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Allan Holdsworth

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Allan Holdsworth Atavachron album cover
3.16 | 70 ratings | 11 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1986

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Non Brewed Condiment (3:39)
2. Funnels (6:10)
3. The Dominant Plague (5:41)
4. Atavachron (4:45)
5. Looking Glass (4:31)
6. Mr. Berwell (6:21)
7. All Our Yesterdays (5:25)

Total time 36:32

Line-up / Musicians

- Allan Holdsworth / guitar, SynthAxe, producer

- Rowanne Mark / vocals (7)
- Billy Childs / keyboards (2,5)
- Alan Pasqua / keyboards (3,4,6)
- Jimmy Johnson / bass (1-6)
- Gary Husband / drums (1,2,4,6)
- Chad Wackerman / drums (3,7)
- Tony Williams / drums (5)

Releases information

LP Enigma Records ‎- ST-73203 (1986, US)
LP Enigma Records ‎- 2064-1 (1986, Europe)

CD Restless Records ‎- 7 72561-2 (1986, Canada)
CD Belle Antique ‎- BELLE 081394 (2008, Japan) Remastered by Tohru Ohara

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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ALLAN HOLDSWORTH Atavachron ratings distribution

(70 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(37%)
Good, but non-essential (34%)
Collectors/fans only (9%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH Atavachron reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by The Owl
2 stars This is another Holdsy disc I have a devil of a time with, again mainly because it's soooo screamingly synth-drenched and rather dated-sounding in an obnoxiously 1980's sort of way, rather hard on the ears. What doesn't help is the excessively glossy digital production and the over-reliance on digital electronics.

However, there are some good standout tracks like "Funnels" (featuring some beautiful chord-melody work from Allan), the title track and "Looking Glass", a beautifully complex and yet melodic piece featuring Allan's one-time musical employer Tony Williams playing his butt off!

The rest left me very cold though. "Dominant Plague" and "All Our Yesterdays" are definitely HIT THE SKIP BUTTON kind of tracks, suffering from very typical 80's mechanical drone tendencies ("--Plagues") and a rather severe case of disjointedness and lack of clear direction ("All Our Yesterdays"). ""Non Brewed Condiment" fulfills the "barn-burner" function quite nicely, but that obnoxious Synth-Axe makes it so hard to sit through. "Mr Berwell" just seemed to lack any real substance, more like a "going through the motions" neo-symph-prog exercise that just doesn't catch fire.

Thankfully, Allan has done far superior albums to this one, it has its moments but for the first-timer, don't start here!

Review by Dan Bobrowski
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I remember buying this around the same time that Lee Ritenour released "Earth Run." Each disc features a new instrument, the synthaxe, a guitar styled synth controller. "Earth Run" sounded like a guy playing a synth where guitar parts should have been. Atavachron sounds like nothing you've ever heard. I was grabbed right off and played the LP constantly for weeks, until the vinyl began to wear and the pops and clicks became annoying. Atavachron changed the way I listened to Allan Holdsworth and music in general. I had to put away the "Guitar God" image and adopt a view of Allan as a composer. I believe this disc helped me grow as a listener. I had to dig deeper to understand what is being played, to tell the difference between Alan Pasqua's beatiful keyboard and this new contraption, the synthaxe. I found the new instrument to be exciting and unique. Allan was playing flute tones in guitar space. Wow!

On the whole, there is a sameness to the production that can be tiresome, but some of the tunes are still played live, the melodies evolving and fresh. Each piece is a standout to me, except for the last track, which doesn't fit and I regularly skip.

Allan has been working on the remastering of his releases, but some of the master tapes of this disc have been damaged and are beyond repair. A couple of tracks are on the new Best Of: Against the Clock compilation came from this disc. Maybe he'll re-record them, ala, Tokyo Dream? Wouldn't that be great!

This is a landmark album, but be sure to do some homework before you attempt it.

Review by Moogtron III
3 stars This is the first of Holdsworth' albums where he makes an extensive use of the SynthAxe, a guitar synthesizer. Allan does play guitar on this album as well, but the ephasis lies on the SynthAxe. Since a SynthAxe sounds more like a synthesizer than like a guitar, and since keyboards, played by Allan himself or by guest musicians, also have a distinct place on the album, the music has a heavy synth presence.

Allan makes a very imaginative use of the SynthAxe, though. Still, of you don't like a sound which is too synth drenched, the album might not be a good choice for you.

Also: the album has a strong echo on the electronic sounding drums, which is very eighties and not to everyone's taste.

Enough with the warnings: the album is beautiful, both with regard to the compositions as to the playing. And because Chad Wackerman offers a lot of variety on the drums, they seldom sound irritating: on the contrary.

As regard to the compositions: they're all good. Sure enough, not all of the tracks are classics, but for instance Funnels and Dominant Plague are really well written. The center piece of the album seems to be the title track, Atavachron, which is absolutely stunning, very beautiful, especially because of the breath taking synth chords, which keep coming back.

