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Sebastian Hardie - Blueprint CD (album) cover


Sebastian Hardie

Symphonic Prog

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Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Blueprint' - Sebastian Hardie (7/10)

Sebastian Hardie was among the few classic prog rock bands to come out of Australia. Although I had never heard of them before this comeback, I am led to believe they put out a pair of records back in he heyday of 'prog', both of which having now received the status of an underground gem. The past year has seen many of the classic prog bands- both legendary and obscure- come out with something new, and considering that the last album by this group dropped in 1976, there has been quite some down time for Sebastian Hardie. 'Blueprint' is a matured and tender reflection upon life, and though the band's sound comes across as a little tame, 'Blueprint' is an enjoyable slice of melodic prog that's bound to earn the band some fans in the new millennium.

Sebastian Hardie's music draws from the same set of sound as classic-era Genesis, though their approach is noticeably more melodic. Although Sebastian Hardie's style is a little too based in the lush orchestration of symphonic prog to call them 'AOR', 'Blueprint' does not underrate the importance of melody . The more accessible tracks, 'I Wish' and 'Art of Life' are filled with memorable vocal lines from singer Mario Millo, whose voice feels strong, if not very distinctive. The lyrics here are nostalgic and filled with reflections upon life. Like much of the music on 'Blueprint', the lyrics tend to wash harmlessly over the listener, for better and worse. Sebastian Hardie give a fairly optimistic view of life, at times brushing against the threshold of cheesiness. Although the vocal melodies feel fairly tame and predictable from a 'prog' standpoint, there is passion and sincerity here, and unlike plenty of like-sounding artists who disguise themselves behind a wall of esoteric lyrical nonsense, Sebastian Hardie keep their message straight and to the point.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, Sebastian Hardie's melodies are at their best when they are purely instrumental. Although the songwriting is often built around the singing, the instrumental passages on 'Blueprint' are what really elevate it above mere decency. The instrumentals are rooted in the canon of symphonic prog, complete with lush keyboards and guitar flourishes that remain difficult to dissociate from Yes' Steve Howe. Tracks 'Vuja De' and 'Shame' are excellently composed pieces of music. Although the instrumentation may at times flirt with complexity, the melody is still at the forefront of what Sebastian Hardie are aiming for with their music, but it comes off as much more interesting than the more restrained vocal moments. 'Blueprint' is essentially a split between the excellent symphonic prog instrumentals and decent, laid-back art rock. The two directions Sebastian Hardie take with the album are similar stylistically, but weigh differently in terms of perceived quality and enjoyment. Had Sebastian Hardie put out a full album that rivaled the orchestration of 'Vuja De' or the album's closer, I would have been blown away. As it stands, 'Blueprint' is a very good, but not quite excellent record from the Australian group. Symphonic, or even Neo Prog lovers will find much to love in this, but the album fails to impress me throughout.

Report this review (#732422)
Posted Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars It's been over 35 years since Australia's own SEBASTIAN HARDIE released a studio album. And as you might expect they've created a modern sounding album that is more in the Prog- Related style instead of the Symphonic genre like in their early days. And yes they have retired the mellotron unfortunately. A mixed bag here really in my opinion, but I was impressed with a couple of tracks.

"I Wish" is very uplifting until it settles before 3 1/2 minutes and the vocals come in. The magic suddenly leaves. "Vuja De" kicks into gear before 1 1/2 minutes to an uptempo instrumental. This is really good. "Art Of Life" is a relaxed and reflective vocal track. Not a fan.

"I Remember" doesn't have vocals until before 3 minutes as a hazy mood sets in. I like the lyrics too. Nice guitar before 6 minutes. Good song. "Another Spring" is probably my favourite. I really like the instrumental section 2 1/2 minutes. Some excellent organ and guitar work here. Vocals return 6 minutes in. "Shame" ends it and it's an okay tune.

A good album but nothing more in my world. Great to have them back though.

