Saturday, 14 May 2011

Earth & Fire - Song of the Marching Children (1971)

1. Carnaval of the Animals
2. Ebbtide
3. Storm and Thunder
4. In the Mountains
5. Song of the Marching Children

Makes me Proud to be Dutch – 8,8/10

If I look at the music artists from The Netherlands, I’m not quite a patriot. Most of what I like to listen to comes from abroad. But there are a handful of Dutch bands or acts that really makes me proud to share their nationality. Of course, Kayak is one, but Earth & Fire certainly is too. Or at least early E&F… I’m not a fan of their post-1975 works. I know I’m a little late with discovering a masterpiece from 1971, but good quality prog never gets old, which only proves how well this record has stood the test of time.

It’s only been a year after their debut album, but you can already see changes in musical style… for the better. There’s a big emphasis on the building of the songs and there’s a strong symphonic edge to the album. Big orchestra’s and old synthesizers often take an important role in texturing the songs, but not as much as Gerard Koerts’ little organ, which leads every track to a satisfying end. It’s also notable how Van de Kleij’s drums sound very powerful and bombastic, which brings me to another powerful side of the album: its production; it’s easily one of the best productions possible in 1971. Every instrument sounds clear, powerful and authentic in the way it’s supposed to sound. And then we have Jerney Kaagman providing lead vocals to the music; she sounds quite odd, but after a few listens she really fits to the music. Her voice is technically not the best you’ll find, but she certainly has the power to bring Song of the Marching Children to a more than satisfying end.

The album opens with the cheery “Carnaval of the Animals”; it has a theme you’d hear through merry-go-round speakers on a fancy fair. It is on this song that Kaagman makes a somewhat weird first impression; a soft and subtle voice on the verses, but a hard and shrill falsetto at the chorus. It is mostly her voice why I think this song is the weakest on the album. But don’t worry, it’ll all go top notch from here. “Ebbtide” is beautifully peaceful with Chris Koerts’ vibrato guitars and the softer side of Kaagman’s voice, however, the best is yet to come. “Storm and Thunder” enters with a strong but calm organ solo by Gerard Koerts, before starting a gentle verse part. But don’t be fooled, for hell breaks loose afterwards in a powerful, bombastic part that finishes this song off in epic mode. Kaagman proves she can sing powerful in her higher regions, as long as she doesn’t go falsetto. The band showcases their instrumental magic on the magnificent “In The Mountains”, which features a brilliant shifting of lead patterns by organ and guitar. Then there is the magnum opus of the album: “Song of the Marching Children”; an eighteen-minute piece with many different faces. It starts off with a calm intro tune, but quickly turns into the symphonic bombastic verses and chorus of the second part, before going completely off the chart. With that I mean the song falls silent and begins with completely different themes. They can be forgiven for merging it into one track by adding part A to G on the track list description. The other themes are adventurous, but the song won’t reach the quality of the first few parts again. The end of the march-like snare-hits does give a possibly desired feel at the end and making it fade out slowly automatically makes you silent for a while.

The album is a true adventure and gets better with every listen. It screams masterpiece at every note. I strongly recommend this record to every fan of early progressive and/or symphonic rock. As for me, I’ll probably be off to listen to other Earth & Fire albums.

Strongest tracks: “Storm and Thunder” and “In the Mountains”.