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Flame Dream

Symphonic Prog

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars Well , when one thinks of the influences of FD on this album, the first thing that comes to mind is a guitar-less Yes but a lot more discreet than Druid or Starcastle's debut. As you can see from the track listing , this is a concept album based on the four elements (Earth , air , water and fire) . But on my Tachikawa copy there is a fifth track (max 3 min) unanounced - more of a sound collage - that might be representing life (the fifth Element). Overall , the loss of the guitarist has hurt them a bit compared to the previous one , he was also doing some songwriting , and the players do not come to the shoulder-height of the masters they are inspired by . Don't let this deter you as these first two albums are still worth discovering . I have not heard what comes after.
Report this review (#25762)
Posted Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Reviewed by: Tom Karr, July 2004

I really, really, really like bands that feature loads of great keyboard work. You probably didn't know that, did you? Well I do, and Flame Dream is just such a group. This disc, Elements, is a re-issue of the second release by the Swiss group, originally issued by Vertigo in 1979. One of the most interesting elements of Flame Dream is their somewhat unusual line up. They were made up of the typical bass, drums and keyboard players, but they also boasted a saxophone and woodwinds player, like early Soft Machine.

The music on this release is clearly heavily influenced by a number of English symphonic and even some Canterbury bands. You will hear similarities to Yes, UK, ELP and occasionally Hatfield And The North and even National Health. The first dozen measures of "A Poem Of Dancing" even sounds quite similar to Steve Hackett's "Hands Of The Priestess, Part II." Even though you might find yourself thinking, gee, that sounds kind of like Yes or UK, or whatever, it's all done well and I do find myself enjoying this band and their music quite a bit.

I guess this is a concept album of sorts. We have four longish songs, three of which mention earth, fire and water in their titles. Get it? Elements. The lyrics of the four cuts are in fact all poems by the 16th and 19th century English writers John Wolf, Edmund Spenser, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Davies, so we have some very good prose to go along with some pretty nice music. And this music is definitely easy to listen to and enjoy. Keyboardist Roland Ruckstuhl is an accomplished player with a style that owes a nod to both Eddie Jobson and Patrick Moraz. He is constantly arpeggiating his chord progressions and whipping out a lot of very melodic and slick synth solos with dramatic pitch wheel bends and well chosen licks. He is also similar to Wakeman as well, in his ability to effectively orchestrate his work with a bevy of different keyboard textures and voices. The rest of the players are at the top of their game as well, drummer Peter Furrer especially, sounding like a slightly heavier Bill Bruford. Sax and woodwind player Peter Wolf chimes in with oboe and flute as well as the saxophone, his main axe. He does not have a huge presence, but his work is well integrated into the overall band sound and he does much to contribute to the shifting moods in some of these works.

From a nation with four officially recognized languages, Flame Dream's two vocalists, sax player Peter Wolf and bassist Urs Hochull harmonize in English with a bit of a German accent. Ok, this may sound odd, but think of a pair of elfin Phil Collinses with head colds. Go ahead and laugh, scoff at me now, but later on you'll hear that I'm right. At first they struck me as a bit off, but after a half dozen spins, I like these two. The vocals, like everything else on this disc are pretty good, though they will not take your attention from the musicianship displayed by Flame Dream. This is primarily an instrumental effort from the band with minimal lyrics, given the length of these tunes. Usually we get a few verses and then a lot of lengthy instrumental passages that showcase Ruckstuhl's keyboards, with shifting beats and changes of tempo just to keep things interesting. Things tend to take a jazzy turn whenever Peter Wolf steps in with his sax, and a decidedly classical tone when he pulls out the oboe or flute. Wolf's flute is the highlight of track four, "A Poem Of Dancing," which also boasts some incredible, Wakeman-esque piano work from Ruckstuhl. One little extra on this disc is a surprise fifth track not listed on the jacket. It's nothing much, just a little minute and a half blurb from the band featuring a somewhat funky little riff featuring one of Wolf's sax lines. Like I say, it's not really a song, but nevertheless .

All in all, this is a very good release from a long forgotten band that I had never even heard of until a month ago. I like this quite a bit and it's been getting a lot of play in my house. I'm not tired of it yet and I am sufficiently impressed to look into some of the band's other releases that are now available on the Vertigo licensed Japanese label Tachika, all with mini LP jacket packaging.

Last word . If you are a keyboard aficionado like I am, get this re-issue. Ruckstuhl was a real talent and this music is nothing to dismiss. You are going to like this.

[Jan 2005: It has come to our attention that the Tachika label may be a "pirate" label, they are not licenced reissues, which calls in to question this and other reissues' legitimacy -ed.]

