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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Apocalypse CD (album) cover

APOCALYPSE

Mahavishnu Orchestra

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.59 | 176 ratings

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Warthur
Prog Reviewer
1 stars After the original Mahavishnu Orchestra lineup dissolved over bitter arguments about John McLaughlin's control over the band, John pieced together a new lineup to start afresh. Not one to balk at a challenge, he also decided that the new lineup's first studio album would be an ambitious attempt to combine a fusion band and the London Symphony Orchestra - with the legendary George Martin producing.

The Mahavishnus weren't the first band to attempt to combine their playing with that of an orchestra. They were also, as Apocalypse shows, not the first band to discover when doing so that all they achieved was a murky compromise which robbed both the band and the orchestra of their power. The fact is that the original Mahavishnu lineup didn't need an orchestra to lay thick snoozeworthy string segments over their music, because they had all the power and energy they needed right there in the lineup. McLaughlin's attempts to integrate the orchestra into the Mahavishnu sound are hamfisted and awkward, and too often consist of the orchestra playing a bit, then the band playing a bit, then the orchestra playing a bit with perhaps one or two band members soloing, and so on in that vein, with the end result being that on half the album we don't get to hear the full Mahavishnu lineup as it existed at the time playing together as a unit. All too often, the orchestra is drafted in to play parts which on the previous albums would have been handled by a band member, rather than adding something unique to the sound, which seems like a waste of time.

When the band *do* get to play as a unit, however, the reasoning behind minimising the amount of time they spend doing so becomes all too clear: whilst the individual members all have decent chops, the lineup simply hadn't gelled as a unit at this point in time, and their interplay is lacklustre and misses the firey vigour that characterised the previous incarnation of the band. What John and the crew needed to do at this point in time was rehearse exhaustively and work on creating a band album on which the group could have a chance to get used to each other. By taking on the orchestra project, the band ended up creating a huge challenge for themselves well before they were ready to face it, and no number of string players are able to cover for the lack of confidence on show.

Compositionally, John seems to be running out of ideas too, with most of the material on here being highly reminiscent of previous Mahavishnu tracks... except not quite as good, because of the awkwardness of cramming the orchestra into them and because the lineup were not yet as comfortable and confident as the previous band were. A few limp attempts to incorporate vocals into the band's music crop up here and there and only serve to embarrass the band further. The band's playing is also sabotaged by some baffling production decisions by George Martin - precisely why is John's guitar sound so weak and faint on this album?

Where the band get to play together without the orchestra butting in, Apocalypse is an interesting but otherwise forgettable fusion album, one which would have probably been forgotten about if it weren't for the Mahavishnu name attached to it. But the botched incorporation of the orchestra as a desperate attempt to cover up the cracks makes the album a tiresome chore to listen to. When you consider the fire and the fury of The Inner Mounting Flame, I'd say that things have come to a pretty sorry pass when I can say that a Mahavishnu Orchestra album bored me, but that's precisely what Apocalypse does. The result is an album I can recommend only to the most uncritical of McLaughlin cultists.

Oh, and there's no flute players on this album so I don't know what the cover artist was thinking.

Warthur | 1/5 |

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