Review Summary: Progressive Rock and Classical Music=The perfect musical combination.
1976 must have been one hell of a difficult year for a Progressive Rock band. The Punk Rock explosion basically charged the music scene, the NWOBHM movement was starting to take effect in its earliest stages, and even though the most popular Progressive Rock groups (Rush, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd,etc.) were getting more than a little attention from the media, it was always to be overshadowed by genres of a completely different style. It's no joke that some groups who labelled themselves with “Progressive Rock” feel now that they were left behind, and one of these groups is perhaps one of the only bands that fully embraced classical influences and incorporated them into their music, being The Enid.
Members of the Enid were rather stranger to begin with, even before their formation. Firstly, founder and classical musician himself Robert John Godfrey openly said that The Enid “were in no way a Progressive Rock band” and that “they should never be associated with the term”. He also said in a truthful way that “the Neo-Progressive Rock movement lacks charm, originality and talent”. Now, whether you agree with this latter statement or not, Godfrey had been a professional musician years before a formation of The Enid was to even be discussed. But this isn't about Godfrey's personal opinions. This is about The Enid and their marvellous début album, “In the Region of the Summer Stars”.
It is hard to even begin a review of an album like “In the Region...”, simply because there is a great deal to discuss. The idea that this album is conceptually based on the Tarot sequence and the writings of one Charles Williams, a British novelist and short-story author, may well be unclear, given the fact that there are no vocals whatsoever. It's interesting to note however, just how significant each song's title is. Arguably the strongest thing about “In the Region...” is the fact that it flows through so many emotions and themes that it's impossible to embrace with just one simple listen. Fifty minutes of meandering, diverse and sometimes head-scratching song structures may seem like a lot to take in for those who dislike any form of Progressive Rock, but rather than thinking of the album as a collection of thirteen songs, it should be listened to as a continuous flow of forward-thinking music, where each song flows harmlessly and flawlessly into the next.
Whether The Enid intended this or not is anybody's guess, but you can almost guess what each song is going to be like by merely looking at their title. 'The Tower of Babel', 'The Demon King' and 'Under the Summer Stars' all develop feelings of anger, hatred and even depression as the stunning guitar work winds, hypnotizes and at times even thunders along in a rage, backed by an epic atmosphere and lashings of keyboards, trumpets, strange musical effects used on the synthesisers and even a few choir interludes. Then, to the opposite extreme, we have the beauty and melody of 'The Reaper', 'The Loved Ones' and the absolutely stunning 'Sunrise'. This time, whilst more emphasis is placed on the keyboards and a beautiful atmosphere, the mood is generally of a peaceful and tranquil one. Cleverly however, these six previously mentioned songs are all mixed in with each other, so that rather listening to three heavy, dark and thundering songs together, songs with moods that contrast each other so well are paired up. This may not sound that effective, but for the purpose of a concept album, it is generally a good idea to do so.
The instruments themselves are excellently used. The guitar effects and thundering bass are well executed in the way that the soundtrack to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is effective enough. Fool introduces the album in an obscure albeit relaxing mood, the jazz and blues influences recurring throughout the song. There are also quite a few tempo changes for a song that is only two and a half minutes long, as trumpets and synthesisers seize their way through harmonic keyboard effects and those dullest of guitar chords. Even the two “interludes”, which are basically examples of just how good a Trumpet player Dave Hancock really is. Many will cast those off as filler material, but it is important to note how well interwoven they are for an album as conceptual as this one. The only instrument that doesn't seem to have as much effect as the others is quite obviously the bass, but even then it is used to enhance the doomy, gloomy moods of each respective song, and quite rightly it works well in developing some very strong sounds, backed by those dull power chords.
The structure of each song, as explained before, is worked out brilliantly. However, those who do not like their Progressive Rock songs to have much of a build-up and merely expect them to get straight to the point won't exactly be amazed by “In the Region...”. This is because many of the songs within have a very tense and gradual movement between quiet, tranquil atmospheres and loud, heart-beating sounds. In particular the melodious soundscapes of 'The Reaper' and 'Adieu' will leave some wondering why the songs are on the album. However, this isn't that much of a flaw, because the album's two marvellous epics, 'The Last Day' and 'Judgement' could easily be mistaken for soundtracks to a historical war film. You could even imagine yourself wandering into a theatre and witnessing “In the Region...” being played in full, for all its epic and atmospheric sound. 'The Last Day' has a very rhythmic approach to its songwriting, the marching drums and epic guitar-oriented work giving way to some of the most forward-thinking keyboard effects ever used in a piece of music. Even the synthesisers, with their sometimes obscure sound effects, are used to represent such emotional and powerful themes as war and victory. 'Judgement', even though it is like a continuation of the soundscapes of 'The Last Day', is still a very beautiful yet surprisingly sinister end to an album full of surprises itself.
It is extremely simple to say that any Progressive Rock band founded in the 70's is underrated, but amongst those The Enid are perhaps one of the most underrated of that era and genre. Even if Robert John Godfrey dislikes the band being labelled with Progressive Rock, the excellent tempo changes, rhythmic songwriting talents and epic atmospheres all contribute to one of the most sophisticated and powerful albums of the 70's. It is with pleasure that I say this of The Enid's début album: Progressive Rock and classical music are indeed a perfect combination.