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THE ALCHEMIST

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Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars The art of making gold

"The Alchemist" was Home's third and final album. It was also by far their best and most progressive. While the line up is ostensibly unchanged from their previous offerings, two important changes are made. Firstly, David Skillin, who had co-written one track on the previous album, writes all the lyrics here. Secondly, guest musician Jimmy Anderson is brought in to play a variety of keyboards, including synth and mellotron (or Melotrone as it is referred to on the sleeve).

Skillen and Mick Stubbs came up with the concept after Stubbs had read a book which explored the spiritual side of alchemy. Jointly they wrote with the story which forms the album's concept, the band then setting Skillin's lyrics to music. The tale is set in Cornwall, UK in the early 20th century, revolving around a young boy who is befriended by a old man. As the old man dies, the young boy inherits his supernatural powers, which he subsequently uses to save the town from a mysterious natural disaster. In the process of doing so, he ages rapidly, and is unable to save the town when the disaster returns. For this he is reviled, and killed by a lynch mob from the town. The tale is played out over the 12 constituent parts of the album, which together form a magnificent whole.

While Home's first two albums are highly competent and entertaining, they did not bear any suggestion of the masterpiece of a concept album the band would produce here. The album flows seamlessly from beginning to end as the story unfolds. Wisefield contributes some of his most striking guitar work ever, while Stubbs vocal performance is simply outstanding. It is all but impossible to find reference points for the music here. To call it a blending of NEKTAR, KANSAS, THE MOODY BLUES, and WISHBONE ASH might give a vague indication, but the truth is the album is unique.

The music builds from the early soft scene setting tracks to the first "Disaster", a powerful, menacing, keyboards driven crescendo. This segues into "The sun's revenge" where Wisefield offers some of his hardest guitar playing. "The disaster returns" presents an even greater cacophony of sound, leading to a striking unaccompanied electric guitar chord introducing "The death of the Alchemist". The guitar work at this point is supremely atmospheric, not in terms of a solo, but as a dramatic interlude. The story concludes with a disintegration of the music and peeling bells before a final guitar chord lays the Alchemist to rest.

If that was it, we would be revering one of the finest prog albums of its time. The masterstroke though is a separate coda simply titled "The alchemist". This passionately atmospheric ballad acts as the most effective counterpoint to an album I have come across. The songs stand proud in its own right, but here it is quite majestic.

A truly awesome album which stands as a forgotten gem of prog. Nice sleeve to, with illustrations of the story-line.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#109114)
Posted Saturday, January 27, 2007 | Review Permalink
bristolstc@ya
1 stars This is one of the worst records ever recorded and one of the most overrated. In fact, this is down there with England and Fireballet as THE WORST PROGRESSIVE RECORD EVER. I have excluded some others that I hate, but it is this kind of snooty, pompous, arrogant, directionless, mindless noodling that makes people cringe when they hear the word "prog" and gives my beloved music a bad name. What people see in this album is beyond me. The concept is totally unoriginal, fractured, pointless, and says nothing. The keyboard arrangements show why I for the most part hate synthesizers, and Laurie Wisefield's post Alvin Lee and Steve Howe syndrome cold and emotionless guitar wanking makes this impossible to listen to. I gave this album at least 5 or 6 tries over the years and I don't own it now and never will again. Just how much I hate The Alchemist I don't know if I can even say, but I will tell you one thing- there are few albums I hate more. You would think that Home could have pulled off a concept that was better, but knowing Home's music these guys went from being a great rock and roll/folk rock band with slight progressive leanings into a nightmare of the worst progressive pseudo fusion trash ever. If you have to own an album by these guys then get their self titled second which I love sometimes and really enjoy others. It wouldn't be hard, but it's a lot better than this! So is there anything positive here at all? Really, no, save for the late Mick Stubbs' pleasant voice which can't do a thing to make his hideous concept work and the vocal arrangements are apallingly bad. This is also one of the worst production jobs I've ever encountered on a record. Let me say this- there are two worst productions ever- Shy's (known by that point in the US as Shy England) Misspent Youth which tore the band apart and this, but this would top even that one. The lyrics are a major problem, but it sounds so sadistic that you'd think Home were hoping to drive people to total madness with this horrible album. Are any of Home's records essential? No. I love progressive rock, I love all kinds of music, but I DETEST THIS ALBUM WITH A PASSION. I know this has just been one long slamming put down without much direction to it, so I'll end with saying this is the most pompous, overindulgent, overrated, sickening, and worthless piece of you know what that I have ever had the displeasure of hearing. Enough said!

