Album Reviews

Black Rills Records Special

Black Rills Records Special

Welcome! For some time now, I have had the pleasure of being able to listen to some of Swiss label Black Rills Records' releases. I am long overdue with reviewing them, and now I got their latest issue, a re-issue of another lost Swiss gem called Rumple Stiltzken Comune, I knew it was time to correct that mistake and got the idea of making a Black Rills Records special.
Black Rills Records have released, as far as I know, only Swiss bands. Again as far as I know, all but one release are re-issues from the Seventies. I knew of Swiss bands Dragonfly and Irrwisch, and through Ken Golden's label I learned about Island, but that was it. Now I know about Alpha To Omega and Welcome (in previous DPRP Reviews issues), and all the bands you can read about in this Reviews issue. Have fun, and read carefully. As you probably haven't heard about most of these bands here, just like I did, you are able to discover some long-lost progressive rock gems...

Please note that recently, Black Rills Records got their own internet domain:, which is different from the url mentioned on most of the releases.

Reviews in this issue:

Kedama - Live At Sunset Studios
Country of Origin:Switzerland
Record Label:Black Rills Records / Moon Records
Catalogue #:BRR 10 / Moon C 017
Year of Release:1999 (orig. 76/77/73)
Info:Black Rills e-mail
Tracklist original Live At Sunset Studios album (32:59): Ouverture (7:28), Finale (12:03), Our Power (3:59), Zugabe (9:27)
Tracklist recordings for unreleased second album (28:09): Chinese Dragon (9:14), Hwrklnzg (3:39), Honey Moon (5:43), Improvisations (3:06), Intermezzo (6:24)
Tracklist songs from compilation album (11:11): Two Souls In Space (7:14), Feelings Without Name (3:56)

In June of 1976, Kedama did some live recordings at Sunset Studios, which were released on LP. From this LP, only two pressings were made of no more than one hundred copies each, making it the rarest Swiss recording ever. Due to Japanese bootleggers, a CD release was forced. In spite of this time pressure, the result is amazing: Black Rills Records have released a great CD with all the recordings the band has ever made. This includes the songs that were supposed to be released on a second album (recorded early 1977), which never happened, and also two tracks from a compilation album from 1973 - the band's first ever recordings.

Well, of course you can hear the production was not done with the highest budget. Fortunately, I can "see" through that and enjoy the music as it is. And yes, I enjoyed it. Intensely. Immensely.

Kedama are an instrumental trio playing free-form jazzy progressive rock, unlimited by any restrictions on time or composition. This does not mean that you must be afraid of losing your interest after a few minutes and umpteen musical changes. It's more prog than jazz, and sometimes reminded me of old Yes songs. However, the music has got more blues than that, more emotion. More psychedelica, too, although that is just an ingredient, not the overall feel of the sound.

The recording technique that was used in the studio was, not uncommon for those days, very experimental. This resulted in probably a great atmosphere, but on tape and on an average home sound system, the effort is not evident. But hey, music is fun, and fun it was. And great it was, too. Or should I say "is"... The music may sound dated, but it still stands as being a great album. It sounds dated because of the instruments used. It is definitely not as regressive as a lot of so-called progressive bands tend to be.
As intense as Yes or King Crimson can be, Kedama can be as well. Kedama have more blues, more feeling in their music, which makes it more interesting to my musical taste. I would very much like to know if the musicians are involved in any musical adventure right now.

I will definitely listen to this album a lot, and I think you should to, when you are even slighlty interested in instrumental, experimental, and adventurous music. I find it hard to name comparable bands, but there's something of Deep Purple in the way they sound heavy, especially in the use of the keyboards. But there's more freedom in composition, more like Yes. But I think you better try and find out for yourself...

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Lizard (Switzerland) - In Concert
Country of Origin:Switzerland
Record Label:Black Rills Records
Catalogue #:BRR 009
Year of Release:1999 (original: 1981)
Info:Black Rills e-mail
Tracklist CD1 (75:39): There On The Floor (11:50), Don't Know (11:03), Plus Qu'un Instant (16:20), Trop Tard (2:54), Last Day (10:51), Afterwards (16:35), Ending (6:04)
Tracklist CD2 (69:13): Bubble Brain (17:44), Zèbre (11:25), Jam (26:55), Going On (13:07)

Some words or names are very good for band names. So good, that more than one group of people decide to use it for their band. Abraxas is an example: in the early Seventies, Landmarq bass player Steve Gee played in a band with that name; mid Seventies, Twelfth Night guitar player played in another band with the same name, and now there's a successful Polish band with that same name. Lizard is another one, since besides the contemporary Polish prog group, now it appears that in the late Seventies and early Eighties, a Swiss band also went by that name. Ooh, didn't I know?! No I didn't. Shouldn't I? Maybe. Fact is, now I know, and now I am going to tell you about it.

