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Crash Course: A Hermetic Science Primer

a Compilation/Boxed-Set release
Hermetic Science

Release Year: 2006

Date Label Catalog # Comments
01 Jun 2006 Hermeticum Records CD101 2xCD
Remixed and remastered from their original tapes, Crash Course: A Hermetic Science Primer is a two-CD, 135 minute, 20 track set containing tracks from Ed Macan's Hermetic Science (1997), Prophesies (1999), and En Route (2001).
Added To Proggnosis Database on: 2/26/2007 12:00:00 AM
Entry Last Updated on: 10/28/2023 8:35:00 AM by: DBSilver

CD 1

  1. Esau's Burden 5:11
  2. Fire Over Thule - 9:33
  3. The Sungazer - 11:05
  4. Fanfare for the House of Panorama - 4:01
  5. Intrigue In the House of Panorama - 4:19
  6. Trisagion - 8:21
  7. Barbarians At the Gate - 4:38
  8. Hope Against Hope - 6:57
  9. Last Stand - 6:32
  10. Lament - 4:50

CD 2

  1. Leviathan and Behemoth - 9:52
  2. State of Grace - 8:17
  3. Mars, the Bringer of War - 7:14
  4. Against the Grain Part One - 6:38
  5. Against the Grain Part Two - 5:31
  6. Against the Grain Part Three - 4:52
  7. Against the Grain Part Four - 3:39
  8. La-Bas - 7:57
  9. Raga Hermeticum - 8:56
  10. En Route - 6:44
Ed Macan
Percussion, keyboards, lyre, recorder
Michael Morris
drums, percussion
Donald Sweeney,
Nate Perry
Matt McClimon

Reviewed by MichelF on 14 Jul 2008

Edward Macan is the author of Rocking The Classic: English Progressive Rock and the Counter Culture (New York, Oxford University Press, 1996) which is in my view a superb contribution to knowledge of that creative music early era. From the point of view of an interested scholar and observer (the claim to objectivity in his book is rather amusing for me, but this not the place for that kind of academic debate), he dives courageously in the trouble and not very popular waters of progressive rock musical creation and performance. In that sense, he contributes aptly to keep it alive, and hopefully well.

The jacket cover with its teacher addressing his pupils renders well the problematic feeling created by the album. Hermetic means not easily accessible (even abstruse!) and science mean that it could possibly be taught and learned. We hope to be like the student with the green notebook on the jacket cover and access that musical knowledge!

Hermetic Science double album Crash Course: A Hermetic Science Primer (2006) offers us an unusual kind of progressive rock chamber music where we encountered subdued sounds and subtlety rather than raw power and intensity (for a comparison listen to the CD Encores, Legends & Paradox rendition of Emerson, Lake & Palmer). This double album is a sort of best of remixed and re-mastered opus, featuring the most interesting pieces of the three preceding albums. The music appears to me more intellectual than emotional even austere at times; music for musicians and connoisseurs. One proof of that assertion is in the length and technical details needed to explain the band's music and each tracks of this double album in the leaflet. However, the most important proof resides in the complexity and structure of the compositions, which are by the way excellent. Finally, a musical crash course of this length speaks a lot about its true nature.

The whole is indeed extremely original even if the imprint and influence of ELP is at time showing strongly (which is not a surprise since Macan is also a biographer of ELP). Further more, we easily ear that the music emerges from the bedrock of classical music (mostly baroque and contemporary to my profane ears) to be hybridized with rock and a little hint of jazz. The fruits are simply delicious, but not on the commercial side of things, more like experimental-prog or even math rock at times (a band like Boud Deun could be invoked here). The metaphor that comes to my mind is organic food versus industrial ones... The appeal is not immediate, but it is better for our musical health. I also note a progression in the quality of the compositions; the second CD is in my view excellent, but I have slight reservations about the first one.

The choice of instruments is an important factor in the overall feeling when we listen to this intriguing gem. Vibraphone (or marimba) is often encountered in jazz, and at times it is the main instrument (Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson or Gary Burton). It can also be found in classical music (Pierre Boulez Le marteau sans maitre, Olivier Messiaen Turangalila Symphony, Saint-Francois d'Assise, La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jesus Christ or Lior Navok Quintet for Vibraphone and String Quartet). In rock, to my knowledge, it was given mainly a supporting role except on certain pieces. Frank Zappa for instance has used it extensively in his jazzier period (Ruth Underwood was fabulous playing it in shows) or the group Gong.

