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THE NICE

The Nice

Symphonic Prog


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levywalter@ao
3 stars This album is a worthwhile peek into what Keith Emerson was up to in 1969, just before forming ELP. There were 2 later releases by the Nice, both released after ELP was formed. Several studio pieces on this album (Hang on to a Dream, She Belongs to Me, Hang on to a Dream) were later available elsewhere as better live recordings. Azrael Revisited is better than the original, which featured Davy O'List on guitar. By this time, he was gone and the Nice was a trio. And a much better band. Rondo (an un-credited re-working of Dave Brubeck's classic "Blue Rondo a la Turk") was recorded live and this may be the best available recording of it. ELP continued to play this number in concert for years. As is typical with the Nice's music, the vocals are WEAK.

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#5136)
Posted Thursday, January 15, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars The US version came out with a different cover and not any better than this one. The contents on the disc however was just the same on both side of the Atlantic and unremarkable but at least it did not contain any reworking of classic music that I dread so much.

The opening track is a revisting of the theme of one of their non-album single (that you can easily find as a bonus track when buying a recent remastered copy of the debut album) and the very psychic touches are still there , but it is easy to compare how much the band had evolved by this time.The Hardin cover Hang On To A Dream definitely put a lid on my expectations of this band as the vocal departement was so very average (to the point of adding a children's choir) and this explains why so much of their later music was instrumental. Diary stiil has a few traces of psychadelia and the last track of the first side is a lenghty work out withimprovisations limited to Emerson's solo KB .

The second side has two lenghty tracks , yet another version of Blue Rondo (but not quite as good as the original version) but still holds some interest mainly on the bass works and a Dylan cover She Belongs To Me which leave no real traces in your mind as the needle lifts off the disc. For a twelve min track , this tells that there is a problem.

For confirmed Emerson fans!

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#5137)
Posted Tuesday, February 03, 2004 | Review Permalink
richardh
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Thankfully the first thing to report here is that the prodcution quality is way better than 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis'.As a 3 peice band The Nice were now making strides in developing their 'sound'. 'For Example' is my favourite track as they take a theme through different musical incarnations from jazz to Hendrix power trio via Gregorian chanting.Unique and very clever and extremely well played.In particular 'Blinky' Davison is on fine form on the kit.There's also the brilliant adaption of Bob Dillon's 'She Belongs To Me' featuring masterfull keyboard work from Keith Emerson.The only thing that stops me giving this a 5 star rating is the lack lustre live version of 'Rondo' which is a 'filler' if ever there was one.

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Send comments to richardh (BETA) | Report this review (#5139)
Posted Sunday, May 09, 2004 | Review Permalink
lor68
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Well it's strange that Emerson & C. chose this title for this work!! After all it wasn't their debut album, but perhaps it was due to the increasing successful feedback (in front of their previous interesting albums) of some music critics and the audience as well, which recognized the quality features within the contamination of styles regarding their first two issues (apart from their ingenuousness).however this "The Nice" is less ingenuous than "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" and probably closer to their debut album, sometimes even more immediate, but it's clear that often also a super group makes itself more visible and above all appreciable when They have been able, by promoting their all their works, to perform some important gigs at least. it's the situation of this ensemble from the UK, the real precursors of the progressive rock in the form We still know and that's quite important!! At the end I have to repeat the same evaluation as in their previous albums, even though also the present issue is better than their most famous "Ars Longa Vita Brevis": a "3 stars" rating once again.

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Send comments to lor68 (BETA) | Report this review (#46409)
Posted Monday, September 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Prog Explorers must have this legendary album!

For those who really want to explore prog music, I advise you to enjoy this CD and try to understand thae subtleties of the music and how they later influenced the further advancement of prog music. The music might not really favor your ears for two reasons: sonic quality and (probably) excessive use and improvisations of keyboards by the maestro: Keith Emerson. Remember, the Nice was the embryo of what later became ELP (Emerson Lake and Plamer) and Refugee (which comprised of Lee Jackson, Brian Davidson and Patrick Moraz who later joined Yes). So, the band itself is a legendary in the history of prog rock.

