First Stage Zoltan (2012, 40.58) ****½/TT½Pilman Radiant
The Tall Man
Black Iron Prison
|12" (2013) ****/TTT
Tombs of the Blind Dead (2014, 22.39) ****/TTT½Tombs of the Blind Dead
Return of the Blind Dead
The Ghost Galleon
Night of the Seagulls
Sixty Minute Zoom (2014, 41.02) ****½/TTAntonius Block
Table of Hours
Phantasm/Tanz der Vampire (2016, 18.40) ****/TTTPhantasm
Tanz der Vampire
Vampires to Crypt
Exult1 (2015) ****/TT[Zoltan contribute]
March of the Psyclos
Omaggio al Maestro Ennio Morricone (2017) ***½/T½[Zoltan contribute]
For the first time in a few years, I've had an external contribution, in this case from my good friend Mark Medley, for fairly obvious reasons.
I'm being granted the privilege by Andy Thompson to write the official Planet Mellotron review of First Stage Zoltan for one reason. Andy feels uncomfortable reviewing an album that he's had a such a high amount of creative involvement in. Hopefully, this will help to make up for some of the thrift shop 'Tron- and Chamberlin-infused 70s CCM and function band shite I've sent him over the last several years (see Peggy Sineath, Murrell Ewing, Jerry Cline and Valley of Sound for particularly heinous examples).
Zoltan is the trio of Andy Thompson on keys (ex-Litmus), Matt Thompson on bass and keys (a.k.a. Rashomon) and Andrew Prestidge on drums. Crafting some of the best instrumental synth-driven prog you're likely to hear these days is their mission and with the release of First Stage Zoltan in September 2012 they've committed their statement to disc for all to hear. Upon removing the CD from the tray (or opening the vinyl edition's gatefold sleeve) you are greeted by a photo of the band's magnificent keyboard setup which includes (take a deep breath):
The titles all have their origins in fact and popular culture, some of which might slip by, so here's a track-by-track reference:
Pilman Radiant: from Arkady & Boris Strugatsky's 'Roadside Picnic', filmed as 'Stalker'
Krollspell: a character in Hergé's Tintin book 'Flight 714'
Canali Replica: in 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli saw what appeared to be straight lines on the surface of Mars which he named 'canali', or 'channels' which the English-speaking press of the time mistranslated as 'canals' and the rest is history... The 'Replica' bit was added by Matt
Windowless Monad: something to do with Gottfried Leibniz's theory of pre-established harmony, so says a popular online encyclopedia substitute...
The Tall Man: the main villain from the Phantasm film series
Black Iron Prison: A concept from Philip K. Dick's VALIS novel
So, um, what does it all sound like? 40 minutes and only 40 minutes'-worth of the most amazing analog-synth driven prog to be released in recent memory. I commend Zoltan on sticking to single vinyl album length as groups of less creative resolve could make an otherwise good album such as this drag on far too long for the sake of filling an 80 minute CD. It's impossible to single out any best tracks as the entire album's top-notch. The compositions are great and synth sounds realized even more-so. Pilman Radiant was an excellent choice for the opening track. From its ominous synth and Mellotron string intro, you can tell that this is going to be a journey straight into the heart of analog-goodness without a trace of any nasty DX7-isms. I must say that I'm reminded of the US group Zombi in their pre-dance oriented phase in several spots throughout listening to this, though I'm certain that's more due to the two groups sharing many of the same influences like Rush, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, etc. rather than Zoltan being rabid Zombi-philes.
As for the Mellotron use, there really isn't as much here as you'd guess there would be at first glance. Andy opted for a less-is-more approach, allowing all the gear time to shine while resisting the temptation to overuse anything, including his M400. Only his main tape frame (strings, flute, choir) saw use for the recording of this album. We have strings and choir on Pilman Radiant and strings and flute for Windowless Monad. The Tall Man is possibly the album's strongest track where 'Tron use is concerned where all three sounds in the frame see use with a particularly effective flute part complete with a nice pitchbend halfway through it. There's also a brief pitchbent string part in Black Iron Prison.
So, First Stage Zoltan, a smorgasbord of porn for lovers of analog synths and fans of instrumental electronic prog. It goes without saying that fans of Rashomon and Zombi need this. Those into the world of horror soundtracks, Goblin, Anima Morte and Morte Macabre should check it out too. Consequently, this is not an album for Marillion fans. Is this an album for Mellotron fans? Even though it's used sparingly you'll certainly know when it shows itself and the restraint given keeps it tasteful, so I'd answer that question with a definite yes. All in all, most certainly one to buy. Yes, I said BUY! NOT download for free!
