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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
Caroline World Service 2005
Audio CD$4.99
$3.41 (used)
GodbluffGodbluff
Import · Remastered
Caroline 2005
Audio CD$4.99
$8.24 (used)
Inside Van der Graaf Generator (Rock Review)Inside Van der Graaf Generator (Rock Review)
DTS Surround Sound
Classic Rock Legends 2005
DVD$2.95 (used)
Merlin Atmos: Live Performances 2013 2CD Digipack Limited EditionMerlin Atmos: Live Performances 2013 2CD Digipack Limited Edition
Limited Edition
Esoteric Antenna 2015
Audio CD$13.36
$15.70 (used)
VitalVital
Remastered · Extra tracks
Virgin / Charisma 2005
Audio CD$5.01
$3.00 (used)
World RecordWorld Record
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Virgin / Charisma 2005
Audio CD$4.99
$2.99 (used)
Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each OtherLeast We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Astralwerks 2005
Audio CD$4.99
$3.99 (used)
Still LifeStill Life
Import · Remastered
Caroline 2005
Audio CD$4.89
$2.91 (used)
H To He Who Am I The Only OneH To He Who Am I The Only One
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Caroline World Service 2005
Audio CD$4.99
$3.62 (used)
Quiet Zone / Pleasure DomeQuiet Zone / Pleasure Dome
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Astralwerks 2005
Audio CD$4.79
$2.74 (used)
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Van Der Graaf Generator - Live at Metropolis Studios London (2CD USD $21.89 Buy It Now 9h
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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 | 472 ratings
The Aerosol Grey Machine
1969
4.06 | 766 ratings
The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other
1970
4.31 | 1236 ratings
H To He, Who Am The Only One
1970
4.42 | 1626 ratings
Pawn Hearts
1971
4.48 | 1518 ratings
Godbluff
1975
4.28 | 1127 ratings
Still Life
1976
3.80 | 571 ratings
World Record
1976
3.62 | 494 ratings
The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome
1977
3.64 | 398 ratings
Present
2005
3.52 | 386 ratings
Trisector
2008
3.42 | 378 ratings
A Grounding In Numbers
2011
2.45 | 152 ratings
ALT
2012

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

3.73 | 206 ratings
Vital
1978
4.09 | 104 ratings
Maida Vale (The BBC Radio One Sessions)
1994
4.09 | 145 ratings
Real Time
2007
3.66 | 67 ratings
Live at the Paradiso
2009
3.58 | 29 ratings
Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London
2012
3.94 | 29 ratings
Merlin Atmos
2015
4.33 | 9 ratings
After the Flood: At The BBC 1968 - 1977
2015

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

4.09 | 91 ratings
Godbluff Live 1975
2003
5.00 | 2 ratings
Masters From The Vaults
2003
3.13 | 24 ratings
Inside Van Der Graaf Generator
2005
3.04 | 5 ratings
Live Broadcasts - Collector's Rarities
2006
3.96 | 49 ratings
Live at the Paradiso
2009
4.48 | 31 ratings
Live at Metropolis Studios
2011

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

3.66 | 32 ratings
68-71
1972
4.50 | 2 ratings
Repeat Performance
1972
2.29 | 50 ratings
Time Vaults
1982
3.43 | 55 ratings
First Generation (Scenes from 1969-1971)
1986
3.39 | 40 ratings
Second Generation (Scenes from 1975-1977)
1986
2.11 | 35 ratings
Now And Then (Van Der Graaf Generator / Jackson, Banton, Evans)
1988
3.31 | 50 ratings
I Prophesy Disaster
1993
3.89 | 54 ratings
The Box
2000
3.44 | 15 ratings
An Introduction
2000
4.50 | 2 ratings
First Generation / Godbluff
2012

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

2.50 | 15 ratings
People You Were Going To / Firebrand
1969
4.08 | 18 ratings
Afterwards / Necromancer
1969
4.60 | 23 ratings
Refugees / Boat Of A Million Years
1970
3.61 | 24 ratings
Theme One / W
1972
3.86 | 14 ratings
Masks Part 1 / Masks Part 2
1976
4.60 | 15 ratings
Wondering / Meurglys III
1976
4.12 | 17 ratings
Cat's Eye
1977
1.69 | 17 ratings
The Masters
1998
2.67 | 3 ratings
Highly Strung
2011

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Inside Van Der Graaf Generator by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover DVD/Video, 2005
3.13 | 24 ratings

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Inside Van Der Graaf Generator
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator Symphonic Team

3 stars The inside series of DVDs are an interesting snapshot of prog history for the progressive rock fan. It is worth noting that there are a series of "Inside" DVDs available, including Pink Floyd, Yes, Supertramp, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and of course "Inside Van der Graaf Generator". Each DVD is in Dolby digital 5.1 and DTS so the sound is incomparable.

