Eloy – Visionary

Eloy - Visionary

If you looked at the history of progressive rock, you’d find that most bands eventually faced the conundrum of which is more important: artistic vision or success and money. In other words, most, like ELP, YES and especially Genesis, eventually “sold out” to commercial tastes, becoming parodies of their former glory. But Eloy, with forty years behind them, have yet to do that. While they aren’t as technical and abstract as they used to be, they, like Marillion and Spock’s Beard, still craft great melodies with interesting timbres. Their new LP, Visionary, is a fantastic record, and a great example of how to attain a more assessable sound without losing any integrity.

Eloy was founded by German guitarist Frank Bornemann in 1969, and he’s been the only constant member (similar to Robert Fripp and King Crimson). The group has gone through four “periods,” with the last one beginning in 1988 and disbanding after 1998’s Oceans 2. Although a cult prog band, there was significant demand for Bornemann to begin working on a new album to commemorate the band’s 40th anniversary, and he assembled members from the past to recreate the “vintage” Eloy sound on Visionary.

Their “space rock” origins shine as “The Refuge” opens with guitar harmonics, flute riffs (drawing upon their influence of Jethro Tull) and wavy effects. Bornemann’s vocals are direct and smooth like Roine Stolt, and the bridge melody is especially affective. The subtle complexities and usage of unconventional instruments keep this in the progressive rock realm, but it still has the appeal of a hit single.

“The Secret” begins with an ominous drum beat and a thick atmosphere, almost industrial, like early 1980s Pink Floyd. Bornemann uses a weird computer effect and echo on his voice, adding some mystery and alienation to the verse. It lacks the emotion and poetics of the last track, feeling almost manufactured, but it’s still good. “Age of Insanity” features heavy, almost blues based, guitar riffs and piercing keyboard lines. The keyboard and guitar solos in between the vocal sections break up the monotony (this track, like the last, doesn’t explore enough to warrant their lengths, and eventually both get redundant).

A funky bass line leads “The Challenge,” which is subtitled “Time to Turn, Part 2”, evidently a sequel to a song from their 1982 album. It’s a much catchier and interesting song than the two previous ones, with a fantastic, prophetic female chorus. The synthesizer provides subtle, apocalyptic accompaniment and the David Gilmour-esque solo fits perfectly. This track will stay in your mind for awhile.

“Summernight Symphony” once again draws comparison to The Flower Kings with its vocals and combination of retro prog and futuristic atmosphere. Also, female vocals are featured on another memorable chorus (this time shared with Bornemann). It’s a simple track, but if there’s good songwriting behind it, there’s no need for anything else (which is the problem the aforementioned “sell outs” had).

“Mystery,” subtitled “The Secret, Part 2,” builds from a Genesis-esque guitar arpeggio to a trampling bass line and background harmonies over Bornemann’s lead. Then all the elements are combined and the keyboard takes over with a solo near the end. Some of the same chord changes are used as in “The Secret,” but nothing is blatantly repeated for conceptual continuity. A new arpeggio provides a coda and leads into the album’s concluding prologue, “Thoughts.” At just over a minute, it’s simply acoustic guitar chords and harmonics accompanying Bornemann’s reflectively melody and lyrics. It’s a nice way to end the album.

Visionary proves that just because a prog band decides to focus on a more hard rock and pop sound doesn’t mean they have to suck (to be blunt). It’s impressive that a band so far into their career can still produce music this good. It’s true that some tracks are definitely better than others, but there isn’t a bad moment on here. Eloy have successfully integrated progressive rock touches into radio friendly tracks, and they’ve produced an album to be proud of.

Check out this promo video