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VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR

Eclectic Prog • United Kingdom


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Van Der Graaf Generator biography
VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR is an English eclectic progressive rock band with front man Peter HAMMILL from 'the classic period' that has proven be one of the most important bands of the progressive genre.

In England, 1967 Chris Judge SMITH formed 'VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR', but after his departure it was up to Peter HAMMILL (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Hugh BANTON (organ, bass on organ), David JACKSON (sax, flute) and Guy EVANS (drums) to become one of progressive rock most proliferate and unique bands as well as the first band to be signed to the Famous Charisma Label. The band was named after the scientific instrument 'the Van de Graaff generator', which is used for accumulating high voltage bolts. VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR (VdGG for short) is known for its extrovert dynamics (ranging from slow, calm & peaceful to fierce & heavy), its intense and emotional 'love it or hate it' vocals by Peter HAMMILL, its celebrated contribution to extended progressive songwriting and its combination of psychedelic, jazz, classical and avant-garde or even acid influences. Moreover, VdGG can be seen as the first band that was to combine the very progressive with the very personal, whereas other bands used to work with abstractions and fantasy. Peter HAMMILL has a talent for singing out intense graving, anger, panic and confusion whilst still being able to sing warm and caring in other passages. The band never really fitted in the symphonic progressive rock subgenre because of its widespread influences and unique style, though the band would have symphonic leanings throughout it's career. Unusual for the time was the focus on organ, drums and sax, whereas in the sixties the guitar and the bass guitar had played a major role.

The band had a leading role in the very first progressive phase releasing high-rated albums from 1970 to 1975. The strong conceptual 'H to He Who am the only one' (1970), the intense and highly innovative and daring 'Pawn Hearts' (1971), the bleak and ever evolving 'Godbluff' (1975) and the matured 'Still Life' (1976) are often cited as masterpieces of the progressive genre. Alongside VdGG there would be a very interesting solo-career for Peter HAMMILL who frequently invited members of the band to come and join on his seventies recordings, some of which are seen as 'lost VdGG albums'. VdGG would directly influence a lot of Italian progressive acts, a country in which they were particularly well received. The band stopped performing in its clas...
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Pawn HeartsPawn Hearts
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Blue Plate Caroline 2005
Audio CD$5.25
$6.80 (used)
The BoxThe Box
Box set · Import · Remastered
EMI Import 2000
Audio CD$159.12
$74.98 (used)
Quiet Zone / Pleasure DomeQuiet Zone / Pleasure Dome
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Astralwerks 2005
Audio CD$5.25
$8.07 (used)
GodbluffGodbluff
Remastered
Caroline 2005
Audio CD$5.25
$6.65 (used)
H to He Who Am the Only OneH to He Who Am the Only One
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Blue Plate Caroline 2005
Audio CD$5.25
$6.00 (used)
TrisectorTrisector
Caroline 2008
Audio CD$5.25
$12.22 (used)
World RecordWorld Record
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Virgin / Charisma 2005
Audio CD$5.25
$12.22 (used)
VitalVital
Remastered · Extra tracks
Virgin / Charisma 2005
Audio CD$8.09
$7.72 (used)
An IntroductionAn Introduction
Import
EMI Import 2000
Audio CD$21.09
$5.38 (used)
Still LifeStill Life
Remastered
Caroline 2005
Audio CD$5.25
$4.25 (used)
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VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR shows & tickets


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VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.25 | 402 ratings
The Aerosol Grey Machine
1969
4.03 | 642 ratings
The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other
1970
4.31 | 1033 ratings
H To He, Who Am The Only One
1970
4.42 | 1368 ratings
Pawn Hearts
1971
4.50 | 1267 ratings
Godbluff
1975
4.28 | 938 ratings
Still Life
1976
3.80 | 475 ratings
World Record
1976
3.62 | 416 ratings
The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome
1977
3.66 | 346 ratings
Present
2005
3.52 | 341 ratings
Trisector
2008
3.43 | 337 ratings
A Grounding In Numbers
2011
2.49 | 120 ratings
ALT
2012

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.74 | 179 ratings
Vital
1978
4.08 | 90 ratings
Maida Vale (The BBC Radio One Sessions)
1994
4.13 | 125 ratings
Real Time
2007
3.65 | 55 ratings
Live at the Paradiso
2009
3.36 | 17 ratings
Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London
2012