The Inside series is an independent critical review featuring rare archive footage much of which has been previously unavailable on DVD. VDGG clips from their golden years are always a sheer delight and there's a lot to indulge in from their early albums including "Pawn Hearts" gem A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. I've seen many performances of this but here is a treat from the best version recorded. These performances have seen the light of day previously but I can never get enough of Hammill's voice and Jacksons' Saxophones.

Musicologists of varying backgrounds critically assess the music to discover the essence of the band. It is a very brief look at the band as are all of these DVDs of the "Inside" series, clocking just over one hour in length. Therefore it is more of a taster for those new to VDGG or for those who just want to look back at the golden years of this powerhouse prog rock band.

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 Real Time by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Live, 2007
4.09 | 145 ratings

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Real Time
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator Symphonic Team

3 stars Hamill, Evans, Jackson and Banton make a formidable lineup in this lengthy concert document on the awesome Van der Graaf Generator. The live stage was custom made for such inventive genius and this Cd captures every dark moment of this performance. So many treasures are here; Killer, Scorched Earth, Lemmings, Nutter Alert, Man Erg and Darkness epitomise all that is great about VDGG. Hamill's voice suffers here though, having been scorched by the surgeons knife recently so the songs suffer. The music is wonderful as one might expect but the vocals simply infest each song. I was very disappointed that the band would release such a tarnished product. Live, the band would have sounded great I am certain and the crowd love each moment, however under the close scrutiny of a Cd earphone session it doesn't cut it. you would be far better off getting the incredible live Cd "Vital".

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 Merlin Atmos by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Live, 2015
3.94 | 29 ratings

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Merlin Atmos
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Syzygy
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Another VDGG tour, another live album. This is the fourth double live offering from VDGG since 2007, and their third in their trio formation. The three previous live offerings came from tours in support of the current albums, although all feature plenty of old favourites as well. The tour which spawned Merlin Atmos had a different agenda; there was no studio album either to preview or promote. As always the set list varied from night to night, but on every date they played both Flight and A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers in their entirety, with the remainder of the set leaning mainly on more recent material but usually throwing in at least one more oldie. I was lucky enough to see this show at The Barbican - the second time I've seen them as a trio - and it was superb.

The single disc version of Merlin Atmos gives a pretty accurate idea of a typical show on this tour. Flight opens the proceedings, although it was generally the second or third number in the set. It originally took up side 2 of A Black Box, and was played almost entirely by Hammill apart from a bit of sax. A few years later it was a regular fixture on the K Group set list, and a rather muscular version can be found on The Margin. Three decades on, it is finally presented as the great lost VDGG epic and it sounds magnificent. Banton and Evans subject it to a process of Van Der Graafication, replacing the rather wooden drumming and early 80s synth squelches of the original with something much more nuanced, while Hammill glides serenely through the arrangement and breathes new life into the rather complex lyrics. We then get three more recent selections from Trisector and A Grounding In Numbers, although only All That Before really improves on the studio version, before we get to the main event, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. Although sections had been played as part of a medley in VDGG's heyday, it had only been performed in its entirety once before. Like A Black Box, it was given a bit of a makeover, not least because David Jackson's sax was such a key component of the original (to say nothing of all the studio trickery). Rather than try to replicate the saxophone, for the most part Banton uses the full sonic potential of his mighty organ to guide the epic through all its twists and turns, with Hammill again turning in a remarkable vocal performance. Age might have diminished his upper register, but his voice is as strong as ever and has become even more expressive as time has marched on. This disc closes with an intense reading of Gog, another Hammill solo piece that has found its place in the recent VDGG repertoire and which was a regular encore on this tour (when I saw them it was Childlike Faith in Childhood's End).

Disc 2 gathers up pretty much everything else that was played on the tour but not included on disc 1. 3 recent offerings kick things off, including a splendid version of Over The Hill, then 4 lengthy old favourites take up the last 50 minutes. All of the songs on disc 2 have been included on at least one other recent live album, and the sound quality isn't great (disc 1 was mixed by Banton, disc 2 by Hammill). It's a nice souvenir if you were there, but otherwise decidedly non-essential, particularly if you have any other recent VDGG live albums.

