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

PAWN HEARTS

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.43 | 2466 ratings

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Axel Dyberg
5 stars Wow... If there is only one album that I can give a 5 star rating, it is this one. Van der Graaf Generator had a low budget, yet created something so fresh that it sounds new even today. With Lemmings, Man-Erg and the epic masterpiece A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, Van der Graaf Generator created the best triology of songs that they ever could.

This absolute prog essential masterpiece starts out with ''Lemmings'', a soft piece (Compared to the other two) that starts out with acoustic guitar playing, flutes and wind noises. Then Peter Hammill's vocals kick in, with his now well known brilliant lyrics. And then that sound that defined Van der Graaf Generator kicks in; the organ and Hammill's vocals playing together brilliantly. After this section David Jacksons saxophone kicks in, with Guy Evans absolutely great drumming and vocals working with it. The song proceeds with several sections, with the organ always being heard in the background, with Hugh Banton giving us the incredible organ lines he is now so well known off. Some softer melodies arise and eventually turns into nothing but wind and acoustic guitar playing. Then Hammill's crazy vocals entertain us once again, with Jackson joining on saxophone, improvising around high notes which makes for perfection. Then you hear a pic being dragged across guitar strings. What now? Chaotic organ and saxophone playing together, with Hammill's vocals soon joining in. It stops for a second or two, leaving only vocals, but soon comes in again to shake our minds. The drumming changes pace, again absolutely awesome drumming by Guy Evans, and now mad piano joins. And some sections from the beginning of the song is played again. The song goes back to the first verses with new vocals of course. The organ is giving our speakers a hard time being loud and destructive, however not even Hugh Banton's organ can overpower Hammill's loud, distinct vocals. The song cools down, and the organ becomes more quiet, till there is only the organ and drums. This goes on until the song eventually fades out, or does it? No. Some organ and ride cymbals are left for us to enjoy. It ends with a floor tom being hit hard by Guy Evans, and leaves place for an even better song;

''Man-Erg'' starts out with the most beautiful piano intro any progressive rock song has ever had, and Peter Hammill's stunning vocals join along, to make for an almost impossible-to-explain first verse. The chorus goes the same, being so beautiful and fitting, that this song is perhaps the best song on any Van der Graaf Generator album. The lyrics are absolutely brilliant, perhaps Peter's best. On the second verse, we can clearly hear Hugh Banton's organ following up with the vocals, piano and drums. The verses and choruses end, leaving some space for David's saxophone playing. It fades out and what comes next? Chaos. A loud piercing saxophone note follows, then comes absolutely mad, destructive, chaotic organ and saxophone with heavy drumming by Guy Evans. Hugh Banton improvises like crazy on the organ, while Jackson keeps it going on the sax. Peter Hammill soon screams out the vocals so loud that you'll probably have to turn down the volume. The crazy ''verse'' stops, and leaves place for one of the fastest drum fills you'll ever hear in your life. The crazy verse starts again, this time with Hugh Banton playing different chords. Gradually (Very slowly) the verse slowls down, and fades out with fast drumming by Guy Evans. This goes into a new section, with beautiful vocals by Peter. And really calm, soothing organ by Hugh. I get goosebumps every time I hear the distorted organ playing with Peter's vocals. Very nice section, eventually evolves into a great saxophone intermission, where Jackson makes very clever use of high pitched and low picthed notes, and make them collaborate very good. The organ is playing well in the background, and then that beautiful, emotional first verse comes in again. The awesome piano joins too, and the mood is better than ever. Then comes what I think is Hammill's most brilliant vocal line: ''I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these: Dictators, saviours, refugees. In war and peace.'' Those lines are repeated once again, the vocals being even heavier. The saxophone and organ work together again, with the same great characteristic drumming from Guy Evans heard in the background. The ''vrazy verse'' kicks in again, with the same chaos from the last one. The song ends on the loudest chord in the song, almost abruptly. Absolutely marvelous song.

The song that follows is Van der Graaf Generator's most complex song, ranging 23 minutes in length, and features incredible improvisation. This is, if I may, Van der Graaf Generator's best song... ever...

