Peter Thelen    21-May-2001 Part One & Laz

Halloween - "Part One" (Musea FGBG 4123.AR, 1988/94, CD)

Halloween - "Laz" (Musea FGBG 4124.AR, 1990/94, CD)

Halloween's second album Laz, originally released on LPl in 1990 - probably should have got the CD treatment in its first incarnation. The original album's seven tracks were split roughly between three outstanding instrumentals, and four vocal tracks with English lyrics adapted from the work of HP Lovecraft. The music throughout is their own unique brand of symphonic rock - eerie, dark and brooding, full of frightening imagery and foreboding melodies, very much in line with the band's moniker. Visions of demons abound, dark forests shrouded in fog, fear and death, the dark and sinister side of humanity condensed into forty minutes of music.

The four-piece lineup features keyboards, violin + guitar, bass and drums. Vocals are provided either by violinist/guitarist Jean-Philippe Brun or keyboardist Gilles Coppin, and are nothing special except that they are frequently electronically treated, adding to the music's sense of horror. Standouts include the two instrumentals "Iron Mickey" and "Blue Nightmare", the latter being a showcase for an extended solo by drummer Philippe DiFaostino - as well as the grotesque "Waltz" and the ten minute title track. For the CD reissue the track "Suburb" was added, with vocals in French. Overall, a good one, but nothing that measures up to later ones like Merlin and Le Festin.

On the other hand, Part One - the band's first album as a trio (bass duties handled here by Brun), has far less cohesion, seeming to wander in several different directions and ultimately not going too much of anywhere - although there are many promising moments of musical brilliance that clearly indicate that Halloween would someday be a force to reckon with. Some of the album's strongest tracks ("Outsider", "Jester's Dance" and "Halloween") are marred by poorly pronounced English vocals - these would have been far more tolerable had they been sung in French or left as instrumentals. Still, I find myself enjoying many of the tunes here, buoyed by Brun's spirited and masterful violin chops. Early live renditions of "Outsider" and "Jester's Dance" have been added here as bonus tracks. Newcomers would be best advised to start with Halloween's more recent albums prior to exploring these earliest efforts.

(Originally published in Exposé # 6, p. 51, Edited for Gnosis 5/21/01)

Dan Casey    11-April-2001 Merlin

Halloween - "Merlin" (Musea FGBG 4084.AR, 1994, CD)

Halloween are a modern French outfit, who have often been compared to Pulsar. With their third album, Merlin, they live up to that comparison, but the approach here is more assertive and perhaps less romantic than Pulsar. The five-piece of core musicians are tastefully augmented by a small orchestra on several cuts, from the eerie opening timpani on "Conseil des Demons" to the soaring lead guitar line on the climactic "Foret." The music is largely instrumental, with the occasional lead vocal (in French) but the voices (2 male, 1 female) are light, usually heavily effected, and almost narrative in their style, which goes hand in hand with the music. Halloween are very unique stylistically, with thick keyboard pads and dense chord voicings, all the while mysterious, atmospheric and foreboding, telling their story musically with well-sculpted moods. At times the arrangements lack intensity, and the drummer is often unmotivated (or is it that peculiar French minimalism creeping in again?), but the sound is always contemporary, somewhere between classic 70's symphonic and modern-day neo-prog, without succumbing to any of the dangerous clichés of either. The musicians share some pretty impressive moments: Gilles Coppin lights up some nice synth solos (but keyboard techies will instantly recognize that the Korg WaveStation is the secret to his sound, since he makes no effort to hide it - every tune has two or more out-of-the-box WS patches on it), Philippe Di Faostino proves his real skill is on tuned percussion, and Jean-Francois Delcamp paints an eloquent and subtle picture with the solo classical guitar piece "Viviane." While not a masterpiece, Merlin is a solid all-around effort, both captivating and entertaining enough to recommend it.

(Originally published in Exposé #4, p. 15, Edited for Gnosis 4/7/01)

Mike McLatchey    16-April-2001 Merlin

Halloween - Merlin (Musea FGBG 4084.AR, 1994, CD)

It has been a long time, four years in fact, since we've seen from this highly regarded French outfit. Laz was greeted with a lot of hype when it came out in 1990, it had a lot of people turning heads. I was less than enamored with either Laz or their debut; I felt that while some elements of their style were excellent, the overall feeling I got was that neither album flowed very well. Enter Merlin and a totally new sound. Female vocals, a string quartet, and horn section are all added to make this the widest Halloween palate yet. It was Anglagard's Hybris that last had such remarkable cohesion, incredible dynamics, memorable melodies and riffs, and strong production. In fact, while Anglagard took much of their music from the likes of mellow Genesis, or riffs from Shylock or Cathedral, this Halloween album is brimming to the full with utter originality. A couple pointers must be stated - the overall cohesion, especially with the immaculate orchestration, reminds me of Ezra Winston's Ancient Afternoons and the mix of classical and progressive under a conceptual banner reminds me of Isildurs Bane's Cheval. Other than those comparisons, what we have here is an excellent album, with every second contributing to the overall feel. From the ominous undertones of "Le Conseil des Demons" to the absolutely gorgeous vocals of Geraldine Le Cocq on "Morgane" to the dramatic ending of "Foret," this album is surprisingly well-conceived and easily the best Musea new release since Shub Niggurath's LP debut. To make what could have been a trite conception into such a magnificent vision is the mark of exceptionally creative musicians.

(Originally published in Exposé #4, p. 15, Edited for Gnosis 4/15/01)

Mike McLatchey    28-April-2001 Overview, Late 80's to 1995

The French group Halloween was one of the first new progressive rock groups to emerge from the late 80's and the beginnings of the Musea label along with Tiemko, Minimum Vital and Shub Niggurath. Halloween formed in 1983 as a quintet including original members Gilles Coppin (keys/synths/vocals) and T. Gillet (drums.) After inviting violinist Jean Philippe Brun to join the group, the short-lived sextet broke up for professional reasons, only to reform three years later as a trio of Coppin, Gillet, and Brun.

This trio would go on to record their debut album Part One in 1988, a dark and mysterious symphonic sound with H.P. Lovecraft (the author) influence. The vocals were in English and French, only the latter being fairly comfortable; the album went by fairly unnoticed.

After a series of concerts, Philippe Di Faostino would replace Gillet as drummer and Yann Hanore joined on as a permanent bass player. In 1989, Halloween released Laz their second album, based on texts by Lovecraft. This album was released with great critical acclaim within the progressive underground, showing a band maturing with great speed and much originality. After a special concert, September 1989 in Brest, called "Erich Zann's music" (again based on Lovecraft's horror writing) and recording two tracks for the Musea compilations Enchantment and Seven Days Of A Life, Halloween began writing for their third album in June 1991.

It was about three years later that the CD, Merlin, would finally be released, a project of infinite care and detail and an album showing that this band is for real. Before Merlin, Yann Hanore had left to play with the venerable Dan Ar Bras and was replaced by J. F. Delcamp and rock group HichHike's vocalist Geraldine LeCocq was added for female vocals. With a string quartet and horn section, Halloween certainly have their widest pallette of sounds yet. Halloween played night 1 of Progfest '94, returning to a sextet - Jean Philippe Brun (violin, guitar, vocals); Phillipe DiFaostino (drums and percussion); Gilles Coppin (keys/synths/vocals); Geraldine LeCocq (vocals); Thierry Louarn (bass replacing Delcamp); and Jean Pierre Mallet (guitar).

(originally reviewed as part of Progfest '94 Preview, Exposé #5, p. 12, Edited for Gnosis 4/28/01)

Links for further information