The single disc edition is a solid 4 star addition to any prog collection; Flight and A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers would have filled a single album in the days of vinyl, and justify the price of the album on their own. The remainder of disc 1 is prime quality and beautifully played and recorded. The deluxe 2 disc edition is a nice souvenir, but the second disc is heading into 'collectors only' territory; if you weren't there, enjoy the single disc version and don't worry about missing out on anything.

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 Now And Then (Van Der Graaf Generator / Jackson, Banton, Evans) by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1988
2.11 | 35 ratings

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Now And Then (Van Der Graaf Generator / Jackson, Banton, Evans)
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by ster

1 stars Very bad. Even if you are curious what VDGG sounded like between the two classic periods. Listen to Peter Hammill's Silent Corner And The Empty Stage instead. Just a collection of very poor sounding recordings of demos. I am a huge VDGG fan and I wish I never bought this. It sucks that I haven't reached the 100 minimum yet but there is nothing else to say. I feel sorry for whomever bought this album expecting a nice introduction to the band. If you absolutely have to have everything this band has released then you can message me and I will give you mine if I can find it.

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 Pawn Hearts by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.42 | 1626 ratings

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Pawn Hearts
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by apps79
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars In early 1971 Van der Graaf Generator toured for the promotion of ''H to He, who am the only one'' with fellow Charisma bands Genesis and Lindisfarne, receiving good feedback by the audience, that should have been a real show back in the day!During their live performances they started writing material for a fourth album and actually their intention was to come up with an ambitious double LP.However Charisma believed it was not a good idea, so the band had to make a selection of songs for the upcoming release, the tapes from the unreleased pieces are said to have been lost.Upon returning to the Trident Studios around July most of the album was ready and the band finished the recordings in just two months, inviting again Robert Fripp to contribute on guitars.''Pawn hearts'' was the title and the album was launched in October 1971.

Three very long cuts was Van der Graaf Generator's brand new delivery on this album and the opening ''Lemmings'', nowadays considered a classic of the band, sets the tone for the whole album.At this point they sounded a lot like KING CRIMSON, just a bit darker due to Hammill's unique, sensational voice with the theatrical extensions, making heavy use of sax and flute and exhibiting tons of jazzy elements in their arrangements next to the sinister sound of Hugh Banton's Hammond organ.This is mostly impressive jazzy Prog Rock with a few folky underlines and a strong psychedelic nature.The 10-min. ''Man-Erg'' sounds even better to my ears, it contains the beautiful poetic feel of PETER HAMMILL's solo albums along with the band's flawless inspiration from Psychedelia, Jazz and Classical Music, the soft opening theme with the slow organ and the insane lyrics about Good and Evil is followed by everchanging climates in a great contrast of dark and romantic offerings with symphonic and jazzy overtones, filled with powerful piano and organ and mellow sax soloing.The 23-min. ''A plague of lighthouse keepers'' is among the best compositions ever recorded and performed by the band, talking about a lighthouse keeper, who sees people dying offshore and can do nothing about it.His state of mind is masterfully reflected on the music and lyrics of the piece, which contains several movements.I can compared this one only to Italians OSANNA, it goes from mystical jazzy interventions to Theatrical Rock and back, the music is very complex with grandiose segments and lighter tunes and a very dark feeling overall, featuring some fantastic interactions and preludes, propelled by a lovely Classical background and an even more obvious love for abnormal musical constructions, based on constant breaks.

A true classic of Van der Graaf Generator's discography.An excellent display of sinister and softer climates with a tremendous instrumental background.Beware, this not an easy one to handle, but once you find yourself understanding the evolution of the group, spins will become endless.Highly recommended.

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 Merlin Atmos by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Live, 2015
3.94 | 29 ratings

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Merlin Atmos
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Rune2000
Special Collaborator Prog Metal Team

4 stars Even though Van Der Graaf Generator have by now released quite a few live recordings, none of them has struck a chord with me like Merlin Atmos. Recorded during the band's 2013 European tour and featuring complete performances of Flight and A Plague Of Lighthouse-Keepers, the album is a mix of music taken from 1971 and onward. Featuring two tracks from Pawn Hearts, one from each of Godbluff/Still Life/World Record, two tracks from Peter Hammill's solo records and a total of six tracks from Trisector/A Grounding In Numbers. There is clearly something for every Van Der Graaf Generator fan to be enjoyed and some of the less familiar material might just surprise you!

The opening 21-minute Flight was quite a surprise for me since I've only once previously heard it on Hammill's 1980 album A Black Box and this version is a much more modern sounding hence omitting the dated sounds of synthesizers and sequencers. Hammill's voice sounds older but it really doesn't bother me, in fact, some of the moments throughout the opening track actually sounds more potent with his nuanced vocal approach.

