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Harmonium biography
Founded in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1972 - Disbanded in 1977

This Quebec-based Progressive rock band, who sang in French, has a very apt name in HARMONIUM. The core was a folk trio formed by guitarists Serge FIORI and Michel NORMANDEAU, and bassist Louis VALOIS. Their career was short (five years) and they released three studio albums in the mid-Seventies and a posthumous live album. They started off as a jazzy and typically French folk trio but began to delve into more progressive material on their brilliant second album, "Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison" ("If We Needed a Fifth Season"). They are regarded as one of the finest exponents (along with POLLEN and MANEIGE) of the "Golden Era of Quebec Progressive Music" Scene.

"Harmonium" is a "folky" album, but it contains progressive elements too. By their 2nd album, they were very much a cross between a symphonic rock band and a folk band; an interesting combination which you can hear most clearly on the 20-minute "Histoire Sans Paroles". Overall, a perfect album to start your French Canadian prog collection. With "L'Heptade", they reached their symphonic/progressive zenith. In addition to the now increasingly large band, classical instruments and mellotron are used throughout. This elegant double album is a testament to the potential of the genre. Both are really satisfying; if you are a confirmed proggy-prog band head,to begin with. "Harmonium en tournée" is an excellent live version of their conceptual work "L'Heptade". Fans of brave musical experiments and elegant songwriting could not be disappointed by HARMONIUM...!

See also: WiKi

HARMONIUM Videos (YouTube and more)

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L'Heptade Xl 40th AnnL'Heptade Xl 40th Ann
Sony Music Canada Inc. 2016
$16.26 (used)
Unidisc Music Inc. 2000
$14.99 (used)
Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saisonSi on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison
Unidisc Music Inc. 2007
$3.97 (used)
Sony Import 2007
$24.96 (used)
En TourneeEn Tournee
Zone 3 2007
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HARMONIUM discography

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HARMONIUM top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.63 | 211 ratings
4.35 | 1210 ratings
Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
4.09 | 297 ratings

HARMONIUM Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.23 | 82 ratings
Harmonium En Tournée

HARMONIUM Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.22 | 14 ratings
Harmonium en Californie

HARMONIUM Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

HARMONIUM Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.50 | 2 ratings
100.000 Raisons
5.00 | 2 ratings
5.00 | 1 ratings
Harmonium (Promo Single)


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1210 ratings

Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Queen By-Tor
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars I recently came across a copy of this on vinyl in pristine condition at my favorite record store. I had purchased it on CD many years ago as a young progressive rock rookie and had been completely enamored by it then. So, at a price that suggested the store probably didn't know what they had, I picked up this album and excitedly gave it a spin for the first time in years.

My goodness, how I have missed this exquisite francophone masterwork.

Si on Avait besoin d'une Cinquième Saison is Harmonium's 2nd of three albums and while not their most ambitious, certainly their most accomplished. Translating to "If We Had Need of a Fifth Season" (just let that paint a picture for you for a second), the album is a concept work featuring five compositions, each representing a season, with the final track representing the imaginary Fifth Season. Like many classic symphonic works of the day, this album makes use of a myriad of music performed on a variety of instruments with effortless coalescence. The difference here is the unique flavor that this Montreal group is able to bring to the fray. Mandolin, grand pianos, mellotron and synthesizers, piccolo and zither harp along with the standard rock outfit of instruments paints each season with care, personality and precision while managing to keep the overall tone of the album upbeat to the point of being soothing.

Vert opens with a perfect introduction of how the music of the album is going to treat you, Soft flutes build with vocals that eventually become soaring. I also recommend translating the lyrics for this one because the music with the accompanying imagery of the opening of flowers "who are remembering their colors" is nothing short of spectacular. Dixie is unmistakable as Summer's track. It's jangling and fun guitars join with more soothing vocals that lead into a bouncy, intricate trade off in extended soloing between multiple instruments that join in conclusion to one of progressive rock's most upbeat songs. It's here that, in tandem with the first track, the band finishes working with musical themes presented on their debut album and wet the palate for the symphonic that is about to come.

Starting with Depuis L'Automne the band expands their sound into something lush and consuming. The delicate vocal intro builds into mellotron spiced harmonies with the rest of the players coming in gradually and organically building this soft and intricately structured suite. The lush sounds continue onto side two with En Pleine Face, a song that captures the essence of a cold winter while still maintaining the warm atmosphere that permeates on the album.

