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4 stars Really, one of the underrated American prog albums out there. How unimaginative mediocrities like Babylon and Easter Island can net all the rave reviews while jewels like this can languish in utter obscurity I'll never understand.

A blend of the usual Yes and Genesis influences, but this time with Canterbury-style influences gleaned from Caravan and Soft Machine. A dense yet sound with a variety of keyboard sounds plus woodwinds and tuned percussion make this a constant adventure to listen to. Vocals by Jeff McMullen are clear-toned yet expressive. The CD contains two bonus tracks from a later line-up, with a stronger jazzy influence and a little lighter on the sympho stuff.

In all, an excellent release still waiting to be rediscovered. Recommended.

Report this review (#46486)
Posted Monday, September 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Maelstrom's eponymous effort is one of those very hidden gems of USA's prog that generate unexpected pleasure once they are discovered by the meticulous collector: originally released in 1973, the Malestrom album is an impressive catalogue of appealing songs that are framed in a combination of British proto-prog (Gracious, Procolo Harum) and the melodic side of Caravan, with added touches of mellotron layers and counterpoints that seem to hint to Genesis and Gentle Giant to a certain degree. The psychedelic R'n'B elements are related to Vanilla Fudge and Traffic. The vocal deliveries are competent but are not the band's forte: that should be the instrumental input, enriched by the musicians' disposition to bring in lots of diverse items (two keyboards, flute, saxes, tuned percussion) besides the usual guitar/bass/drums. Even though, the ensemble's sound is never charged: the dynamic rhythm section and the calculated interactions keep it flowing through teh controlled complexity of the basic compositions. As outdated as the album is, the melodic ideas remain fresh for everyone who cares to listen closely. 'Ceres' kicks off the album on a very lyrical fashion seasoned with jazzy undertones: a succession of various section begins before arriving at minute 2, displaying a real musical treat that includes some slight dissonant progressions. The Canterbury influence is more easy to notice in the impressive instrumental 'In Memory', a hell of a piece that wouldn't have been out of place in an Egg or early Soft Machine album: the GG-friendly adornments and the bluesy edge add extra spiece to the track. 'The Balloonist' sets a sort of confluence between both previous tracks' moods, this time giving the lead guitar more room for expansion. 'Alien' slows down the pace of things in order to create a more relaxed ambience, close to the standards of Procol Harum and Gracious. 'Chronicles' follows a similar path during its first half; for the second half, there is a shift toward a jazzy interlude that eventually leads to an effective climax. 'Law and Crime' is the least complex track in the album, setting a Traffic-oriented mood in a catchy R'n'B workframe. With 'Nature Abounds' and 'Below the Line', the band resumes its progressive ambitions in full swing. The former is based on a melancholic atmosphere based on a moving motif; the latter alternates pastoral nuances and dense ambiences, always preserving a well-defined basis that develops with fluency through its increasing intensity. The Cd edition contains 2 bonus tracks, performed by a very modified line-up in a rock festival that took place in 1980. The material is totally instrumental, and more decidedly focused on the symphonic side of prog: Camel and ELP sound like the most recurrent influences in 'Genesis to Geneva' and 'Opus One', although the jazz factor is still a powerful component in tne band's music at the time. Maelstrom is a very pleasant surprise for the collector - original 70s prog rock from the USA.

Report this review (#173259)
Posted Sunday, June 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars An overlookied US band, formed in early-70's and led by guitarist/keyboardist/sax player Robert Williams aka Roberts Owen (R.I.P.).The original line-up featured also multi-instrumentalist James Larner, keyboardist Mark Knox, drummer Jim Miller, bassist Paul Klotzbier and Jeff McMullen on lead vocals/guitars.Maelstrom had a private press LP out in Canada, recorded in 1973 at Fort Walton Beach in Florida and very rare nowadays, originally released under the title ''On the gulf''.

Why this band is so overlooked remains a huge mystery to me, as Maelstrom had one of the most eclectic and intricate sounds back in the days.Every track shows a different amount of influences and musical approaches, always played under a very complicated yet well-structured musicianship, offering a huge and dramatic sound like a cross between ETHOS, CATHEDRAL and YEZDA URFA.There are strong amounts of melodies and acoustic passages in the vein of GENESIS, huge sax-based more improvised sections in the vein of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and SOFT MACHINE, smooth electric parts with delicate vocal harmonies as tribute to CARAVAN, complex interplays as GENTLE GIANT first ever presented and YES-like adventurous symphonic orchestrations with a superb atmosphere.Heavy loads of Mellotron and organ, jazzy-flavored sax atmospheres, dramatic orchestrations with good electric parts, instrumental battles and endless changing climates can be detected constantly, leaving the most demanding proghead satisfied.

