy/concept thing. I consider it one of those little treasures like the first Emeraude album or the first Rousseau album. 3 stars and rounding up with much affection. (See our ProgArchives band bio for much more detailed info on this interesting group's story).

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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