But it's Histoires Sans Paroles that really steals the show here. Representative of the fifth season, this 17-minute epic builds with the band's unique francophone flavor supported by flute and mellotron, mixing melancholy with trance-inducing instrumentals. Cinematic passages towards the end of the song providing a contrast between the otherwise utopian themes with something a little more realistic and dark that gives the album a thematic edge above and beyond "this is a happy album". It gives the audience somewhere to think and reflect, to be grateful for the happiness without pushing too far into depressing territory. It is a symphonic-instrumental masterpiece, reaching levels that contemporaries like Yes were able to attain.

I was shocked when I drifted past PA to check out my decade-old review of the album, only to discover that I never actually reviewed it. This is an absolutely essential piece of the progressive rock canon. If you see it, get it, especially if you can find it on vinyl. The artwork and the full gatefold are just as lush as the music within. Stream it if you want a taste before you dive in headlong, but by all means, give this album some of your time and attention. If symphonic prog is your thing and you don't already know this album from cover to cover, listen to this as soon as you can.

 Harmonium by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.63 | 211 ratings

Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Playing prog-folk with a strong emphasis on the folk (the prog side of their formula would become stronger on Les Cinq Saisons, and dominate L'Heptade), Harmonium's debut album is charmingly beautiful, with perhaps the best treat being Serge Fiori's exceptional lead vocals. True to the Quebecois pride that underpinned their work, the unit sings in French and looks as much to French folk music as to more North American folk rock sounds in constructing their particular blend. If you are mostly here for the prog in their sound, I would suggest leaving this until after you've sampled Les Cinq Saisons or L'Heptade, but if you are coming at them from a folk rock perspective I would say this is definitely worth a try.
 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1210 ratings

Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by froggie471

3 stars Well, I just registered because I was so surprised to find "Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison" reviewed on a progressive rock forum.

I was a teen when this album came out and I lived in QC for most of my life. Harmonium was a folk rock band, typical french canadian style. Nothing to do with Yes, Genesis, ELP, Emerson or even Rush. Now that I live in the States, I think Harmonium was a mix between Grateful Dead and Neil Young. I painted the album cover (double) with a friend of mine on panels near by the highschool library. It was an art project. I was a big Genesis fan (early stuff) but I've never asssociated Harmonium with progressive music. They were a band that had a different style on each of their album. The first album (Harmonium-Harmonium) is the best to my taste. It's really inspiring because of the guitars and melodies. "La cinquième saison" (we made a short name for it...after a while) was mostly appreciated to relax. That was not the album you would play during a party.

I don't mean to say that it's not a good album, not at all! But to "classify" music is sometimes tricky. French Canadians have different roots and a different culture. So I would say that the music was typical rock-folk from the 70's in QC. It's a bit like you can't say Jethro Tull was as "hard rock" as Led Zeppelin. Tull was a lot more acoustic even if Page was great with an acoustic guitar. Just not the same feel.

However, this is a good album. I would believe Harmonium lost a bit their "voice" when they did "L'Heptade". It was almost a mystic album. Lyrics were mostly repetitive poems and personaly, I just can't figure why they had such a shift in their style.

I never thought this album would be mentionned in an anglophone forum. It's indeed an album to discover but their first album is a must.......even if it's still not progressive rock.

Sorry for my bad English :)

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1210 ratings

Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by AndyJ

3 stars Harmonium's 'Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison' is my first journey into the music of this Canadian prog-folk band, and I've been left struggling for words to describe this one. I've only had this disc in my collection for a few weeks now, picking it up after looking through the prog-archives database for "something new". I'm really open to hearing any new music, so to see an album with many excellent ratings that I hadn't heard before I thought was certainly worth checking out.

At first I didn't really know what to think when listening to it. There are no drums, no electric guitar, none of the more 'traditional' elements of prog music that I'm so familiar with. I wasn't even sure if this was particularly progressive, to my ears it just sounded like beautiful French-Canadian folk music. But I kept listening, and enjoying what I was hearing. And then I reached the final track, 'Histoires Sans Paroles', and I was absolutely floored. Wow - where has this piece of music been all of my life! Such incredibly beautiful progressive music. It didn't need the electric guitar, or drums, or blazing fast keyboard solos which are so typical of the prog style I admire so much.