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.08 | 83 ratings
Godbluff Live 1975
2003
3.16 | 19 ratings
Inside Van Der Graaf Generator
2005
3.00 | 1 ratings
Live Broadcasts - Collector's Rarities
2006
3.98 | 45 ratings
Live at the Paradiso
2009
4.51 | 27 ratings
Live at Metropolis Studios
2011

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.62 | 24 ratings
68-71
1972
2.24 | 42 ratings
Time Vaults
1982
3.42 | 49 ratings
First Generation (Scenes from 1969-1971)
1986
3.35 | 35 ratings
Second Generation (Scenes from 1975-1977)
1986
2.20 | 27 ratings
Now And Then (Van Der Graaf Generator / Jackson, Banton, Evans)
1988
3.28 | 42 ratings
I Prophesy Disaster
1993
3.88 | 46 ratings
The Box
2000
3.39 | 14 ratings
An Introduction
2000

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.42 | 14 ratings
People You Were Going To / Firebrand
1969
4.00 | 18 ratings
Afterwards / Necromancer
1969
4.63 | 19 ratings
Refugees / Boat Of A Million Years
1970
3.57 | 21 ratings
Theme One / W
1972
3.69 | 13 ratings
Masks Part 1 / Masks Part 2
1976
4.40 | 15 ratings
Wondering / Meurglys III
1976
3.94 | 17 ratings
Cat's Eye
1977
1.66 | 16 ratings
The Masters
1998

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 ALT by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 2012
2.49 | 120 ratings

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ALT
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by thenightfly

1 stars First, let me say that I'm not a die hard Van der Graaf Generator fan, and have only recently gotten into listening to them. I'm only 19 years old, so I don't know if I'm qualified to review this band, but I'll give it a go. :)

Now, I grew up listening to mostly video game music, which we all know is mostly instrumental and sometimes ambient. Despite a song not having lyrics to sing, it can be proven to be pounded into our memories just as much as a song with a catchy chorus or memorable lyrics. I mean, how many of us remember the Super Mario theme? Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is that a instrumental song can be proven to be just as powerful as a non-instrumental song as long as that instrumental song has a...:

1) Catchy beat / rhythm

2) Doesn't bore us to sleep (though calming songs are fine, what I mean is that the song keeps us entertained throughout)

3) Has interesting and intense instrumental parts

4) ...actually goes somewhere

Okay, now that's out of the way, let's get on with this album!

...man, I guess Van der Graaf Generator doesn't want to follow my steps because this is indeed a poor album. Some would argue that some of these songs go somewhere, but to me, they most definitely don't. All this album is to me is just a bunch of jam sessions and extended reject openings for various Van der Graaf Generator songs. The question I want to ask is, why bother making this? I mean, this album screams pointless. Basically, it's like an Ummagumma tribute, and though Ummagumma was a bad album, this tribute makes us that hate Ummagumma want to play it all day long just to get this crap out've of our heads, which shouldn't be hard, as none of the songs on "ALT" resonate in the brain very long.

Agree or disagree to my review, and if I'm not the only one that feels like this, please reply! :D

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 The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.03 | 642 ratings

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The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy

5 stars Coming to this album after hearing all the classics that followed first I didn't have high expectations but I have to say that this album is one of the best surprises in a long time. VDGG wasted no time on this first true album of theirs rocketing from proto-prog psychedlia to a full blown progressive monster.

This album showcases the musical talents of each member showing no problem taking on a fully developed darkened atmosphere replete with Gothic organs, dual saxes, full on jazz-fusion with layered symphonic effects and extremely pleasant melodic developments with frenzied freak-outs appearing in the mix. Add all the interesting strange time signatures and diminished doses of psychedelia incorporated with the rest and it is in effect the most experimental album I can think of for 1970.

In addition, Peter Hammill really goes to town in both the lyric and vocal departments. I am absolutely astounded by how well this album comes together and flows seemlessly from beginning to end despite the healthy number of influences on board. Highly recommended as THE first stop on the Van Der Graaf express.

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 The Aerosol Grey Machine  by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.25 | 402 ratings

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The Aerosol Grey Machine
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy

3 stars A good historical relic of a debut by one of the prog giants that falls more into the proto-prog category than full blown progressive rock which would come very soon. This album was supposed to be a Peter Hammill solo album but it seems Hammill and original member Chris Smith were coaxed into signing a contract with Mercury Records who then began to take control of the band and refused to let them record but yet wouldn't let them record with other record companies. So this in effect is a Hammill album that was released as a VDGG one to release them from their contract.

