Greg Northrup    12-August-2002 Au Dela du Delire

The third album from Ange is, in my eyes, their definitive hour. Simply put, Au Dela du Delire completely kicks my ass every time I listen to it. The album picks up on the basic feel of Le Cimitiere des Arlequins and ups the anty all around. Au Dela du Delire sees a leap forward on the compositional end, as the band displays less of a willingness to go out on any kind of tangent, or leave any idea underdeveloped. Without a doubt, everything here is more focused and complex, while the main themes and melodies are even more memorable. Mellotron and violin are major points of emphasis as well, with Francis DeCamps lending an orchestral flair that is more infused with the compositions, rather than providing background swells as he did on the previous effort. The production, as on Cimetiere..., is rather muddy, but is only a minor drawback, perhaps even adding to the rough-around-edges mystique of the album.

This album is chock full of moments of unbelievable, breathtaking intensity. "Longues Nuits d'Isaac" is an utter barn burner, beginning with a earth shattering electric guitar riff from Jean Michel Brezovar and proceeding beneath Christian DeCamps' primal roar. "Ballade Pour une Orgie" is a pleasant melodic piece with great dueling acoustic guitars. In an album full of highlights, perhaps the finest moment comes at the solo break of "Exode", where Brezovar unleashes a savage guitar lead that gradually builds over the throbbing rhythmic backdrop. As it hits its peak, the Mellotrons come soaring in with majestic orchestral swells, as Brezovar's guitar screams beneath, providing a climax of pure progressive splendor. "Fils de Lumiere" is another extraordinary piece, short but to the point, with an infectious main theme, making its mark with Christian DeCamps' dramatic vocal delivery. And who can forget about the enormous title track? The album closes out with a nine-minute piece of pure Mellotron worship, gorgeously intense.

Au Dela du Delire is a progressive rock classic. Comparisons to Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator are pretty much moot. Ange are undoubtedly the most influential French symphonic group, and like Genesis, King Crimson or Yes, have gone down as innovators of a particular style against which the pretenders are measured. Other bands sound like Ange, but Ange are an entity unto themselves. Au Dela du Delire is their opus; don't miss it.

Greg Northrup    12-August-2002 Le Cimetiere des Arlequins

Ange's Le Cimetiere des Arlequins is considered by many to be the definitive Ange album, and is certainly the first in a series of tremendously influential albums released by the band. This album, along with the subsequent Au Dela du Delire, certainly represents the pinnacle of the band's achievement: vital, cacophonous progressive that brings to mind the apocalyptic pyrotechnics of Van der Graaf Generator and the theatrical grandstanding of early Genesis. As with all albums by Ange, the caveat here is certainly the vocals. Christian DeCamps sings in a harsh, expressive style that is more rhythmic than melodious, often shouting or talking rather than actually singing. References to DeCamps as being the "French Peter Gabriel" are often bandied about, but are only accurate insofar as both make heavy use of characterization and other narrative devices.

The music of Ange is nothing if not complex, intense and often breathtaking. Le Cimitiere... is shrouded in a murky production that, as is rarely the case, actually adds to the charm and mysterious air of the record. Every member makes their presence known in Ange's fiery and almost uniformly dark compositions. Jean Michel Brezovar's fuzzed guitar often battles Francis DeCamps' Hammond for supremacy in the mix, while heaving Mellotron riffs abound behind the fray. Christian DeCamps' stories seem to nearly always be the center of attention for the group, but the really glorious moments come during the instrumental breaks, such as the finale "Bivouac - 1hre Partie", where a pulsing bassline takes center stage, preceding a gorgeous guitar/organ duel. Also of note is a similar passage in "Bivouac - Final", a shuddering instrumental climax. Ange still have the ability to tone things down as well, as in the gorgeous acoustic guitar interplay in "Espionne Lesbienne" and the ballad "De Temps en Temps". Still, Christian DeCamps' performance is the focus of Ange's combined effort, and is nothing short of overwhelming. "Aujourd'hui C'est..." is a up-tempo beast driven by the dramatic vocals, and absolutely crushes. The title track is the album centerpiece, and arguably the album's peak. An intense nightmarish tune that picks up on a devilish circus vibe at points, building intensity until a dramatic finish closes out the album.

Le Cimetiere des Arlequins is, to put simply, one of the essential French albums. Even though I've discovered numerous symphonic albums from that country that surpass this one on musical terms, its influence can be felt on nearly all of them. Ange would surpass themselves on the next record, Au Dela du Delire, and both remain vital documents for beginning to explore the ridiculous depth of French progressive rock movement.