I must confess that it had taken me some time to appreciate it. Therefore, I began a query with myself to comprehend why. I love classical music in general and in particular classical chamber music, why not progressive rock in that form? I love the vibraphone in jazz and in popular music, from where originates the malaise I feel? Flutes and piano are also dear to my heart. That led me to contemplate what I like the most in that kind of rock and often creates enthusiasm in me: the symphonic and orchestral parts! I love synths, mellotron, guitars, effects, human voices, the sculpting and coloring of sounds, the raw power of the music, the mind blowing effects and the overall emotional impact. A current example uniting all those elements could be found in the work of Porcupine Tree, but in others current progressive bands as well (The Pineapple Thief, White Willow, Kaipa, Riverside, Nosound, The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard, The Mars Volta, and hundreds of other fine bands currently active). Here the musical pleasures are more subtle, intellectual and acoustic sounding (mainly on the first CD, it lacks a je-ne-sais-quoi, I am still puzzled).

Don't get me wrong, those comments are not meant to minimize this very original effort. I just think that they are important to comprehend where I'm standing and the whys of my comments. Consequently, before commenting the two CDs, I've listened to them carefully (20 times to be precise). This in itself is a sure sign of its great merits, but also of it difficulties. I could tell it otherwise, as Frank Zappa has once said to Jean-Luc Ponty about his album King Kong (1969): great music but absolutely no commercial potential. I feel the same way about this double album, great music, but only for the aficionados of the more classically oriented progressive rock in the wake of ELP. In a sense, I recognize its technical and musical merits, but I am not thrilled by the music on the first CD.

CD 1: Essau's Burden complex vibraphone interplay with the bass punctuated by the subdued percussions is an excellent introduction to what will follow. It is one of the merriest tracks of this project. Fire Over Thule at the beginning creates an interesting atmosphere, like a fine mist over a lake. We discover in its unfolding a rhythm and a structure that made me think genuinely of ELP, but in a more aerial manner than the old proggers may have done. If there is a fire, it is burning quietly in the sky. The Sungazer sounded jazzier to my ears and as the title implied, we feel the sun ray above our head. The music made us journey on the mellow side of things. Fanfare in the House of Panorama, which is certainly a house with a good view on the scenery, offers us a contrasted musical portrait. It is one of my favourite on this CD. Intrigue in the House of Panorama continues in this superb and harmonious percussion way. I find similarities with certain jazz/classical mix compositions in the style of Boulez. Trisagion is another vintage HS with its smooth sailing on the vibraphone wings. Barbarians at the Gate left me perplexed, I had a hard time keeping my attention and listening correctly to it. Hope Against Hope flute beginning and ending added a welcome feature on this CD and is an interesting composition, the keys from the middle of the piece contribute also to the variety of the sound. Last Stand is, in my opinion, in Gentle Giant footsteps and style. Lament is a great piano composition, and it made me think a little of Debussy and Satie piano works, but in the manner of Keith Emerson. Finally my slight reservation: there is sameness in the overall sound (the acoustic timbre?) on this CD; it simply lacks variety and depth. But from a strictly musical standpoint, it is remarkable.

CD 2. It is in my opinion far better than the first one, more mature and interesting: Leviathan and Behemoth those two legendary giant monsters seem to walk before our eyes. It is one of the best compositions of Macan in my view. Still it appears to me to be very ELP inspired with a little Gentle Giant spicing. All in all it is a great progressive rock piece. State of Grace has a Yes feel to it, even the piano is in Rick Wakeman spirit and style. Mars, the Bringer of War is a very interesting and creative interpretation of this movement of The Planets by Gustav Holst. I have heard many interpretations of it; this one is surely one of the most original. Against the Grain part one, two, three and four is the epic length masterpiece of HS; it is in itself worth buying this double CD. It is certainly one of the most interesting compositions in progressive rock of the last 20 years (with The Sky Moves Sideway of Porcupine Tree). The piece really thrilled me. La-Bas at the beginning is almost a straight forward classical piece which suddenly takes a rock turn. Raga Hermeticum an oriental sounding piece is also another excellent composition that is a joy to hear, it evolves superbly. I simply love it. En Route closes nicely this excellent CD with superb piano in the Boulez tradition.

Hermetic Science is definitely a band on the intellectual side of the current progressive rock movement. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend it for all lovers of that style of music. It may not be accessible at the first listen, but like all great works of art, it reveals slowly it splendors and it certainly merits to be widely known. Now, I'm waiting eagerly for their next project.