The opening D minor chord played by Hammill on his electric stage piano sends shivers down my spine every time I even think of it. The soft, mellow ride cymbals follow. The vocals kick in soon, being the most dynamic vocals ever by Hammill. The saxophone joins as well. You have now listened to the first of twenty three minutes of ''A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers''. A milestone in progressive music. This intro is soon followed by outstanding tom-playing by Guy Evans, performing at his best. And now Hugh Banton's best organ playing ever follows. The second verse makes me shiver even more every time. ''I prophecy disaster, and then I count the cost. I shine, but shining, dying. I know that I am almost... lost''. With all the instruments playing together, that verse is by many seen as Peter's most brilliant lyrics. I don't disagree. This verse is followed by another one, with the organ changing from creepy to chaotic. So does Hammill's vocals. The effects on the vocals are great, and gets the song in the right mood. A chaotic bridge follows with the saxophone playing with the organ. It slowly fades out with Banton's organ playing. Crazy chords on the organ make way for an awesome section; the section where David Jackson does the fog-horn noises with his saxophone. The fog/wind like effects in the background created by the organ collaborating with the saxophone makes this a brilliant as it can get. Guy Evans mimics a motor with his drum kit, and soon the ''normal'' organ kicks in again. Very quiet this time. Slowly gaining volume, the song kicks into a new section. Different organ chords are played, rising in key and the sound rising in clearity. Eventually the verse comes in again, with the stage piano and vocals collaborating in this brilliant section called ''Eye-Witness''. As Hammill screams the word ''Scream'' the effects on his voice are so brilliant, I just can't get more amazed every time. They were really ahead of their time, and this song is a lightyear beyond what many musicians will ever be today. As the ''Scream'' fades out, the chaotic section comes in again, with the sax hitting relatively low notes. Hugh Banton gets crazy with the organ again, and so does Jackson on the saxophone. Then comes another brilliant section, completely different from the other ones. Again, Hammill's vocals really deliver to the song's mood. Finally comes the sound that will lead throughout the rest of the song; distorted organs. Hugh Banton changes from clean to distortion brilliantly, and thus, the song's mood rises. It ends abruptly, but another section comes in, with the organ again dominating the sound. Jackson also does a great job. Vocals soon come in, and the drumming is superb. This goes on for a bit longer, eventually turing into an instrumental section. Now very quiet vocals come in. They go ''Would you cry if I died...?'' and a brand new section grace our ears, less chaotic than the others, but this is soon changed. Vocals are being screamed, and the organ is more distorted than before. Guy Evans almost emotional drumming dashes in the background. Eventually Hugh goes mad on the organ, and the most chaotic section yet arises. Every instrument plays strange chords and the drumming is loud. Hugh goes crazy like never before, with very complicated organ lines. In the middle of all chaos, Peter comes in with his great vocals and grandiose piano, and deliver the final words ''Over the brink I fall!'' before the chaos is broken, followed by ''normal'' organ playing. Hugh is really underrated. The vocals are changed a lot, and so is the song overall. No longer semi-creepy, sad and chaotic. Guy Evans changes the drumming a lot, and no verse here gets reptitive at all. It starts again, now with some more of that piano played by Peter, while he sings his part. The vocals are really good here, and Peter follows the instruments with his vocals almost perfectly. The piano goes down two chords and the song goes chaotic again. A heavy organ chord swifts over us, fading out and then in again, and a very chaotic section follows, with Peter's vocals being very effected. The organ is crazy again, and so is the sax and drumming. A complete change of pace is made from the last section, and it's a real ''wake-up'' call. Peter screams out the vocals more than before and David Jackson goes absolutely mad, and Hugh Banton does too. Absolute chaos is created between Hugh and David, and Guy's fast drumming doesn't make this less chaotic. Neither does Hammill's crazy vocals. Yet they all somehow stay in key. The organ starts playing scary notes, and again, nothing but chaos is at hand. It all ends encredibly abruptly to leave place for some of the most beuatiful piano lines Peter ever wrote. Such a strange change of music and pace, yet so good. Peter sings his heart out in the last section of the song, which is beautiful. The piano chords sound amazingly fresh. It doesn't take long for Hugh to join with the organ. The lyrics are absolutely brilliant here, and the song leaves place for the last three legendary lines; ''All things are a part! All things are apart! All things are a part!'', and the section goes out into improvising, with the organ getting distorted again. It get's a bit crazy here and there, and the chaos from previous sections is not completely forgotten here either. Guy Evans gets crazy on the cymbals, and a choir like singing is heard, leaving the last dashing piano chords that end this very masterpiece a real ending. What a song.

Thank you for reading this review.

Axel Dyberg | 5/5 |

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