I can proudly proclaim ..."I was there" ... during the birth of the progressive rock movement and have watched it evolve and mature in the ensuing years. Of course graying hair and unwelcome wrinkles in no way qualifies my opinions as the 'definitive word', it simply implies that I'm no 'Johnny Come Lately' to the genre. Listening to and reviewing prog/rock music isn't a job or hobby ... it's a life-long passion. Progressive rock has been my musical genre of choice - inspiring me to join the fray and pursue a musical career as well with my Ghosts Of Pompeii projects.
I look with heartfelt nostalgia on the accomplishments of the pioneers of the past, and applaud the revivalists and forward thinking newcomers who have branched out and expanded the progressive rock pallet into the new millennium. But I continue to be drawn to the early days of progressive rock when it was an exciting musical art form that pushed the boundaries of conventional rock and roll ... introducing the listener to strange and wondrous keyboard instruments such as the Mellotron and Moog synthesizer, performed by long-haired caped or leather clad classically trained musicians. A time when a flute playing front man would don the stage in leotards and a cod piece and perform an epic concept piece in its entirety. Or when an adventurous Renaissance influenced band like Gryphon would dare to combine exotic woodwinds like bassoon, krumhorns and recorders, with high tech synthesizers, electric guitar, violin, and mandolin, creating a medieval/progressive hybrid band of troubadours.
It truly was an exciting time in music. But these pioneering UK bands like Jethro Tull, YES, ELP, Gryphon, Gentle Giant, The Moody Blues, King Crimson and Pink Floyd were just the tip of the iceberg. Progressive Rock was a worldwide phenomena - and Italy was a hotbed of new prog/rock talent with bands like PFM, LeOrme, Aqua Fragile, Banco, Goblin, Jumbo, New Trolls, and Ossana to name a few. But in recent years that lush symphonic sound that distinguished the Italian artists from their British counterparts has been emulated and expanded upon by a variety of excellent South American bands from Brazil.
Just as neo-artists like IQ, Marillion, Arena and Pendragon followed in the footsteps of their pioneering British brethren Genesis and YES ... Brazilian artists like Bacamarte, Mantra, Sagrado Coracao Da Terra, O Terco, Trem De Futuro and Tempus Fugit borrowed and expanded upon the sound of the aforementioned early Italian groups.
All this brings us to the superb powerhouse Brazilian group Blue Mammoth and their new 2011 self-titled release which encapsulates the very best in my abridged history of progressive rock. Combining the best elements of the early pioneers mentioned above - both UK and Italian - with the cream of the neo crop artists: IQ, Fish era Marillion, Arena, Pallas, and The Flower Kings. In addition to US artists like Kansas and a few other surprises.
"Blue Mammoth" opens with regal majesty as "Overture - The Awakening Of A Giant" grabs hold of you with it's bombastic synthesizer fanfare and dynamic gong and cymbal crashes, and I knew something special was in store for me. And I was not disappointed as the synth and guitar arpeggios of Andre Micheli and Andre Lupac dueled to the death - a doom drenched organ fugue and faux Mellotron strings and vocal choir welled up creating an impenetrable wall of sound - all propelled by the hard driving rhythm section of bassist Julian Quilodran and the energetic drumming of Thiago Meyer as he flayed his skins with power and precision.
Then, to my utter amazement when I thought things couldn't get any better, Part IV "Coda - Back Again" gains the momentum of a steaming locomotive and the band switches tracks morphing into a Brazilian version of my all time favorite German groups - Eloy.
This album was hitting on all cylinders, ingratiating itself as though it had been custom made for my personal taste - and we hadn't even gotten through the first epic track. Everything that had attracted me to the genre was right here in the title track "Blue Mammoth" ... brilliant compositions and arrangement, masterful musicianship, strong vocals, and those powerful ethereal moments that elevate your spirit, prompting you to get on your knees and thank God he had the fore site to include a pair of ears to our anatomy.
The second movement "Who We are" from the track "Rain Of Changes - A Poet Spirit Voyage" will surely delight fans of the German group RPWL as it builds to an emotional crescendo. The RPWL tunes "You" or "Home Again" from the album "Trying To Kiss The Sun" immediate come to mind. Not the subject matter or melody - but the powerful emotions evoked when listening. And then another shock to the system during Part III of the tune "The Sun's Face Through Dark Clouds" as the band pulls out another surprise with a madrigal-style Gentle Giant accapella.
The album is broken up into three extended multi-part main pieces ... "Blue Mammoth", "Rain Of Changes", and "Quixote's Dream", as well as four mid-range tunes of just over five minute each. And the only critique or suggestion I'd make is in the mix. Bassist Julian Quilodran attacks his bass with the ferocity of a youthful Chris Squire, employing his instrument more as a lead than bass guitar. And as a result the sonic EQ is short on bottom end. The guitars, keys, and vocals are all recorded in the mid-range EQ spectrum. So adding a Taurus Bass Pedal to his musical arsenal might help alleviate those moments when he's riffing on the upper register of his bass guitar, and give the music the booming bottom end needed to cover the entire musical sound spectrum in those moments when the music builds to a crescendo. Just my opinion ... take it with a grain of salt.
The Blue Mammoth line-up consists of: Julian Quilodran (bass, cello, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Thiago Meyer (drums, electric and acoustic percussion, backing vocals), Andre Lupac (electric and acoustic guitars, flute, backing vocals), and Andre Micheli (piano, organ, synths, lead and backing vocals). "Blue Mammoth" isn't simply highly recommended - but required listening for any fan of progressive music. One of the best International progressive rock releases of 2011.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on December 18th, 2011