After all that despite being English, their debut was only released in the US and received hardly any promotion at all. This is not a bad album by any means but after falling for the albums of the classic period, I find this a tad lukewarm for my tastes. There are some great tracks but many that are snoozers. You can hear some of the sounds that would become classic VDGG taking form here and this is really a must hear for any true fan. It's apparent from the get-go that Hammil is a unique singing force in the musical world.

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 Pawn Hearts by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.42 | 1368 ratings

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Pawn Hearts
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by The Mystical

5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts

Pawn Hearts is very different to my usual progressive rock favourites. The general sound of the album is dark and aggressive, and these are not attributes that are generally found in my favourite prog albums. All three of the Pawn Hearts' epic length tracks are a brutal assault on the ears and the conceptual ideas are communicated with a jazz-tinged rhythmic drive, which gives the album an aggressive touch. The compositions in this record are infused with avant-garde harmonic ideas, and the album's dark sound is characterised by juxtaposition of timbres, emotive lyrics, and a heavy emphasis on rhythm.

The exact concept of Pawn Hearts is unclear. However, main themes that are visited by lyricist and vocalist Peter Hammill are clearly those of power and control, human nature, and one's identity as a part of society. There is a clear protagonist who is explored in each of the three tracks, and his character undergoes development that is communicated through Hammill's vocal flourishes and timbre. The lyrics of the album could be said to represent different perspectives of Nazism, dictatorship, and other such methods of control. The most obvious reference to this idea is the opening track, Lemmings, where the protagonist witnesses those that he is close to, following the crowd as they jump to their doom. The whole album revolves around the protagonist's resistance to the crowd of "Lemmings" as they fall to their fate, presumably at the hands of leaders, and the emotional turmoil that is caused by the solitude that follows. Hammill wastes no time in establishing the metaphors that the story is based around, with an immediate reference to a "game", where the "Lemmings" are used as "Pawns", jumping to their doom in a scenario that is left ambiguous.

The album opens with the hostile and dramatic Lemmings, a perfect beginning to the album. This track is both composed and performed with conviction and aggression, and Hammill's performance remains one of the most convincing vocal deliveries in progressive rock history. The "Cogs" section is as close as any 70s band can get to a death metal breakdown, combining a slow tempo with an aggressive rhythmic emphasis and dissonant timbres to create a very disturbing musical portrait of a dystopian world. Guy Evans' superb drumming is featured here, his meticulous approach to timing giving the piece a solid backbeat and highlighting the jazz influences that characterises the band's sound. Despite the abundance of hostility, there is still an air of positivity in the message of the song, with the protagonist's final message being "What choice is there but to live, to save the little ones?"

Man-Erg is a welcome contrast to the malicious sound of Lemmings. The track opens with a gentle piano opening, which is followed by Hammill's soft vocals. This track visits the idea of conflicting feelings, personalities or ideals, with the protagonist describing the "killer" and the "angels" that live inside him. The character, arguably the same character that is explored throughout the album, is experiencing inner turmoil and could be said to be struggling with an important decision. There is a more melancholy flavour to this track, which is supported by the musical allusions to the previous track, which provides musical contrast. The song develops into many different sections, each with their own contrasting musical characters, and these are all combined and revisited in the final minutes of the song to provide dramatic juxtaposition and to bring the piece to a fitting conclusion. Side one is brought to a dramatic close with Hammill's final wailing statement, "I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these, Dictators, saviors, refugees, In war and peace".

A Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers is a very different creation. This side-long epic combines the emotions that are visited in the previous tracks, only this time there is a sense of manic urgency and an increased use of dramatic tension (most notably the saxophone's imitation of a fog horn). There is an unfortunate lack of consistent motifs throughout this piece, but fortunately this allows room for development and exploration of new melodic territory. The collaboration between the vocals and keyboards really shines in this piece. This final chapter sees the protagonist watch from his "lighthouse", as all of his peers jump like Lemmings into the untold situation, which he has struggled with in each of the tracks. He feels lonely in his decision to defy the crowd, and seeks signs of direction and significance in his solitude ("You'll begin to wonder if the points of all the ancient myths, are solemnly directed straight at you..."). Toward the end, our protagonist surrenders to the control of the crowd and jumps into the situation that he has defied, seeing the epic concluded in a swirl of keyboards. The music here is more extreme in its juxtaposition of moods, but it is less effective in creating dramatic tension than the subsequent tracks. There are many more dissonant passages here, contrasted with several emotive collaborations between the keyboards and Hammill's vocals.

