Very often when you discover the music of an artist or band you try to hear their back catalogue as well. This happened to me when I heard for the first time, the music of the Austrian musician and composer Heinz Strobl. Under the moniker of Gandalf he released in 1983 his excellent albums To Another Horizon and Magic Theatre. Both albums were reissued in 2016 (see review) by Esoteric Recordings and were for me true masterpieces. They both introduced me to the musical world of this artist. However in 1980 he had already released his debut Journey To An Imaginary Land, which was followed one year later by Visions. As you might already expect I had to get both albums as well. But when I heard them I realised they did contain not that much progressive rock influences as the earlier mentioned albums. Both are rather mellow-a musical style which could be described as a mix between new age, ambient, folk music and electronic music.
Early 2017 Esoteric Recordings released a newly re-mastered edition of Journey To An Imaginary Land. Gandalf's debut was unavailable for some years and was certainly for me personally a nice way to hear again how Strobl started his musical career. The former technical maintenance officer at Vienna Airport surprised me once again with his strong compositions on which he played on every instrument himself. The sound was improved because it was re-mastered for the first time from the original source masters. Furthermore the booklet of this new edition features an exclusive new interview with Gandalf, features previously unseen photographs and fully restores the original album artwork.
On this instrumental album Gandalf played on acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, synthesizers, devices, Mellotron and percussion. The album has a length of 45 minutes and contains six tracks. I certainly rediscovered the album by listening to this great remastered version. For myself the elements taken from progressive rock come to the surface as in the eighties. In those days an album without a rhythm section was for me not very interesting. I liked the more up tempo songs and not the more mellow stuff. Sure some rhythm parts, performed on the percussion instruments, could be heard. But when I hear the songs now I realise how beautiful each of them really is. The amazing Mini Moog solos for example on The Fruitful Gardens are a must to hear. Just as I heard them on the albums which introduced me to this wonderful artist. I can rave on about the way Heinz played on his acoustic guitars or performs his solos on his electric guitar as if it was Mike Oldfield himself. Mentioning that the album is mainly an album with music related to new age, ambient, folk music and electronic music isn't correct, as I always did in the past. The album has much more to offer for lovers of progressive rock music as well.
Those who enjoy progressive rock and are into the music of Mike Oldfield, Kitaro, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis is advised to check out this release. Even if it was originally released in the early eighties. Journey To An Imaginary Land is a true gem in many ways. Maybe it contains not as much progressive rock influences as you can hear on To Another Horizon and Magic Theatre. Or on Tale From A Long Forgotten Kingdom (1994), Gallery of Dreams (1992, with Steve Hackett) and To Our Children's Children (1993, with Tracy Hitchings). It is still one of his classic albums and without doubt a milestone in Gandalf's work. An album that has been highly influenced by the combination of progressive rock, folk and electronic music has a certain crown of originality.
**** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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