Babylon - Better Conditions For The Dead

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Mehums Music
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 72:07:00

After listening to Babylon's self titled release my only complaint was that there was not more of it. Only four brilliant tracks left a hungry feeling after every listen to the disc. Well, there is a second course. The band has another release available, the live release Better Conditions For The Dead, and even though it is basically a heavily tweaked bootleg quality recording, this is a good disc and it captures an inspired performance from the band and it contains a number of tunes that did not appear on the original Babylon CD re-issue. This CD combines ten tracks that were previously released on two vinyl LPs that were released on the Syn-Phonic label in 1989. The tracks were recorded at a gig at the Empty Keg, on the campus of USF at Tampa, Florida. The small crowd was taken aback by the performance. Frankly, they were stunned into silence. Babylon's vocalist Doroccas (Rod Sacco) tells me that the crowd was probably expecting to hear a southern rock boogie band and didn't quite know what to make of Babylon. All this aside, the band turned in a brilliant set. The original recording has been heavily processed (which was not done to anyway near this extent on the 1989 LP releases) by the band's longtime engineer and associate, Steve Repetti, using the latest version of Sony Digital's Sound Forge, employing most of the available plug-ins including the newest noise reduction package. The result is quite listenable release with none of the annoyances of most bootleg releases. The mix, while not absolutely perfect, is good with very few dropouts and little noticeable noise.

The CD features a pair of sonic soundscapes, tracks one and seven, "It Is Time" and "Pyramid Mask". They consist of some rather dated taped sound effects, spoken words, conversation, and echoing synthesizer dwiddling. I tend to skip over these gratuitous exercises, especially the first, "It Is Time," which stretches out for nearly five minutes.

The band performs the majority of the tracks from their only studio release, giving the audience perfect renditions of "Dreamfish," "Mote In God's Eye" and "Cathedral Of The Mary Ruin". These are all brilliant compositions, showing the group adeptly synthesizing the style of their main influence, Genesis, into some absolutely stunning symphonic masterpieces. I cannot overemphasize the quality of these tunes and I am consistently amazed at the writing, arranging and the sheer musical mastery of the players. Yes, it is all derivative of Genesis, but the songs rival the best music that Genesis ever produced.

So that leaves us five tracks that have not been heard before, except, of course by those who managed to lay their hands on the LPs that were produced, oh? and the reportedly very drunk crowd who attended this live performance. Now I will admit to being a somewhat rabid fan of Babylon, but I hope you will take me at my word, and my word is this, it's all amazingly good. There, I've said it, and it's all true, trust me on this, ok?

"Foam Rubber Philosopher" is a gorgeous instrumental featuring Gary Chambers' keyboards in multiple, flowing themes that bring the endlessly moving sea to my mind. This tune sounds more like it was influenced by Happy The Man than Genesis. It is followed by "Forest Of Orelse" where Doroccas treats us to some over the top vocals. The tune ends with an incredibly powerful motif and Chambers's crushing keyboards. Another instrumental comes up next, "Saint Vitus Dance," a very complex number with loads of syncopated lines and one that shows off both guitarist J. David Boyko's strengths and bassist Rick Leonard's flawless approach to his instrument.

"You Are Sentenced To Life On Earth" suffers a bit from Doroccas's loud and strident vocals, but the great majority of this tune is made up of surging instrumental passages and a glittering, reflective final theme featuring Chambers beautiful synthesizer work. This releases final tune, and the highlight of the set is the huge and overpowering "Ultima Thule." The band gives a furious performance of this instrumental piece and it blends well the most exciting elements of progressive rock, sounding like a mix of King Crimson, Anglagard and UK, as well as Happy The Man and Genesis. Drummer Rodney Best gives a manic drive to this one and Chambers' keyboards and Boyko's guitar work are both superb.

Better Conditions For The Dead is one of a handful of rare works, a live album that provides far more than a collection of rote performances of familiar works. This is one that expands and burnishes the group's reputation as one of the greatest unknown bands of their time.

This is definitely a disc to add to your collection. This band should have rightfully worn the crown as America's best symphonic progressive group. Listen to this great disc and hear what should have been.

It Is Time (5:21) / Dreamfish (9:07) / Mote In God's Eye (7:46) / Foam Rubber Philosopher (7:32) / Forest Of Orelse (8:02) / Saint Vitus Dance (6:28) / Pyramid Mask (1:52) / Cathedral Of The Mary Ruin (8:13) / You Are Sentenced To Life On Earth (8:49) / Ultima Thule (9:09)

Rodney Best - drums, percussion
J. David Boyko - guitars
Gary Chambers - keyboards, voice
Rick Leonard - bass, bass pedals, voice
Doroccas (Rod Sacco) - lead voice, keyboards

Babylon (1978/1999)
Night Over Never 'Live At The Empty Keg 1' (1989)
Better Conditions For The Dead 'Live At The Empty Keg 2' (1989)
Better Conditions For The Dead (2002)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: August 22nd 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 2010
Language: english


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