It is very rare to find an album with such raw emotion as Pawn Hearts. Both the composition and the performance of this album are drenched in unconventional emotive devices, creating an album which is brooding, aggressive, and desperately melancholic. Hammill's vocals are in top shape, and his performance on each of these tracks is outstanding, emphasizing each contrasting section with a unique approach to timbre and extended vocal techniques. The sound of this album is much more mature than the band's previous releases, yet there remains a freshness that adds excitement and vigor. It is evident that each of the members of the band were fully engaged in the recording of the album, and Peter Hammill's vocals are delivered with excitement and engagement that can come only from a passionate connection to the lyrical content.The standout track is "Lemmings", with its frantic and aggressive delivery and its eternally relevant message of the defiance of mass manipulation.

Pawn Hearts is the darkest musical experience that the genre of progressive rock has to offer, and is an essential addition to any serious progressive rock collection.

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 Live Broadcasts - Collector's Rarities by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover DVD/Video, 2006
3.00 | 1 ratings

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Live Broadcasts - Collector's Rarities
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Matti
Collaborator Neo-Prog Team

— First review of this album —
3 stars This is apparently a low-budget release with a poor design, unadded here until I borrowed it from my friend. I think it's 'official' enough. Sadly I haven't seen any other vintage VdGG video/DVD releases to evaluate the quality against them, but this 79-minute collection of broadcast footage 1970-1975 is nevertheless definitely worth seeing and captures this unique band in their prime. (Oops, I could have checked first if some of the contents have been released in other DVD's as sometimes is the case with low budget DVD's. The places of each performance - originally produced for TV, I suppose - were mentioned but I can't remember them now. I can edit the info page later.)

First comes two tracks from the second album Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other. Bassist Nic Potter is still in the group, Peter Hammill plays acoustic guitar with long black hair hiding half of his face. The stage is small and intimate, dimly lit, making the atmosphere gloomy and undergroundish. 'Whatever Would Rober Have Said?' and 'Darkness' are performed pretty faithfully to the album originals. No big complaints about either sonic or visual level.

The next phase dates from 1972, the group plays live in a studio (no audience around). 'Theme One', George Martin's composition for BBC, is performed by the trio of Hugh Banton on organ, David Jackson on saxophone and Guy Evans on drums - Hammill is not present. This powerful performance somehow very well shows the improvisational, dynamic essence of VdGG's music. Evans is such an animal with his crazy stares and a woollen cap! Then the camera moves slowly among dozens of candles in a line , and the first chords of 'Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers' sets shivers down your spine. Hammill sits at his electric piano. The whole epic is played with skill. Perhaps Hammill's voice is not at its best here, it sounds a bit pushy and tired.

The main body of this DVD serves the whole Godbluff album (1975) performed in Belgium. Again, if there is audience it is not seen or heard. There are no visual gimmicks or extra material, just the band playing. The DVD's technical quality is average. Knowing how powerful and emotionally strong the "real" VdGG concerts often were, these performances could be called rather safe and unsurprising. On the long run I may prefer to listen to the albums but, as I said, worth seeing at least once.

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 The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.03 | 642 ratings

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The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Epignosis
Special Collaborator Eclectic Prog Team

4 stars The Least We Can Do is Wave to Each Other is an album that I somehow associate with In the Court of the Crimson King. It brings together peacefulness, melancholy, and derangement all under one roof. Underappreciated Nic Potter is the star of this album.

"Darkness (11/11)" Boasting one of the grooviest bass lines in progressive rock music, "Darkness (11/11) is my favorite Van der Graaf Generator tune following "House with No Door." The marching snare and brass provide appropriate variety. As is his wont, Peter Hammill wavers between a soft falsetto and an angst-ridden rasp. The instrumental passage contains one of the most intriguing tones I've ever heard.

"Refugees" Childlike with trickling keyboard and light vocals, "Refugees" slowly adopts a memorable and anthem-like quality.

"White Hammer" Similar to "Darkness (11/11)," "White Hammer" has a prominent bass role, although the organ features more. And again, the vocal delivery is dynamic and remarkable.

"Whatever Would Robert Have Said?" This is one of the more uneven tracks, less coherent than the others. Each component of the song is eccentric.

"Out of My Book" Gentle with flute and engaging vocals, "Out of My Book" still has that vigorous bass. The acoustic guitar adds a refreshing flavor.

"After the Flood" A quirky Gentle Giant-like main theme opens the final track, maintaining the acoustic guitar. "After the Flood" contains just the right mixture of zaniness and catchy songwriting. The instrumental section in the middle screams "madness."