The next three compositions are all taken from the current lineup's albums Trisector and A Grounding In Numbers. Lifetime has not been a favorite of mine from the studio recording but this live version has more power to the performance and engages me much more. Bunsho follows in the same suit while All That Before gives the album some much needed energy.

A Plague Of Lighthouse-Keepers is considered by many to be one of the greatest Van Der Graaf Generator compositions, which is why it's surprising that this is the first complete live version of this 24-minute suite. The performance keeps most of the highlights in tact and organ layers actually manage to make up for the absence of David Jackson. Gog is another highlight since the track has always been considered an unofficial Van Der Graaf Generator classic, even though it was originally recorded as a Peter Hammill solo number.

The so-called bonus disc adds quite a few great performances like the energetic version of Interference Patterns where Hammill clearly makes a strong effort in his vocal delivery. Over The Hill is another memorable Trisector number while the opening track from A Grounding In Numbers, Your Time Starts Now, makes much more sense on this setlist compared to it's role on the band's 2011 release.

The album concludes with almost 50 minutes of classics from the '70s with a lovely performance of Scorched Earth, the slightly trimmed down version of Meurglys III still sounds a bit too excessive for my tastes, Man-Erg makes me wish that David Jackson was still in the lineup even though the keyboards do try to make up for his absence. Childlike Faith In Childhood's End sounds pretty much in line with the studio counterpart but somehow this version doesn't really do as much for me.

As mentioned in the beginning of my review, none of the previous Van Der Graaf Generator live records have managed to grab my attention as much as Merlin Atmos. Yes, there are a few tracks that sound better on the studio recordings and some might even argue that a couple of these performances are overshadowed by the band's previous live offerings. Still, I'd definitely recommend you to give this one a go. Hopefully there will be a video release of these performances since we haven't got enough of those.

***** star songs: Flight (21:30)

**** star songs: Lifetime (5:11) All That Before (7:46) Bunsho (5:48) A Plague Of Lighthouse-Keepers (24:05) Gog (6:39) Interference Patterns (4:28) Over The Hill (12:36) Your Time Starts Now (4:14) Scorched Earth (10:14) Man-Erg (11:40) Childlike Faith In Childhood's End (12:37)

*** star songs: Meurglys III (15:24)

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 H To He, Who Am The Only One by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.31 | 1236 ratings

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

Review by danyboy

4 stars H To He, Who Am The Only One is an absolute VDGG masterpiece. The songwriting here is more sophisticated that is has been in the past, and the musicianship still reigns supreme, and the compositions are still incredibly complex if not more so. This music is highly eclectic and jam packed full of instruments from all eras of time, consisting of the obvious sax and keys. One thing that I've always loved about VDGG is the absence of organ sounds, usually opting for much more interesting keyboard variations. Most of the music is full of energy, but is always wildly creative and never boring in th least. And ofcourse Peter Hammill's voice...what a gift!!! Very highly recommended masterly crafted eclectic prog.

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 ALT by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 2012
2.45 | 152 ratings

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ALT
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Einwahn

2 stars This album reminds me of a funny story about four of my old high-school friends, at the start of a Soft Machine concert in the early 70's, engaging in furtive whispering about whether the music had started or the band were still tuning their instruments. VdGG's attitude in releasing this screwy album suggests the distinction is not always clear among bands themselves.

Personally, I generally appreciate truly experimental music; Can's 'The Lost Tapes', released in the same year as 'ALT', I regard as an enjoyable artistic triumph. The problem with 'ALT' is that it is not really experimental, just rather lame doodling. It's disappointing because I had quite high expectations for this one. In their classic material, VdGG have some incredibly powerful passages that push the musical envelope quite brilliantly, and the same has often been true throughout Peter Hammill's solo output.

That said, I do play 'ALT' from time to time, when I want some background music that is not too distracting. In my personal library, it probably has a near-three star rating. But I do not think it does this band a favour to suggest others might buy 'ALT'. If you do not know VdGG, avoid their latest album as a starting point. If you are a long-term fan of the band, equally, that is no reason to believe you will like 'ALT'. I can't really think of who to recommend it to.

Verdict: 'ALT' does prove that good experimental music requires artistic effort.

