Hungarian instrumental band Solaris were formed in February 1980 in Budapest. The band took their name from the Polish sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem whose Solaris novel was published in 1961. The founding members of the band were Róbert Erdész - keyboards, Cziglán István - guitar, Attila Kollár - flute, Seres Attila - bass, and Tóth Vilmos – drums.
In April of that year, the band achieved 3rd place in a Budapest talent competition and this led to an offer of a record contract by the state record label.
Eventually, after extensively playing club and university gigs the band were able to release their first album The Martian Chronicles in 1984. It sold in excess of 40,000 copies, but their Hungarian record label felt that this was not enough for the band to able to sign a further recording deal. By 1986 it was obvious that the record label would not agree to record any more Solaris music. The band agreed to disband after playing a farewell gig in 1986.
With the record company’s approval and with the addition of a female vocalist, the band formed a pop band called Napoleon Boulevard. Napoleon Boulevard went on to achieve great success in Hungary. In 1988 King records of Japan bought the rights to distribute Martian Chronicles. The music of Solaris and Martian Chronicles became available in the West.
Napoleon Boulevard’s success enabled the Solaris 1990 album to be released.
In 1995 Solaris were invited to Los Angeles to play Progfest and in 1996 the Live in Los Angeles 2CD set was released. In 1998 founding member Cziglán István died.
The band released their third studio album Nostradamus in 1999. In 2007 a combined DVD and CD of band’s 2004 performance of Nostradamus in Mexico City was released. In 2013 founding member Tóth Vilmos died. The band released their fourth studio album, the highly regarded Martian Chronicles 2 in 2014. In March 2015, the band was presented with the Hungarian equivalent of a Grammy for their 26th October 2014 concert, which was awarded for the 'Best Music Event of the Year' 2014.
Most recently, in November 2015 the band celebrated their 35th year, by releasing a DVD and CD of their 26th October 2014 performance at the MUPA concert Hall Budapest, entitled Martian Chronicles Live.
Marsbéli Krónikák I/1 (5:52),Marsbéli Krónikák I/2 (9:45), Marsbéli Krónikák I/3 (13:39), M'ars Poetica (6:51), Ellenpont (4:40), Solaris (5:30),Marsbéli Krónikák II/1 (7:00), Marsbéli Krónikák II/7 (6:40), Apocalypse (4:19), When the Fog Descends (4:59), Undefeatable (3:32), E-Moll Concerto allegro com molto (5:00), Mickey Mouse (3:51)
On an autumnal October evening Solaris took to the stage and transported the packed audience of Budapest's Müpa concert hall, to the mysterious world of the Red Planet.
The 2014 concert and the band's performance were critically acclaimed. So much so, that in March 2015 the concert was awarded the coveted Best Music Event of the Year awarded by the Hungarian Bureau for the Protection of Authors Rights. This prestigious award is Hungary's equivalent to a UK Grammy award.
Luckily, the event was filmed and recorded and a DVD and CD of the event have been recently released to celebrate the bands 35th anniversary. These are available to purchase separately, or as a combined deluxe package.
The Concert featured all of the compositions which made up Solaris' acclaimed 1984 debut release The Martian Chronicles, as well as two pieces from the then recently released Martian Chronicles II. The other compositions played were selected from the bands Solaris 1990 album. Sadly, no Nostradamus pieces were included in the bands set.
As soon as the CD began, I was immediately struck by the superb sound quality of the disc. Every instrument can be clearly heard and the dynamic range of the recording is excellent.
The CD works perfectly well as a standalone release. With some recent live releases such as, Flor De Loto's Medusa, the audio did not succeed as a standalone disc. The Medusa CD only became satisfying, when I was familiar with the film of the performance. Such is the quality of Solaris' performance that there is no need to be acquainted with the concert set up, or to visualise what is happening. The music says it all.
Solaris' mixture of Folk, Rock and Classical influences is blended sweetly together in an intoxicating manner throughout the performance. This is particularly apparent in the sweeping moods and impressive dynamic range of styles exhibited within the opening piece. The first thirty minutes of the disc is taken up by a vibrant performance of the Martian Chronicles. This lengthy piece originally took up the A side of The Martian Chronicles album and is rightly recognised as one of Solaris' best compositions.
