MACHIAVEL (GREAT BEL PROG ART ROCK)
Machiavel - Jester 77
Belgium's progressive rock scene seems a bit obscure, I guess it has to do with the country, being sandwiched in between The Netherlands to the north, France to the south, and Germany to the east, and all neighboring countries had prog rock better represented (France having Angle, Atoll, Pulsar, Magma, Sandrose, Carpe Diem, and Gong, the Netherlands gave Focus, Earth & Fire, Alquin, Supersister, Ekseption, and Trace, and Germany had too many to mentioned from Krautrock of Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Amon Duul II, Tangerine Dream, etc. to the most traditional symphonic of Eloy, Grobschniit, Novalis, etc.).
Most people associate the Belgian progressive rock scene with Univers Zero, their offshoots, and similar bands, but they also had their share of symphonic bands too, and Machiavel is by far the best known of these. In 1976, they released their self-entitled debut, apparently one of those "shows promise" albums (like the first two Yes albums or Genesis' Trespass), the following year comes Jester and the addition of Mario Guccio (presumably Italian, if not born there, definately of ancestary, given his name) on vocals, with the occasional wind instruments. It seems that keyboardist Albert Letecheur and bassist Roland De Greef does the bulk of the songwriting. This is regarded as their finest album, right there with their following, Mechanical Moonbeams before they pulled a Genesis on everyone by going commercial starting with Urban Games. Well, Machiavel does show their influences, showing a Yes, Genesis, Supertramp and Pink Floyd influence. Albert Letecheur lays it on thick with string synths, Minimoog, Mellotron and electric piano (he tends to play that latter instrument similar in style to Supertramp's Rick Davies, hence the Supertramp comparison). One thing needs pointing is the band really needed to polish on their English, because they mispronounced a lot of words, meaning they likely barely knew English while recording this. Regardless, this is top-notch symphonic progressive rock, and what a better way to start the album than with "Wisdom". It has this nice pulsing synth sound, some electric piano, and nice use of string synth, with some rather dramatic vocal passages. "Sparkling Jaw" is another highlight for me, starts off rather spacy, with lyrics describing New York City as a concrete jungle, but then the Supertramp influence is shown quite well with Rick Davies "Dreamer" and "Logical Song"-like electric piano from Albert Letecheur. "Moments" is a nice acoustic ballad, done progressive style, with the Mellotron rearing its head, while the environmentally themed "In the Reign of Queen Pollution" starts off slowly, but then picks up speed with that strong Supertramp feel, especially in the electric piano playing. There's really disturbing theme of genetic mutation where after a thousand years of wearing a gas mask day and night, the children were finally born with the face in shape of a gas mask, all because of environmental pollution got totally out of control. The rest of the album is of equal quality, most great synth and Mellotron work, and complex arrangements, but the band also knew what great melodies were too, that in itself is probably a great reason why they were so big in Belgium.
I am rather surprised this album was released at all. The reason: the artwork by Celle. The gatefold is quite sexually explicit, but done in that surrealistic style you expect prog rock artwork. But still Bravo to Celle for doing it in the first place, and EMI/Harvest to have the guts to release it even if they feared it might be banned in many places.
Machiavel - Mechanical Moonbeams 78
Great followup to Jester, Mechanical Moonbeams is regarded as the final album prog rock fans should worry about, because after this, they apparently went a more commercial route, like Genesis was doing around the same time. Apparently going commercial didn't hurt Machiavel's popularity in Belgium, as "Fly" off their 1980 album New Lines was a hit there. But never mind that, and let's focus on their third album. It's interesting to see the band try new things on this album. Jean Paul Devauxe's guitar is more upfront, and some of the harsh vocals start bringing to mind AC/DC (something that should get me running like hell, as I'm hardly an AC/DC fan in any stretch of the imagination), it's only that some of the vocals sounds like Bon Scott (or his replacement, Brian Johnson). No, the band didn't suddenly abandon prog rock for AC/DC style hard rock. It's still progressive as ever. Albert Letecheur lets his Mellotron be ever present, plus his usual setup of keyboards. The Supertramp influence has all but disappeared, except for "Summon Up Your Strength", and even that sounds like a strange AC/DC/Supertramp hybrid with great progressive arrangements (strange). "Rope Dancer" is a borderline soft rock ballad that works surprisingly well, parts of it oddly sounds '80s-like, but most of it still '70s-sounding. "After the Crop" starts off mellow, but I like how this piece pick up, where Albert Letecheur does some creative twists on his Mellotron. "Mary" is a nice prog rock ballad much like "Moments" from Jester. "The Fifth Season" has lyrics that have references to "Jester" (the title track to their previous album, of course) (lyrics that went "His barrel organ played "Jester", a tune of the seventies").
Cover artwork is by someone name Celle, same person who did the artwork to Jester, and even a lot of the artwork is similar, but in color this time (largely red and blue), with similar sexual overtones and obsessions with odd stringed instruments and devices you can't figure out what they were (I am surprised these albums were allowed to be released, especially the gatefold artwork to Jester, but I'm glad they were).