What I said about the complexity of Kedama's music in the review above, also applies to the music of this band Lizard. But there definitely is a difference between the two as well. Lizard play more complex music than Kedama, which to my taste is not a good thing. But I am not here to tell you only of my musical taste, but also give you some objective information on the music. And one objective description is: very well played! I have been told the orginal double LP is a collectors item, and the band is highly respected among the ones who own and know the album.
Those people must be lovers of complex music, that's for sure. There's a lot of sudden changes in the music. The way Yes were an influence has to do with the complexity of their music as well. But I think the band have been influenced more by several styles than just a couple of progressive rock bands. To my taste, there's not enough blues in the music. It remains a bit cold at times. In some songs, however, the interplay between the musicians really builds up the tension, which is great.

As this is a live album, one could expect jams. And here's a twenty-seven minute jam. I like jams a lot. They show not only the musician's skills in instant composing, his feeling with the music, but also the tightness of a band of musicians, and what music comes from not thinking but just playing.

The songs on this live album were recorded at a couple of locations in 1980 and 1981, some of which on November 26, 1981, at the band's latest gig. A double LP was released after the band had split. This double CD holds all recordings from that double album, plus some extra things of course (where would you leave over 140 minutes of music on four sides of vinyl?) I heard that a couple of songs on this 2CD are different versions than on the original release. I can't tell which, because I don't have the original. What I can tell is that I think this is an album by great musicians, with complex music. Highly recommended to people who are into jazz-influenced prog, long songs with lots of changes, the complex sides of Yes and King Crimson. The rating does, however, also include my personal opinion towards this kind of music. Please let your own taste judge this album and give it a try.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Rumple Stiltzken Comune - Wrong From The Beginning
Country of Origin:Switzerland
Record Label:Black Rills Records
Catalogue #:BRR CD 011
Year of Release:2000 (original: 1977)
Info:Black Rills e-mail
Tracklist: Flipping (7:19), Wrong From The Beginning (8:17), To Be Or Not To Be (8:21), The Closed Boy (9:57)

I don't hear it very often that a band is compared to Van Der Graaf Generator. In the bio, Rumple Stiltzken Comune (I'll call them RSC from now on...) are described as a combination of VDGG and PFM. It took a while before I knew this description is accurate in some degree at least. But before I was at that point, I was enchanted by the music of this album. Yes, a beautiful album.

What part of VDGG is in their music, is the sound. I can't describe it very well, but it's the way the organ sounds, or some of the melodies or changes therein. If the singer sings very high, it is remotely reminiscent of Hammill's voice. But for the better part, RSC are less heavy, less melancholic. They sound happier. And that's where PFM comes in. The band played a lot of gigs with those Italians, and like the bio says, the band's music is more like Italian Seventies' prog. Where VDGG could be very agressive, RSC are more mysterious. VDGG could sound like you're in Dante's Inferno, RSC make you feel like you're listening to Alice In Wonderland. But please note that you don't have to like VDGG to like this. Let not this comparison scare you away.
In the faster movements, the music also reminds me of American bands Lift and Pentwater. Complex, but not too complex, and still very melodic.

That's the objective part. I couldn't think of any other ways to describe the music, and hope it's enough to make you curious to listen to this wonderful album. I like it very much, because it's not too complex, very melodic, and moody, dark, mysterious. Sad at times, and a bit melancholic at times.

Then there's the production. The letter I received tells me this is the first Black Rills Records re-issue that has been remixed. I don't have the original LP, so I can't compare, but I do know that this is a very good production, easily comparable to the better productions from the Seventies. And the album is definitely worth it! I hope I have made you curious to listen to this album. Especially those who know my musical preferences from my previous reviews, and think we share musical interest, this is highly recommended stuff! It is among the best records in my collection.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Spot - Spot
Country of Origin:Switzerland
Record Label:Black Rills Records
Catalogue #:BRR 006
Year of Release:1998 (original: 1972)
Info:Black Rills e-mail
Tracklist: I Am One (1:55), By The Way (4:44), Portobello (4:42), In My Dreams (3:50), Free (4:30), Travelling Man (3:28), Jersey Thursday (6:30), I Know (4:22), Oh What A Day (4:58), Sabre Dance (3:34), Who Are You (3:22)

Another Swiss band I had never heard of. Different from most other re-issues on Black Rills Records, this band Spot is older and much more influenced by the blues and rock from the late Sixties. Now that's one of my favourite cups of tea... The singer plays keyboards as well, in a more accompanying role, not very upfront or soloing. Now I mentioned the singer, I must also add that he has a great blues voice. Raw, but could have used some more power. Still fits the music well.

Strange perhaps, but some of the vocal melodies remind me of the early Moody Blues. I mean the mysterious, moody, bluesy (what's in a name...) and melancholic Moody Blues. Spot are heavier, though. More blues and more rock. Other vocal lines are definitely more blues / (hard) rock, like Led Zeppelin (as in Free, but especially in Portobello). Lots of wah-wah guitar, distorted guitar - Cream and Hendrix influences. But there's also an easier side to the music, as in In My Dreams, which has a great Spirit and Doors feel to it. Or a bit of Deep Purple or Mountain in Oh What A Day.
Spot are really like the more original progressive blues bands than your ordinary Blue Cheer hard rock or something. Songs really evolve, change. Rough, bluesy, rocking. And listen to that marvellous version of Sabre Dance... You might not know the title, but the music you do... Great, driving version, menacing atmosphere.