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 Trisector by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.52 | 386 ratings

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Trisector
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Einwahn

4 stars 'Trisector' is, for me, distinctive in the VdGG canon - it is their most purely keyboards-dominated album from any era. Jaxon's railway cap and double saxophones may dominate our classical image of VdGG, but in his regrettable absence 'Trisector' brings into focus the true backbone of their unique musical sound. Because, quite honestly, many tracks on this album have an unexpectedly classic-era VdGG feel to them, albeit without a core ingredient. The rigorous and emphatic organ of Hugh Banton, counterpointed with the piano (sometimes guitar) of Peter Hammill, creates a coherent and familiar musical framework, for all the experiments with rhythm that permeate 'Trisector'. I find this album to be the most artistically successful of their comeback albums. Its predecessor has a variety of styles cobbled together, while the production mix of its successor brings PH's vocals far more to the fore (with negative results IMO).

'Trisector' also has one of the clearest concepts among VdGG albums. It starts with an uncharacteristically jolly instrumental called 'The Hurlyburly', which I take to represent life prior to old age. Then the remaining tracks deal with old age in one way or another, from poignant ('Final Reel') to hilarious ('All That Before', a spoof on a 1960's Kinks number that surely influenced the young Peter Hammill). And the music is great, this album is worthy of this great band.

Verdict: 'Trisector' = Keyboards.

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 Pawn Hearts by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.42 | 1626 ratings

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Pawn Hearts
Van Der Graaf Generator Eclectic Prog

Review by Einwahn

5 stars Pictures/Lighthouse = S:econd H:and M:ussorgsky?

Imagine you are the only child of a disintegrating marriage. In total loneliness you have become hyper-sensitive to the earliest signs of an impending altercation that will once again tear apart the foundations of the love and security that should comprise your infant world. In the imagery of the children's game of paper-stone-scissors, you only have blank paper, you live in a stone tower prophesying disaster, you only have blunt scissors. In bed, in the presence of the night, you hear them rowing again and again, and internally your world is disintegrating. Only when you reach maturity do you realise that you can escape and see your childhood unhappiness in perspective; all things are a part/apart. But deep inside the damage persists - all the grief you have seen leaves you chasing solitary peace. The maelstrom of your memory is a vampire and it feeds on you. And so you only think on how it might have been, locked in silent monologue, in silent scream.

Fans of 'Pawn Hearts' will realise that I am hypothesizing one possible real-life scenario to explicate the tortured psychodrama of the major track on this album. A plagued psyche that is like a lighthouse keeper who will be destroyed by a disaster that he merely observes. And of course the child in this putative ill-fated family is a pawn whose heart is being broken.

'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' is structured as a suite that, in my opinion, bears the hallmarks of a contemporaneous piece by another band who, in 1971, were much bigger than VdGG. In that year I saw VdGG perform on the stage of the Manchester Free Trade Hall, where six months previously I had had the great privilege to attend Emerson, Lake & Palmer's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' concert tour (three days prior to its recording in Newcastle). Although the ELP live album was only released in November 1971, and 'Pawn Hearts' in October 1971, ELP had been performing PaaE since the famous Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970.

Consider the analogies between these two progressive rock suites. The similarity of the titles, not only in phrasing but also in the shared concept of an observer; in one case as an observer of an art exhibition, and in the other a lighthouse keeper. Both open with sedate and haunting keyboard melodies that recur later in their suite, and are titled with, again, observer themes: 'Promenade' and 'Eyewitness'. In both the opening is followed by a ponderous and dissonant section, which in the case of PoLK is actually entitled 'Pictures/Lighthouse' - literally spelling out the connection, with what I suspect was Peter Hammill's working title. As each suite unfolds, dramatic and dissonant sections are interspersed with a calm melody (PaaE: 'The Sage'; PoLK: 'Presence of the Night'), and both culminate in anthemic sections with the theme of departure (PaaE: 'The Great Gates of Kiev'; PoLK: 'We Go Now'). Most intriguing for me is the PoLK section called 'S.H.M.'; why give a piece such a meaningless title unless it is a band in-joke? I speculate that it stands for 'Second Hand Mussorgsky' - for those who don't know, PaaE is based on a classical suite by that composer. Two thoughts in case I am guessing correctly: (1) the VdGG track is ultimately inspired by a 19th century Russian Romantic composer (I mention this as occasionally it is questioned whether VdGG are truly a Prog Rock band); and (2) the ELP piece has much greater significance in Prog history than generally acknowledged.

There are of course two further tracks on the album, and they can be interpreted within the same psycho-theme: 'Lemmings' rushing over a cliff could represent a family heading towards internal destruction; and 'Man-Erg' may represent a self-analysis of the psychological consequences of past experience of such trauma.

And I mustn't forget the music - truly incredible!

Verdict: A serious artistic masterpiece.

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