|Musical Style: Progressive Art Rock||Produced By: Jimmy Hotz|
|Record Label: Born Twice||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1980/2010||Artist Website: Jimmy Hotz|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 43:29|
The definition of art rock is every bit as complex as the genre itself. Often described as having “experimental or avant-garde influences” and emphasizing “novel sonic textures”, art rock has earned a reputation for “blending elements of rock and European classical music” while “appealing more intellectually or musically”. In other words, art rock is “not (music) formulated along pop lines for mass consumption”.
It also must be noted how art rock and progressive rock are two almost interchangeable terms. Yes, progressive rock trends towards the more traditionally melodic and art rock the at times eclectic, but what the two have in common is the capacity for longer and more complex compositions and extended instrumental arrangements.
Specifically, the “progressive art rock” scene arose in the 1960’s when many artists were attempting to “broaden the boundaries of rock” or “elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility”, but it did not have its heyday until the 1970s with the commercial success of King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis.
But what about the Christian rock scene? Are there any Christian artists from the same ere that drew upon the influence of progressive art rock? The first to come to mind, of course, is Ark Angel, whose 1980 debut Warrior combined Tolkien imagery and medieval instrumentation to create an apocalyptic mixture of the acoustic and electric: the album is divided into two sides- the first, “Wind Face”, is mostly acoustic while “Fire Face”, the second, takes a hard rock approach.
Jimmy Hotz’s 1980 release Beyond the Crystal Sea also deserves consideration. Hotz started out doing professional studio work in the early 70’s and has held his share of job titles throughout the years, including Record Producer, Recording Engineer, Musician, Inventor and Musical Instrument Designer. Artists he has worked with include Yes, Jon Anderson, Steve Winwood, Chicago, B.B. King, Bonnie Rait and a host of others. He also helped produce the previously referenced ArkAngel album.
Originally a vinyl only release on Vision Records, Beyond The Crystal Sea was re-issued as a 30th Anniversary Edition in 2010 on Born Twice Records, a sister label to Retroactive Records focusing on early Jesus Music. Two bonus tracks, “Long Long Ago” and “The Gates Of Time”, off the artists 2000 EP The Gates Of Time were included as well.
Beyond The Crystal Sea is a highly acclaimed work that is considered one of the best examples of early progressive art rock. Musically, it brings a joining of complex song structures and intricate time changes, classical interludes, numerous instrumental excursions and more than enough melody to draw you in with repeated listen.
Songwriting is nothing less than stellar. Consider album opener “Observations Of A Larger Reality”, eight minutes of classic progressive rock, in addition to “From Love Life Did Begin” and “Long, Long Ago”, two low-key (almost bluesy) numbers that hint at Pink Floyd. Some symphonic flavorings can be found on “The Gates Of Time” while a mellower and more relaxed direction is taken on “The Vision Ship” and “Beyond The Blues”. The album also includes several instrumental pieces: the hard rocking “Teton” and acoustic based “Alpine” (Kemper Crabb of ArkAngel makes a guest appearance on this one).
Hotz skillfully adorns the project with layer upon layer of keyboards, piano and synthesizers. Yes, there is a heavy keyboard slant here but a more than ample amount of guitar makes its presence felt as well. Just check out “Teton” and “Observations Of Larger Reality” to understand my point. Vocally, the artist brings a clean and smooth mid-ranged vocal presence that fits well with the progressive based environs at hand.
Production sounds a bit dated but is otherwise free from any type of detracting thinness or muddiness.
The album gets underway to “Observations Of A Larger Reality”, eight and a half minutes of classic progressive rock that would do Neal Morse or Kerry Livgren proud. The song stands out with its instrumental proclivity, opening to a three minute “angelic” instrumental stretch and closing its final two and a half in the same manner. In between the artist weaves a flowing melody in drifting between calmer piano driven passages and others carried at a steadier tempo by a staunch rhythm guitar. This one hints at spiritual warfare:
In the stillness of the morning
I hear the weakened cries
Of those who march as dead souls
To bring more pain and strife
The seem to be all the victors
But they only know defeat
As they march against the Mighty King
Who’s called the Prince of Peace
Guitar feedback carries instrumental “Night Passage” its brief (2:12) distance.