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#113967)
Posted Thursday, March 01, 2007 | Review Permalink
ClemofNazareth
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars Opinions seem to be split on the worth of this album. On the one hand, it seems to represent the best of Home's three studio releases. On the other, some pan it as lacking in focus, boring, even pompous.

I think it falls somewhere in between, with the pendulum swinging in either direction depending on what one is listening for. 'The Alchemist' is a well-defined concept album that tells the tale of a young lad who assumes the powers of a dying wizard and uses those powers to save his town from some sort of rather vague disaster, apparently suffering from the same fatal affliction as his mentor as a result. Because of his diminished powers he is reviled by those same citizens when he is unable to stave off the second wave of doom, and is murdered by an angry mob. The album closes with a kind of eulogy to the alchemist, although the lyrics don't quite match the album artwork so it's not completely clear to me which wizard is being eulogized. That's the concept part. As a tale the story line is a bit simplistic, so I can see where some would consider the musical accompaniment to be a bit pretentious in comparison.

Then again this was released in 1973, so some accommodation must be made for the time period, and the level of the story's complexity probably falls somewhere between Bowie's 'Ziggy Stardust' and 'Thick as a Brick' (both of which were released around the same time), and well short of 'Dark Side of the Moon' or even say, Jeff Wayne's 'War of the Worlds'.

But musically this definitely represents a peak for Home, particularly the guitar work of Laurie Wisefield. His playing is much more pronounced and complex than on the previous two albums, and is very close to what he would do for Wishbone Ash on 'Where's the Rub' a year later. But his playing is a bit one-dimensional compared to his later Ash work, where he would add the banjo and quite a bit of 12-string to his arsenal. Guest musician Jimmy Anderson adds quite a bit of useful filler with his keyboards, particularly the mellotron sections that help Home to shed a bit of their folksy/country reputation. Some of the various synth sound effects do seem a bit cheesy today, particularly the 'disaster' and crowd noises, but overall the music is more expansive than their debut and more animated than their rather staid sophomore release.

I would tend to lump this album historically and musically with Ash's 'Argus', Allman Brother's 'Eat a Peach', Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Pronounced.' and even ZZ Top's 'Tres Hombres', all released around the same time as this one. Of those only 'Argus' can also make the claim of being a concept album, although musically it far outshines Alchemist.

So this is a decent album, although not as deserving of the 'lost classic' label that some would suggest. Key tracks include the title song for its emotive instrumental work; the brief but keyboard-intense "Disaster"; and "The Sun's Revenge" for its strong guitar riffs. So three stars are where this gets placed, along with a modest recommendation for those who enjoy guitar- dominated early seventies tunes, as well as those who get a kick out of the many concept albums that found their way onto vinyl in the early seventies. If either of these types of albums appeal to you then you'll probably enjoy this one, but otherwise it will probably end up at the bottom of your playlist.