The production is not very well. The original recordings are from 1972, and definitely not done in a great recording facility with immense budgets. But due to the kind of music, this is not a bad thing. Had this band got a better chance in the international music world, they surely would have recorded more albums. I like this kind of music very much - they refer to a lot of my favourite bands from those days. OK, I can mention a lot of bands they sound like, but it's more like bits sound like this, other bits sound like that. It's not that complete songs sound very much like this or that band. It's a great mix, a bit like Steve Morse's latest solo album, Major Impacts: an ode to all those great bands. Spot recorded their album in a time when those bands were still active, or had just stopped for one reason or another... If you like even a couple of the bands I just mentioned, you should have a listen.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Starglow Energy - Gate To Celdan
Country of Origin:Switzerland
Record Label:Black Rills Records
Catalogue #:BRR CD 007
Year of Release:1998
Info:Black Rills e-mail
Tracklist: Dance Of The Trolls (2:25), Fly Into The Rainbow (3:38), Time Traveller (4:35), Vengeance (4:53), The Rite (5:08), Celdan (The World Of Colours) (17:33), Certain Friends (4:31)

Although the name is new to me, Starglow Energy are not a new band. They have been together for nine years already, and have released three studio albums and one live album. Unfortunately, this being not very well known is not only the fate of Starglow Energy, as I am sure there are a lot of good bands that don't get their fair share of attention. Am I giving you my opinion already at the beginning of the review? Well yes, but let me specify it a bit then.

The music this band plays is slightly psychedelic rock. The first track begins with drums only, a strange opening track. But halfway through, you get to know where the music is going to. Influenced by psychedelic rock like The Doors; good riffs, with old-sounding keyboards providing most of the melodies. Old-sounding... Hammond, Moog, and Mellotron - of course they sound old! And what a great sound these machines have... When accompanying, keyboards enhance the driving force of drums, bass, and distorted guitars, as right from the beginning of the second track. Fat, heavy, dirty blues oriented rock, but with a modern touch. Prog with balls, I call this. I like this!
The third track is easier. Singer / guitarist Gögs Andrighetto fits the music very well. No pretentions too, which results in a better combination of music and vocals. Blues and psychedelics from the late Sixties and early Seventies, played in a modern way.
With a title like Vengeance one can expect a heavier song, which it is. To my taste, it may have been heavier, or fuller - more instruments, more sounds. The Rite is far more interesting, I think. Menacing harmonies and melodies as in the second track. Very good vocal melodies, by the way. There is more variation in this track, too. A quiet middle part, from where the tension is built up again by guitar and bass and drums, back to the initial driving force of the track.

Well, a seventeen-minute track always get most of the attention in a review like this. It's the biggest part of the album, so why shouldn't it? A silent intro by keyboards, joined by the others to start what is clearly going to be a "big" song. Reminds me a bit of the first Grobschnitt album - you know something great is going to happen. I think that legendary German band had more the ability to write very good long songs than Starglow Energy. For a few minutes it's a like a shorter song, where they let go the idea they're working on a longer suite. But I guess they have a story to tell here. It's a good song, no doubt about that. Great chorus with keyboard and guitar taking the music to heavier planes.
Then in the fifth minute, there's a change. Yes, an instrumental part. In the 8th minute it's like there's another song, more like a short interlude to the next keyboard solo. Mind you, it's all in the same style - you don't get the feeling it's a patchwork of short songs. And in the tenth minute they manage to give me another Grobschnitt feeling. Not a bad feeling at all! Great blues oriented prog, especially the guitar solo it's heading for. There are other guitar solos on the album, but this one is a big one, not comparable to the others. Now I hear the solo guitar has a bigger role than I expected in the previous songs. A bit of psychedelics, or more krautrock - yes, they must have listened to Nektar a lot, too! Ha, great references...

The total disc time on the CD player states 47:42, but the total playing is actually is 42:53. After track 6 follows 4:49 of silence, before the uncredited track 7 starts. This track was released on a single about four years earlier, which has now been deleted and therefore has become quite rare. Although four years older than the rest of the CD, it sounds very much the same.

Starglow Energy stand for rock music with mysterious, dark, and psychedelic influences. To my taste, some bits might have been a little bit heavier, but this is a very fine CD. Not brilliant, but good. And considered there's a lot of shit out there, I am very glad I was able to write this review. From all the other bands on Black Rills Recors, Starglow Energy are closest to Spot in the review above. If you know either one of them, get the other album too!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Well, I am a bit surprised to see that so many of the Black Rills Records releases appeal to me a great deal. (I also loved the Alpha To Omega and Welcome CD.) Are there still any great Swiss bands that haven't been re-issued yet? If so, why haven't they?! Can't wait till the next one comes out!

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