Tom Hayes 18-Jul-2006 Finstere Sonne / Black Sun

Flaming Bess - Finstere Sonne / Black Sun. 2005.

Flaming Bess are one of the more obscure groups to have toiled in the underground for these last 25+ years. Despite coming from Germany, a country who in the 1970s had perhaps the most albums operating in creative territory, Tanz der Gotter, their privately released 1979 debut, still managed to find a niche. Every other track was a narrative in their native tongue, followed by a lengthy instrumental with atmospheric keyboards and some fantastic guitar work. The 1980 followup, Verlorene Welt, continued with this recipe to great success. A year later, the more well-known Anyone’s Daughter would copy this unique blend of instrumental rock and narration on Piktors Verwandlungen. As for Flaming Bess, I assumed they were long dead and gone. Until we received an e-mail from the band asking us to review their latest CD that is! And apparently there’s one more entitled Fata Morgana (1996) which I’ve yet to hear. To be honest, my expectations were a bit low. I was afraid they may have gone the route of say, Epidaurus, and release an Adult Contemporary album of the lowest common denominator. But perhaps they would still use their unique take on progressive rock, and employ modern instrumentation? And, you know what, that’s exactly what they did! ‘Black Sun’ opens the album with a two minute narration which leads to the fantastic instrumental ‘Journey Into Light’. Now the beats have a techno feel and the whole song has that retro hip feel that all the cool DJ’s are striving to create for their lounge/club acts. ‘Source of Light’ sounds like a play for radio, with female vocals (yes, a real song with vocals). It’s not bad by any means, but definitely not necessary. ‘Endless River’ and ‘The Last Resort’ finish ‘Chapter 1’ in fine fashion with some great lounge-like modern instrumentals. ‘Chapter 2’ starts with ‘Kingdom of Gods’ which, no surprise, opens with narration which again leads into a fine instrumental. I should state here that these instrumentals are not keyboard/studio/DJ concoctions but rather full band efforts that include guitar, bass, drums and plenty of modern synthesizers. And the guitar work can be downright outstanding, just as on their early albums, with plenty of biting fuzz. Things gets tribal and brassy on ‘Battle of Dig Dagg’, reminding me in parts of latter day Eat Static. ‘The Challenge’ is a considerably heavier piece with guitar leads blasting away on top of the thudding beats. Closing out ‘Chapter 2’ is ‘Endless Void’, a lounge rocker with sultry female vocals. This kind of pop rock is far more palatable and fits closer to what Flaming Bess seem to be striving for. ‘Chapter 3’’s narrative cum instrumental piece ‘Cursed Land’ has a high energy tech beat and plenty of great atmospheric keyboard sounds and lead guitar work. ‘The Key of Life’ gets a little too close to new age muzak for comfort. This chapter’s female pop song, ‘Shelter From the Storm’, had potential, but played it safe with the American-Idol style vocals and gospel like chorus. The instrumental sections of the song are indeed quite cool however. ‘Silent Melodies’ features a fascinating Moog-like keyboard sound and another that I imagine would be called the "harmonica patch". ‘A New Dawn’ breaks pattern by closing with a narrative track. ‘Iganu’ is a "bonus track" (how does a new album have a bonus track anyway?). I guess because it breaks from the storyline. It’s a modern pop shlock track along the lines of late 80’s Swing Out Sister. Apparently there are two versions of this album. I wish the group had sent me the German version, as I appreciate the native tongue much more (plus the German language adds an air of mystery to non-speakers). In conclusion, Chapter’s 1 & 2 are quite good while Chapter 3 gets perhaps a little too commercial and self-conscious. Still, this tres hip, very modern album comes recommended to all but the most fuddy-duddy of prog rock fans.

Mike McLatchey 6-September-2002 Tanz Der Gotter

There were bunches of independent artists in Germany in the late 70s/early 80s creating music of a symphonic/progressive rock nature, perhaps led by the Sky label, including artists such as Octopus, Streetmark and the like. Flaming Bess are perhaps one of the most obscure of this school of music, and this, their debut, has grown so on both LP and CD formats. Flaming Bess is a trio of keyboards, drums and bass/guitar, aided by a number of guests on spoken word and other instruments. Tanz der Gotter is the group's debut album and it consists of five pieces that have all been split into two parts a piece to make for ten tracks. Like many of the bands of the era, such as Anyone's Daughter or Grobschnitt, Flaming Bess draw from the big English influences, and while Genesis is an obvious reference, the music on this debut actually comes a bit closer to a band like Camel (or even Norwegian's Kerrs Pink in their early days) due to the heavy dominance of guitars, and especially the emphasis on multi-guitar harmonic work. Like many bands of the era, the mellotrons of the first generation had been replaced by the string synths of the new, although Flaming Bess had not likewise given up some of the frequent 70s hallmarks in the guitar tones, organ and occasionally jazzy touches in the rhythm section. This album is basically about guitar and more guitar, and it's honestly difficult not to enjoy the genuinely excellent playing on here. In fact, it's not until the second part of the third song "Oasis," that you actually hear an overt synth solo. This is definitely one for fans of Camel and Piktors-period Anyone's Daughter and remains one of the better albums of the style and era.

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