|Greg Northrup||6-August-2001||Four Visions|
Eskaton's Four Visions is the other album from my NEARfest haul (next to Picchio dal Pozzo's debut) that has really, really done it for me. This one is easily among the finest albums I've heard from the extremely rich French scene. To put simply, its a mind blower. The most obvious comparison would be to fellow Frenchmen Magma. In fact, imagine Magma with much of the superfluous stuff stripped away, less experimental, with French female vocals, and perhaps a more accessible, consistently ass kicking approach, and you might have a good idea of what Eskaton sounds like. Indeed, taken on a purely musical level, it rivals the best of Magma's classic middle period. Of course, it doesn't have that same groundbreaking experimental attitude, and the originality factor could certainly play into the individual mileage of any listener. Still, I'd have a hard time believing any Magma fan who didn't at least dig the album on a visceral level. I mean, the record smokes from beginning to end.
There are no weak moments at all throughout the album, no filler. Pop it in, turn it up, and simply revel in growling bass, crushing drum rhythms and utterly intense synthesizer flourishes. The band builds into explosive, thundering climaxes that literally send shivers up and down my spine. The lead vocalists certainly help differentiate Eskaton from their influences. All the lyrics are in French, and a male counterpoint a la Klaus Basquiz is absent. Both female vocalists are tremendous however, although I have a hard time differentiating between the two. Their eerily melodic contributions factor heavily throughout all of the album's compositions.
Every track on here kicks ass. The opening of "Attente," with its thick
synthesizer riff, just before the band falls into thundering march with a
chant of "Soleil!", has to be one of my favorite moments. "Ecoute" has bass
riffs so menacing, and a climax so overpowering that it drove my colleague
Mike Prete to "prog orgasm", as he so eloquently put it. "Le Cri" changes
pace at the very end of the album, it slows things down and presents a
fantastic extended synthesizer solo. Mesmerizing. In closing, this album is
a monster, buy it now.
|Bertrand Dusanter and Mike McLatchey||11-Mar-2001||Artist Spotlight|
Of all the musicians and groups most influenced by Magma and "Zeuhl" music, Eskaton may have been the most impressive of all. While beginning their careers with strong influences by Magma in both name (Eskaton Kommandkestra) and music, the Parisian group slowly and carefully forged their own view of celestial music over three albums and a single.
While the group's members were as few as four and as large as eight, the music consistently remained at a high level throughout its career before vaguely disbanding in the mid 80's after recording their unreleased fourth album. The music throughout their career held a discernible Magma influence but it must be said that while Magma may have been some sort of stylistic prototype to the group, Magma's penchant for striving for originality also has a mark on Eskaton, as the group would move farther and farther away from their roots as time went on. However it can't be ignored that a strong Magma feeling is to be found in the bass playing (the schools of Moze, Top and Paganotti), the vocals (in the Stella Vander/Lisa Deluxe vein) and rhythms.
Xavier De Raymond (Fender piano), Gerard Konig (drums), Marc Rozenberg (bass), and Alain Blesing (guitar) shortened the name to Eskaton around the time they lengthened the line up to include vocalists Paule Kleynnaert and Amara Tahir, keyboards player Eric Guillaume, and guitarist Andre Bernardi. It was this line-up that gigged from 1974 to 1977, often selling out venues. After a short break-up while several members left for their tour of national service, the band returned and opened for Magma, their musical father figure.
Eskaton's 4 Visions was recorded around 1978-9 and was not resurrected until Archie Patterson released it on his Eurock cassette label in 1981 (EC81002). While Marc Rozenberg had switched from bass to keys and Gilles Rozenberg had since replaced De Raymond on keys, Bernardi moved from guitar to bass, and it's his incredible impetus that makes 4 Visions one of the greatest of French progressive music's successes. The rhythm section is certainly in the Magma style circa 1975, yet the melodies and dissonances of Eskaton's music are entirely their own. Vocalists Kleynnaert and Tahir often express themselves in unusual sounding chromatic scales that come closer in sound to new music groups like Univers Zero or Art Zoyd. The keyboards also have a distinct Magma influenced style, a conglomerate of influences such as Jean-Philippe Goude or Benoit Widemann certainly are at work here. The four long tracks are very dynamic and filled with an incredible spiritual intensity that range from ethereal to a harsh angst. An almost forgotten masterpiece, the CD reissue by Ad Perpetuam Memoriam was the best reissue of 1995.
In April 1979, the band recorded their first vinyl release, the single "Musique Post Atomique" (E01) which included "Le Chant De La Terre" and "If." Well received amongst the progressive underground, it gave a foretaste for their first full length vinyl release to come.
Around this time, guitarist Alain Blesing would leave as would Eric Guillaume. Alain Blesing would go on to record Faeria with his group Foehn, a music some ways away from the hard driving Eskaton. Along with the fantastic violinist from Malicorne, Patrick Lemercier, the shortened down band recorded the album Ardeur (E 38001) which was released in 1980. Ardeur was an absolutely mind-numbing blast of music. The two vocalist's eerie Kobaian-like phrasing of the French language spins circles around the music creating very unusual harmonic structures. The shorter songs (including new versions of "Attente" and "Eskaton" from 4 Visions) make the music that much more direct and intense and it seems that the band was a lot tighter as a six-piece. In summary Ardeur is no less a classic than its predecessors.
The same line-up recorded Eskaton's last album released after a few more years of gigging in 1983. Fiction (E 38301) shows Eskaton dropping many of their overt Magma references and showing more experimentation with keyboards and especially synthesizer. The music is very cathartic and anthemic, with the vocalists taking each other to new heights. By this point it seemed that the band were moving more and more away from their roots into a distinct and original direction. Unfortunately, Fiction would be their last. After Gilles Rozenberg departed in 1984 (Paule Kleynnaert would double on keys from then on) the band would go on to record their fourth effort I Care in 1985. Unfortunately (besides a track on the cassette compilation Preludes and the track "La Lutte" which was included on Musea's Enneade compilation in 1986), the band would no longer see its music released, and eventually somewhat disbanded in the late 80's. Although the musicians still keep in contact, there are no immediate plans for the future.
Eskaton were one of the greatest of all of the French rock groups, the Magma references seem incidental in the light of the very powerful music they created for themselves and their audience. All of their music comes highly recommended.
(Originally published in Exposť #8, p. 22, Edited for Gnosis 3/10/01)
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