Rating: 4.5/5

More about Elements:

Track Listing: Sun Fire / Sea Monsters / Earth Song / A Poem Of Dancing / Untitled Bonus Track

Musicians: Roland Ruckstuhl - Keyboards, Tapes Peter Furrer - Kit Drums, Percussion Urs Hochull - Bass, Bass Pedals, Vocals Peter Wolf - Vocals, Woodwinds, Saxophone

Report this review (#25763)
Posted Saturday, March 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I find it really quite a pity that this album is so hard to find (legally, anyway...pirated CD's are readily available from the notorious Tachika label, which I DON'T recommend buying!) as it really is something of a lost symphonic classic from the dark days of the punk era.

Urs Waldispühl is long gone, allowing Roland Ruckstuhl free rein to fill up the space with wall-to-wall keys. To say that this is absolute Nirvana for a prog fan is redundant. Somewhere along the line, Ruckstuhl acquired a Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, adding a new richness and fullness to the sound. As before, his acoustic piano playing, displaying Beethoven and Rachmanninoff influences, is like manna from heaven-one ethereal, celestial cascade after another. If you liked Keith Emerson's piano playing on "Take A Pebble", now imagine an album filled with moments like that.

Peter Wolf's voice is still not particularly what I'd call "stellar", but he does a resonable job putting the songs across. Much more interesting is his woodwind work. His flute playing is nice, but it's his layered saxophone work that gives the album the unique feel, imparting a fascinating texture on the music. The soprano sax that crops up often is clearly used as a less-difficult-to-play substitute for oboe, and while I'd have preferred the real deal, it serves the music. Sometimes you have to make do with what you have

Make no mistake, this album breaks no new ground, treading an already familiar symphonic-rock groove. That said, it does what it does extremely well, and does so at a time when the climate was most hostile for such music. I'd feel quite confident in putting this album alongside the much acclaimed GARDEN SHED album by England. Really, it's that good.

Report this review (#42767)
Posted Sunday, August 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars The line-up has lost its guitar player, but since he was not very determining on their debut album; not too many damages are done even if I always prefer to have this instrument featured, just for added variety in the music.

But the band compensates this with Peter Wolf who is playing flute as well as sax. He incidentally also sings, in a derivative Anderson way at times. But that's what this album (and the previous one) is all about: some YesSongs from Switzerland.

Still, as I have said in my review for their debut ''Calatea'', this band adds a definite own feel to their music mostly thanks to the sax play but not only. They sound definitely jazzier than ''Yes'' (''Sea Monsters'') and during this long compositions, I have the impression to grab some GG influence during some vocals while ''Genesis'' just sits together as well while Roland Ruckstuht starts his synth solo. While he hits the piano, Wakeman and Emerson are the references.

Nothing new under the sun actually, since these characteristics could also be noticed in their earlier release. That said, this song is very pleasant, yet not personal.

The other tracks from this album are made on the same mould (especially ''Earth''), and ''A Poem Of Dancing'' also borrowed the format. Fine fluting and almost classic piano combined to some melodic vocals towards the end are indeed fine ''elements''.

This is an enjoyable album; it is totally oriented towards the early seventies and some of the prog giants as mentioned. Three stars.

Report this review (#190487)
Posted Tuesday, November 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars Swiss band FLAME DREAM wear their influences on their sleeves as the GENESIS / YES flavour is strong. This is their second album and there's no guitar on this one as he left after the debut. We get four long tracks on this album.

"Sun Fire" opens with strange sounds as mellotron, keys and drums arrive. It starts to lighten and pick up. It settles down with vocals 3 minutes in. "Sea Monsters" opens with water sounds and keyboards.Vocals before 1 1/2 minutes then it kicks in after 2 1/2 minutes to a GENESIS- like pulsating soundscape. Synths before 4 miknutes then it settles with vocals and keys again. Banks-like organ before 6 minutyes. It picks up 10 minutes in and it's heavier 12 minutes in before settling back.

"Earth Song" opens with vocals only before synths, drums and bass join in.This is fairly uptempo. Sax after 2 minutes. Again sounds pulsate here. Some good chunky bass 6 minutes in. "A Poem Of Dancing" opens with sax followed by keyboards then reserved vocals a minute in.The sound does get fuller and pulsates. Very YES-like before 4 1/2 minutes with fat bass lines as the song continues to play out.

I have trouble appreciating this album much like the other two recordings I have from them. Barely 3 stars.