Mike McLatchey    25-Feb-2001 Ange In The Seventies

In the light of Musea's new tribute A Propos D'Ange and a new solo album by Christian Decamps, Exposé felt it would be an ideal time to take a look back at what was the beginning, and arguably the peak, of the career of one of France's most innovative and influential rock groups.

Ange released a total of six French language studio albums, two double live albums, and a compilation in the 1970s. While for many bands this may have stretched the good music way too far, Ange lasted through the decade with a string of essential albums, several of them of classic status.

Ange were undeniably a product of their culture, and were certainly influenced in many ways by the political situation in France in the late sixties. They made a distinctly French music - poignant, caustic and often satirical - that was a huge influence to many bands including Atoll, Mona Lisa, Memoriance, Grime, Orion and others. Their poetic song style remains the forerunner for this type of music, certainly one that can seem quite alien to the mainstream influenced English-only ear. Admittedly, those who have a hard time adjusting to foreign dialects in music will have trouble absorbing Christian Decamps distinct voicings. This may be partially the reason why the CD reissues have been largely overlooked by the progressive "underground" especially outside of France.

Ange's initial line-up consisted of Christian Decamps on vocals and additional keyboards; Francis Decamps on keys - including the heavily reverbed mellotron sound that, along with the vocals, practically defined the Ange "sound"; Jean-Michel Brezovar on flute and mainly a tremendously underrated guitarist; and rhythm section Daniel Haas and Gerard Jelsch on bass and drums respectively. The band recorded an early single - 1970's "Israel/Cauchemar" (Caepe Disques JCP 25002) - before being signed to Philips, the label they would stay with until the mid eighties. Two singles followed in 1971: "Tout Feu, Tout Flamme/Dr. Mann" (Philips 6009 171) and "Le Soleil Est Trop Vert/Le Vieux De La Montagne" (Philips 6837 077), the A side of the first and B side of the latter making it to a later compilation in 1977. The band also recorded a live version of "Le Vieux De La Montagne" as their contribution to the Groovy Pop Session (Philips 6332 044) compilation, also notable for having the earliest recorded Pulsar track on it.

Ange's true debut was released in 1972 as Caricatures (Philips 6332 066) two years after they formed. This was a very strong debut and many of Ange's trademark musical elements can be detected here at an early stage. Heavily reverbed organ (which at times is nearly indistinguishable from his similarly effected mellotron) is Ange's most noticeable musical characteristic. The sound gives the music an almost archaic and ancient feel that is totally indigenous to the group. Also noticeable is Brezovar's expressive and often under-mixed guitar playing which adds an emotive and intense feel to the music. The production here is fairly dated for 1972 which adds to the semi-gothic sound of the album. While arguably behind the "progressive" efforts of their English contemporaries like Genesis or Yes, it still must be noted that Ange's tendency for a poetic song styling and unusual rhythms is quite unique for a debut; completely eschewing the commerciality inherent in the aforementioned groups. Ange's diversity, a similarity between many of their albums, is already evident early on, from the anthem-like and classic "Dignite" to the ballad "Le Soir Du Diable" to the instrumental opener and closer "Biafra 80" (introduction/final) (although the final's bizarre avant- rock collage was only an element found in their early music). Overall, Caricatures is a very strong and underrated debut, perhaps due to the higher caliber of their later and more mature output. A single, "Caricatures/Dignite" (Philips 6837 077) was also released.

1973's Le Cimetiere Des Arlequins (Philips 6325 037) showed very little stylistic change as a whole. There was a further development of their song style taking hold, yet the overall effect was very close to that of Caricatures. High points of their sophomore effort include another spine tingling Brezovar guitar solo in the Jacques Brel composition "Ces Gens-La," the "Bivouac" suite with some rare organ soloing, and the long closer that would become an Ange tradition for the next four studio albums. While not really much of a change, Cimetiere still remains a great and recommended album.

Ange's peak arguably started with their third, magnificent, and possibly best album Au-Dela Du Delire (Philips 9101 004, 1974). Immediately noticeable is the much clearer and updated production that eluded their previous output. While the typically warbly mellotron still remained at the root of their sound, the more vibrant overall richness resulted in the big step up the band needed. Guests Eric Bibonne, Michel Lefloch (vocals), and Henry Loustau (violin) also contributed to the widened palate. Every song here is a gem - the powerful and tortured "Les Longues Nuits D'Isaac," the beautiful "Ballade Pour Une Orgie" the majestic and incredible "Exode" - with a superb and overwhelming guitar solo and finale, and the aptly delirious self-titled suite that closes the album. Every track flows perfectly as a whole, like a haunting and mesmerizing story line. This album remains as the zenith of French symphonic rock; an essential masterpiece and possibly one of the best albums in this vein ever recorded.