This is a progressive album which does things on its own terms. The musicality here is delightful, there is a wonderful interplay between the instruments. And its just so beautiful and happy (or hippy perhaps?). This record has been getting at least one play a day since I bought it and I'm discovering more and more with each listen. But here is my problem in assigning a rating to this album. I appreciate and enjoy the first 4 tracks, but in no way do they compare to the final track, the 17 minute epic 'Histories Sans Paroles'. I can't give this album 5-stars, and I'm not even sure that 4-stars would be a suitable rating. Really, this is somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, and I'll probably be a little bit cautious and give this one 3-stars, but this might change as I give this album more plays.

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1210 ratings

Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Magnum Vaeltaja
Special Collaborator Eclectic Prog Team

5 stars One of the true gems of the genre.

Prog never really took off in North America, at least not to the same level that it did in Europe. And I think that a big reason for that is because most North American prog bands didn't play North American prog, they just played music that sounded a lot like European prog. This is problematic, of course, because a group of suburban Ohioans or Iowa farm boys or west coast California hippies don't have the experience and cultural roots that make Genesis' delicate British rock or Pink Floyd's melancholy English musings resonate so clearly on the world stage. As a result, most North American came out (and still comes out) sounding derivative and lacking. But what Harmonium creates on this album does not succumb to that fate; not in the slightest. What we have here is original, genuinely Canadian prog that speaks to the background and identity of the musicians who play it.

An allegorical work, Harmonium's pastoral second album is a musical journey through the passing of the seasons in Eastern Canada's heartland. Nostalgic, bucolic, human, are all words that come to mind describing the sound of the album. Acoustic guitar and soft keyboard textures delight the listener and the mood ranges from spry and lively in the spring and summer to autumn's longing to fantastical dreamscapes in the fictional "Fifth Season", represented by "Histoires Sans Paroles". The album is really flawless, a true work of art.

A must listen not just for prog fans, but for all music fans.

 Harmonium En Tournée by HARMONIUM album cover Live, 1980
4.23 | 82 ratings

Harmonium En Tournée
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by GruvanDahlman
Collaborator Heavy Prog Team

4 stars There are bands that supposedly made, or even makes, albums of the most extraordinary quality, bands that one (i.e. I) know more by name than by musical strengths. Harmonium is one of those. Their second album ranks as one of the finest among symphonic prog. It must be said that I have not spent alot of time examining that record but sure, it is sort of amazing. However, I would like to push for another of theirs.

Live albums are, for the most part, uninteresting or unnecessary. At least that is my personal opinion. Then it happens, a live album comes across your path that really gives you something just a little extra. Harmonium's "En tournée" is one of those examples.

Atmospheric. That is the word that most frequently spring to mind. Atmospheric, rich and varied. See, now there's three words and I do feel that each one of them fits like any glove bought directly from the most merited glovemakers shop. The opening track, setting "Introduction" apart, is one hell of a way to start. Seeing that this live album is made up of the entire "L'heptade", it may be no wonder that "En tournée" starts off just there, with "Comme un fou" but rather it puts the finger on just how amazing a track it is. Especially in a live environment. Everything keeps going after that. "L'exil" is obviously brilliant, as is "Lumiere de vie" or "Comme un sage".

The music is a weird but excellent blend of everything french and beyond. Just as with any band from any country, the music of Harmonium is very much of it's origins. Apart from the symphonic prog rock (which in itself is a vast ocean of sounds and textures, depending on your origin) there are chansons, folk and just about anything that in the musical field makes you think of France or the french speaking Canadian territories, from where Harmonium hails. It may be hard to digest at first, if you're squemish or particular, but I find that after a while it all falls in place. The result is a soundscape impossible to evade, if you were thinking of doing so. It really is spectacular.

The conclusion, then, is that "En tournée" is an album of extraordinary music. The grandest of epics, the most beautiful and haunting melodies and an atmosphere you can touch and feel in the very fibres of the soul. It is sort of sombre but never depressing. Though varied it sometimes seems an album made for reflection and soulsearching. Lovely!

Apart from the brilliance displayed, it came out in a time when progressive music was fighting for it's life and, better still, recorded in 1977, the year when punk rock (some say) brought havoc to the lands of Prog. A live album is never essential in my book but this is probably as close as it will ever get.

Four shining stars and two thumbs up.

 L'Heptade by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.09 | 297 ratings

Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by admireArt
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Stepping away from their previous "masterpiece", consciously, they also challenge that album's followers.