The music features all elements of classical music, improvisations as well as song-oriented music. "Rondo" is a good example of how the band blended classical music and long improvisations (which may cause you to get bored). Oh yeah, if you are already familiar with early albums of ELP, you would definitely like this song because all keyboards sounds are completely ELPish. Through this track Keith Emerson demonstrates his virtuosity in playing the keyboards with some complex notes throughout musical segments. Unfortunately, this does not seem so attractive for me because the rhythm section which comprises drums and bass are so boring - repeated chords and notes all the time while Keith delivers his keyboard work.

"Hang On To A Dream" is a good eaxmple of song-oriented composition. It has nice and catchy piano / keyboard works on top of strong melody sung by Lee Jackson. I personally love the voice quality of Lee Jackson. I think, his voice is so unique that I cannot find any other vocalist can sing like the way he does. Try Refugee, you will fully understand what I mean. But in this "Hang On To A Dream" he also sings excellently.

Overall, this is a good album which explores all components of classical music, improvisations and song-orientated compositions. This is a must for those of you who really want to explore prog music from its roots. You would understand how classical music influnced prog. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

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Send comments to Gatot (BETA) | Report this review (#126777)
Posted Monday, June 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Hanging on to a dream. by a thread

This was in fact the third album by The Nice, and their final studio recording. Even then, only the first side was actually recorded in the studio, the second side containing a pair of lengthy live tracks. The band decided this time to produce themselves, a brave decision which, perhaps surprisingly, was to prove to be a correct one.

From a song writing point of view, it seems the band were experiencing significant writers block, the tracks here being a selection of reworkings and covers. As the title of the opening Azrael revisited, implies, it is a re-recording of Azrael, previously a non-album B side of their first single. Hang on to a dream is undoubtedly the most beautiful song the band ever recorded. Originally composed by Tim Hardin, the vocal delivery is notably far more delicate than usual, the song as a whole being a sheer delight.

Even what appears to be the one of only a pair of new band compositions on the album Diary of an empty day turns out to use a piece by Lalo for its music to accompany Lee Jackson's lyrics. For example starts out about as close as the Nice got in the studio to what became Emerson Lake and Palmer, largely due to the distinctive organ playing of Keith Emerson. The track is certainly progressive in structure, wandering off in a number of directions including a jazz piano passage and a burst of the Beatles Norwegian Wood. Overall it comes across as unfocussed and poorly arranged.

The second side of the album has a lengthy re-working of Rondo, which originally appeared on the first album, and a cover of Bob Dylan's She belongs to me (from his Self portrait album) both recorded live in New York. The rendition of Rondo does not really add anything to the studio version, while the lengthy interpretation of Dylan's She belongs to me may not go down too well with Dylan fans, but visitor to these parts should be fine with it. In some ways, it is like Yes's version of Simon and Garfunkel's America, the original song being used as a basis for some extended improvisation around its theme. The track gives the best indication of the way the band would go on their following fully live release Five bridges.

In all, this is the most accomplished of the Nice's first three albums. Despite the rather patchwork nature of the album in terms of part live/part studio and the lack of genuinely new material, it makes for an enjoyable listen. At the end of the day, that is all that really matters.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#158497)
Posted Sunday, January 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
ExittheLemming
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars As Nice As Mother Makes It

After two very robust but patchy albums the Nice adopted a slightly different approach to their third by exploiting a half live/half studio hybrid. They felt that this (on the advice of their new manager Tony Stratton-Smith) would showcase the 'best of both worlds' as the studio precedents were not felt to do justice to their live performances.

