MCA 1977 / Esoteric 2018
The final curtain for powerful fusion unit whose intricate assault defied all expectations.
It was a brief, yet exciting, sprint from "Strange New Flesh" to this album, COLOSSEUM II’s third and last offering. Released less than six months after its predecessor, if “War Dance” somewhat mirrored “Electric Savage” in structure, there was a logical continuation of earlier themes – and a new one to hang fresh pieces on. With a renaissance-styled fanfare running throughout the record, from a riff-driven, moderately dramatic opener onward, melody and mood could change but the charge of the light brigade remained graciously refined.
Don Airey’s ivories may make their initial shimmer tangible for Jon Hiseman‘s tight tom-toms to ripple underneath, yet when Gary Moore’s fluid licks flow free the title track is turned into intoxicating tribal twirl of aural flakes until organ flurries take it all back to funk so that John Mole’s bass can have a field day, too. Once terra incognita has been mapped out, the frivolous, albeit muscular, curlicues of “Major Keys” kick in and and clear the horizon, getting purer jazz-rock motifs into filigree gear, but there’s a heavier edge to the briskly serious, and sometimes solemn, “Put It That Way” – a follow-up to “Put It This Way” from the band’s previous LP – which sees Hammond bolster up the unison of Airey’s Moog and Moore’s six strings who would go off on a tangent and rock hard, each on their own and together again.
The belligerent, with mighty groove to the fore, “Fighting Talk” leads the quartet’s fantastic interplay even further, to sharp peaks at the reckless end of progressive abandon, where hefty blues dwell and swell, while the delicate, romantic “Castles” – featuring the album’s sole vocal performance, a luminous, soulful prequel of sorts to Gary’s “Empty Rooms” – demonstrates the ensemble’s ability to evoke ethereal reverie. Still, it doesn’t come close to “The Inquisition” whose streamlined attack is resolved into an exquisite, flamenco-tinctured acoustic guitar lace, and not for nothing Hiseman revisited this precious cut with JCM shortly before his untimely passing that left Don the only surviving member of the tremendously talented collective.
They could shine individually, as the solo passages of immersive sequence “Star Maiden / Mysterioso / Quasar” show, floating from supple rumble to wild improv to spaced-out baroque, yet the returning glimmer of “Last Exit” is fleshed out in instrumental unity to bring about the end of fusion era. “War Dance” might surprise everyone familiar with the band members’ later output but, arguably, none of them had ever delivered a better, more blistering record afterwards.