“The Vision Ship” is a calmer piece that would fit in on the “mellower” first side of ArkAngel’s Warrior. The song slowly drifts its distance in keyboard driven fashion with occasional hints of guitar decorating the backdrop. Some soothing bluesy lead work sustains the final minute and a half. Lyrically, “The Vision Ship” comes across comforting in nature:
When it seems that your journey
Is far from its’ end
And your hope has all gone away
If your heart is burning for the joy it once knew
Well, my friend
There’s still hope for you
Just board the Vision Ship
And let your worries go
Instrumental “Teton” represents the albums most up-tempo and hardest rocking piece. The song can best be described as a joining of heavy duty guitars and earnest riffing backed by occasional outbursts of fast paced soloing.
“Beyond The Blues” heads in an acoustic rock direction. Relaxed and low-key in capacity, the song stands out with its forwardly mixed keyboards while making room for accentuating bluesy guitar passages. This one would also be a good match for the first side to Warrior. “Beyond The Blues” brings a message of hope:
As we look above us let our hearts sing out
With praise for all we see
And look unto the hills
As we call upon God
And pray for our brothers in need
For they are but as children sleeping
Lying in the dew
Walking with each ray of sunlight
To a road that leads beyond the blues
“Alpine Magic”, the albums third and final instrumental, moves its length acoustically as Kemper Crabb adds to the lush scene with his recorder.
“From Love Life Did Begin” brings a return to the progressive. The song proves slow and ethereal as it makes use of vocal harmonies with the end result an environs bordering on the “Floydian”. The melody is entrancing while the same can be said for the manner in which things gradually fade out over the last several minutes. The focus here is on eternal matters:
Well I’m off with the wind
To prepare us a place
Far from the reaches
Of this time and space
Where life from love did begin
Remember to share all the life
I have shown you within
For the souls of the sleeping
Are ready to be born again
The “Floydian” influences continue on “Long, Long Ago”, by far the albums finest track. What stands out about the song is its abundant melody – gripping, complete and immediately catchy – while Hotz shines with his silky smooth vocal presence. Otherwise, this one proves another plodding track giving rise to some bluesy and acoustically driven flavorings. On “Long, Long Ago” the artist is attempting to take us on a journey to the time before our present universe was called into existence:
So long, long ago and far, far away
These were the final words they would sing
Hope, faith and love as their world did fade
Long, long ago and far, far away
Long, long ago and far, far away
Once our Creator was called by His name
Great Kuri Ande, Angels would sing
So long, long ago and far, far away
“The Gates Of Time” is the most symphonic of the albums material. It all starts with the epic based instrumental introduction – backed by some keyed up lead work – but culminates with the songs luxurious aura as the phrase “Kuri Andre” is repeated in catchy fashion. The only complaint is that I wish this one were a few minutes longer. “The Gates Of Time” chronicles a Spirit journey to the heart of the universe, passing through the Gates of Time and beyond:
Standing at the Gates of
Time in the heart of the universe
An Angel takes my hand
I’m taken on the wings of
Time to the edge of the universe
To see the ancient lands
And in the ancient halls I heard
Creations song first sung
In the ancient tongue
I heard the name of God
Beyond The Crystal Sea is nothing less than a progressive art rock masterpiece. If you are a fan of the progressive genre – in all its forms (and by that I mean from Neal Morse to Shadow Gallery and all things in between) – then by all means make this a priority purchase. Credit Born Twice Records for making Beyond The Crystal Sea available again (with bonus tracks)
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Observations Of A Larger Reality” (8:32), “Night Passage” (2:12) “The Vision Ship” (5:35), “Teton” (3:18), “Beyond The Blues” (4:53) “Alpine Magic” (1:42), “From Love Life Did Begin” (6:51), “Long, Long Ago” (5:47), “The Gates Of Time” (3:45)
Jimmy Hotz – Lead Vocals, Guitars & Bass
Phil Huston & Paul Mills – Keyboards
Recorder – Kemper Crabb
Brian Tankersley & Wayne Six – Bass
Gary Ingram & Russell Dunlap – Drums