(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Peter Hammill: Lead Vocals, Clavinet, Guitar
David "Jaxon" Jackson: Saxophones, Flute, Devices
Hugh Banton: Organ, Bass
Guy Evans: Drums, Percussion
After a nearly 4 year absence, VDGG roared back to life again in 1975 with a leaner and definitely meaner and angrier sound! The question in many fans minds was, "Could the old electricity and creative spark survive the long pause and the harrowing experiences the had on the road in Italy that caused their breakup?" The answer was thankfully, yes!
A quiet echoed flute figure begins the album in "The Undercover Man", a poignant tale of intrigue that Hammill spins masterfully, supported by Jaxon's melodious flute with Banton and Evans laying down plaintive atmospheres.
The emotional ending of "The Undercover Man" segues into the mounting tension of "Scorched Earth", a song of war and desolation between two beasts. Here, Hammill spins off memorable lines like,"And it's far too late to turn, unless it's to stone" among others. Throughout, Guy Evans' jazz inflected drumming pushes the song into an angry firestorm with Hammill in full roar as Jaxon's snarling saxophones and Banton's churchy organ paint the desolate scenery to a fiery end.
"Arrow" continues the "war" theme and examines it on a more personal level, the emotional state of the participants. It begins with a chaotic almost free-jazz intro with Guy unleashing fiery drumming, Jaxon's free-floating sax, and an understated bass figure that all threatens to dissolve into chaos until Hammill roars in with an authoritative clavinet figure to bring it all under control. From here, the tale begins of soldiers in emotional extremis. Anguished outbursts from Jaxon and Hammill both paint vivid pictures of a raging battle within and without before winding down.
"The Sleepwalkers" is like a horror movie without the movie, a tale of murderous somnambulists highlighted by Banton's spooky organ and Hammill painting detailed pictures with his cinematic wording. Somewhere in the middle, there is an unexpected and quite hilarious musical segment featuring Jaxon playing the song's pained chorus in what to my ears sounds like a demented vaudeville/English music hall/cha-cha amalgamation! This little segment has to be heard to be believed! But then it's back to the action with Guy, Hugh and Jaxon roaring full tilt to a truly chilling conclusion, with Hammill's plaintive vocals and Hugh's spooky echoing organ.
Intense, compelling and very much unlike typical prog, in the sense that with VDGG, the vocals are the main focus. While not being loaded with rip snortin' displays of chops, VDGG can paint vivid musical pictures and colors, and are one of the very few bands that can sound heavy and crunchy without the use of guitar, opting instead for sax/organ riffing as the basis of its sound.
Not happy-slappy music for certain, but for those who like intelligent lyric writing and vivid musical atmospheres, this is definitely for you!