Report this review (#348027)
Posted Thursday, December 9, 2010 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
3 stars Flame Dream´s second efford came in a time when prog was becoming increasily unfashionable. Still the music on this concept album (about the four elements, like the tile implies) is remarkly symphonic in essence, which I guess, it´s good enough credentials for this swiss band. Even more so if you consider that guitarrist Urs Waldispühl was gone, leaving the sound even more keyboard-oriented than the first, which is not bad at all for Roland Ruckstuht is a brilliant musician. Peter Wolf´s role as wind player was expanded too, and his were much of the parts supposed to be performed by the guitar player in a ´normal´ band.

I´ve always heard of them as a kind of Yes clone group, but I hear nothing like that here, nor in their debut. In fact, early Genesis and Gentle giant are much easily identified as their main influences, at least on Elements. Ok, some Jon Anderson-like vocals can be found here and there, but that´s about it. The extensive use of saxophones also takes them closer to jazz-rock/fusion than anything Yes has ever released. All the songs are quite good in general, even if none is really exceptional. My CD had a fifth track, a very short instrumental track that adds nothing to the original vinyl LP. Production is quite good. Vocals are only average, but they are not that intrusive overall.

While not an essential masterpiece of prog music in any way, it was still valiant and valid work of progressive music in a time so many other acts were giving in.

Final rating: 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#552424)
Posted Tuesday, October 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Flame Dream with their second offer from 1979 Elements is without question one of the best and yet unfairly unnoticed prog rock albums from late '70. I can't complain about anything here, the japanese Tachika Records re issue the album on CD in mini LP format and the sound is pretty great. The guitarist from thir first album is gone, the sound now on this album is similar with let's say Genesis from Wind and wuthering era or Duke, elaborated keyboards passages where Roland Ruckstuhl really shines in places he has some escapades that remind me of Wakeman solo albums. Also the voice reminds me of the guy from Fruupp with some Peter Gabriel tones here and there or Steve dane from Druid. So, the music is excellent to my ears, is a keyboard dominated album, little more keyboard orintated then their previous album, but that is not a bad thing, every musician done a great job, specialy the keyboradist and drumer. The mellotron, moog sound is top notch, very diverse passages , very well played with lot to offer, the passages are colourful, complicated, where the soinic wall offers , at least to me one of the best albums from late '70 in symphonic prog realm. All four pieces are top notch, a concept album about the 4 elements, with a plus on second track from A side Sea monsters , absolutly killer tune, where Roland Ruckstuhl manage to offers some very intresting and inventive parts, the keyboards here are wesome and of the highest calibre, very diverse and very solid. All, in all this album is quite underrated for sure, this Elements album sounds better then more then half albums and bands from same period from progressive rock realm, and yet quite unnoticed in prog circles. 4 stars easy and recommended for sure, top notch release and cover art aswell. Love it and one of my fav albums ever aswell.
Report this review (#842473)
Posted Monday, October 22, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars In a very short time too much went on in Flame Dream's bedrock.Firstly came the departure of guitarist Urs Waldispuehl, while the remaining members decided to move on as a quartet without a guitarist.Second came the change of label with the band leaving Phillips and signing with Vertigo.Nevertheless most of the compositions were written by keyboardist Roland Ruckstuhl, who wrote all of the material of the band's sophomore effort ''Elements''.The album was released in 1979, this time not only in Switzerland but also in Italy.

The new album of Flame Dream offered four long and sophisticated arrangements (along with a nice sax/organ-based short outro), obviously more keyboard-driven than on their debut without any guitarist in the line-up anymore.Additionally the role of sax/woodwind player Peter Wolf became more significant and dominant.The result is an album that recalls the best moments of CARPE DIEM, totally uncommercial and following the best Prog traditions.The music remained very much symphonic-oriented with huge piano preludes, fascinating synth acrobatics and old-fashioned Hammond organ runs in the style of TONY BANKS with little personality but an incredible performance.This keyboard-driven style is often accompanied by some elegant flute parts and heavy sax interventions, like if GENESIS and YES were jamming with VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR.The abscence of guitars is hardly detected, as the sound of the band remained rich and melodic, full of professional interplays, very tight orchestrations and impressive shifting climates.The vocals are pretty mediocre, without being annoying, seems the group was aware of it and ''Elements'' contains mostly extended instrumental parts with evident Classical inspirations, blended with some Fusion touches, characterized by numerous technical still memorable passages.

Very strong effort during Progressive Rock's twilight zone.An instant purchase for all fans of demanding Classic Prog, which is sure to reward anyone going after it.Highly recommended.

Report this review (#954943)
Posted Monday, May 6, 2013 | Review Permalink

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