Review Summary: This is some geeky shit. Proggers and nerds only.
Gryphon aren't one of the more well-known bands of the prog era, and listening to their 1974 album, Red Queen To Gryphon Three
, it's easy to see why. While other proggers like Jethro Tull and Yes were weirder than all hell, they still had perfectly catchy and accessible singles to draw in average listeners. Gryphon don't. This album, clocking in at 38 minutes, is an instrumental folk-prog album with classical and medieval themes (reminiscent of a 1990s Super Nintendo RPG or basically any Legend of Zelda game) and it's also a concept album about a game of chess. It consists of four lengthy songs, each one supposed to be about chess, and it makes for a fun and interesting listen.
First off, this is uplifting music. Many people don't put much thought into chess; but these nerds obviously did. They sound like a band playing at a Renaissance festival, and they sound damn good doing it. Every tempo change, every note, is perfectly in sync with a good game of chess. It especially helps that we have song titles to show us which part of the game we are in. "Opening Move" has a fresh atmosphere, and then "Second Spasm" gets us a bit more serious. "Lament" is that part between the middle and end of the game in which both players seem to be stuck, with each move being seemingly useless. It is the darkest song on the album. But then we have "Checkmate", in which somebody playing the game wins. So, matching the mood of chess, this is an upbeat and lively tune. See what I'm saying?
But depsite me doing my damndest to show you that these four tracks have differences, it's really hard to tell. The whole album is good, make no mistake. But without the song titles in front of me, I would not be able to tell any of these songs apart. While fans of the genre will enjoy the medieval/classical vibe, the virtuosity of the musicians (with bassist Philip Nestor and keyboardist Richard Harvey being the show-stealers), and of course the classically geeky concept, the four songs do not have much variety. While a great prog instrumental should be memorable, like "La Villa Strangiato" or "The Great Gig in the Sky", these four tracks run together and I come away only remembering bits and pieces of mindblowing musicianship. Perhaps vocals and lyrics would have helped.
So if you are a prog geek, go ahead and track this bitch down. It's complex, the musicianship is amazing, the concept is geeky, and the whole thing runs together like one thirty-eight minute song with many parts of greatness throughout. Nintendo would certainly be doing some good if they hired Gryphon to do the next Zelda soundtrack.