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Rainbow Theatre

Symphonic Prog

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Rainbow Theatre The Armada album cover
3.73 | 51 ratings | 7 reviews | 16% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1975

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Darkness Motive (13:37)
- a) Flourish 1:27
- b) Overture 2:51
- c) First Theme 6:27
- d) Second Theme 2:52
2. Song (1:35)
3. Petworth House (5:51)
4. Song (1:35)
5. The Armada: (14:20)
- a) Scene at Sea 2:32
- b) Dominion 2:14
- c) Centuries Deep 1:30
- d) Bolero 5:34
- e) Last Picture 2:30

Total Time 36:58

Bonus track from 2006 reissue:
6. Icarus (from Symphony No. 8) :
- a) Icarus and Daedalus
- b) Ascension
- c) Labyrinth Gothica
- d) Icarian Sea

Line-up / Musicians

- Pauline Ashleigh / vocals (alto)
- Julian Browning / guitar, Mellotron
- Graeme Carter / drums, timpani, gongs
- Peter Cox / vocals (bass)
- Matthew Cozens / piano, organ
- Helen Grad / vocals (soprano)
- Frank Graham / trumpet, cornet, French horn
- Keith Hoban / lead vocals (tenor)
- Ferg McKinnon / bass
- Helen Modra / vocals (alto)
- Steven Nash / saxophone, clarinet, flute
- Don Santin / trombone
- Barry Skelton / vocals (tenor)
- Sue Twigg / vocals (soprano)
- Evan Zachariah / vocals (bass)

Releases information

LP Clear Light of Jupiter CLOJ 778

2006 CD reissue: Aztec Music AVSCD019 with bonus track by Julian Browning

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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Buy RAINBOW THEATRE The Armada Music

RAINBOW THEATRE The Armada ratings distribution

(51 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(16%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (37%)
Collectors/fans only (2%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

RAINBOW THEATRE The Armada reviews

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

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars The Melbourne-based Rainbow Theatre had started out in early 73, but didn't get to the full octet line-up present on their debut album until late 74. Lead by composer-guitarist-mellotronist Julian Browning, the group aligned a three-man horn section. They had performed live a great deal of the material that was to go on their debut album, but apparently it came out in a fairly different light. Most of the brilliant live soloing was not reproduced and instead many arrangements received the favor of RT. Graced with an exceptional gatefold artwork, depicting the sinking of The Armada (the Spanish fleet was sunk mostly by a storm in the late XVIth), and given the sparkling production, this must've been an expensive record to produce and RT did it as a private release, later opting for the German Clear Light Of Jupiter label (originally a four album deal including this one), which was also responsible for most of the Krautrock and electronic prog record importing down under.

The opening epic Darkness Motive is a heavy jazz-rock (sounding a bit like brass rock) introduction before braking into a typical prog rock with a weird mix operatic vocal of Keith Hoban and symphonic rock that resembles Crimson's first two albums. The short Song is mostly Hoban's baritone voice accompanied by a piano. Ending the A-side is the 6-min Petworth House, where Hoban's voice is rambling over an organ before the brass section interrupts then allowing for the choirs section (all friends of from the Victorian Opera Company Choir, where Hoban was helping out) for some delicious cascading cannon vocals. brass, mellotrons, subdued choirs succeed (at times I can't help but thinking of Floyd Atom Heart Mother) to great success until the track dies all too early.

Opening the flipside is the short preparatory Song (based on the same canvas than its sister) to the other epic, the title track. Starting on a sinister mellotron, paced on a military march (you just sense a future Bolero), leading on a dramatic narration and horns, choirs, trons of mellos, etc.. This tracks reeks of Crimson, from Schizoid Man to the Lizard suite, and indeed the Bolero comes over a superb soprano and its tenor counterpoint and Steve Nash's sax.

Added as a bonus track is a non-related to the group Browning classical composition (called Icarus) that was recorded in 96, and just like the bonus track on Fantasy Of Horses, you'd never guess it wasn't part of the original oeuvre (as it simply fits quite well its spirit), apart from the classical instrumentation-only.