Around this time, drummer Gerard Jelsch left and was replaced by Guenole Biger. Flowing with musical ideas and originality, the band barely missed a step with their fourth album, a concept built around the tales of Emile Jacotey (Philips 9101 012, 1975.) This album is noticeably more upbeat and rocking, especially on the opening track. Linked by narration (Emile), the music flows arguably even more effectively than on the previous album. Again, this is a splendid display of color, dynamics, multi- timbral subtlety and harmonic complexity that belies its aesthetically straightforward song style. As a pointer, this is probably the best place to start as a newcomer to Ange's studio albums as it falls in the middle between their early style and a more atmospheric and reflective style to come. Philips released two singles from the album - "Jour Apres Jour/Bele, Bele Petite Chevre" (Philips 6837 311) and "Ode A Emile/Sur La Trace Des Fees" (Philips 6837 2171) - all incredible music from a brilliant album.

1976's Par Le Fils Du Mandrin brought a subtle yet noticeable change in style, and was their best selling album to date. Jean- Pierre Guichard replaced Biger as full time drummer, subtly bringing a change in tone and mood. This album is much more restrained, reflective, and melancholy than previous efforts. There is some narration, much of it during the quieter sections, and the overall effect is far less immediate and powerful than the previous four albums. Much of the music is very quiet and atmospheric, and while the Ange sound remained intact, the album is much less striking than would be expected after Emile Jacotey. Relatively speaking of course, there are some jewels here - the laid back title track, the rich "Les Yeux..." (one of their many classics), and the three part closer. Overall, another good album, yet not quite as initially impressive. There is also a very rare English vocal version that never saw wide distribution, By The Sons Of Mandrin.

Ange's Tome VI was released in 1977 as the first of two double live albums that year. As a live album, Tome VI (Philips 6641 715) portrays the Ange experience in a different setting. Ange were a remarkable band live, with variations in material that show a band still continuing to improve their music as an evolving art form. For example, the side long version of "Dignite" is a much more dramatic and elaborated version than on Caricatures. Due to time restraints, not every classic is present, but excellent are the ones here, with the intense opener, a quicker paced "Fils De Lumiere" and a very emotional and convincing "Sur La Trace Des Fees" to name a few. The Baillemont CD reissue adds the excellent out- take, the 13 minute "Le Chien, La Poubelle, Et La Rose" which adds up to make this CD well worth the money and an ideal introduction.

Also released by RCA in 1977 was the double live early retrospective album 1970/1971 En Concert, a compilation of Ange's very early years live. Much of the music here is far different from Tome VI and in many ways even far off from the debut album itself. This Ange is the Ange of the early singles: much in the way bands like the New Trolls or Le Orme began, as a beat group. The Beatles, Yardbirds, early Grateful Dead and Santana all are subtle factors to their music, an experimental and expressive rock played with vigor and energy. Brezovar's guitar is much farther up front here than it would be later on, giving the music a slightly harder edge. While you can hear psychedelic embryonic parts of Caricatures, most of this does not sound anything like the Ange of 1972 plus.

1977 also heralded the release of a "greatest hits collection," Ange Chante Ses Plus Grands Succes, a retrospective from 1971- 1976 including the two singles tracks mentioned earlier.

Ange returned to the studio in 1978 as a changed line up again with the Decamps, Guichard and new members Claude Demet on guitar and Gerald Renard on bass. As a result, Guet Apens (Philips 9101184) had a different feel, this time much more spacey with a soaring edge. Francis Decamps' mellotron sounds less reverbed than in the past, and the overall effect is like Pink Floyd, or much more closely, the Pulsar of Strands Of The Future. Excellent music with two long tracks to begin and end the album, the closer "Le Captain Couer De Miel" is worth the price of the album by itself. Another excellent and surprisingly overlooked album.

Ange's two original members both departed to make solo albums in 1979, and later reformed Ange in 80's as a band with a far different and much more straightforward sound that, in many ways, leaves the focus of Exposé. The Ange sound of the seventies ended with "Guet Apens."

Many of the CDs here are not as widely distributed as even many of the independents, although should be found with a mininum of effort. The majority were reissued by Philips with the exceptions from Baillemont, and later Musea. The rumour has it that as of 2001, the early albums are to be remastered. Ange were a singular event in European rock, and are not to be missed.

(Originally published in Exposé #5, p. 6-9, Edited for Gnosis 2/18/01)

Links for further information