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Hermetic Science - Crash Course - A Hermetic Science Primer CD (album) cover


Hermetic Science

Crossover Prog

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4 stars It may not earn a fraction of the praise lavished on other bands featured throughout these pages, but no website devoted to Progressive Rock would be complete without acknowledging this obscure, on again / off again trio from coastal northern California. The band was the brainchild of Professor Edward Macan, perhaps better known as the author of the 1997 book "Rocking the Classics", still one of the more thoughtful introductions to Prog Rock yet published.

Such an articulate defender of the faith certainly deserves a place at the Progarchives table, and not just for his academic smarts. Hoping to turn a scholarly passion for music into actual music, Macan formed a small combo centered on the sort of instruments (tuned percussion, marimba) typically reserved for jazzier supporting roles, but here deployed in a more dominant format. The band recorded three studio albums little heard outside Mendocino County, and later released this two-CD compilation, easily the best introduction to the music of Hermetic Science, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it collects all the original material off the band's three albums (sadly, omitting the sympathetic RUSH and ELP covers). Even better, the tunes have all been remixed to a higher fidelity than the earlier efforts, and further enhanced with discreet overdubs: sitars, and so forth.

The music itself demands a certain readjustment of expectations. Put another way: this is music that defies your expectations, which historically is what Progressive Rock was always meant to do. Listeners more accustomed to the full symphonic palette of classic Prog may find it a somewhat arid experience, but that might only be a matter of acclimation. A vibraphone, after all, is a more intimate musical instrument than an electric lead guitar or synthesizer, and the sometimes lively, sometimes contemplative melodies on these discs are hardly what anyone would call extroverted, even with a typically dynamic rhythm section in tow.

Judging from the selections here it was the first, self-titled album that stayed closest to the original concept for the band, and thus presented the most innovative music. Later attempts at a more traditional Prog Rock sound were less convincing, in part because of the anemic ARP string synthesizers Macan favored at the time. His adaptation of the Gustav Holst standard "Mars, The Bringer of War" sounds particularly bloodless, at least when compared to the muscular versions heard elsewhere from the likes of KING CRIMSON and ANEKDOTEN.

But the group, in all its periodic configurations, was (is?) undeniably unique. Credit the Professor, who not only organized the personnel and wrote nearly all the music, but who also fought a tireless rearguard action against record company indifference and public apathy (apparently a lot of Prog fans aren't as adventurous in their tastes as they like to think). Forward-thinking bands like Hermetic Science don't exactly help themselves by requiring the rest of us to catch up, but in the meantime we can enjoy a different but no less worthwhile side of the Prog Rock experience.

Ironic postscript: in his monumental study of ELP ("Endless Enigma", 2006) Macan admits to being "galled" by the organizers of Progressive Rock music festivals who overlooked his own band in favor of the many Neo-Prog copycats pandering to '70s nostalgia (singling out two groups in particular which he diplomatically refrains from naming, but I'm guessing one of them had to be SPOCK'S BEARD, a fixture at such events in the later 1990's). And yet, where was it that I found this Hermetic Science CD? On a vender's table at the 2008 Rites of Spring Festival: a textbook celebration of Prog conservatism (but still a gas, to this aficionado).

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Posted Monday, June 18, 2012 | Review Permalink

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