An incredibly ambitious album for this octet's debut and clearly the most stunning prog work to come out of Aussieland, only topped by their follow-up! While being somewhat cheesy (as all operas usually do), Rainbow Theatre's two albums cannot be enough recommended to anyone wanting to discover buried gems. And these two are some of the biggest opals ever unearthed. Run for this!!!

Review by Atavachron
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Sprawling, hugely ambitious prog opera from Aussies Rainbow Theatre led by guitarist/arranger Julian Browning who also makes ample use of a great-sounding mellotron. Organist Matthew Cozen, Keith Hoban's voice, drummer Graeme Carter, bassist Ferg McKinnon, Stephen Nash on saxes and winds, and a whole cast of other players including a trumpet, trombone and seven-person choir make Browning's vision come alive. The experiment is both inspired and excessive, but on the whole it is a remarkable piece of music with the arrangement itself as a subject of focus, the many moods and background colors being much of the appeal (making it a real headphone listener). The album is often compared to early King Crimson but in certain ways it is better, pushing past the heavenly glory of the Crims for, in 1975, a less abstract approach to modern rock stylings and though there are imperfections here and there and some intonation problems, it's nothing major. The four-part 'The Darkness Motive' is a superb rock orchestration that parades brass sections, ELP-style flourish and bold artistry. Keith Hoban's monk-like tenor may take some getting used to but at least the man can sing, and Browning's mellotron passages are sterling. The choir shines on 'Petworth House' sometimes reminding of Renaissance's epic 'Scheherazade', and the foreboding title cut at fifteen minutes is a mythical journey on the seas, an enormous undertaking with soaring vocal choruses, neat jazz breaks, Ravel, and much theatrics. Bonus track 'Icarus' also worth a mention and the Aztec reissue comes in a beautiful two-fold digipack with a nice booklet. A real show from top to bottom and will leave you feeling like you've just had a marvelous night at the symphony.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Amazing little-known band's first chapter

While certainly no expert on Australian prog I can say that Rainbow Theatre is my favorite prog band from Australia. With two fantastic albums documenting their short career they are a band well worth the attention of many prog fans. Julian Browning was a self-taught rock guitarist from Melbourne who studied piano and music theory before becoming interested in arrangement. He played in a few bands before forming the Rainbow Theatre in 1973 and the line-up solidified over the next couple years. By 1975 the pieces came together and Browning began to put together the first album, an effort to use his influences of classical music and guitarists like Fripp and McLaughlin to do something completely different. The composers who most impressed him were Stavinsky, Wagner, Mahler, and Beethoven. A final influence was jazz fusion but the Rainbow largely checked this at the door for the first album, it is present but not commanding. While they often let rip in their live shows "The Armada" is much more in the classical music camp--a bit of jazz would creep into their second album more. Not all of their live fans were thrilled with this approach, expecting their album to rock in the same way as the shows with lots of solos. But Browning explains that the album was different and he wanted to challenge the listener by going in a unique direction. They were also one of the few bands in Australia using the mellotron along with Sebastian Hardie, though the two bands sound almost nothing alike. Browning's material came from his intense interest in the 16th century Spanish Armada, his father did the artwork referring to lyrics of sailors drowning and turning into crustaceans, with the jewelry of loved ones sinking with them. "It was pretty ambitious but somehow I made it work" he recalled.

