It's times like this that I'm thankful Ron Fuchs trusted my opinion enough to include me as part of the Prognaut writing staff. This experience has really expanded my knowledge of progressive rock by exposing me to exciting new bands, sub-categories within the genre, and introduced me to lost and forgotten gems from distant lands. Countries like Estonia. And bands like Echosilence, Indrek Patte, and Mess ... all of which I'll be reviewing in the coming weeks.
Although Ruja (formed in 1971) may be the first of the progressive Estonian bands, Mess is considered to be one of the leading and most influential of the Estonian progressive bands. Formed in 1974 by keyboard player Sven Grunberg from the ashes of the experimental electronic band Positron, Mess lasted only two years, yet their influence sparked the underground progressive music scene in the Soviet Union. Live shows became artistic events complete with an intricate light show, ingenious stage designs, and props created by artist Kaarel Kurismaa. Unfortunately, none of which would ever be experienced outside the Soviet Union due to strict government restraints.
And so it would take decades for the western world to experience the talents of Grunberg and company.
The odyssey of "Kusi eneselt" (translated - "Ask Yourself") is strange indeed, and from what information I've been able to gather I'm not quite sure if this 2004 digital remaster features the original uncut tunes or the heavily edited recording released in 1995 as "Sven Grunberg's Proge-Rock Group Mess" on the German 'Bella Musica' label. An album that seemed to have many prog critics up in arms upon it's release. But since I can't verify one way or the other I'll simply review what I have in my hand.
Many of the main objections to the 1995 release were of the poorly edited chop-job done to the original recording. But for the first time listener the tunes on "Kusi eneselt" flow seamlessly. So I can only assume the 2004 digital remaster, engineered by Grunberg himself, is intact.
And as for the production value ... the sound quality is on par with many early progressive recordings of the era I've heard from eastern block countries such as Hungary (bands like Bergendy and Omega), Poland (Klan, SBB, RSC), the Czech Republic (Collegium Musicum, Modry Effect, Progress 2), as well as the German groups Schicke Fuhrs & Froling (SFF), Anyone's Daughter, Can, Jane, Kraan, and Grobschnitt.
The early recordings of many of these bands will never rank at the top of an audiophiles list of sonic perfection. But they all represent a moment in time when experimentation and ingenuity compensated for cutting edge studio technology and sound boards providing unlimited audio tracks. And while prestigious recording studios were expanding to 16 or 24 tracks, the bulk of independent budget conscious musicians in the 70s' still recorded their albums in 8 track studios.
Heck ... even the Beatles recorded "Strawberry Fields Forever" on two separate four-track tape machine, for a total of 8 tracks. But then of course, they had George Martin as producer.
The over-all sound and compositions on "Kusi eneselt" are quite comparable to the first two albums by the popular Dutch group Focus - "In And Out Of Focus" and "Moving Waves". The guitar work of Elmu Vaht is eerily reminiscent of Jan Akkermann's style.
The material for "Kusi eneselt" was recorded between 1975 and 1976, and included the classic Mess line-up of Matti Timmermann (bass and vocals), Elmu Vark (guitar), Ivar Sipra (drums and percussion), and composer Sven Grunberg (vocals, keyboards & electronics, 12 string guitar), as well as the choir of world famous orchestrator Tonu Kaljuste, Leho Late (oboe and English horn), Valdek Pold (French horn), Rolf Uusvla (church pipe organ), and Andrus Vaht (drums and percussion); giving much of the recording an expanded symphonic flavor.
The songs are very lush and cinematic, featuring excellent keyboards from Grunberg and outstanding guitar work from Vark.
The vocals are not in English, so if that bothers you ... you've been fore warned. I imagine this is what it feels like when an archaeologist unearths a priceless relic of the past. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Jospeh Shingler on February 19th, 2012