2013 sees Zoltan releasing Psychomania - A Tribute To John Cameron, limited to 350 copies on green vinyl and no CD. On the chance you're unfamiliar, Psychomania is a 1973 British horror film with a plot involving zombie bikers, frog worshipping and such. Yes, you need to see it. Rather than do a straight up cover of the score, Zoltan have elected to build on elements of it and the results make up the entirety of the record's sole proper 13-minute long track (mastered at 45RPM. I made the mistake of playing it at 33 the first time, which makes it all sound a bit more sinister even!) As with the debut, all manner of analog keys take on a prominent role and none falling into the trap of excess use. On the Mellotron front, we've got cello in the introduction, pipe organ a bit further on, strings and a rather marvellous unexpected pairing of brass with the pipe organ. Nice use of choir and organ on the ending too. For what it's worth, the B-side is made up of several entertaining locked groove samples taken from the film. As for the cover art, a Minimoog hovering over Stonehenge (or is that supposed to be the stone circle from the film?) with a frog jumping over it, flanked on both sides by zombie bikers. If ever a sleeve screamed "BUY ME!" as equally as does the music contained within...
Zoltan's Tombs of the Blind Dead EP continues the horror soundtrack tribute theme. This time around the subjects are several of Amando de Ossorio's horror films. Yes, it's another disc of splendid analog keyboard goodness and yes, you need to own it! If there's a major difference with this EP, it's that there's more in common with Matt's Rashomon albums than previous Zoltan releases with regard to composition and atmosphere. As for the Mellotron, there's strings on all four tracks and some upfront brass in Night of The Seagulls' second half. [n.b. Mark can be excused for missing some other Mellotron parts, notably the choirs and church organ on the title track, the vibes on a couple of tracks, the cellos on The Ghost Galleon and the various percussion tapes used throughout, not least the pitchbent tubular bells on Night Of The Seagulls. I've bumped Mark's 'T' rating up accordingly. The EP is also our only use of my mighty Hammond C3 to date. Ed.]
Sixty Minute Zoom is Zoltan's second release of 2014 and their second full-length album. Once again, they've stuck to single LP length. It's another album filled with glorious analog synths to the fore and top musicianship from all involved. As before, it's hard to pick out highlights as there's not a single dud moment in the 41 minutes. If there's a major difference this time, it's more polysynths and less Mellotron. Is that a problem? It's only a matter of taste in this reviewer's opinion. Technically, this sort of material probably works better with textures generated electronically, but the Mellotron never sounds intrusive.
Speaking of the Mellotron, there's some choir on Antonius Block, while Uzumaki and the John Carpenter-like Table Of Hours are both 'Tron-free. The Ossuary has some choirs and strings while the side-length The Integral features strings in the middle and quite up in the mix near the end qualifying as the album's top-'Tron moment. Once again, Zoltan have crafted an essential album of horror/sci-fi soundtrack-flavored instrumental electronically-driven analog splendor well worth your time and money!
Zoltan revisits some familiar territory with their Phantasm/Tanz der Vampire 10" EP. We've got Zoltan performing Phantasm soundtrack material on the A-side though on side-B we're treated to three tracks influenced by Roman Polanski's 1967 film Tanz Der Vampire. The sounds on deck are every bit as beautifully analog and cinematic as we've come to expect from Zoltan. It goes without saying that if you enjoyed their previous releases, prepare to also buy this one! Sadly, this turned out to be a well-timed release as Angus Scrimm who played the main villain, The Tall Man, in the Phantasm films passed away a bit less than a month after this record's debut.
On the first side, there's 'Tron strings on their version of the main theme from Phantasm and choir and strings on Mineshaft Chase. On the side comprising the Tanz der Vampire material, there's a very healthy amount of choir and strings on the Tanz Der Vampire theme which nearly lasts for the duration of the piece. Vibes and oddly EQ'd strings (or is that a woodwind, help?) played solo comprise the entirety of Krolock. The flutes, cello and even oboe appear on Vampires To Crypt as do more choir and strings. [Note: there's also some church organ on Mineshaft Chase, I think that's actually viola on Vampires To Crypt and as for Krolock, who knows? French horn? Oboe? Viola? You expect me to remember? Ed.]
Well, what can I say? Thank you, Mark! No, I have not paid him to give us such glowing reviews, although our association could trigger accusations of nepotism. I'd probably knock a half star off First Stage's rating, actually, but this is his review. As a quick postscript, here's a rundown of the Mellotron use from the horse's mouth:
Matt and I (I'm not sure I can even remember who played what now) add a handful of string notes to opener Pilman Radiant's 'studio only' intro and choir chords on the 'chorus', a similar choir part on The Tall Man, with added strings in 'chorus two' and a mental pitchbent string part in Black Iron Prison, leaving the album's premier Mellotron work to the heavy flute and string parts in Windowless Monad. Watch for a more varied sound palette next time round...
As a postscript to Mark's Phantasm... review, the first tracks on each side were recorded at the same time as Psychomania, in 2013 (originally planned as a 7" that never happened), the last on each side in 2014 and the brief inbetween pieces in 2015, after deciding to release a full EP. Listening back to them, you'd really have no idea...
Sadly, Zoltan are on semi-permanent hiatus as of 2017. Should we make an unexpected comeback, you'll read it here first.
See: Rashomon | Cremator | Osiris Club | Exult1 | Omaggio al Maestro Ennio Morricone | Morlock