The English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator has been active since 1967. However they have split up and reformed several times. The current line-up consists of Peter Hammill (vocals, guitar and piano), Hugh Banton (organ and bass pedals) and Guy Evans (drums). In this formation they did (in 2013) a small European tour which took them to places such as Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Glasgow, London and Milan. Early 2015 saw the release of Merlin Atmos- a live album on which songs from this tour were selected and recorded. The release of this live album can be enjoyed in three different formats: the retail single CD version, a strictly limited 2 CD digipack edition plus a strictly limited vinyl LP edition.
I got the single disc version in my hands for review on this website. The album is certainly a must have for all fans of Van Der Graaf Generator. The band is in great shape as you can hear throughout the entire album. The album opener Flight is already a reason to buy this release. This is a real Hammill classic in a slightly different arrangement. This version with enthralling vocals, powerful organ waves, hard piano attacks and bustling drumming really kicks ass right from the start! It is followed by Lifetime and All That Before- two tracks taken from their 2008 studio album Trisector. The first one is a great mellow piece which has a fantastic guitar solo towards the end. Too bad it is way too short. The second title is more up tempo and rather powerful. A track taken from their 2011 studio album A Grounding In Numbers is next. On Bunsho the pace goes down once again. The centre piece on this live album is a song which they never completely performed. The band had decided the time was right to present their epic classic piece A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers in its entirety on stage for the first time. The track appeared for the first time on Pawn Hearts, which was released in 1971. This live version is possibly even a bit darker, more introverted and melancholy than the original studio version. It is without a doubt the absolute highlight on Merlin Atmos. Maybe the final track Gog is after this epic piece just an additional piece of music but that is not the way you should look at it because the fine organ parts on it certainly bring you a lot of listening pleasure!
Fans need this live document most certainly and those who are willing to spend even more money should consider buying the double live album with even more songs from their favourite band on it. All others should at least think about giving this release a listening session and feel the pure, raw and above all, outstanding musical craftsmanship of the three musicians on stage.
**** Henri Strik (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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