Maybe it could be the "less serious" composition style , or that it uses resources not very "symphonic", or the close to "pop" musical passages, or maybe just the mere fact that it steps away, in more than one way off, their "famous" last project?

To be honest, I think that, in that "stepping away" effort, they discover some new tendencies and routes, that maybe could have remained unexplored otherwise. Therefore, in this particular case of Harmonium's "L'Heptade", the "symphonic" tagging, sells it short. In the "understanding" that this work is closer to the "eclectic" or "crossover" (even Jazz) musical composition manners of song writing and expression, will make it easier, for new audiophiles, to enjoy. And also, will "free" the band of sticking to previous "fames" and days, expectations.

Now! Of course that is not exactly all this work has to offer. Great contemporary and "old school" symphonic structures. A balanced display of musical styles, that enhance the diverse electro/acoustic instrumentation and their respective "low profile" master musicianship. Daring as to Rock, tasteful as to know when to stop. All framed by un-pretentious, yet very inspired musical arrangements, that are austere but efficient. And of course it all sounds like Harmonium, and that still is a big thrill!!

****4 PA stars, for their guts and good results!

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1210 ratings

Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Xonty

5 stars A massive leap on from their self-titled folky album, "Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquieme Saison" is one of the masterpieces of progressive music, often forgotten and overshadowed nowadays by the British prog giants. The album creates excellent imagery (especially the "fifth season", with the beautifully eccentric album cover acting as a visual guide), excellent music, and very emotional vocal climaxes delivered by frontman Serge Fiori. I've never felt so much emotion for a foreign singer, only somewhat comparable with "Per Un Amico". Harmonium's 2nd album is a must-have for any so-called prog fan.

"Vert" - the season of spring - is almost a melancholy dixie/ragtime piece with great delayed flutes opening the piece, even better melodies and harmonies, brilliant chord progressions. The instruments/vocals work hand in hand throughout - a very well written and structured opener for the album. "Dixie" is probably my favourite track on the album. Whilst considered to be an odd song for such an atmospheric album, I think it encapsulates its respective season (summer) very effectively, whilst managing to maintain a hearty feel that you can tap your foot to. Amazing voicings on the guitar and melodies and harmonies, more so than the first track in my opinion. It all comes together very well, as all the instruments take their solos - piano, guitar, clarinet, even spoons! Delightfully upbeat, and just one of the greatest songs I've ever heard really! Makes me want to get into dixieland music more. Furthermore, the coda where every plays in a rhythmical unison is just awesome! One criticism would be the piano solo, as it was already backing the previous solo and therefore makes it sound a bit unfinished when the guitar exits. Otherwise, magnificent.

"Depuis L'Automne" is of course another excellent track, forming a very powerful atmosphere. Musically dimmer, and more sombre than the other tracks which was probably necessary as I can't see another happy track coming in. A great take on autumn! Heaps of outstanding melodies are dropped throughout, with more great instrumentation and climaxes, but used to the different effect to show the autumnal scene. I find it incredible that Harmonium can manage to produce a signature sound this way and still capture each season so precisely. This track is probably the best of Serge in the band's catalogue - his guitar playing and heartfelt (almost weeping) singing style is very emotional. It feels like he's almost grieving the summer, especially just before the mellotrons and echoing guitars enter, and on the outro just before those delicious mellotrons. "En Pleine Face" is just as good as the other tracks, but perhaps could use some better chord progressions to keep you interested. Probably some of the best melodies on the album though, and I couldn't imagine it any different. Again, very emotional and a great addition of the accordion. Without a doubt though, a terrific song, especially with the reprise of the first season popping towards the end, with some hypnotic harmonies.

"Histoires Sans Paroles" is most people's favourite I guess, because it is probably the most forward-thinking, experimental, progressive (yet still generous) track on the album. After a gentle intro of seashore noises, an excellent flute line comes in. Having tried to write a solo line before, I know how difficult it is. The atmosphere gradually tenses and builds up with a classic use of the mellotron. Just over 3 minutes into the "fifth season", the track moves to another sort of "Impression" or "Movement", with the same instruments but played very differently to earlier, and it just somehow seems to flow. After some whole tone noodling, the mellotron becomes the centre of attention once again, and produces some very intriguing chords before that beautifully offbeat piano (one of the highlights of "Si On Avait" for me), joined by some basic syllable humming by Fiori. The track goes on impressing for all 17 minutes - never a dull moment. The piece is constantly evolving and exploring new sounds, but letting you settle and indulge into them too. The coda is also a brilliant way to wrap this and the whole work up, referring back to the beginning of "Histoires Sans Paroles", with great instrumental melodies and puffing flutes, ending on almost euphoric arpeggios. I sincerely wish there was more progressive music like this.

