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Ed Macan - scholar, author, progressive rock aficionado... and mallet percussionist. His band Hermetic Science (the band that brought you "Mars: The Bringer of War" played on the marimba) is back for another go around of "vibrariffic" music with their second CD titled Prophesies. However, this time around Macan brought some other instruments along for the ride, resulting in some surprisingly (for me, anyway) pleasant compositions. However, no Hermetic Science album would be complete without a bizarre cover tune and Prophesies is no exception. I'll address this first...
Although no where near as shocking as "Mars: The Bringer of Mallets," the cover of Rush's "Jacob's Ladder" on Prophesies is equally ill-advised. The original "Jacob's Ladder" is a song that builds up over 7 or so minutes; its climax and denouement depend on Alex Lifeson's powerful guitar riffs and power chords. No matter what you do to a marimba (short of perhaps running through a fuzz-box), you're not going to get a powerful enough sound to do this song justice. So this attempt at a cover tune doesn't work very well. However, Macan would make up for this later in the album with an excellent cover of ELP's epic, "Tarkus."
Following "Jacob's Ladder" is a short vibraphone-heavy tune called "Intrigue in the House of Panorama," which actually sounds like it was influenced by 60's "spy" music like "Secret Agent Man" and the like. The sound doesn't particularly work very well when combined with mallet percussion, but I do think it is an interesting idea. After this slight diversion, Hermetic Science delve into what is the centerpiece of Prophesies : a 41-minute original suite comprising of six separate movements. Maintaining interest in a composition for over 40-minutes is a tall order, but I would have to say that Macan just about pulls it off here. Although the suite begins with - you guessed it - more marimbas and vibraphones, by the end of the piece Macan has broken out the Hammond, a Steinway Grand Piano, a Micro Moog, and even a soprano recorder! The fourth movement of the suite titled "Lament" is an absolutely beautiful piece made up mostly of Macan's excellent piano playing... I actually wish he'd do an entire album worth of piano compositions, because his playing is fantastic. Anyway, the Prophesies does have some tedious moments, but overall it is a very good composition and shows what Macan is capable of when he uses all of his musical talents.
However, like a good showman, Macan saves the best for last - a rendition of ELP's mighty "Tarkus" suite completely performed on the Steinway Grand Piano. It is here that he hits the proverbial "nail on the head," somehow managing to capture the power of the original using just his musicianship and his piano. His playing is again incredible, especially when you realize that the entire 19-minute piece was recorded live with no edits or overdubs! This track alone is definitely worth the price of admission.
If there were an award for "most improved band," Hermetic Science would certainly get my vote. They've gone from a dismal effort (their eponymous debut) to a surprise success with Prophesies. Other then a slight misstep in his decision to cover "Jacob's Ladder," Macan shows on this album that he is a formidable composer, and an excellent musician on a wide range of instruments. Heremtic Science - its not just for mallet enthusiasts anymore!
Track Listing: 1. Jacob's Ladder (6:46), 2. Intrigue in the House of Panorama (4:19), 3. Barbarians at the Gate (4:37), 4. Hope Against Hope (6:56), 5. Last Stand (6:31), 6. Lament (4:55), 7. Leviathan and Behemoth (9:52), 8. State of Grace (8:17), 9. Tarkus (18:48)
Personnel: Ed Macan: Vibes, Marimba, Piano, Soprano Recorder, ARP String Ensemble, Hammond Organ, Micro Moog, assorted tuned percussion; Nate Perry: Bass Guitar (Tracks 1,2); Andy Durham: Bass Guitar ("fuzzed" and "unfuzzed"); Matt McClimon: Drums and Percussion