Hermetic Science - En Route

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Magnetic Oblivion Records
Catalog Number: 3-MERM3-01
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:47:00

Very cool. This is the phrase that repeats in my mind as I listen to the lastest release from musician/author Ed Macan and his band Hermetic Science. And yet, resorting to a mere two words seems not only inadequate but unsophisticated. But then again, En Route is cool, in that serious jazz kind of way, though this is far closer to contemporary classical than jazz. There's a cool elegence to the approach that Macan and company take, and yet some of sounds are also "dirty," giving the music a raw, earthy feel. Macan's an multi-instrumentalist, playing vibes, marimba, timpani, keys of various types, lyre, and recorders; the sound is rounded out by Jason Hoopes on bass, guitar, sitar and acoustic piano; Matt McClimon (tracks 1-5) and Joe Nagy (tracks 6-9) on drums and percussives, Nagy also contributing dumbek.

En Route is a concept album based around the works of J. K. Huysmans, a late 19th/early 20th century writer. The first track is an interpretation of Holst's infamous, "Mars, The Bringer Of War" parenthetically entitled "Doomsday Mix." Macan also visited this track on his first self-titled album. "Mars" is a dark and brooding piece with heavy percussion, lots of keys. The grimness of war is apparent in each tone ... while the tones are triumphant, it is a bloody triumph. Comparing it to a more "traditional" performance (in this case by the London Symphony Orchestra*), the darkness of the Macan arrangement brings an added dimension. I guess the difference is that Macan's interpretation emphasizes the war aspect, while the more orchestral interpretation focuses on the planet aspect.

The remainder of the album is devoted to "En Route: A Suite." The first four tracks of the suite represent Huysman's 1884 work A Rebours (Against The Grain), the fourth, his 1891 novel La-Bas (Down There), and the final track Huymans' 1894 novel En Route.

Musically, there is a strong kinship to Emerson, Lake and Palmer -- mainly the Emerson part of the equation. Certainly much of this is down to the variety of keyboards that Macan uses - Hammond, Rhodes, microMoog, etc., but also to a slightly angular arrangement. In contrast to the darkness of the Holst piece, there is a much brighter feel to "Against The Grain, Part One" through "Against The Grain: Part Four." Here we such lyrical beauty in the first part (mainly piano) and also more dramatic, darker, figures (which are later echoed in "La-Bas"). "Part Two" is a little moodier, but still upbeat ... a sense of contentment pervades (how this relates in away to the book, I can't say, but listening to this passage has a calming, reassuring effect). Later, a rockier section has a booming bass that sounded, to me, so 70's disco. "Part Three" has a funky beat -- okay, I thought a bit of Alien Ant Farm's take on the Michael Jackson tune "Smooth Criminal." Though the sparkling keys here add that classical touch -- classical rock indeed. (Very cool stuff). "Part Four" is the most ELP like, and yet the organ sounds, give it very different character. It's like at a hip church.

And yet, like the novel it is based on, "La-Bas" is much darker -- there's a Fellini-esque, off-kilter, carnival feel for the first four minutes or so, which suddenly gives way to a more sedate, moody passage (keys and percussion at the forefront) -- bittersweet and melancholy...an organ providing funereal tones. Within moments, the mood shifts again, drums and percussion taking on a militaristic pattern ... and then I think of that black and grey future-past image so often used today in commercials, an image lifted from Orwell's 1984 (though certainly others). The future as the depression-era. Though all that predates Huysmans, a bleakness is represented. At least in the music of Macan. That the book contains a "then-sensationalistic description of a black mass at the climax" (as Macan says in the liner notes), Macan has captured the entire mood entirely.

In between the sixth and eight tracks is "Raga Hermeticum," employing Indian (as in India) music -- we here everything from 10-string lyre, to vibes, to organ, to recorders, to bass and sitar (and more). It is music that both makes you want to move to and become mesmerized by. It seems strange at first to be placed where it is, and yet, it is only because it comes on the heels of something dark, and leads into something very classical (the title track). I hear vague hints of a familiar piece of music, that I can hear in my head, but the life of me, can't recall the name ("A Summer Place" is what comes to mind). It's just for a few phrases, but if you know that piece, you know that this returns to brightness. In the novel, "the protagonist, Durtal, finds meaning and renewed purpose in the faith and mode of life of his forefathers."

Macan has again crafted an album of music that can equally find a home with lovers of classical music and lovers of progressive rock (and certainly those who love both). It is an excellent release that I can barely find a flaw with. Those "dirty" points may not agree with everyone, as they can also sound like bad production, but given the clarity of the rest of the disk, I suspect this fuzzy harshness is intentional. But, this is easily, and highly recommended. Or, as I said, very cool.

For more info on Huysman, go to www.huysmans.org.uk.

*Listening to the LSO performance, as conducted by Geoffrey Simon, (by the way) I can hear that composer John Williams had to have been influenced by Holst. There are so many similiarities to the music that Williams composed for Star Wars...I'd venture to say even lifted phrases for "The Main Theme." I never noticed this in either of Macan's renditions. The Williams connection may be old news to some, but it has been a very, very long time since I'd heard any other performance of Holst's The Planets... and I never even noticed. Hmm...

Mars, The Bringer Of War (7:15) / Against The Grain, Part One (6:39) / Against The Grain, Part Two (5:31) / Against The Grain, Part Three (4:57)

Ed Macan - tuned percussion (vibes, marimba, timpani), keyboards (acoustic piano, Hammond ogran, ARP string ensemble, micromoog, Rhodes electric piano, digital pipe organ, electronic harpsichord), 10-string lyre, and soprano and tenor recorders
Jason Hoopes - bass, electric six-string guitar, sitar, and acoustic piano
Matt McClimon - drums and percussives (1-5)
Joe Nagy - drums and percussives, dumbek (6-8)

Ed Macan's Hermetic Science
Prophecies (1999)
En Route (2001)
Crash Course: A Hermetic Science Primer (2006)
These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins (2008)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: April 21st 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.hermeticscience.com
Hits: 981
Language: english


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