VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – Merlin Atmos

Esoteric Antenna 2015

Live document of 2013 tour conceptualizes the band’s epic aspect and shifts the collective’s balance.

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR - Merlin Atmos

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR –
Merlin Atmos

Dark extravaganza of VdGG’s albums has always been hard to reproduce on-stage, which never deterred this intrepid unit from taking their menace to the audience and, given that triangle is the strongest shape, the current trio decided to go for broke with the things they hadn’t done for a long time, if at all. That’s what “Merlin Atmos” is about (at least, the regular edition of it, while the limited one, in digipak, has 70 additional minutes not for the faint of heart) where their most recent outing, 2011’s "A Grounding In Numbers", is represented by a single track, while two of the six pieces on display come from 1998’s “Trisector,” the ensemble’s first in a reduced format, and two more from Peter Hammill’s solo lore. The question is, then, whether Hugh Banton and Guy Evans are reduced to his accompanists now.

And the answer would be a resounding “No”: it’s the organist and drummer who anchor their leader’s personal “Flight” – delivered here in its gloomy entirety yet devoid of the erstwhile guitar carcass, with the singer’s sat at the piano as if to tilt the performance towards a church-chamber solemnity and, the absence of former sharpness, emboss the composition’s dramatic edge, especially in the still rocking middle section. This epic is overshadowed, though, by the wholeness of “A Plague Of Lighthouse Keeper” which largely updates its rare performance back in the ’70s, like a live in studio one. Stripped of a multi-voice, theatrical approach and lower in vocal tone, the masterpiece comes off more monolithic, if more life-affirming.

Yet it takes “Bunsho,” a new addition to the VdGG canon to stitch together their past to the present with a vibrant, harmonic sway of a pseudo-operatic, truly progressive in its tight interplay, intent. Still, it’s “Lifetime” that snaps the mood out of the doom waters adding a fresh electric axe charge from Hammill and cymbals ripple courtesy of the tamed Evans to the preaching, before “All That Before” bares the band’s dynamics in full and lets their raging riffs loose for Bunton’s Hammond to run wild. The same roar turns celestial when it leads into the hellish “Gog” only to raise such a contradiction to the echoing heights the trio’s younger selves weren’t capable of, and here lies a perfect validation of their tapping into the classic source of art energy: the forgotten glory hides a fountain of youth.

****

April 27, 2015

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