"The Armada" is a dark and often dramatic mix of symphonic (with a slight fusion slant) laden with mellotron, horns, operatic and choired vocals. It is progressive rock that is intimately linked to classical music, proudly and successfully so. Think of an album like "Days of Future Passed" with a gothic twist, combined with the brass and dark choir flavors from "Atom Heart Mother" and performed by a band with some jazz rock tendency. Browning admits that descriptions of the band often sound dreadful on paper but the approach works very well. The album is book-ended by two multi-part suites with three shorter tracks in the middle. The various sections will offer up soothing mellotron backgrounds alternated with briskly paced, jazzy rock sections--underlying rhythm sections in the band portions sound a bit like early Camel. There is a nice assembly of brass and woodwind for the classical touch: lots of sax, clarinet, flute, trumpet, cornet, French horn, and trombone. The passages flow from one to the next smoothly, augmented by Browning's occasional guitar notes and a grand theatrical feel. And my favorite ingredient, which make me curious about an RPI influence, are the dramatic and stately tenor vocals of Keith Hoban. These along with the choirs are handled with great formality and operatic passion. Rich and unsettling like dark, deep water, there is little on "The Armada" that is going to please the casual listener, those looking for the obvious hooks and sweet melodies. It is another title more fitting of a recital where the listening is willing to take in these various elements with patience. I share this reviewer's notice of the academic feel although I certainly don't mind it, in fact that's what I enjoy about this group: "The horns start out raggedly, but perhaps deliberately so. My ear hears what sounds like a student band, out of tempo and out of tune, but this may be intentional since there is no hint of amateurishness in the execution of the music which follows. That music seems to me less well-focused than the music on FANTASY OF HORSES, however. It also has some of the earnestness of a student recital, and this is underlined by the decidedly non-rock nature of the vocals, both lead and choral. There is in fact very little of any "rock"-like qualities to this music. It has instead the feeling of an ambitious, but rather academic conservatory work. But the appearance of a "Bolero" section in "The Armada" reminds us of Browning's Crimsoid influences." [Dr. Progresso] While elements of the sound are formal (particularly the vocals), the overall band sound still has room for looseness and the musicians are having plenty of fun playing together.

While "The Armada" may not be quite the perfected masterpiece of its older brother "Fantasy of Horses" it is still very satisfying to the RT fan. Newbies may wish to start with the slightly more melodic and polished-production "Horses" and if enjoyed, proceed to the grittier, less polished "Armada." The Aztec reissue is another superb release with the best possible remastered sound and a great booklet/biography. Also included is a latter day bonus track (Icarus) that perfectly compliments and expands the enjoyment of this CD. Both RT reissues feature the outstanding use of bonus space, actual music that improves the experience with the original material. It must be very satisfying for Rainbow Theatre to see both of their beloved works reborn with such care for the current generation to enjoy. Both titles are wonderful examples of the free, adventurous spirit that made the 1970s progressive rock's finest hour.

Review by Warthur
3 stars This interesting Australian band spices up a formula inspired mainly by early symphonic-era King Crimson by slipping in a range of vocalists and a collection of brass instruments to the lineup, creating an intriguing blend of straightforward symphonic prog, jazzy brass rock, and a little bit of opera. Personally, it's not to my tastes - I think the over-reliance on Mellotrons masks a lack of really compelling material, and I've never seen the appeal of brass rock - but if you have found yourself wishing that symphonic prog involved more horns and a tenor or two this might prove a rewarding listen for you.

Latest members reviews

5 stars Aztec Music reissued in 2006 this fantastic debut of Rainbow Theater, remastered, with a booklet of 20 pages full of information and photographs, plus an extra track. Altogether there are 5 tracks (plus the bonus makes 6) with a fusion of Progressive Rock, Jazz Rock and classical music, always wi ... (read more)

Report this review (#1819962) | Posted by ElNapalmo | Monday, November 6, 2017 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Here's something completely left field - an aspiring (and now established) classical composer, influenced by King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, puts together a rock rhythm section, a horn section, and recruits a classical tenor as lead singer - the result is truly worthy of the oft-misused label ... (read more)

Report this review (#722294) | Posted by sl75 | Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | Review Permanlink

3 stars The debut album from this Australian band who only released two albums before they vanished. This album is by no means a run of the mill symphonic prog album. Their brand of music and sound is what is called cantus firmus. That is dark baroque music. In this case; dark baroque symphonic prog. I ... (read more)

Report this review (#563376) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Sunday, November 6, 2011 | Review Permanlink

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