A(+): Simply a masterpiece. Would be the perfect album if they expanded from their roots that little more, and spent a little longer as done on L'Heptade. Unlike its older brother though, it certainly isn't remotely let down by any longevities or lack of material, and remains their outspoken magnum opus.

Vert: ***** Dixie: ***** Depuis L'Automne: ***** En Pleine Face: **** Histoires Sans Paroles: *****

 Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.35 | 1210 ratings

Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison
Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Wicket
Prog Reviewer

4 stars As my love for performing and listening to music spans all genres, I have been away from the world of prog for quite some time. Clearly the lack of time counted for some of it, and once the semester was over, I used this album to combat the hectic beats of EDM and house music.

Unusual for most prog albums, I expected to hear at least one song with drums somewhere, but on this particular album, they're pretty much absent. A bit upsetting for me (as i AM a drummer, after all), but considering the men making up Harmonium replaced it with beautiful ballads, sweeping flute lines and harmonious string sections, they deserve credit where credit is due. By removing one instrument from the common setup, the rest of the outfit needs to work double time.

"Vert" kicks off by doing just that. Even without a drumset to keep the beat, the opener feels like it has a groove, and halfway in, when the glorious sax lines come in, you hardly realize its absence. From the way the flute lulls you in the opening, you figure it's just your typical ballad, yet it resolves in a groovy jam session when the tune finally resolves, even with the flute making a reappearance in the closing seconds.

"Dixie" is another example of the humorous side of this record. The name implies a distinct American soundtrack, amplified by the ragtime-esque playing of the keys. And do I hear someone playing the spoons? That alone makes it awesome. The clarinet solo makes it all the more authentic, and it really shows in the musicianship that these French Canadians have.

"Depuis L'Automne" then takes the record into a more serious note. The ominous intro makes it more so before the melody softly comes in with the vocals coming in. This melody continues and grows for about 4 minutes before the string section dominates the track and takes center stage for another 3 minutes or so. With roughly 3 minutes left, a beautiful synth lick undercuts the chorus before the last section of the song begins, another guitar based melody for about a minute and a half. No, it's not necessarily an exciting track, but it does wonders when recovering from a migraine. Oh, and it's a good song too (especially as the very end of the song ends minor, much like the way the song began. A very clever bookend)

"En pleine face" is another soft guitar ballad, except much shorter and easier to listen to, with an excellent chorus at the end. The accordian makes for a nice touch though, giving the song that unique Parisian sound.

Lastly, "Histoires sans paroles", the 17 minute goliath of a track. Although, it's not really a monster. The gentle sounds of an ocean wave bleed into a beautiful melody intertwined between flute, guitar and string, before the guitar takes center stage about 4 minutes in (sounds very Jethro Tull-ish there). However, at the 5 minute mark, the song takes a turn for the very progressive worst. Tri-tones and major 7ths are plucked all around the guitar lead as the flute suddenly becomes the main attraction. Then once the dust settles, 7 minutes in, the string section leads into a glorious piano solo, with vocals layed overtop.

At the 10 minute mark, the strings and guitar continue the melody with that oceanfront sound re-emerging, with chordal backup by the flute and saxophone. The sound stays pretty much constant till about the 13 minute mark, where the guitar tone changes into a decidedly more Spanish sound, as the tempo changes into a Waltz-like movement. The bass plays V- I as the song has more of a dance-like feel, especially when the piano solo comes in. The flute melody that comes in over the top is wonderful, as is the playful chromatic solo downwards.

Verdict: This isn't a modern prog record. (Obviously), but the musicianship of this group of multi-talented individuals cannot be ignored. Although every detail needs to be cherished (since the major melodic changes are so rare on this record), it really makes in impact when you're not paying attention. I fell asleep listening to "Depuis L'Automne". That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the goal that Harmonium was aiming for is achieved with this record. It's a beautiful recording inside and out, and the changes in style and certainly the humor can be identified with the first two tracks, but the "Depuis" and "Histoires" are not for the faint of heart. They take a certain amount of dedication and patience to get through. That's why I cannot recommend this album for everyone. The lack of true excitement will bore some people. But if you just want a set of songs to soothe your head after a long day's work, look no further than Harmonium's "Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison".

