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Gracious - Gracious ! CD (album) cover

GRACIOUS !

Gracious

 

Symphonic Prog

3.71 | 166 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

baz91
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Hi there prog fan! Before I begin reviewing, I just like to say that I would love to know how you stumbled upon this album, because it is a really obscure one indeed. In my case, I was on the German record company Repertoire's website. I spent an afternoon browsing through their catalogue to try and find some old 70s gems which I hadn't heard of, and finding links on Youtube or Spotify to hear them. From this search I found a few interesting bands like Dust, Catapilla and Armageddon, but the most promising album I found was this, Gracious's debut. Whilst the cover art didn't seem very progressive, I knew that I couldn't resist the temptation of a 17 minute track. I quickly found this on Spotify, and began to play it. From the very beginning they had me interested; their mathematical approach to the intro was definitely appealing. At the 30 second mark, I grew more interested when the tone of the music was drastically changed as an excerpt of Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' was played. I knew I was hooked when the electric sound of the guitars and the bass cut in at about 2:30. Here was a song that had many interesting twists and turns in the space of a short pop song, and was not even 15% of the way through! For a couple of days, I listened to other parts of the album but not playing the entirity, as I wanted the experience to be fresh for when I would get a copy myself.

Here the review begins. Gracious were a funny little group indeed. The bonus tracks of this album reveal that they were at one point a very cheesy pop group, and I honestly have no idea how they made the leap from their mediocre to awful singles to suddenly writing intricate 17 minute songs.

It is possible to view the first side of this album as a 22 minute suite, since the Introduction has religious undertones and Heaven and Hell are mentioned in the lyrics. The theme of the suite, although clearly religious, is very vague. To me it speaks of the fallacy of religion, saying that all you are doing is following orders and believing others blindly, although the lyrics are very open to interpretation. For example the lyrics 'Do you have a clean mind?' seem rather sarcastic and commandments like 'Will you give some money to the church in time?' make religious people sound greedy. (These don't reflect my views, just the interpretation of the lyrics)

Musically speaking, it all kicks off with the appropriately titled Introduction. To most prog afficionados this would spell some short instrumental overture, but instead this is a medium length song which is about as close as the album gets to classic rock. It has a conventional three-chorus structure but the use of a harpsichord makes it sound very different to normal rock. The instrumental is also quite long (over 2 minutes), which leaves plenty of time for a guitar solo. However the production of this album is such that the solo sounds rather muted and doesn't leave much of an impression. However the song is nonetheless enjoyable and a good set up for the progressive treats coming up.

Heaven begins with a beautiful mellotron introduction, which could be easily compared to the corresponding introduction to Genesis's 'Watcher of the Skies'. Other instruments join in and and add to the musical soundscapes before we drop into an acoustic guitar section. This is quickly followed by the only vocal section of the song, the main lyric being Do you have a clean mind? The lyrics are quite simple but still quite evocative and the remaining 2 minutes of the song allows you to ponder the meaning of them. All in all this song is definitely heavenly, being extremely beautiful in places. As a treat, the guitar solo towards the end is far better produced, and sounds more prominent.

Hell then ensues! Both Heaven and Hell are around 8 minutes long, which allows them to be seen more equally. However the band did a good job of making them sound very different, Heaven being mainly light and beautiful and epic, and Hell sounding more random, jarring and heavy. They did not fall into the cliche of one sounding happy and one sounding miserable, as that would just be too obvious and would probably not deliver their vague message, whatever it may be. The creativity is at a peak in Hell, where you genuinely don't know what is around the corner. The first half of this song is much heavier than the second half, but the second half is extremely clever as well. There is bizarre shanty which then leads into the famous Can-Can. Risking sounding quite directionless, both Heaven and Hell are prog rock masterpeices. Simply the amount of creativity makes this so, as they are very eclectic in nature, drawing from all sorts of influences, sometimes very directly (eg the Can-Can). Objectively they are the best performances on the album, but rather than tainting your opinion with my own, I'll leave it to you to decide which you prefer.

Fugue in 'D' Minor does exactly what it says on the tin. The harpsichord heard in Introduction is on full display here whilst being accompanied by acoustic guitar, creating a very baroque feel. This entirely instrumental peice would not sound out of place in the 1600s, so what it is doing on a 70s record i'm not entirely sure. While I hate to say this about such an amazing album, it's quite easy to say that this music is just filler. It performs very much the same role as 'Horizons' does on 'Foxtrot' (that's the second time I've referenced Foxtrot!) as a sort of interlude before the epic final track. The playing is good, but the track doesn't go anywhere in 5mins so it's just a little bit dull.

All stops are pulled out now for The Dream. The opening 3 or 4 minutes (as I described in the first paragraph) had me hooked, and made me want this album dearly. I cannot remember the last time that I've been hooked so quickly to an artist I've never heard before! The piece quite simply describes a bizarre dream. The dream itself seems to begin with the playing of 'Moonlight Sonata' and ends with the alarm clock sound towards the end. Whilst there are utterances of 'Good Night' near the beginning of the song, the lyrics only really begin about 6 minutes into the song. Afterwards, lyrics are placed intermittently throughout.

As with Heaven and Hell, The Dream switches moods very drastically and quite often, but there is a 2/4 riff that seems to run all the way through the song, with the band hopping on and off this riff to try other ideas. The use of very brief and completely different sounding sections makes this very progressive listening indeed.

However, it's not all good news. According the liner notes, the studio wished them to perform the whole song in one take and add overdubs later rather than recording pieces seperately and sticking them together. This might explain some of the minor complaints people have about it. For example, whilst the creativity is there, the musicianship leaves something to be desired. They aren't bad, but for a progressive group there's not a great sense of virtuosity in the performances. The song itself sounds quite simple to play. The vocals are probably the worst thing here. Whilst they seemed good enough on other tracks, there are points where the singer sounds really amateurish.

As I said before though, these are all very minor complaints. The Dream becomes an extremely fun and complex musical journey! The amount of variation on this track is simply astonishing, and the music is written very progressively for a record released in the early days of prog rock. The track is never boring, and always seems to pass very quickly for 17 minutes. Gracious succeed in creating an extremely exciting and cool prog rock epic.

I find it strange that this group have been labeled Symphonic Prog, when the music here is so eclectic. Rarely do you find a group who like to have so much variation within a single song. They really keep you on the edge of your seats in the more epic songs. The fact that the band aren't all virtuosos is actually endearing. Good on Gracious for experimenting and pushing the boundaries so far. It's amazing what such an obscure band could do on a record! The music here is so complex, and they achieved the goal of making extremely good progressive rock. I've always liked my music very complex, and all three of Heaven, Hell and The Dream exude truly high levels of what I regard as 'progressiveness'. 'Gracious!' indeed!

(Also, for those who aren't keen on the album artwork, look inside the gatefold sleeve, you'll have a nice surprise.)

baz91 | 5/5 |

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