'Azrael Revisited' - This was one of the first songs that Emerson and Jackson collaborated on and interestingly, their exists an early version with Davy O'List playing the infectious riff on guitar which is well worth tracking down. This memorable two bar phrase is in 5/4 time but such is it's ingenuity you really don't notice the odd meter at all. Although the riff is shorn of some of its visceral power without the guitar, Keith's detuned honky tonk piano sound gives it a suitably haunted and 'aged' feel which fits the atmosphere on this much longer version perfectly. Lee Jackson is in fine irreverent form on an unusual verse melody which he delivers with a cackling and leering gusto. Emerson quotes quite liberally from Rachmaninov's prelude in C# minor on this track and it is worth pointing out that the composer wrote this piano piece after reading one of Edgar Allan Poe's stories about an unfortunate soul who is buried alive. (Truly a bedtime story suitable for insomniacs) The backing vocals become increasingly anguished and ragged as the song nears its conclusion after an extended and quite brilliant piano solo from Keith driven along by some Latin percussion from Brian Davison, before ending with a reverberant funeral motif on piano cut unnervingly short by a loud snare crack from the drummer (the banging down of the coffin lid?).

'Hang On To a Dream' - Tim Hardin's brief and beautiful song about a love lost is expanded considerably by the Nice with the addition of a choir and a jazzy piano interlude in the middle. This is a very stately and touching waltz that features one of Jackson's most heartfelt and sincere vocals. Lee's singing abilities certainly polarize opinion about the group but on particular material like this, his shortcomings lend a vulnerability and emotion to the music that the finest technical singers often cannot even approach.

'Diary of an Empty Day' - Based almost entirely on Lalo's Symphony Espagnole, this is one of the bands finest moments. Keith switches to his signature organ for the first time on this track and conjures a performance on a par with any of his greatest. The whole thing gallops along with an irresistible verve and Lee even adds some tongue in cheek Spanish guitar strummed chords towards the end. If there is a definitive lyric about being unable to write a lyric then this must be it. Jackson rather cleverly solves his writer's block by singing solely about how he cannot 'find words for this music' Taken to its logical extremes he posits what this approach might ultimately enable him to accomplish:

I could write a book this way

'For Example' - I am always struck by this track as being a defiant statement by the Nice about their insistence that all styles and forms of music should belong together and that separation is an evil engineered by marketing gurus/snobs/critics. Here we run through a slideshow of blues, rock, jazz, baroque, Gregorian chant and Hendrix all seamlessly integrated to the point where you cannot even begin to see the join. The title further gives me the impression that such were Emerson's abilities at the time he could have chosen another 6 differing musical flavors and blended same to equal effect. Rather cheekily they get the horn players employed to inject quotations from 'Norwegian Wood' and 'America.' The Nice cover in 9 minutes what other bands take 9 years to even dream about.

'Rondo 69' - The second half of the album is taken up by performances recorded at the famous Fillmore East venue in the USA and as the band have testified on numerous occasions over the years, it is perhaps only in the live environment that we get even a hint of the breadth and scope that this remarkable trio could exhibit. Both Lee Jackson and the late Brian Davison have stated that they felt the studio recordings by the Nice only 'scratched the surface' of the possibilities afforded by the group. The playing and energy are electrifying and the faithful recording captures all the subtle detail and power on display. Tempos were considerably quicker live than that of the studio versions (which caused Davison to protest to the keyboard player at around this time) and Emerson prefaces the Brubeck tune with a lengthy quote from one of Bach's Italian concertos.

'She Belongs to Me' - Where a very flaccid tune from Dylan is supercharged with an injection of Nice Viagra to bring it up to the level of a 'one take' porn star. (Check out the original, yes the lyrics are great but the melody is secondary) The entire arrangement illustrates exemplary exploitation of pace, dynamics and timbre throughout and there are examples of one of Keith's favorite improvisation techniques, that of quotation, in this case 'The Big Country' and some Bach? Anyone who underestimates the versatility and potency of Jackson and Davison as a rhythm unit really need to listen to this number and think again. The ending section is exhilarating and captures a band at the very peak of their creative powers.

