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BABYLON

Babylon

 

Symphonic Prog

3.88 | 78 ratings

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Luís de Sousa
5 stars A Landmark of an Epoch

In 1975 Neu!, one of the reference Krautrock bands, recorded their third LP which included two tracks that added screeching vocals to their habitual guitar/drums metronomic sound. This would provide the backbone for a new back-to-roots musical movement in Britain that aimed pretty much at the opposite of progressive rock, a truly cultural regression. The irreverence and novelty of Punk Rock was so appealing to record companies that they soon forgot about other forms of music. As a parenthesis it should be noted that this did not impacted Progressive music alone, the break-out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was delayed 3 to 4 years because of this obsession with Punk. Some established Progressive bands where able to pursue their ways for a few more years, but for new bands there simply wasn't space; Progressive music entered its Dark Ages.

Elsewhere this wasn't the case and while in Britain Prog was coming to an halt, by the second half of the 1970s in other places new bands where emerging. In France, for instance, there were groups like Shylock or Pentacle, in Germany there were bands like Novalis, in Portugal there was Tantra. And in the United States Progressive music was only now really taking off, with a multitude of musically exquisite bands coming to be at different places, Happy The Man, Earth & Fire, Mirthandir, to name a few. All these bands have in common the fact that they show up after the initial phase of Progressive music that lived up much from the first contact with new technologies by popular artists. That phase of experimentation was done with and hence Progressive music was by now much more an Art-by-the-Art thing than anything else. The technology itself was evolving with the introduction of new synthesizers; most of these bands didn't use the Mini-Moog, the Hammond and scarcely the Mellotron, which even when it appears was now much smoother. Guitars were used mostly as lead instruments, rarely appearing with rhythmic functions and now with much smoother and defined tones. In terms of recording there is also a clear evolution from just 4 or 5 years earlier; high quality recordings become more of a norm than an exception. These bands, though largely unknown, produced a further step in Progressive music, bridging the early 1970s dawn to the Neo-Prog in the 1980s.

The Album

The first, eponymous and last album by Babylon is to me a quintessential work of this epoch. It certainly owes much to the Progressive precursors, especially Steve Hackett (yes more him than Genesis itself) but at the same time achieving a distinctive sound, even distinct among it's late 1970s peers. This comes first and foremost from a pretentious vocalist, whom doesn't waste a single opportunity for a theatrical performance. To flamboyant vocals add unconventional lyrics, whose literary quality I'll leave for a native English speaker to assess; love it or loath it, this combination of vocals and lyrics certainly adds something else to the music. And a second distinctive element of Babylon's sound is the drumming, well above average for a rock band and much closer to jazz, easily creating variate temporal textures that promote the complexity and the overall richness of the music.

There isn't much point in differentiating between individual tracks, I have pretty much the same to say about each. Complex compositions that travel across many different moments, with swift directional changes that are very well accomplished. The listener is totally engaged, always looking for what may come ahead. There are moments where only one instrument provides a footing melody (mostly the guitar) while all the others improvise around it, in a jazz-over-symph mixture that's really sweet to the hears. But while going at great lengths on improvisation the band always manages to keep focus, either by swiftly evolving to a more solid melody or by introducing a tempo intermission that resets the overall musical direction. And this goes on for the full four tracks of the album, building to a very solid recording that is greatly appealing as an ensemble.

Invariably, bands like Babylon had an early end to their careers. With the pressure from Punk on the one side and the 1980 Economic crisis on the other, record deals were nowhere to find. The creation of MTV in 1982 brought the final blow to those that might still have been standing at the time.

The Veredict

Babylon is a record that manages to be greatly complex but engaging at the same time, which by itself is a major achievement. Adding to this is the overall balance of the recording, its just plain good, there are no week moments to point out, thus producing an LP that is enjoyable in its entirety. I have no doubt in classifying this record as a Masterpiece, not only for its pure quality but also for being a reference of a musical epoch. There's always some discomfort in classifying a record well above the Comunity'a average, but I believe this comes from the unusual complexity of this LP, which requires a good deal of attentive listening before it can be fully enjoyed. Perhaps Babylon just needs a bit more of attention.

Luís de Sousa | 5/5 |

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