Report this review (#745326)
Posted Friday, April 27, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars If you're looking for the cutting edge of contemporary prog rock, you won't find it here - but then, if you were looking for the cutting edge, you would never have been a Sebastian Hardie fan in the first place. Apart from the considerably more ragged vocals, there is nothing here that doesn't sound like it was recorded in Sebastian Hardie's mid 70s heyday - Toivo Pilt uses the same keyboards, Mario Millo has the same melodic guitar style, and the same ability to suddenly reel off a searing solo. On the downside, he still also has his sentimental pop side - most to the fore on "Art of Life", an expression of nostalgia for their past glories allied with an attempt at a profound statement on advancing age. (Mike Rudd from Spectrum covered those themes so much more thoughtfully on their recent Breathing Space EPs.) One disappointment is that Millo has reasserted his stranglehold on the compositional credits - I'm one of the rare people who preferred Windchase's Symphinity to the first two Sebastian Hardie albums, largely because Toivo Pilt asserted himself far more as a composer in the renamed band, and I found his music more interesting than Millo's.

So nothing cutting edge, just a well-captured rediscovery of the classic 70s symphonic sound. And why not?

Report this review (#747057)
Posted Monday, April 30, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars From memory, I first heard Sebastian Hardie at Melbourne University in the mid or late 70's with a cover of Tubular Bells. A very impressive four piece perhaps on the softer side of Yes and Genesis.

Their first two releases "Four Moments" and "Windchase" were well received by local prog fans. It has been a 35 year wait for the third release "Blueprint" although guitarist Mario Millo has released several albums (and soundtracks) in the intervening years.

Blueprint follows very much in the same vein as "Four Moments" and "Windchase" and I am certain some of the earlier themes have been revisited.

Toivo Plit's keyboards are close to Tony Banks' style with some nice restrained keyboard solos, Mario Millo's guitar is reminiscent of the softer side of Steve Howe but neither dominants.

Overall, this is a very good collection of tracks. Maybe the lyrics are a bit puerile but this is mainly an instrumental album with very limited singing.

It does leave the listener wondering what may have been had these guys continued through the 80s and 90s. They certainly had the strength in musical ability with Plit and Millo and songwriting to deliver some classics?but now are most likely to become a footnote in prog history

Recommended for 70's prog fans. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#795004)
Posted Thursday, July 26, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Australia is hardly a hot-bed of progressive music talent, so it was a welcome surprise to discover so many years ago that the country I call home produced an exceptionally good symphonic band in the form of Sebastian Hardie (that's a band name, not a dude!). During the mid-Seventies, the group produced two first-rate albums in the grand symphonic prog style (three albums if you count the `third' album `Symphinity' that saw an altered line-up of the band change their name to Windchase). All were highlighted by lengthy instrumental runs from Toivo Pilt's gorgeous sweeping keyboards and Mario Millo's soaring epic guitar solos. Their debut album `Four Moments' was not only a landmark album for Australian progressive music, but for symphonic prog of the era in general, and it was as good as anything coming out from around the rest of the world at that time.

Like many prog bands from back then, changing musical tastes saw the band split up (Mario Millo would still go on to release a quality solo album `Epic III' in 1979 after the group folded), but it was the opportunity to support symphonic legends Yes in Australia in March 2003 that saw the band reform for the occasion, and the members were inspired enough to eventually record some new compositions. So almost thirty years since their initial works, the band returned in 2011 with the perfectly titled `Blueprint' that more or less picks up where their Seventies works left off, with an added touch of melodic classic rock, and the passage of time has not dulled their musical skills in the least!

While opener `I Wish' holds a thoughtful lyric about missed opportunities and regret that taps into the rich heritage of classic Australian rock, much of the piece revolves around mellow foot-tapping instrumental moments by way of a variety of vintage Mellotron, Hammond and Moog sounds and laid-back guitar soloing. The amusingly titled instrumental `Vuja de' jumps back and forth in tempo, all prancing Hammond and up- tempo driving beats with scratchy rollicking Hammond organ one second, jazzy vibes and dreamy electric guitar fire the next. `Art of Life' is a pleasant, laid-back ballad-rocker sung with warmth, and the sedate `I Remember' includes several minutes of ringing honey- dipped guitar themes and vintage keyboard flights in the classic Sebastian Hardie manner around a smooth tune.

With its mix of tricky instrumental twists and quirky boisterous vocal interjections, `Another String' wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Spock's Beard album, and Alex Plavsic's snappy drumming and Peter Plavsic's punchy heavy bass really shine on this one, as too does Millo's lengthy slow-burn bluesy guitar wailing. After leading with some cosy acoustic flavours, brisk album closer `Shame' is revealed to be a lovely little instrumental along the lines of the most romantic passages of bands like Camel and Rousseau, with a finale in the manner of the most victorious Flower Kings moments.

