Hermetic Science is a band that is practically unknown in our country, but without doubt we are dealing here with one of the most original, musically brilliant, and unclassifiable propositions of recent times. It is not a question of an easily digestible tidbit, but there are unquestionable benefits in us being introduced to them. Read the instructions for use.
This American band articulates itself around the figure of Edward Macan: music theorist, critic, percussionist and writer, he is one of the world’s foremost authorities on progressive rock. He is professor at the College of the Redwoods, Eureka, California, and he is author of the seminal Rocking the Classics, which has been discussed in our publication on diverse occasions. Actually he is now completing a book about Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which promises much.
Formed in 1995, Hermetic Science is in fact an experimental “power trio” in which Macan has resorted to using young talent from the College of the Redwoods in order to mold a very personal music, based around the vibraphone and marimba. As Macan himself puts it, he seeks out young musicians of a high level of ability who still possess the enthusiasm and open mind characteristic of young musicians.
The music of rock trios such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer (or also Rush), classical music of the twentieth century, instrumental music of the sixties, minimalism, jazz, rock in opposition, sacred music of the renaissance, Arabic music, Indian classical music . . . are the principal ingredients of the unique Hermetic Science sound. More surprising is the band’s lack of adherence to any accepted current. Macan is a guerilla and although his music can be related directly with the breakthrough spirit of the counterculture that was so ably conveyed in his book Rocking the Classics, it belongs to its own place and time. The difficulty is knowing what place and what time.
PROPHESIES (Magnetic Oblivion, 1999)
This second and recent album is able to stand as a logical continuation of its predecessor, while introducing some new elements of diversification (incorporation of analog keyboards, especially the Hammond organ and Micromoog). But above all it represents an authentic act of love towards classic symphonic rock filtered though Macan’s highly individual personality.
The disc opens in a surprising manner (at least in appearance) with a cover by Rush, specifically “Jacob’s Ladder.” Well conceived, the long instrumental sections of this track off Permanent Waves (1980) are perfectly compatible with Macan’s personal style. In fact, Hermetic Science engages in an operation similar to that practiced by the Canadians throughout their career: Macan expresses a multitude of received influences in his own terms. As you can imagine, the task of unraveling these influences is very difficult and a number of hearings are necessary in order to appreciate all his interests. The version is extremely respectful of the original structure, although the unmistakable vibraphone of Macan totally transforms it, with somewhat forced moments alternating with simply sublime ones.
“Intrigue in the House of Panorama” is a brilliant homage to the typically sixties soundtracks (the bass line, without getting too far out, recalls the principal theme of the camp but charming Batman television series). One of the more accessible examples with which to become acquainted with the band’s style and also, for that matter, one of the more amusing.
That which follows in continuation is the main course of the disc, Prophesies, a suite informed by its more classical direction. Prophesies is the sublimation of the Hermetic Science style: austere, disconcerting, and fascinating at the same time. “Barbarians at the Gate” works as a regal introduction which surprises us all the more by continuing into “Hope Against Hope,” a deceptively simple and decisively unclassifiable, almost na´ve track based around the flute and keyboards. “Last Stand” returns us to the characteristic style of Hermetic Science, moreover permitting the drumming to stand out. “Leviathan and Behemoth” is the other experimental epic, an obscure and daring track (the Hammond becomes increasingly disquieting and its jazzy central section is magnificent). The grand piano (Steinway, of course) comes to bear an increasingly specific burden in a markedly experimental whole. The Prophesies suite terminates grandly, with organ, piano, marimba, vibraphone, and keyboards in a grave but optimistic finale with a deliciously “retro” air.
The disc closes with a complete version of Tarkus for piano, arranged by Macan as a solo and recorded directly, without retakes, in 1992. It is treated as a bonus track, independent of the rest of the Prophesies album, but is perfectly coherent with all the risks that preceded it. For those who love this classic by ELP, suffice it to say that his interpretation is a joy of which even Emerson could be proud.
A radical proposition, valiant and decisively different, by a musician who is also one of the most knowledgeable experts of the history and roots of our favorite music. This is well worth the exploration. (****. Toni Roig)