In 1997 Black Moon Records re-issued the album in CD format under the title ''Maelstrom'' and this work contains a couple of extra tracks recorded live by Maelstrom in 1980 at the ''Three Rivers Festival'' in Indiana with only Owen and Klotzbier from the original line-up along with keyboardist Kent Overholser and Rollin Wood on drums.''Opus one'' has a strong E.L.P. vibe with organs leading the way along with some dramatic synth work in a classic Symphonic Rock track, while the longer ''Genesis to geneva'' is a bit more of a loose instrumental composition again in a Symphonic Rock path but surrounded with some more Avant-Garde/Fusion atmospheres, where synths, organ and electric guitars are on the forefront.

A fantastic discovery for all fans of adventurous Classic Prog.Interesting combination of Symphonic Rock, Cantebury Prog and Jazz-Rock, where so much is going on.Definitely among the finest releases of the time in the USA/Canada and highly recommended.

Report this review (#758573)
Posted Friday, May 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars MAELSTROM were an American band who released a small pressing of this album back in 1973. It was called "On The Gulf" but for some reason when this was re-issued by Black Moon Productions they changed the album's title to "Maelstrom". Anyway this is truly an album that sits right at 3.5 stars for me. Even Andy at Planet Mellotron rates it at 3.5 stars. Lots to like and it certainly can get adventerous but there's also this late sixties vibe with the vocals and sound. An interesting album regardless, but this is hit and miss for me. Lots of mellotron as well on all but one track.

"Ceres" is very sixties sounding, especially the vocal style. Each time the sound gets fuller the organ floats in with power. "In Memory" is uptempo with crazy sax and even though it settles down before 1 1/2 minutes the insane sax continues. Some dissonant sax late as well. Excellent track. "The Balloonist" settles in before a minute and I like the guitar and flute that follows. Sax returns and we get vocals before 3 minutes. Two very good songs in a row.

"Alien" opens with piano as reserved vocals join in and it gets fuller. Vocals follow then we get a calm with piano after 2 minutes. The guitar then solos tastefully. An okay tune. "Chronicles" is another one i'm not too fond of. The focus is on the vocals until around 2 minutes in. Vocals are back a minute later as well as some promininat sax. "Law And Crime" is brighter with vocals. Floating organ and more follow. "Nature Abounds" ends the original album with a ballad-like tune. Yikes ! No i'm okay I was just startled by this. The sax and drums late are good.

Like Andy says there is a MOODY BLUES vibe happenig here and to a less extent ELP. The bio here mentions IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY which is a good refernece as far as the vocals go. So if your into Proto-Prog and that early sound chances are you'll love this one.

Report this review (#774330)
Posted Tuesday, June 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
3 stars This American band were formed in the early Seventies, and were led by guitarist/keyboardist/sax player Robert Williams, while the rest of the line-up was multi- instrumentalist James Larner, keyboardist Mark Knox, drummer Jim Miller, bassist Paul Klotzbier and Jeff McMullen on lead vocals/guitars. This album is a reissue of their debut, which came out in 1973 with the title 'On The Gulf', along with two additional songs recorded in concert in 1980 (although the line-up had changed dramatically by then). If this album had come out just a few years earlier I am sure that these guys would be household names by now, but the tide was already shifting by 1973 and this album would have be seen to be a little dated even then.

This is something that really belongs at the end of the Sixties, with psychedelia having a huge impact on the overall sound. The use of saxophone combined with the guitar does give the music a somewhat fusion sound but for the most part doesn't really belong in that genre (the problem with trying to pigeonhole music is that music isn't a pigeon, so often doesn't fit where people think it might ? cue long discussion on what is progressive music anyway). But, whatever genre it may or may not belong to, the important question is it any good? Well, it is definitely dated not only musically but also in the arrangements and production, but is something that I really enjoyed playing. The guys obviously spent a lot of time together and this comes off with the interaction, and the use of different ideas such as vibraphone on "Law and Crime" which gives the song a very different feel with the (dated) drums driving it along while Jeff provides good strong vocals.

It is an effective album, definitely belonging to a bygone era, but is still something that while not essential is certainly worth hearing.