In many ways, the 2014 performance and arrangement is even more attractive than the original studio version. For the concert, some parts of the original Martian Chronicles composition have been updated, and slightly rearranged. These additions invigorate the original piece and are thoroughly satisfying. Throughout the finely tuned performance of this piece, the band sounded fresh. This latest rendition of the iconic Martian Chronicles certainly surpasses the previously available concert performance of the tune which is featured on Solaris' Live in Los Angeles 1995 album.
Despite, The Martian Chronicles being considered to be a classic album, there are some aspects of it which have not aged particularly well. For example, the prevalent spiralling 80s synthesiser sound may not be to everybody's taste. Nevertheless, it remains a powerful and consuming piece and the reinvigorated rendition represented in this release is totally absorbing.
Although, Róbert Erdész' swirling synthesiser still plays a prominent part in the live performance of Martian Chronicles, the sounds selected on this occasion were more refined and much less obtrusive, than on the original studio version. Nevertheless, Erdesz' is still able to maintain the ambience, charm and inventiveness of the original and there are many occasions when the flowing synthesiser runs captured on the disc are simply stunning.
Erdész is given a further opportunity to impress and showcase his versatile keyboard skills at the beginning of Part 2 of Martian Chronicles with the addition of a beautifully constructed piano improvisation.
There are also many other occasions where the players are given the space to stretch things out. These occur regularly during the course of this composition and throughout the concert. Consequently, throughout the release, the collective talent of the ensemble really comes to the fore. Overall, this ensures that the CD is an impressive record of the bands abilities and combined skills. This combination of improvisation and strong ensemble playing creates a truly outstanding live performance and a totally satisfying album.
Whilst aspects of Martian Chronicles are repetitive and arguably not as overtly complex as some listeners might wish. It is this phenomenon that makes the piece so appealing and successful. Its main theme has many memorable twists and turns, but is both highly melodic, and accessible. Over the course of the composition every possibility is wrung out of its basic motif. This creates a captivating effect that has all of the classic ingredients associated with symphonic progressive rock. Fans of ELP, Camel, Focus and Jethro Tull should find much to enjoy in this release.
Solaris are wonderful exponents of progressive flute rock. As might be expected, Martian Chronicles Live contains some exhilarating flute moments. During the recording, flautist Attila Kollár plays with the elegance of Herbie Mann, the virtuosity of Thys Van Leer, and when required, the ferocity of Ian Anderson. The flute, guitar and keyboard interplay in Ellenpont is simply stunning, and is yet another aspect that makes this release so enjoyable.
The other members of the band are equally proficient, but the expressive guitar work of Bogdán Csaba is often a clear highlight. His contribution frequently propels the music towards heavier territories. During the course of the release a succession of brilliantly executed solos are unleashed to excite the listener and embellish the bands overall sound.
There are many occasions in this live album where Solaris provide an all-out assault on the senses. M'ars Poetica is particularly heavy. However, it never ignores the importance of the use of light and shade to emphasise its more explosive parts. Its dramatic riff and perfectly constructed arrangement beautifully captures a number of Solaris' stylistic attributes.
Lighter and more melodic moments are provided by pieces such as, When the Fog Descends and the bands signature tune Solaris. These perfectly complement the more intense compositions such as Undefeatable, Apocalypse and Mickey Mouse which, snarl and riff with abandon.
The Martian Chronicles 2suite is represented by two pieces featured on the disc. The two compositions work extremely well in the context of the whole performance. These tracks highlight the talents of a number of guest performers. For example, saxophonist Ferenc Muck provides an expressive solo to part 2 of the suite. Similarly, in part 7, the superb acoustic guitar solo of Péter Gerendás ensures that the debut live performance of this composition is memorable.
After listening to this disc, I can fully understand why Solaris gained their prestigious award. This album is undoubtedly going to be my favourite live album of the year and will probably be near the top of my list of albums of the year.
It is simply quite magnificent.
The DVD release is arguably even better. It is an essential purchase for anybody who appreciates the music of Solaris. It is beautifully filmed and its sound quality is pristine. There are many different angles and band close ups. It also features the whole of the concert including parts which because of time considerations are not on the CD. These include László Gõmõr's impressive drum solo and also a highly evocative mime routine provided by Andras M Keckes.