By the way, the album is a good fusion of jazz and rock. The jazz is being offered mostly by Allan's improvising and by the compositions which are really listening music: you won't hum the tunes by most of Allan's music.

Still: drummer Chad Wackerman, with his electronic sounding drum kit, gives the album also a strong rock feel, which is further enhanced by the fact that all the improvisations stand in service of the song, and the song alone. Even Allan's breackneck solo's support the songs.

Although, songs? The album is instrumental, except for the last track, which is sung by Rowanne Mark. The melody lines of that song are very unusual, though: they are really like a slow version of Allan Holdsworth's solos. This would be a common trait for Allan Holdsworth songs.

A very good album, but since Allan Holdsworth would make some more of those, and this one doesn't stand particularly out, except for the historical fact of the introduction of the SynthAxe, I'm only giving it three stars. Still, the album is very enjoyable.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
2 stars The dominant plague

I enjoy Allan Holdsworth's unique guitar tone, but I honestly cannot enjoy the majority of his solo output very much as he is not a very strong composer and most of his music comes off as just endless "noodling" and unfocused sonic experimentation. Not really my cup of tea at all, I must say. I have always enjoyed Holdsworth best when he was a band player, particularly when he was a member of UK in the late 70's with John Wetton, Eddie Jobson and Bill Bruford. In that group the melodic sensibilities and songwriting skills of Wetton could counterbalance the Jazz-Rock indulgences of Bruford and Holdsworth while the latter two brought an adventurous edge to the former. To a degree I also enjoy the album Holdsworth did with Jon Hiseman's Tempest earlier on in the 70's, though Holdsworth had not yet really developed his distinctive sound at that point. Much more recently, Holdsworth worked with a US-based group called K2 who recorded an excellent Symphonic Prog album in 2005 that featured plenty of his distinctive guitar playing but beneficially restrained by a band environment.

The present album from 1986 was the follow up to Metal Fatigue from the previous year. Metal Fatigue is by far Holdsworth's best solo album and Atavachron is certainly a disappointment in comparison. Indeed, comparing this album to anything else Holdsworth had made up to that point (that I have heard), solo or in different bands, this comes off as rather weak. However, this is also very different in style so maybe it is not fair or even possible to really compare in this way. The present album saw him experimenting with his (in)famous SynthAxe for the first time, an instrument that is a mix between a guitar and a synthesiser and is depicted on the weird cover art picture. This is indeed an interesting instrument and the distinctive sound it produces is appealing in moderate doses.

Atavachron is almost entirely instrumental but the last number features female vocals. In a way this last piece is the most conventional, but at the same time it is perhaps also the most experimental of them all due to a rather strange middle section. I generally prefer the instrumental tracks. In addition to guitars and SynthAxe we find here keyboards, drums and bass played with skill by different people.

Overall, Atavachron is an interesting album but I find it hard to see it as anything over and above a curiosity. It is listenable, partly enjoyable and worthwhile for anyone with a special interest in Holdsworth's experimental Jazz-Rock style. For the average Prog fan, however, this is not really recommended.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I own almost every Holdsworth's album, and I can declare it's extremely rare if his work sounds boring. Pity to say, but this album is like that. Holdsorth uses there his beloved at that period of time Synth-Axe guitar synthesizer ( half-sax, half-keyboard, half guitar), and he really could play very polyphonic music .

I believe, he was very interested with new sound and new possibilities. This his work is evidence. But main problem is who else is interested in listening this experiments in sounds. For unprepared listener this music sounds as mix of guitar (less) and synthesizer (more) sounds, without melody, structure or any inside logic. When you know all story about Synth-Axe used there, it gives some additional attraction. But even in that case you will be very soon bored by not very usual guitar sounds, but sounding without special sense.

Possibly, could be interesting for musicians, some heavy fans, but generally it is one of weakest Holdsworth albums ever.

Two and half.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars I don't understand the hate, or at least disdain directed at this album. Is it the incredible nerdiness of the cover, which has a painting depicting Allan Holdsworth in a Star Trek-like uniform, holding his new toy, a Synthaxe MIDI controller? It can't be the music, which is similar in structure to most of Holdsworth's releases, and as usually, expertly performed.

I'll admit, I have to be in the right mood to listen to a Holdsworth album. His compositional style, which consists of chords that sometimes sound strung together in random fashion, is demanding for the listener, and if you are not in the correct frame of mind, often tedious.

Nonetheless, if you have the energy to follow the songs, it can be quite rewarding. Holdsworth's songs take you where no other guitarist goes, and his fluid soloing over difficult to master chord progressions is just amazing.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars Look out people: Here it comes: Allan's SynthAxe obsession has begun.

