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Maelstrom - Maelstrom CD (album) cover

MAELSTROM

Maelstrom

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.60 | 30 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars 70's prog fans should enjoy the self-titled album by Maelstrom, a five piece band from the United States, inititally active in the early 70's, recording this debut self-titled album (initially titled `On the Gulf' on it's original release, I'm not sure what has led to the later change of title) and releasing it in 1973. It offers a mix of light and jazzy passages, not unlike Tonton Macoute, some 60's R&B flavours, the breezy atmospheres of Caravan and even early Soft Machine, while other parts might remind of the first Message album, as in adventurous 70's rock with proggy elements and extended jams, or prog-inflected jazz/fusion bands such as If and Skin Alley. Smooth group harmonies with easy-listening melodies, tasteful playing and subtle production all come together to make `Maelstrom' a success.

One thing you'll pick up pretty quickly is how...polite the vocals are. There's no doubt they are a little dated, but opener `Ceres' gets the album off to a fine start. Jeff McMullin and Robert Owen singing lovely melodies in unison, bristling organ, slinky drumming that really sneaks up on you, dreamy electric guitar runs, darting flute and sinister Mellotron attacks. `In Memory' is a fierce instrumental cocktail of spiralling dirty Soft Machine-like saxophone, snarling spacerock electric guitars, a touch of manic organ ala the first Beggars Opera album, snapping drumwork, harmonica and even loopy vibraphone.

Uptempo `The Ballonist' has a killer frantic instrumental run for an opening, more jazzy organ like Beggars Opera or Skin Alley racing as if in the final metres of a marathon. Washes of Mellotron, quick time changes and emotional crashing guitars, uplifting vibes all around on this one, and a very pleasing chorus in the second half that will have singing "You're off, you're flying, your stringed balloon is climbing..." popping into your head all the time! By comparison, `Chronicles' is somber and serious, with a frantic and out of control atmosphere in the second half with desperate vocals, oppressive 'Tron and out of control sax. Closer `Below The Line' is a very stirring vocal piece loaded with the most imperial and regal of scratchy Mellotron.

A few of the shorter tracks have a similar story-telling/songwriter vibe to the Strawbs, and lead vocalist Jeff McMullen even sounds a little like Dave Cousins from that band in some sections here, very similar qualities in his voice. Then again, it could also be also the wisps of Mellotron over much of the album that helps reinforce that similarity! `Alien' is a grand and stirring ballad with some brief gothic classical touches (nice melodic bass in the background too), yet it just stops dead right after one of the verses. `Law and Order' actually could have been a Strawbs outtake, a nice catchy and classy rocker with a very warm and memorable chorus. However, `Nature Abounds' really pushes the friendship a little, with some overly sweet near falsetto vocals that are really quite grating, and the whole thing is a little too pretty for it's own good.

An absolute highlight are two bonus live tracks from 1980 with a few changes to the original band lineup. Now fully instrumental, very much keyboard driven by incredible new member D. Kent Overholser, the spacey `Opus One' is not unlike parts of Eloy, or Triumvirat with it's marching drums full of pomp and stomp, Pulsar-sounding sinister choir Mellotron and Genesis-like organ, it's a shame the piece ends very suddenly. The more dangerous and symphonic sounding `Genesis to Geneva' features a nicely deranged keyboard meltdown throughout, especially the loopy finale! I really wish we got to hear more of what this version of the band had to offer, it's really beautiful stuff.

Reissued on both CD and vinyl by Black Widow records, the album is housed in a very dark and murky sleeve, not representative at all of the music found within! It's the contents that matter the most, though, and while never to be considered an essential purchase, `Maelstrom' is very charming and a real grower, and would be a welcome addition to the collection of fans of proggy jazzy 70's rock similar to the above mentioned artists.

Three and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |

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