Keckes captivating performance is set against an evocative SCI FI back drop. It is also accompanied by the soundtrack of a performance of Beyond featuring and highlighting the talents of deceased guitarist and band member Cziglán István. The DVD also contains the beautiful flute led piece Duo which features the interlocking talents of Kollár and of Péter Gerendás in a memorable pastoral duet.
Both releases are highly recommended. Each work as stand-alone releases, but together they are a formidable pairing.
I have no hesitation in awarding the CD of this concert my highest score for DPRP, my first ever 9.5
Martian Chronicles I (3:34), Martian Chronicles II - III (6:32), Martian Chronicles IV - VI (13:15), M'ars Poetica (6:39), If the Fog Ascends (3:58), Apocalypse (3:44), Prelude in E Minor (0:29), Undefeatable (2:46), Solaris (4:53); bonus tracks: The Planet of Orchids (3:17), The Yellow Circle (4:54)
Solaris music is not overly complex and many of the bands compositions throughout their discography are in four-four-time. However, the arrangements are highly creative and the sound of the band is unique.
The album's inventive title track consists of six movements. The piece lasts for twenty four minutes and spans the first three tracks. The title track is awash with 80's synths sounds and highly entertaining flute passages. Interlocking patterns of flute, keyboards and guitar are effortlessly woven together to create an enchanting yet unworldly experience. Jazz, folk and classical influences abound as the piece journeys through a variety of styles, whilst relentlessly and melodically exploring its main musical theme.
In the climatic conclusion of the piece, bombastic keyboards and fluid guitar lines vigorously compete, before eventually reuniting with the flowing trilling of Attila Kollár's expressive flute parts. If you're a fan of bands such as, Focus, or Camel, there is much that you might enjoy about the title track.
The rest of the album is also excellent and if you have yet to hear Solaris' music, I suggest that you should listen to tracks such If the Fog Ascends and M'ars Poetica to discover the band at their best.
Overall, The Martian Chronicles is a highly accomplished work and it is justifiably considered a classic. It is an album that fully deserves to be heard. However, nothing in this release really compares with LA 2026 which is to be found on the bands Solaris 1990 double album.
CD 1: The Viking Returns (4:00), Ellenpont (4:03), Óz (5:12), Mickey Mouse (3:16), Éden (6:04), Los Angeles 2026 (23:21)
CD 2: Éjszakai Tárlat I (6:09), Éjszakai Tárlat II (Szabadjáték) (7:32), Éjszakai Tárlat III. (Éjféli Valcer) (3:33), Éjszakai Tárlat IV (Józsi Mátészalkára Megy) (5:58), Éjszakai Tárlat V (1990) (4:42), E-Moll Concerto (Allegro Con Molto) (3:40), Paella (2:30), A Kígyó Szive (3:20), Ez Nem Kán-Kán (0:56), Magyar Tánc (3:33), Duó (4:26), Solaris 1990 (4:15)
Solaris' second studio album 1990 was released four years after the bands farewell concert in April 1986.
Disc 1 contains some of Solaris earliest works. A live alternative version of Ellenpont recorded in 1980 can also be found on the bands archive live release Back to The Roots. The first disc of Solaris 1990 contains lots of varied compositions. Tracks such as, the excellent Óz and also the beautiful and aptly titled Éden are highly recommended. Éden contains a rich landscape of expressive bass parts that are warmly cultivated by a graceful flute melody. Many of these earlier tunes are imbued with some spirited playing and the bands infectious enthusiasm for their art can be clearly felt.
The highlight of disc 1 is undoubtedly LA 2026. In a number of ways this elaborate composition is even more enjoyable than their acclaimed Martian Chronicles piece. LA 2026 contains a diverse mixture of styles. Erdész' piano parts and Kollár's pastoral interventions create a variety of reflective moods upon which, the band develop and expand upon. Each part has its own charm and identity. Many false starts and surprising detours occur in the various movements, before the band finally and inexorably charge towards the compositions impressive finale. In the final phase, there are numerous examples of blistering ensemble playing where each individual player complements the other. Overall, it is an absolutely superb track.