 L'Heptade by HARMONIUM album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.09 | 297 ratings

Harmonium Symphonic Prog

Review by Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 13/15P. Harmonium's magnum opus. Compared to this, Si On Avait Besoin d'une Cinquième Saison pales quite a lot - in spite of the considerable lack of mellotronic action.

Maybe you need to have sit through folk ballads with more than 20 stanzas to be sufficiently prepared for L'Heptade. Maybe you have to love 12-string guitars and keyboard soundscapes as much as me to be mesmerized throughout the whole two discs. I don't know the actual reason for my huge sympathy for this album, an album situated (just like England's Garden Shed) quite uncomfortably in the years between the classic sympho-prog era and the earliest ventures into neo-prog. Usually I get cynical when bands present me ambitious mixtures of operatic and orchestral stuff, of easy-listening jazz and pop and chanson and whatever. But when I listen to this album I'm able to excuse the lengthy academic piano études, the well-behaved woodwind melodies, the orchestra parts and the female backing voices. And I don't simply tolerate them - more and more I start to really relish these fairly huge arrangements, which are stylistic devices which give this record the glossy finish which it definitely deserves.

1973 brought up Harmonium's energetically jubilant song Un Musicien Parmi Tant D'Autres which, without any doubt, was a first big masterpiece. The politocritical and lavishly floating Depuis L'Automne from Les Cinq Saisons was a grand piece, as well. But somehow the Saisons album, actually dealing with a coherent cycle of natural stages, turned out too uneven for me to be able to appreciate it as an entity. Good songs per se, but a bit of a mess when taken as a 'concept album' of sorts.

Many reviews criticise that L'Heptade is blatantly overlong, suffering from songs which need too much to time to get going, let down by instrumental filler interludes and similar means to use the precious vinyl resources efficiently. For the second LP this argument is justifiable - I experience it differently, but I see the point in this opinion. But on the first LP Fiori et al somehow seem not to know where exactly to put all those great and inspired melodies. The band jumps between lots and lots of different song fragments in just one piece - but they always manage to stick these parts together again. During Comme un Fou, for instance, you'll find the main musical anchor in a *heavenly* Moog melody with a full band backing, including great drum work and Serge Fiori on a lovely 12-string electric guitar. (It's no Rickenbacker, but seemingly a Fender XII, so rather expect tight'n'simple chord textures à la Pye Hastings (Caravan) than a Byrdish jangle.) Definitely you wouldn't expect such a part to creep out of a song which starts with laid-back jazz guitar strumming, just like a genuine French chanson with lots of add9-chords. This song, by the way, is the only one which fully features Michel Normandeau as a guitarist - he left during the album sessions. The chanson, as a musical genre, maybe appears to be an uncommon component of progressive rock music to most people. French stylings, a certain amount of retro associations, love balladry, maybe even an accordeon somewhere - the chanson is widely known as (maybe slightly jazzy) feel-good music which is gladly used time and again by record company functionaries to give songs a pseudo-emotional component. Today, eclecticism means that you take superficial glances at different (mostly 'retro') genres, use them merely as effects in modern productions and sell them as a total innovation. Especially against this background Serge Fiori's take on chansons is incredibly inspiring. His songwriting is firmly rooted in folk music, but augmented by these wide-ranging harmonic patterns which might well be an expression of the Francocanadian culture: surely influenced by American multiculturalism, but firmly rooted in the French culture and its language. This - along with the typical chord progressions, the occasional clarinet solos and the other jazz allusions on this album - might be pretty unusual for some listeners, but Fiori fills these structural frames with lots of feelable emotions - and great melodies. The chanson concept really works pretty well in the context of pastoral folk music and progressive rock - even were it only for the jazzy chord cadenzas which allow a lot of exciting improvisational interplay, such as in the first groovy part of Chanson Noire with the busy work on flute and electric piano. Supertramp might be one popular band which comes fairly close to this in terms of arrangement; Caravan - who were quite fond of those relaxed bossa-nova-style shuffles - as well.