peace

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Send comments to ClemofNazareth (BETA) | Report this review (#131231)
Posted Wednesday, August 01, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Undoubtedly (for me) (and after more than several tens listens) masterpiece of prog. This album have all I want from prog music - interesting melodies and arrangements (ye, there is big work for my brain and ears:) ), good vocal. But there is an unexpected thing - after some listens I've suddenly understood I want to listen and listen also most disharmonic tracks on the album - Disaster ans Devastation :) And also I can NOT remeber any prog album with such hypnotize riffs, simple and effective, hard- rockish, repeated and repeated and... mmm... very tasteful. Highlight! The Death... is very dramatic song and perfectly feet (in contrast) with final song. The last one is simple STRONG melodic song. I happy my collection is enriched with this stuff. Generally there are no weak tracks here. Undoubtedly :D

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Send comments to raleks (BETA) | Report this review (#163798)
Posted Thursday, March 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
stefro
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars After two disappointing studio efforts, 1973 saw the talented British quartet Home take up a much more overtly-progressive mantle and produce this finely-crafted concept album known as 'The Alchemist'. It would prove to be the group's final release, but it would also prove to be a true underground cult classic and a much-sought after album that would enable the name of Home to live on through the ages. Thanks to the excellent reissue label Esoteric Recordings, Home's defining album is finally released in all it's remastered glory for fans old and new.

Featuring Mick Stubbs(guitar, vocals), Cliff Williams(bass), Mick Cook(drums) and future Wishbone Ash member Laurie Wisefield(guitar), Home's 'The Alchemist' was a critically-acclaimed yet commercially-ignored album, the kind of album that could only have been made in the heady days of the late sixties and early-seventies when experimentation and creativity were, unbelievably, the recording industry watchword's. Home's label, CBS Records, had given the foursome all the time and space they needed to create their magnus opus but yet somehow neglected to advertise the album properly, leading to poor sales despite the group's constant live performances up-and-down the country and the small-but-loyal following these shows cultivated.

However, while the group might not have made any money out of their finest album, the did make a name for themselves amongst prog fans, with 'The Alchemist' now regarded as a stand-out concept piece thirty-plus years down the line. Stylistically, the album does, at times, invoke the feel of 'Trespass'-era Genesis or 'The Yes Album'-era Yes, but with a rich palette of instrumentation that is all their own, including acoustic-and-electric guitars, mellotrons, viola's, flutes and horns as well as Mick Stubbs soul-flecked vocals. As the songs flit from slow-and-serene folk to raucous, symphonic prog workouts, the carefuly-constructed story - that of a small boy befriending an old wizard in a small Cornish village - starts to slowly unfold.

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Send comments to stefro (BETA) | Report this review (#280729)
Posted Thursday, May 06, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Great prog album. A fine addition to me collection Just heard it few times in a row and it keep grow pn me. The new remastered 2010 album sounds terrific. This is really a concept album. There is a plot and the music strongly supports it. The lyrics are nice, the singing is great and the music is brilliant. The albu, starts slowly and it progress literally from song to song. The finale - the death of the alchemist is oustanding. The bonuses are ok, not on the same level as the whole album. I am new to Home and I really enjot this brilliant album Really a great addition to any prog collection.

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Send comments to progshachar (BETA) | Report this review (#301116)
Posted Thursday, September 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars HOME "The Alchemist". Is an album that presents a kind of music ( for the most purist listeners ) which be in the half-way between the psychedelic movement "last steps" (in the late 60's) and the progressive rock "explosion" in the subsequent period ( early 70's) . They sound to me ( with a certain dose of exaggeration ) like Steve Howe or Jimmy Page came in studio with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for a session. Great part of the disk gave me this exactly impression, the vocals are very beauty (with use of voices counterpoints and choirs) and the musical "atmosphere" is almost the same to CSNY! The main difference is in the work developed by Laurie Wisefield in the guitars...remembering at the same time the " crackling " Page's style and the "western" Howe's "touch". The best (and more progressive) tracks are : track 5 "The disaster" , track 9 "Rejoicing" and track 10 "The disaster returns (Devastation)".... but, in general way all of tracks are good . My rate is 4 stars !!!

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Send comments to maryes (BETA) | Report this review (#917816)
Posted Friday, February 22, 2013 | Review Permalink

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