The origins of LA 2026 can be traced back to Solaris' NOAB composition which predates Martian Chronicles. Included within NOAB were some themes that would be adapted to re-emerge in LA 2026 and also some year's later in Martian Chronicles II. LA 2026 is arguably a masterpiece of symphonic prog rock and as such Solaris 1990 is highly recommended for this composition alone.
The second disc consists of a number of short pieces and also offers some interesting offbeat tracks. These contrasting elements make disc 2 quite distinctive from disc 1 and different to Solaris subsequent recordings.
Overall, disc 2 provides a permanent record of the bands conviction to produce prog music rather than pop and stands as a testimony to their collective inventiveness and creativity. However, the highlights of disc 2 are undoubtedly the compositions that are in a more typical Solaris style and these include, the majestic Magyar Tánc, Duó and Emoll Concerto.
Book Of Prophecies (Part 1) (2:45), Book Of Prophecies (Part 2) (13:11), Book Of Prophecies (Part 3) (4:33), The Duel (7:18), The Lion's Empire (6:38), Wings Of The Phoenix (4:50), Ship Of Darkness (5:51), Wargames (4:27), The Moment Of Truth (Part 1) (5:00), The Moment Of Truth (Part 2) (1:53), Book Of Prophecies (Radio Edit) (3:26)
Solaris released their third studio recording in 1999. It was based upon the bands interest in the writings of Nostradamus.
Nostradamus is probably Solaris most interesting and accomplished studio album. Stylistically, much of it stands apart from other releases in the bands discography. As well as an abundance of energetic flute flurries it contains a curious mixture of heavy guitar passages, operatic voices, flowing keyboards and bubbling bass embellishments.
The highlight of the album is undoubtedly the twenty minute opening suite Book of Prophecies. It is a powerful and well worked composition. It features Solaris' usual components, but also contains world music elements and vocal passages. These features give the whole piece a larger than life choral ambience and add a totally different dimension to the band's usual sound and repertoire.
The musicianship throughout is excellent and the production values are exemplary. Nostradamus contains a strikingly more robust guitar sound than in many of the bands previous releases. The frenetic riffing and imaginative soloing perfectly offsets the choral aspects of the release.
Duel and The Lions Empire are particularly impressive. As well as including choral voices, Duel centres on a breathy flute riff that is accompanied by expressive guitar and organ parts. It ranks as one of the most potent tunes ever written by the band.
The bass is also given a prominent role in the album. There are some great bottom end parts throughout. These offer lots of subtlety and depth during the music's frequent and fascinating transitional moments.
The album ends with the beautiful Moment of Truth. Despite its operatic interludes, this piece is very reminiscent of the pastoral symphonic style Camel achieved in their Snow Goose release.
With the notable exception of parts of War Games, the compositions on offer are excellent. The bands distinctive and inventive arrangements ensure that the album is always appealing.
If you think that you might enjoy Nostradamus, then Robert Erdész' Meeting Point is an album you may also appreciate. It was released in 2000 and incorporates an interesting mix of styles. These include choral, instrumental and world music.
Martian Chronicles II Suite (1st Movement (6:12), 2nd - 6th Movement (12:44), 7th Movement (3:30)) (22:26), Voices from the Past, 1st Movement (2:05), Voices from the Past, 2nd Movement (5:33), The World Without Us (4:03), The Pride of Human insects (3:04), Impossible, 'We Are Impossibility in an impossible Universe' Ray Bradbury (4:12), Alien Song (4:03)
This is an album that is showered with upbeat rhythms and is drenched in analogue synthesisers. Spirals of progressive flute also soar and occasionally burst with wild aggression. More often though, delicate flute trills gently glide and caress the raucous guitar parts that frequently occur.
The album is divided into eight conceptually linked compositions. The longest piece on the album is the appropriately named Martian Chronicles II Suite. The suite consists of six parts spread across three tracks. The 1st Movement is the highpoint of the album and is based loosely around the main melody found in the original Martian Chronicles composition.
Impossible showcases the positive attributes that the band offers. It could have been written at any time in their long history. The piece contains a classic Solaris style melody and simply riffs along with fluty abandon. During the more intense moments, the repetitive organ parts are particularly effective.