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 Vital by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Live, 1978
3.74 | 179 ratings

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Vital
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This live album is not for the faint of heart. David Jackson is back for this recording of a 1978 concert, but this is the Van Der Graaf lineup, which means that Hugh Banton's hammond organ is nowhere to be found (there's a lot of Graham Smith's violin, though, as well as cello from a newcomer named Charles Dickie). In addition, about half of the material was previously unreleased (some would later end up on Hammill solo albums), and the other half is transformed in ways that aren't necessarily for the better. Throw in that the recording quality is sketchy (Jackson may be present but he's a non-factor for a lot of it), and that Hammill is often more interested in yelling than in singing, and you have an album that only a die-hard fan could love, and one that anybody else could potentially hate.

Well, I don't quite hate it, and I kinda like it in spots. I actually quite like the medley of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and "Sleepwalkers" that concludes the first half; the editing process eliminates some of the aspects I like of each track (the hard-rock groove of "Sleepwalkers" is nowhere near as powerful as before), but it also gets rid of a lot of the bad in "Plague," and the final product is one I basically find enjoyable. Plus, I feel like the violin is a great addition to the arrangement of "Plague," one that adds a lot of atmosphere.

The other familiar tracks have ups and downs, to say the least. "Still Life" trades the low-key intensity of the original (which only hinted at fully fury at times but never remotely approached it) for a louder, screamier intensity, with grumbling guitars and violin that feels a bit like a pest at times. Still, while there's nowhere near the same depressing stomach- punch effect that the original provided in its best moments, I find there's a weird charm in the overpowered bass, over-thumped drums and over-dramatic violin parts of this one. It won't convert somebody who's never heard the original, but somebody who likes the original but doesn't feel a tight connection with all of its little details could like this one.

Of the other two familiar tracks, "Last Frame" never impressed me much beyond its introduction, and this one is about the same, while "Pioneers over c" is, well, an acquired taste that might not be worth acquiring. The original was fantastic, but this is 17 minutes long (much longer than the original) and obliterates most of the atmosphere of the original, replacing it with a lot of screaming and grumbly guitars and a lot of out-of-control loud fuzz- bass. The basic skeleton of the piece is more or less the same, and I have enough residual familiarity with and love for the original that I can find some enjoyment in grooving along the various parts, but I like the original way more.

Of the other tracks, the best of the lot is definitely the closing "Nadir's Big Chance," the excellent title track of the excellent 1975 Hammill solo album, and it turns out to be a good fit for an ensemble best suited (based on their other performances) for making a lot of artsy punkish racket. The other tracks are definitely artsy punkish racket, with jazzy elements thrown in (especially on "Urban," which incorporates snippets of "Killer" during the mid- section and is thus labeled "Urban/Killer/Urban"), but they ramble a lot without leaving much of an impression (other than some nice riffs in "Ship of Fools" and "Urban"). The general approach and combination of instruments is novel enough that I wouldn't mind hearing this material again once in a great while, but something to hold onto beyond style and interesting timbre would be nice.

As with Quiet Zone, listening to this leaves me with little surprise that the band broke up as soon thereafter as it did. For whatever good that's in here, the final product sounds like a tense novelty at best, and it should say something that, as somebody who overrates prog-related live albums as easily as I breathe, I have to struggle a bit to pull out bits that I like. Buy it at your own peril.

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 Afterwards / Necromancer by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1969
4.00 | 18 ratings

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Afterwards / Necromancer
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Matti
Collaborator Neo-Prog Team

4 stars No reviews for this delicious single? So I have to write one.

VDGG's debut Aerosol Grey Machine (which originally started life as a Peter Hammill solo album) shows this magnificent band pretty unmatured and it lacks the emotional and stylistic depth they found shortly afterwards (after adding the unique sax/flute player David Jackson). It's a bit similar case as the GENESIS debut: both are rather naive and unpresentable of what was to come, but not without charm. These two songs are in my opinion the highlights.

'Afterwards' is a soft and melodic song with a laid back tempo. Hammill's tender vocals do an excellent job here, and the playing has an ethereal psychedelic flavour, starring Hugh Banton's organ and piano. The lyrics are not very easy to figure out what's it about, for example what metaphorical meaning the petals of a flower have? A beautiful song no matter how you look at it, I think.