You're just a walking antique etc

Which serves as an accurate and damning evaluation of most of the musical artists that were revered as innovative and progressive by the masses at the time (including the lyrics author Dylan)

This is certainly my favorite Nice album by some considerable distance and we can only guess at what further heights they may have reached had they stayed together longer. It seems clear that Emerson became irreconcilably estranged from Lee and Brian not long after this but as to the overriding reasons being purely musical/technical or personal, we may never really know the answer.

As much as I loved the the subsequent ELP adventure, there is a softer and humbler part of Emerson's musical personality that never made the transition from one group to the other and it is perhaps for this that the Nice will be missed most.

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Send comments to ExittheLemming (BETA) | Report this review (#172623)
Posted Friday, May 30, 2008 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars I am rather embarrassed with this third "Nice" album.

If song writing has never been a major asset of the band, they quite surpassed themselves in this one which is only their third album. We are used to experience this characteristic while a band has recorded several albums and that they don't have the same amount of inspiration or that they change from musical style to be in-line with the ambient environment.

But this can absolutely not be the case for "The Nice". They only recorded two albums prior this one (of which half of "Ars Longa" is based on a classical theme) and they actually invented a genre on their own. Creativity should have been at its peak.

Unfortunately, all that we get here are some covers (even if "Hang On To A Dream" holds a fine melody), some existing songs in another format and two (yes 2) new compositions which are only remarkable for Keith's work. He saves whatever could be saved (even if his two band mates are quite skilled as well).

Vocals are mostly dreadful and destroys partially a track as For Example which has definitely some good merits.

The live part of this album is the one I prefer the most; probably because it shows how performing and wild "The Nice" could be during a live performance. This "Rondo" version is quite a ride and should please any ELP fan but to be honest, the Dylan cover ("She Belongs To Me") can't be considered as a great moment of music. Improvised, loose and way too long (but this is a good example of all the excesses that prog will generate later on). A good jamming effort for sure, but that's all.

This is not a very "nice" album and I can't reasonably go higher than two stars for my rating.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#188156)
Posted Thursday, November 06, 2008 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
3 stars This album I first heard when a teacher in a high school music appreciation class played it for the us. At the time I was a huge ELP fan, and was overjoyed. Now I know he could have chosen better.

This album is quite inferior to the previous Ars Longa Vita Brevis. The studio recordings are a step back toward the psychedelic style of the first Nice album, and away from the symphonic gem that was ALVB. It's not bad because of that, but it is definitely inferior.

For Example is pretty good, as it shows the band experimenting with a theme in multiple styles. Then there's Rondo '69. I have two problems with this piece. First, it's main theme is based on Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo A La Turk, an amazing jazz masterpiece in 9/8 (split into 2-2-2-3). Nowhere does The Nice give Brubeck any credit, although most of the song is played. Secondly, they take this fantastic rhythm, and play it in 4/4. Grrrrrrrrrrr..... I know Keith can do better than this.

Still, this is a three star album.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#295900)
Posted Monday, August 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Being a fan of ELP, it felt only only natural to me to start digging in the past of the band's three members. This journey began with the first two King Crimson albums where Greg Lake played a significant role and then followed by exploration of Atomic Rooster's debut album with Carl Palmer on drums. It did take me a bit longer to dig into Keith Emerson's past due to the low availability of the three original studio albums from the Nice and my complete reluctance of purchasing a compilation album. Eventually I did get a hold of a used copy of the band-titled 1969 release and that's where my journey felt complete. But what about the actual album, you might ask?