Martian Chronicles II is a vibrant sequel that exceeds all expectations and deserves its place on the shelf alongside its illustrious predecessor. Martian Chronicles II achieved fourth slot in my personal list of the top ten albums of 2014 and is highly recommended.
DPRP's detailed review of this album can be found at http://www.dprp.net/reviews/201472.php#solaris-martianchronicles2.
CD1: Martian Chronicles - Part III (15:37), Hungarian Dance (3:40), M'ars Poetica (7:18), Duo (4:58), Bonus Game (14:32), Concerto in E-Minor (4:14)
CD2: Undefeatable (4:17), If the Fog Clears Away (4:48), Apocalypse (4:04), Wizard Of Oz (8:13), Mickey Mouse (3:40), Eden (6:37), The Viking Comes Back.(4:45), Solaris (5:53); bonus tracks: Beyond (Studio Bonus) (12:29), In Rio (Concert Bonus) (7.55)
Live in Los Angeles is a 2CD set which documents the bands Progfest appearance at the Variety Arts Centre on the 11th November 1995.
Solaris were invited to attend the festival by Greg Walker who organised the event. The sound quality of the recording is very good and the set list chosen offers a wide selection of Solaris' strongest compositions.
The performance contains some excellent guitar work by Cziglán István who produces a number of highly accomplished solos alongside fellow guitarist Bogdán Csaba. However, it is the sound of Erdész' moog and vast array of keyboards that sets the overall tone of the concert and dominates much of the sound.
The 2 CD set has many highlights, including a chest pumping and foot tapping extended version of Magyar Tánc (Hungarian Dance) that highlights the bands use of traditional Hungarian folk melodies. The expanded version of Óz works particularly well and gives an opportunity for the band to stretch things out.
As expected, the Wizard of Óz contains some fine interplay featuring flautist Kollár and the rest of the band. The extended flute part in Óz is powerfully evocative. The flowing synth solo which follows is similarly impressive and the piece also contains a memorably gutsy and raunchy guitar solo.
The concert is an intense full on affair and at times this can be a little overbearing. However, the bands inventive arrangements are so enjoyable and the ensemble playing so tightly coiled, that this is easy to overcome.
The concert was also released as a DVD in 2010 to celebrate the bands thirtieth anniversary. Unfortunately, the film quality in some parts of the show is relatively poor. It is nonetheless, satisfying to see footage of the band performing in 1995 in front of an appreciative audience.
If you don't have time to listen to the whole concert, or if live albums do not interest you, then I would recommend that you hear the studio bonus track entitled Beyond. It is a fast paced piece containing some fine abrasive guitar parts, and a number of other symphonic elements, that DPRP readers might find appealing.
Back to the Roots and NOAB are archive live bootleg quality recordings which showcase the development of the band. The band plans to release a third and final disc to complete the series.
Back To the Roots deals with the period from February 1980 to September 1980. This is an interesting addition to the Solaris discography. Unfortunately, the sound is often little better than bootleg quality. Nonetheless, all the trade-marks that make Solaris music appealing are present.
This earliest era of Solaris has much less emphasis on the keyboards of Robert Erdész and in this period of the band the guitar and flute interplay is often much more dominant.
The highlight is the Solaris suite which lasts for eighteen minutes. Back to the Roots also contains early versions of tunes which later evolved and appeared on the band's first two albums.
NOAB represents the years 1980 – 1982. For those who enjoy the music of Solaris this is an essential release. The sound quality is much better than in Back To the Roots. It contains some inspired playing from all the band members. The flute playing of Kollár is prominent throughout. The highlight of the release is the epic NOAB track which weighs in at over twenty one minutes.
The NOAB suite is interesting, as it predates The Martian Chronicles album, yet glimpses of the themes that were to emerge in the title track of that album and in LA 2026 and much later on in Martian Chronicles 11, are hinted at within its symphonic arrangements. As such, it is a perplexing hybrid and offers a fascinating insight into how the band trialled and developed its early musical ideas in a live setting.
Nostradamus (2:44), Book of Prophecies I (1:53), Book of Prophecies II (4:33), Book of Prophecies III (0:39), The Duel (6:07), The Lion's Empire (1:49), Wings of the Phoenix (2:41), Ship Of Darkness (2:00), Wargames (7:19), The Moment of Truth 1 (6:23), The Moment of Truth II (0:52), Book of Prophecies (4:07), Endings (5:09)
Live in Mexico is a combined CD and DVD package of the Solaris concert that was held at the Teatro De La Ciudad in Mexico on the 23rd March 2004. It was released in 2007. The release concentrates on material from the Nostradamus studio album.