'Necromancer' comes close to the dark, mystic style that VDGG was heading at, even if it remains less epic in structure (in its 3½ minutes). Just by adding some sax it would fit perfectly amidst songs like 'Darkness' and 'Killer' on the next albums. I remember how I was introduced to VDGG by a Finnish radio series about prog (titled Kuun pimeä puoli) when I was probably 18. The programme dedicated to VDGG was broadcast during my holiday travel to Greece but I asked my mom to tape it. It was indeed the right thing to do! 'Necromancer' was among the songs in that programme that immediately raised a deep interest towards this band.

As I have said before, a single can get five stars from me only by including great songs outside of albums. But four solid stars for this one, definitely.

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 H To He, Who Am The Only One by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.31 | 1033 ratings

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H To He, Who Am The Only One
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Mr. Mustard

3 stars H to the He, Am the Only One is the first album from Van Der Graff that I listened too, and consequently I believe it is probably the first essential album (though the previous two are not bad by any means). Perhaps the first thing one notices is the very unique sound these guys achieve. The band (and this album) is marked by extremely complex instrumentation filled with crazy tempo changes, odd time signatures, and erratic song structures. Peter Hammill's theatric vocal style, and constant use of the saxophone (and to a lesser extent, the flute) are also heavily associated with the band. Finally, like fellow eclectic proggers King Crimson, VDGG experiments greatly with a variety of sounds and styles, which include dissonant and/or free form passages.

Each song represents a different part of VDGG, in my opinion. The opening 'Killer' is probably the most common sound and style the band usually plays, which is a series of up- tempo, and sometimes aggressive sax melodies that are repeated and developed throughout. 'House With No Door' shows the softer side of the band, which is mostly in a low-tempo, and with restrained instrumentals, especially Hammill's vocals. The structure is relatively simple, being divided in two similar parts by a very nice flute solo.

'The Emperor In His Room' is a rather gloomy song, filled with wandering flute. But there are still tons of heavier, up-tempo passages throughout, especially near the end, which has a nice loose jam feel.

'Lost' and 'Pioneers Over C' are two classic lengthy VDGG tracks, which combine a ton of blazing, heavy, rhythmically complex passages with slower, softer, melodic parts to achieve some interesting dynamics. The latter is probably the lesser of the two, if only for the annoying free form sax solo in the middle.

This is one of those albums which I like, but need to be in a certain mood for. The dissonance, experimentalism, and overly aggressive and theatric vocals don't always work for me like they might others, and unfortunately, the production is abysmal at best. VDGG have done better in future albums, but, despite my relatively low rating, I believe this is a solid introduction to the band's unique sound and style and is a good album in general.

6/10

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 Pawn Hearts by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.42 | 1368 ratings

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Pawn Hearts
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Mr. Mustard

4 stars Pawn Hearts is another essential album from the band, and is a logical progression in the sound and style from the previous albums. This one is very much identical musically to the previous, with a large focus on complex instrumentation, diverse song structures and instrument use (with the Sax taking the primary role), and Hamill's exuberant, theatric vocal delivery. This time around however, the music is divided into three longer tracks, all of which are special and exciting in its own way.

'Lemmings' and 'Man-Erg' are classic VDGG songs. Neither conforms to any form of simple structure, yet also manages to keep interest due to the repetition and development of their melodies. The instrumentation is also complex, especially rhythmically, with tons of odd time signatures, for example the aggressive 11/8 riff beginning at around minute three of 'Man-Erg.'

But the real treat here is undoubtedly the massive epic, 'Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers.' I've always viewed this as the band's answer to Genesis's 'Supper's Ready.' Both represent the pinnacle of musical creativity and musicianship, but also have a similar length and song structure. The song is mostly through-composed, that is to say much of the music is different from section to section, with few repetitions. What this really means though, is that the song is just jammed with one great melody after another. To say this is a diverse song would be an understatement; the number of tempo and intensity changes throughout is what makes the song as good as it is. The dramatic change from the beginning 8-minutes of aggressive Sax and vocal work, to the mellower, atmospheric section, and then back again to the more uplifting, intense, all-over-the-place section to follow is the perfect example. Not to mention the gorgeous Sax melody about 14-minutes in, and the exciting ending. It truly is a rollercoaster of different sounds and emotions that the band doesn't seem to achieve with any other song as much as this one.

Overall, Pawn Hearts, along with Godbluff, is the definitive Van Der Graff Generator album. The compositional genius that embodies each song is astounding. And despite my lack of fondness for the band's overall sound, and despite my relatively low score, I believe this is a must listen for any prog fan.

8/10

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