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Ruins - Symphonica  CD (album) cover





3.93 | 47 ratings

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4 stars In the interest of fairness it should be noted that I own a grand total of three Zeuhl records, and my knowledge of the genre is pretty much limited to what I know about the two bands who made those albums. That said, I was interested in this one primarily because I had read it is a symphonic representation of the band’s earlier, more primitive music.

Well I don’t know anything about their earlier music, but a quick scan through their discography confirms these are remade songs and all of them are longer, and in some cases considerably longer, than the originals. Just as an example “Infect” ran five minutes-plus and was made up only of drum, bass and vocal parts when it first released in 1988, while the version in this album runs well over ten minutes and includes piano and other keyboards, at least three vocalists including one with operatic range, and a six-string bass.

Like I said, I’m not a big Zeuhl fan, but as far as the concept of injecting symphonic prog-like keyboards into that primal sound, I think the result was mixed. On the opening track “Thebes” and “Graviyaunosch”, I think this works quite well. The keyboards (and especially organ) complement the turgid bass/drum onslaught and give those songs some range and depth of emotion.

But elsewhere, and particularly with “Brixon Varromiks” and “Bliezzaning Moltz” the irregular timing and lack of western song structure cause the keyboards to end up sounding like just utter noise. I wonder if a brass instrument might have worked better on those songs simply because of the lack of regular, metered structure in them. Not sure, I’m not a musician – I just know the piano and organ do not seem to fit in those compositions at all.

The others are a mixed bag. The lengthy “Infect” starts off with stilting organ bleats which also show up throughout, but this song seems to be more about the vocals so the instruments aren’t playing anything more than a minor supporting role anyway. “Big Head” with its spoken/sung male vocals and weird keyboard fingering ends up sounding more like the B52s doing a Zappa cover. And the vocals on “Praha in Spring” are similar, but here the keyboards dominate and are outstanding. I can here a Hammond, and am not sure what the other keyboard is but it fills the space for itself and also for what a guitar would/could have brought to the arrangement quite nicely. This is actually one of the more accessible Zeuhl tunes I’ve ever heard.

“Thrive” is similar to “Praha in Spring” except for the spoken/sung vocals around the three-minute mark. Also, there’s an organ riff in the second half of this song that totally reminds me of an almost identical one on the 2006 Proto-Kaw song “Osvaldo's Groceries”. Cherish that as well, since its probably the first and last time you’ll see a reference to a middle-aged American heavy/symphonic rock band in the context of a Japanese Zeuhl record. Go figure.

So I guess I had a little more to say about this record than I thought just a few minutes ago. It won’t make me run out and start stocking up on Zeuhl records, but I have to admit the net result of coupling keyboards to these complicated sounds is a fairly approachable album. I’d recommend this record to someone interesting in delving into the genre as a better introduction than something really hardcore like Magma’s ‘Mekan´k Destrukt´w Kommand÷h’. With this one you’re more likely to try another Zeuhl record at some point, which is probably a good thing. Four stars and recommended in the ways I just said.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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