Yes, `Blueprint' does reflect the age of the musicians, and it's hardly cutting edge by any stretch of the imagination, but everything is performed with such relaxed taste, played with a lightness of touch and given a fuzzy warm restrained production. Skilled instrumental runs blend seamlessly with strong melodies and pleasant vocals to bring a fine mix of lightly symphonic prog and the sort of classic rock that Australian artists do so well, and the forty minute vinyl length running time means it's not overlong or jammed with filler material. It invokes memories of those precious earlier Sebastian Hardie albums, yet also stands on its own modern merits just fine. There's not too many acts their age that release new albums and emerge with their dignity intact, but Sebastian Hardie can hold their heads high with a worthy release that doesn't destroy their legacy.

Three and a half stars, rounded up to four stars for this classy effort.

Report this review (#1425078)
Posted Monday, June 8, 2015 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Sebastian Hardie was easily Australia´s prime prog band at the 70´s with two classic albums: Four Season (1975) and Windchase (1976). Although the original band did reunite for some shows during the early 90´s I don´t think anyone really took seriously a new studio album of original songs. Most reunion albums are a waste of time and I was quite surprised when I found that the classic line up was back again and had indeed recorded a full set of new songs. And even more surprised by the fact that the new CD, Blueprint was a very good one!

Blueprint was released early in 2016 in Brazil. Although I had heard it by the time it was released, I was eager to get the beautiful jewel case edition. That´s when I found out that I did not write a review for this album. Sebastian Hardie is an interesting band that has its particular way of delivering a symphonic progressive rock that is not as flashy or as pompous as Yes or ELP, but closer to the more discreet dutch legends Focus (minus the flute and with "real" vocals, if you know what I mean). This is specially true for the final track, the unfortunately short instrumental, Shame. So we have some fine vintage sounding keyboards (Hammond, mellotron, ARP strings) and, with a tight rhythm section, making a exquisite musical background landscape for Mario Millo excellent guitar work (yes, sometimes he seems to be uncanny emulating Jan Akkerman, but never a copycat). Millo was never a terrific singer, and yet his vocals are just perfect for this kind of music.

As for the songs themselves they are all excellent, very much as the classic Sebastian Hardie sound, with a more sophisticated and modern recording, of course. The album was very well produced and mixed. I also enjoyed the jazzy elements that can be found on several parts, like in Another String..., quite different from the rest fo the tunes. The only fault (if you can call it that) I found with Blueprint is its relatively short running time, leaving just a little more than 40 minutes of music. But this is the kind of CD you hear from beginning to end with the same pleasure. And probably, like me, you´ll listen to it again after the last chords fade away, feeling it ended just too soon.

Certainly this is one fo the best comebacks ever.

Rating: something between 4 and 4,5 stars. Highly recommended!

Report this review (#1682799)
Posted Friday, January 20, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars I realized Sebastian Hardie reunited in the 1990s to play at Progfest '95, but then I never expected any brand new material to surface from these guys, but that's what happened in 2012. It's the same guys as before, Mario Miller, brothers Alex and Peter Plavsic, and Toivo Pilt. This album is really a mixed bag, there are some simply incredible passages that's just as good as anything they did on Four Moments, but then the music often switches towards a more mainstream style. During these more mainstream moments I get reminded of what I hear on public radio, especially when Mario Millio starts singing. I feel like this group was doing what too many prog rock bands in the American Midwest were doing in the 1970s: trying to please their artistic ambitions, and throw in some crowd pleasers and radio friendly material, but here's it's Aussie style, although Australia wasn't known for bands doing that "of two minds" approach that Midwestern American bands, like Kansas had done. Not that Sebastian Hardie sounds anything like Kansas, in many ways, Blueprint still sounds like Sebastian Hardie with a more updated sound. There's still Mellotron from Toivo Pilt, actually I believe it's samples this time (I can imagine him frustrated with the tron back in the day as Four Moments is loaded with it, while Windchase has quite a bit less, and Symphinity only had a bit on one song). I like it when they have a more ominous tone, so when they try to sound "bright" is not to my liking too much. Get it, because it does has some worthy material, but it's not a classic.
Report this review (#1684193)
Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2017 | Review Permalink

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