To tell you the truth, I was expecting just a bit more from this early power trio formation. Maybe I set my expectations way too high for this '60s band, but it's hard not to considering the talent the existed within the collective. If anything, the live material featured on side two really shows that both Brian Davidson and Lee Jackson could hold their own against Keith Emerson, which is a great achievement in itself. The biggest problem for me here is the writing. After listening a bit more of the earlier the Nice albums, it appears that this problem stretches pretty much all throughout their short career. The members were just not that good at writing memorable compositions. The Nice is more of a jam-based band that created one or two riffs and then constructed their arrangements around them, reminiscent of the Psychedelic rock movement of the time.

One might argue that the band was running thin on ideas by the time of this release and therefore resorted to completing the album with two lengthy live performances on side two. Personally, I think that this was on contrary a very wise move from the collective since the Nice is ultimately a live band and therefore should, first hand, be experienced as such. I honestly consider side two to be the highlight of this album since it shows a great energy burst from all of the members that I fail to notice in their studio performances.

In the end, I can understand why the band decided to call it a day after this release. All of the members depicted great potential in their individual performances but the final result never really came off as a legitimate band effort. I might argue that this is the problem that followed most of Keith Emerson's career but at least ELP knew that giving the actual compositions more room than the individual solo spots would pay off in the end.

**** star songs: Azrael Revisited (5:56) Hang On To A Dream (3:59) Rondo '69' (7:55) She Belongs To Me (12:15)

*** star songs: Diary Of An Empty Day (3:58) For Example (8:55)

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Send comments to Rune2000 (BETA) | Report this review (#306104)
Posted Friday, October 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars The problem with most of the reviews is that they take the Nice out of context, and having only hindsight missed the unfolding story. Firstly these guys where pioneers, and there simply wasn't anybody doing what the NICE made their bread and butter. This is not techno-flash, but rather some young men learning how to play progressively. Who cares if Lee's vocals are not up to the standard of Greg Lake, he wasn't yet around, but when ELP played they played on the shoulders of the work done here. And what a body of work it is, this was the period when bands worked their nuts off to make a honest living. There wasn't yet stadium rock, but there was this impressive little Jazz-rock band from England, that managed to shock the Americans.

The Nice was a whopping great statement of intent, and we should recognize their importance in the history of Progressive Rock Music.

So lets review the CD.

There are several variations available, but the Majority have additional tracks.

Much of the material on this collection is quite late in the bands history. She belongs to me is by far my favorite track, but other highlights include Hang on to a dream, which showcases Emerson's wonderfully lyrical piano. Rondo 69, is a joy and would be one of the few tracks to make the jump to ELP. Diary of an empty, indeed has some rather raw vocals.

The recordings are rather muddy which is a shame, and this sometimes lets the set down. Worth 4 Stars, but only just, and there are better The Nice Records and anthologies.

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Send comments to burgersoft777 (BETA) | Report this review (#670640)
Posted Tuesday, March 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of my all time Hammond dominated favourites, this third album by the Nice is by far their best succeeded. A superior Keith Emerson can be heard in live versions at the Fillmore East in New York of their famous Rondo (an adaptation of the Brubeck Blue Rondo A La Turk and one of the greatest renditions of a Bob Dylan song "She Belongs To Me". Under the virtuoso hands of Emerson this seemingly simple song grows out to become a brilliant progressive rock composition, one of the nicest of all Nice recordings.

The album also contains the strange but great "Azrael Revisited", a beautiful jazz piano version of the disarming and touching song by the tragic Tim Hardin, an exuberant version of the final Rondo of Lalo's Symphony Espagnol Opus 21 and last but certainly not least the great own Emerson composition For Example, a very jazzy piece with some great brass arrangements added. This last composition would appear some years later in an equally brilliant version on the fifth album of the Dutch band Ekseption.

This album is so important in the history of progressive rock, because it's a huge step forward in musical regard and it already shows us a mature and highly gifted Keith Emerson, assisted on drums by an equally great Brian Davison and by a somewhat less brilliant Lee Jackson on bass, who also acts as an even somewhat less brilliant singer. Still an album that shook progressive rock history and that should belong to you!!