The music on L'Heptade does ebb away at some time, yes. But, strangely, I don't feel any dissatisfaction about that. This kind of music invites you to let yourself take away, sometimes into varied sonic landscapes, sometimes on a mountain in mist, on which you might see nothing, but still perceive a lot - some moments, like the extended keyboard carpets of Le Corridor, for example, which appear after the brief Fender Rhodes ballad sung by Monique Fauteux, are beautiful in their monotony. Others, like the delicately arranged L'Exil, are radically slow. But the lamenting first part is pure melancholy to the core and always leaves me in awe, it shines in the fragile sophistication of the arrangement with some of the best (and best-produced) 12-string guitar playing I have ever heard, just to end up in a stompy folk rock piece with a convincing orchestra backing. Another particular highlight of this track is the stunning Ondes Martenot solo on top of a shimmering Hammond organ, later to be accompanied by the orchestra. (The Ondes Martenot is an early synthesizer, quite alike the Theremin in terms of timbre, and has curiously been used by a lot of Canadian bands as an eerie lead instrument, mostly to good effect.)

A minor let-down is Le Premier Ciel, probably the piece with the biggest rock ratio on this album. While the first three contemplative minutes, basically Serge Fiori singing and accompanying himself on this beautifully ringing electric 12 string (treated with the Shin-ei Uni-Vibe, I suppose), are as good as everything else on this album, the upbeat middle part is a bit weaker. I believe this is simply because the melodies - particularly in the chorus - are stiffer and less catchy than what you'll be used to by the time you've listened to the previous tracks. But even there plenty of nice parts abound, for example the soaring multi-tracked guitar solo - I, at least, don't see any reason to skip any track on this album.

The three instrumental orchestra pieces, which also seemed queer to me when I first saw the tracklist of this album, sound a lot like atmospheric film music and are light-years ahead of the easy-listening orchestra fiddling on The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed. The brief Sommeil Sans Rêves, the orchestral interlude on the first LP, notably indulges in some pretty odd chord progressions which competently convey a pretty eerie and surreal mood. Interestingly, the violins are 'muted' most of the time, making a pretty unusual sound and providing a certain nostalgic flashback at given points. The Prologue and Epilogue are lengthier, but the ambience rather reminds me of the eerier moments on Sigur Rós' Heima film than of a standard overture of an opera. The orchestra also appears in the band compositions and really adds to the whole sonic spectrum - I've rarely heard albums in which the orchestra really manages to create a coherence which wouldn't exist without these orchestral snippets. Comparisons to Harry Robinson's arrangements for Nick Drake's River Man and Sandy Denny's Next Time Around surely aren't far-fetched.

After one of these tasteful orchestral introductions Comme un Sage, a great favorite of mine, continues as another heavenly 12-string-led ballad which spawns enough great ideas to nourish the next seven minutes, plus the great finale which rejoices in an instrumental orchestral reprise of the chorus melody. The track doesn't only feature the orchestra, but also a set of female backing voices - voices that, contrary to the women who accompanied the Pink Floyd on their 1974 tour, really colour the music instead of wailing around pointlessly. Apart from the folk components there's also a certain amount of 'pastoral fusion' to be found here; I mean the Fender Rhodes jazz chords, fresh flute improvisations and the folky guitars in the background - again Caravan springs to my mind. There are not a lot of compositions which are able to embody an ambience of 'transition' that well - a transition of whichever form, be it a passing, the start or the ending of a relationship. Comme Un Sage ends the album on a reflective, but hopeful note. I'm not a sufficiently fluent French speaker to fully get the lyrics, but the song seems to be a pretty holistic thought on death and love, and the forms in which they might exist. 'The love finds itself a body to be able to journey', the lyrics roughly say. And again and again there's the question of how love and insanity go together - maybe as a more personal continuation of the thoughts on power and insanity on Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon. The dual scatting/wailing (by Fiori and a female soloist) in the end of Comme Un Sage even feels like a musical pendant to The Great Gig In The Sky. Even though you're allowed to be sceptic about a wordless Fiori vocal solo - he surely ain't a big vocal acrobat - the atmosphere of despair conveyed by his vocals is (positively) spine-chilling.

All in all, L'Heptade is delicious food for both thought and soul, best served on a warm summer's day, somewhere in a countryside which inspires you. It might support you during a good meditation on whatever you wanna think about. If you don't understand the French language, this can be both a handicap and a benefit; you won't understand the pensive and emotionally resonant lyrics, but you'll be able to take the vocals as just a part of a magnificent whole. It's a close-to-perfect record which hit me much more than Harmonium's previous album - highly recommendable to all friends of progressive rock, especially to those who were unsettled by the length of this album. It's by far more diverting than you'd expect it to be!

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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