Review Summary: Sometimes, good things can come from disappointment.
Witnessing the break-up of a band is never a pleasant experience to bear for a fan. It's almost impossible for us to not take the situation personally, especially if we develop an intimate connection to the music. And of course, there is that overwhelming sense of skepticism that arises in us when we hear that our group will continue to compose music, even after losing key members. Because no matter what happens afterwards, we know that the music will never be the same. Of course, in the case of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin composed all of the music and the other members contributed under his direction. John McLaughlin may have been the soul of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, but Birds Of Fire
and The Inner Mounting Flame
wouldn't have been nearly as captivating if it lacked the eruptive intensity that Billy Cobham brought to the music with his bombastic drumming. And John McLaughlin's guitar solos would have never been as enrapturing without the intuitive synergy that he and violinist Jerry Goodman would reach when they complimented each other's vibes.
And now here we are, in midst of a new era, and we couldn't be anymore dubious. The fate of The Mahavishnu Orchestra now lies in the hands of George Martin. Certainly an accomplished composer and producer, who is acclaimed for helping The Beatles expand their sound, but is he a right fit for the dynamic style of Jazz music that The Mahavishnu Orchestra is famous for? No, but then again, those days are long gone. Apocalypse
introduces a brand new sound, and for better or worse, all we can do, as fans, is accept it. The fifth Beatle makes his presence instantly perceptual in every single composition as the music is embellished with the evident influences of Classical music. "Vision Is A Naked Sword"
gives us our first impression of the new Mahavishnu Orchestra, and for the most part, it isn't so unfamiliar. The bowed string and wind instruments work thematically with the percussive sections to create a powerful overture to the piece, and from there we embark into a long musical voyage were we encounter the familiar dextrous instrumental jams that we've come to revere. John McLaughlin's guitar techniques haven't changed in the slightest bit, still as eruptive and innovative as always. Narada Michael Walden, who has replaced Billy Cobham, even manages to adequately imitate the vigorous percussive dynamics of the pervious albums. But now there are these classical ornaments that flourish in the background of every song, delivering grandiose clashes that bombard us with potency to more harmonious displays of emotive atmospheres.
"Smile Of The Beyond"
reveals a new feature that has never been heard in the previous efforts, singing. Gayle Moran's voice is coalesced with a violin and cello section to induce a sense of musical elegance and beauty, and in the beginning when it's just her and the bowed string instruments, it is enticing and even angelic. But when it descends into a rambunctious jam in the midsection, it loses all of its grace and the vocal deliveries even begin to feel a bit cliché as they try to retain that sense of eloquence in all of the chaos. "Hymn To Him"
is the piece that saves Apocalypse, as it is the culmination of everything John McLaughlin and George Martin were striving for in this endeavor. It opens with such a marvelous and gentle melody. The music fluctuates with such a soothing texture before escalating into some of the most intense instrumental displays that The Mahavishnu Orchestra has ever performed. The Classical aesthetics even coalesce exquisitely with the Jazz Fusion style, making for a mesmerizing listening that inveigles enthusiasm with ease.
As Apocalypse reaches its climax, it's difficult to express an opinion of everything we have just experienced. In all of its musical innovations, Apocalypse is closer to Progressive rock than Jazz Fusion. And even though the album embraces a more diverse variety of harmonies, structures, and sound, it lacks the inviting mysticism of the previous two efforts. The content of the album strives so desperately to galvanize enthrallment with its glorious epical orchestrations, but instead it often comes off as pretentious and overwhelming rather than impressive. Contrary to what most fans will claim, this fault doesn't lie in George Martin's insistance on Classical arrangements, but in the fact that John McLaughlin's style of playing does not thrive in this kind of setting. He forcefully tries to recreate the abrasive sound of the previous albums within this new symphonic concept, and the two elements tend to compliment each other in a very hit-or-miss fashion. This is without a doubt The Mahavishnu Orchestra's most ambitious effort, but it's also a more laborious listening experience compared to the other two albums because there is so much to perceive and grasp, which inevitably makes it less accessible. But there are moments of genius in this album, and it's enlightening to see John McLaughlin branch out of his comfort zones and experiment with a new approach. Apocalypse is certainly an entertaining album, but it requires an honest commitment to really understand the concepts of the music at hand.