Report this review (#1015558)
Posted Saturday, August 10, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars 70's prog fans should enjoy the self-titled album by Maelstrom, a five piece band from the United States, inititally active in the early 70's, recording this debut self-titled album (initially titled `On the Gulf' on it's original release, I'm not sure what has led to the later change of title) and releasing it in 1973. It offers a mix of light and jazzy passages, not unlike Tonton Macoute, some 60's R&B flavours, the breezy atmospheres of Caravan and even early Soft Machine, while other parts might remind of the first Message album, as in adventurous 70's rock with proggy elements and extended jams, or prog-inflected jazz/fusion bands such as If and Skin Alley. Smooth group harmonies with easy-listening melodies, tasteful playing and subtle production all come together to make `Maelstrom' a success.

One thing you'll pick up pretty quickly is how...polite the vocals are. There's no doubt they are a little dated, but opener `Ceres' gets the album off to a fine start. Jeff McMullin and Robert Owen singing lovely melodies in unison, bristling organ, slinky drumming that really sneaks up on you, dreamy electric guitar runs, darting flute and sinister Mellotron attacks. `In Memory' is a fierce instrumental cocktail of spiralling dirty Soft Machine-like saxophone, snarling spacerock electric guitars, a touch of manic organ ala the first Beggars Opera album, snapping drumwork, harmonica and even loopy vibraphone.

Uptempo `The Ballonist' has a killer frantic instrumental run for an opening, more jazzy organ like Beggars Opera or Skin Alley racing as if in the final metres of a marathon. Washes of Mellotron, quick time changes and emotional crashing guitars, uplifting vibes all around on this one, and a very pleasing chorus in the second half that will have singing "You're off, you're flying, your stringed balloon is climbing..." popping into your head all the time! By comparison, `Chronicles' is somber and serious, with a frantic and out of control atmosphere in the second half with desperate vocals, oppressive 'Tron and out of control sax. Closer `Below The Line' is a very stirring vocal piece loaded with the most imperial and regal of scratchy Mellotron.

A few of the shorter tracks have a similar story-telling/songwriter vibe to the Strawbs, and lead vocalist Jeff McMullen even sounds a little like Dave Cousins from that band in some sections here, very similar qualities in his voice. Then again, it could also be also the wisps of Mellotron over much of the album that helps reinforce that similarity! `Alien' is a grand and stirring ballad with some brief gothic classical touches (nice melodic bass in the background too), yet it just stops dead right after one of the verses. `Law and Order' actually could have been a Strawbs outtake, a nice catchy and classy rocker with a very warm and memorable chorus. However, `Nature Abounds' really pushes the friendship a little, with some overly sweet near falsetto vocals that are really quite grating, and the whole thing is a little too pretty for it's own good.

An absolute highlight are two bonus live tracks from 1980 with a few changes to the original band lineup. Now fully instrumental, very much keyboard driven by incredible new member D. Kent Overholser, the spacey `Opus One' is not unlike parts of Eloy, or Triumvirat with it's marching drums full of pomp and stomp, Pulsar-sounding sinister choir Mellotron and Genesis-like organ, it's a shame the piece ends very suddenly. The more dangerous and symphonic sounding `Genesis to Geneva' features a nicely deranged keyboard meltdown throughout, especially the loopy finale! I really wish we got to hear more of what this version of the band had to offer, it's really beautiful stuff.

Reissued on both CD and vinyl by Black Widow records, the album is housed in a very dark and murky sleeve, not representative at all of the music found within! It's the contents that matter the most, though, and while never to be considered an essential purchase, `Maelstrom' is very charming and a real grower, and would be a welcome addition to the collection of fans of proggy jazzy 70's rock similar to the above mentioned artists.

Three and a half stars.

Report this review (#1073953)
Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Another album filed under Jazz Fusion that could be under Canterbury Scene.

Since everyone is mentioning other bands to describe what these Americans sounds like I'll add my own two cents. These guys kind of sound like Fruupp and Egg. (Or in less obtuse phrasing, jazzy Gentle Giant)

The reference to Fruupp is because the vocalist on Maelstrom sounds exactly like the singer for them. The reference to Egg is because the music is in that vein of sorta jazzy, sorta not kinda peculiar.

The tracks are all relatively short and flow together pretty well. The vocals are nice and soft, saxophone and others are good. Not a masterpiece, some of the vocal parts I'm not amazed by and I wish the songs were longer. A pretty good album still, definitely a must listen for fans of the Canterbury Scene.

Report this review (#2569649)
Posted Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Review Permalink

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