HOLON – The Time is Always Now
2016 / Autumnsongs
Review written by Marc Tucker - 08/25/2016
Jesus, Joseph, Mary, all the djinns, and all the dakinis…this one starts off with everything!!! But wait, let me begin with a history backcheck:
Many among we proghedz have been anxiously concerned about the progressive rock mode as an eternally too-evanescent style now perhaps in its terminal phase. That’s kinda appropriate: the old guard fen are composed mainly of a buncha dinosaur Boomers in our last years, hopefully two more decades of ‘em, heading for the tar pits but wistfully rich in nostalgia, having been witness firsthand to one of the most magnificent bloomings of musical intelligence in history: progrock. Though I personally plan to live to 238, having way too much hell to stir up, far more than a mere 8 or 100 or 150 years could accommodate, what, me and the greybeards wonder, will happen after we’re gone? It’s a quandary.
After all, as I never cease to brag, I’ve seen Hendrix, the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Focus, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, the Strawbs, Mountain, Uriah Heep, Iron Butterfly, Blue Oyster Cult (hey, those first 3 LPs are metal prog, goddammit!), Gypsy, Pink Floyd, Alan Holdsworth’s I.O.U., Renaissance, Camel, and more progsembles, semi-progsembles, and fusion groups than I can possibly remember - drugs may be delightful, but, Gawd almighty, do they ever fuck with long-term memory! - and many of them multiple times. After that, I can brag of sitting enthralled as a shitload of big-time progressive others in rock, jazz, and neoclassical went to town: Led Zep, Deep Purple, Philip Glass, Towner & Abercrombie, Oregon, Weather Report [w/Jaco], Al DiMeola, etc., etc. etc., ad infinitum, so many that I literally could fill an entire page with names. So I and compeers know from whence we speak, weeping bitter Cassandran crocodile tears as we mumble and wail.
In the meanwhile, ‘twixt the 70s acid daze and now, a number of dynamite groups have risen and fallen, always too few in number and a little too often a bit too wanting (as in the whole “neoprog” gig, ugh!) and thus a tad unnerving, saved only by the fact that there actually is FAR more great music overall now than ever before, and succeeding generations have been extraordinary in their hybridizations. The Net and all the alt distribution gigs (meaning: anyone and everyone) are now a wonderland of highly intriguing work, more than enough for several lifetimes to absorb in all genres…but… but…a granite-solid Old School prog band is still a very rare thing, especially when it comes to hapless overachievers receiving any shard of decent exposure and the hopeful viability that connotes.
Porcupine Tree’s one, Fish made any number of semi-stabs at post-Marillion re-evocations but settled for melodic hard rock (bitchin’ stuff, too, so hoist a stein in his honor), Saga’s been weaving back and forth (ya gotta love everything they do, but…), and so on. Exasperating! Worrying! Ah, but now comes a major new heavy hitter: Holon, a Norwegian juggernaut that not only revives the 70s but finds new back alleys and carves out fresh porticos in hallowed territories.
“Overture: The Belly of Being” commences in Between’s Carnatic wont, then crafts Gong’s Time is the Key era ostinati evolving Schroeder/Schonwalder cum Paul Brett serialities just as waves of Crimson thunder erupt within what increasingly becomes apparent is an elongated Oldfieldian exploration. A Subtonicky electronic chaos suddenly rises, the wave crests, and everything collapses into an A.J. Charron/Anthony Phillips acoustic interlude with Tull flute floating above.
But don’t relax just yet, ‘cause the song again courses into a melodic pounder, Ronny Pederson’s guitar ripping through the environment as the group chants “Who are we? Where are we?...What are we? Why are we?...Are we playing an untold story?” gently but plaintively, and so existentially jarring that I had to check the liner notes to assure myself the members hadn’t been involved in some dark voodoo shenanigans resurrecting Sartre.
As things continue to wend their way, a definite Flower Kings vibe sets in. Pederson’s leads again slice the clouds, Rhys Marsh’s basswork (democratically shared with Pederson) is a constant throb and his keyboards are atmospheric and generative (lotsa mellotron thru the disc, y’all!) as Geir Johansen’s drums clatter everywhere. Chaos and order ride side by side, competing for the post position and gold ring, the listener frequently white-knuckling while rhapsodic.
Aphrodite’s Child’s vocal work and epic nature (recall the wondrous 666) comes through clearly in “Dancer in the Sky” as backing vocalist Kari Harneshaug shares the foreground with Marsh, who tackles just about all lead vocals during the disc’s entire…70 minutes!, soon replaced by Silje Leirvik in a beautiful set of encantments on “Falling”, Marsh dueting once more. They both drop out, the band ramps up, and we’re back into magisterial refrains, mellotron rising and rising. Harneshaug returns, sounding like Annie Haslam in the throes of deep besetting awarenesses and barrier-crashing, and the tune ends. Whew!
I’ve only covered the first 3-1/2 songs, believe it or not, and, as said, Always Now (a very zen/tao ideation) is well over an hour long, gloriously exhilarating, and so intense so many times that if you’re exhausted by the termination of the concept cycle, then: congratulations! You got it! All the way down to the marrow.
Up until I got this and the cooler-than-cool genius madcap Ear Snacks by Andrew & Polly, I was not going to compose a Best Of 2016 list now that FAME’s gone (those things really are a friggin’ chore, and I hate all the stuff I have to leave out, even with 30 selections), but, beyond those two releases, I’ve been receiving waaaaay too many mind-blowing CDs not to. ‘Sides, my gig at Perfect Sound Forever also favors that kinda thing. So let me reveal well beforehand that this CD will be on it. Sipo knocked my brains out in 2009 (Christ, has it been THAT damn long?) with his Year of the Rose, for me reminiscent of Aragon’s Don’t Bring the Rain for pure, unbridled, shattering passion. Now Holon has done the same, not in the perennially frenzied degree as Sipo – I don’t know how the guy survived those studio sessions – but in more a crazed academic / philosophical listen-think-decorticate fashion, synapses and neurons flowing out your ears and onto the floor.
I think that alone is enough of a recommendation. I mean, hell, you weren’t doing anything with your grey matter, were you? Of course not! Not with The Quadrennnial Lunatic Derby, America’s mad kingship race, this time a kabuki ‘twixt Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, two sides of the same bent psychotic coin, going on; no, you certainly weren’t. Best, then, that you give yourself over here and now to every scrap of art you can find and hope we survive it all…which, by the way, though not quite stated as I’ve done, is the entire point of Always Now, carrying a very hopeful poetic forecast alongside all the beautifully doomy threnodic realpolitik of much of the instrumental element.
Holon's Official Website