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Send comments to Drawbars (BETA) | Report this review (#862912)
Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
tarkus1980
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Self-titled albums, especially mid-career self-titled albums (though some debuts qualify as well), are generally treated as an opportunity for a band to make a confident "statement of purpose," indicating that they believe that they are firmly at the peak of their powers and they have established their own unique style. While I believe that The Nice absolutely felt this way when they recorded and released this half-studio/half-live album, I instead find myself listening to this as, in essence, an odd dress rehearsal for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Unfortunately, there are two main problems with this: Lee Jackson isn't Greg Lake, and Brian Davison isn't Carl Palmer. Jackson's voice continues to be a serious problem, and while he has songwriting credits, he doesn't come across as having the same genuine songwriting gift and ability to counter Emerson that Greg Lake would soon be showing. As players, Jackson and Davison are fine, but they're not electric in the same way that Lake and Palmer would be in regards to making the technical prowess of ELP into the stuff of legend. Overall, this album isn't exactly bad (though it is in parts), but it's weirdly bland for having so much stuff going on.

It's a little disconcerting that the best material on the album by a good distance comes from recycling earlier classics. "Azrael Revisited" is indeed a reworking of "Azrial," only without the great guitar playing of the original (the initial riff is played by piano), and the tune is still quite entertaining, and the long piano-centric jam that occupies much of the second half of the song is pretty rousing. The opener of the live half is "Rondo (69)," and it's basically exactly what you'd expect from a live version of "Rondo" with no guitar. It's a blast, of course, and the rhythm section is still awfully tight, but it seems pretty soon to be getting into releasing stuff like this.

The other studio tracks all leave me with the strong nagging wish to hear them redone by ELP (in their prime). "Hang On to a Dream," a cover of a Tim Hardin number, is utterly beautiful when centered around Emerson's majestic piano parts, and is flat-out abysmal when centered on the vocals. Jackson decided to go the route of using a timid whimper, and the attempts to prop him up with angelic female backing vocals are awfully tacky. Lake probably could have made this into something rivaling "Take a Pebble" if he'd sung it in the early 70s, but this doesn't come close. It should be noted that ELP actually did do a version of this eventually, but this was in the early 90s after Lake had largely lost his voice and Emerson had glommed onto digital synths for all they're worth, so it's not really worth hearing. "Diary of an Empty Day" is worth it for all of the playful and energetic organ/piano work, but it would have done better as an instrumental; the sung parts go in one ear and out the other for me. Finally, the nine-minute "For Example" is an interesting horn-laced mix of blues, jazz and classical, with silly quotes of "Norwegian Wood" and "America" stuck near the end, but the sung parts are pretty unbearable. The first portion is mostly hurt by the unintentional comedy of the whispered "pianissimo" backing vocals, but the mid-section is primarily obliterated by Jackson's hoarse voice bellowing out at full force. Emerson is a blast, though.

On the live side, the concluding track, immediately following "Rondo (69)," is a 12-minute cover of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me," and oh this is not good. I'm not offended in principal by the idea of a jammy expansion of a short Dylan song, but this particular jam is all kinds of tedious, and not at all on the level of, say, the extended versions of "Aquatarkus" that ELP would be playing in a few years. Maybe Emerson suddenly made a big leap between this point and when he joined ELP, but it seems more likely to me that the big leap came solely from his collaborators.

I had a harder time acquiring this particular Nice album than any other, and while it's got its good qualities, it has enough bad qualities that I can't especially recommend that anybody else go through the same trouble. This was the final studio recording from the band, and it's just as well; it's just as likely that the band was only going to get less interesting from here on out. If you can get "Azrael Revisited" and "Rondo (69)" without too much difficulty, though, be sure to give them a listen.

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Send comments to tarkus1980 (BETA) | Report this review (#1284020)
Posted Thursday, September 25, 2014 | Review Permalink

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