The audio quality of the CD is excellent and is an essential purchase for those who enjoy the style of music that is prevalent in Nostradamus. Unfortunately, at a mere forty six minutes in length large portions of the material of the studio album are not played. However, this was not meant to be a reproduction of the album, but was instead what the band called 'A presentation of their Nostradamus suite'.
The band is on top form and the inventive revised arrangements give the instrumental passages a fresh lease of life. Throughout the disc, Solaris are tight and well-rehearsed; but still manage to give the impression that each band member is playing with the freedom to express themselves. It is this dashing ambiance of spontaneity and that makes the instrumental parts of this album such a pleasure to listen to.
Tracks segue into each other in a continuous and inventive adaptation of the Nostradamus compositions. The alterations to the original Nostradamus album work very well and show the bands ability to successfully evolve their material.
The operatic vocal parts are handled with vigour and lashings of emotion by the acclaimed Hungarian state opera singer Gerdesits Ferenc. Although, the vocal parts are perfectly satisfactory and well executed, they suffer in comparison to the faultless and accomplished vocal parts contained in the studio release. Nevertheless, the naturally occuring imperfections add a human dimension to the disc and enhance what is a totally compelling live performance.
The DVD is a glorious record of the occasion and gives a glimpse of what a major undertaking it must have been to reproduce aspects of the Nostradamus album in such a cohesive and pristine manner. The DVD also contains lots of interesting extras such as live footage of Attila Kollár's Musical Witchcraft band.
This would be an ideal starting point, for readers who wish to hear a Solaris live album that is vastly different from their other live releases. It is vibrant, imaginative and as might be expected, is extremely well played.
Side A: Solaris (5:46), Undefeatable (2:44), If the Fog Ascends (4:39), Eden (6:31), In Rio (5:03); Side B: Pantomime Music Excerpt (2:13), Book Of Prophecies Part 2 (8:40), The Lion's Empire (6:29), The Moment Of Truth (4:16), The Return Of The Viking (4:00)
Live Chronicles is a vinyl album that was released in 2014. It is a compilation of live tracks through the years.
Much of the material is available elsewhere, but the album is particularly noteworthy for Solaris aficionados as it includes a version of the bands Solaris composition recorded at their debut gig in April 1980.
Live Chronicles also contains a number of unreleased tracks including Pantomine Music Excerpt and a particularly exhilarating version of A Viking Returns recorded in 2006.
The other selections work well in the context of the disc and ensure that the compilation does not sound like a random collection of disjointed tracks. The clear production values of the disc enhance many of the previously released pieces and make Live Chronicles a satisfying listening experience. The vinyl sounds great and has an abundance of the depth and warmth associated with that medium. The quality and feel of the heavy weight vinyl is excellent.
If you are into vinyl and wish to hear a cross section of live Solaris tracks then Live Chronicles would be a good place to start.
If you have recently discovered Solaris, and wish to hear music that shares similar characteristics a good starting point would be Attila Kollár's first Musical Witchcraft album or, Róbert Erdész' excellent Meeting Point album.
Listed below, is a selected discography of Solaris' members and ex- member's releases.
Attila Kollár: Musical Witchcraft: Musical Witchcraft (1998) Periferic BGCD016
Attila Kollár: Musical Witchcraft II: Utopia (2002) Periferic BGCD116
Attila Kollár: Musical Witchcraft III: Psalms & Soundtrack (2006) Periferic BGCD175
Attila Kollár: Invocatio Musicalis: Live (2015)
Róbert Erdész: Meeting Point (2000) Solaris Music Productions 014
Cziglán István: Seven Gates of Alhambra (1999) Periferic BGCD044
Bands led by ex-Solaris bass player Thomas Pocs
Nostradamus: Testament (2008), Periferic BGCD187
Tompox: Hungarian Eclectic (2013), Periferic BGCD217
Tompox: The Dark side Of The Sun (2013), Periferic BGCD219