1. "Non Brewed Condiment" (3:39) Allan's first SynthAxe presentation leaves us all wondering which is guitar and which is synthesizer? Mind-blowing yet only an okay song. (One that does not stand up too well to the tests of time.) (8.667/10)

2. "Funnels" (6:10) same response and verdict as the previous song. Chad Wackerman's drumming tries too hard and Jimmy Johnson's normally-enjoyable bass play just feel as if they're in different universes--from both Allan and each other. (8.33/10)

3. "The Dominant Plague" (5:41) ridiculous chord play from the ridiculous sounding SynthAxe. How can Jimmy and Chad be expected to play over this stuff? The "old" 'Allan makes an appearance for a nice solo in the fourth minute. (8.25/10)

4. "Atavachron" (4:45) Allan's SynthAxe chord sequence at least establishes a nice melody with its pleasant (non- grating) sound. Gary Husband's drums and Jimmy Johnson's bass fit a little better with this kind of straightforward, one-directional music. Another more tuned-percussive sound is MIDI-ed through Allan's Axe in the second round. Some old Allan soloing in the fourth minute (something we can grasp and sink our teeth into). Still, not a great or very engaging song. (8.5/10)

5. "Looking Glass" (4:31) Tony Williams! If that doesn't give one high expectations I don't know what does! And true to the hype, Allan gives Tony front and center for the first 90 seconds while he and the band carefully support from the wings. Then "old Allan" takes a turn in front, delivering a stunning solo while Tony continues to deliver his magic from beneath. Jimmy Johnsons and Billy Childs are just lucky to be in the same room. Easily the best, most accessible and impressive song on the album. Great chord play throughout. (9/10)

6. "Mr. Berwell" (6:21) thunder greets the listener before sensitive solo SynthAxe (sounding like Pat Metheny's guitar chorus effect ramped up and fast-vibrato-echoed to the max). The full-band support team enters at 1:28 in a BRUFORD/DAVE STEWART kind of way before "old Allan" begins soloing over the top. I think an overdub of Allan's Axe is beneath, creating the chordal base, as the tempo changes from fast to slow (though Gary Husband's frenetic drumming would bely another reality), back and forth a couple times before another section starts out. I'm not sure whether the support chords are Allan's SynthAxe and the "keyboard" solo over the top Alan Pasqua's electric piano or vice versa (or all Allan)--such is the confusion created by the MIDI effect. (I remember playing an awesome piano-and- trumpet dual solo with a MIDI-ed saxophone syphoned through my brother's Mac in 1991. Listening to the tape of it you'd never know it was a saxophone that created the sounds.) (8/10)

7. "All Our Yesterdays" (5:25) vocalist Rowanne Marks sound so much like Gayle Moran! At 2:25 tuned percussion (MIDI-synth drums?) and SynthAxe begin to trade punches, but, wait! Which is which? Interesting but not so much as a pleasant listening experience; more as an experimental exercise. Then to return to the atmospheric, almost operatic motif of the opening to let Rowanne sing to the song's finish. What a Jeckyll and Hyde experience! (8.75/10)

Total time 36:32

The musics generated by Allan through his new toy are just far too foreign for our ears to take in and process--even now, 38 years on. Saved by the individual performances of Tony Williams, Rowanne Marks, and "old Allan" Holdsworth.

B-/3.5 stars; interesting from an historical perspective but hardly the type of music I would recommend to any prog loving music collector. Half the time I'm not even sure it's music!

Latest members reviews

3 stars For a little background, back in the '80s the SynthAxe was invented. It looked like something that fell out of a UFO. It was guitar-like with sets of strings and other onboard controls that allowed the triggering (playing) of synthesizers. What was unique was that guitarists could therefore play a s ... (read more)

Report this review (#2581943) | Posted by JazzFusionGuy | Wednesday, July 28, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Allan was so exited in the mid 80's to finally get a synth controller which could keep up with his extremely fast lines. Perhaps, the GR-1 from Roland wasn't to his liking as it had multiple glitch problems, especially in a live music environment. Innovation was in the air, however, the Synth ... (read more)

Report this review (#2507544) | Posted by MaxnEmmy | Sunday, February 21, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This is very good, but not an essential progrock album. The main focus of this album (just look at the albumcover) is the synthaxe. The Synthaxe is an extemely ingenious instrument and apart from Holdsworth, all I know is that Ian Crichton of Saga played it. For me it is really simple: if all ... (read more)

Report this review (#1598325) | Posted by Kingsnake | Wednesday, August 17, 2016 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Owl could not be more wrong. "Atavachron" is a masterpiece from beginning to end, every bit as strong as "Metal Fatigue." Holdsworth use of the synth axe was truly revolutionary, showing the world just how cool guitar synths could be. I concede that the album has not quite held up as well o ... (read more)

Report this review (#29426) | Posted by | Sunday, February 27, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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