Reviews:


Greg Northrup / Mike Prete    5-November-2001 Overview

After Crying

The Hungarian group After Crying is far and away one of the most creative and well renowned ensembles in modern progressive music. Not only are they perhaps the finest band to ever come out of Eastern Europe, they have also emerged as perhaps one of the finest symphonic groups of the 1990s, releasing a string of albums that have been gobbled up by prog fans worldwide. The band's prime influences are undoubtedly early King Crimson and Emerson Lake & Palmer, yet unlike some of their current "prog" contemporaries, AC manages to truly push their music beyond the boundaries already charted by the heroes of the genre. The band incorporates heavy classical influences, illustrated by the use of cello, flute and trumpet, as well as Hungarian folk music, into a completely unique and incredibly satisfying style.

The band's inception took place in the late 1986 around the nucleus of Peter Pejtsik on cello, Csaba Vedres on keys, and Egervári Gábor on flute. The band started life as an acoustic outfit out of simple necessity, lacking the appropriate access to electronic equipment. This initial grounding in an acoustic approach seems to be fundamental in their development into varied classical rock band they became, one with a firm grasp on acoustic instrumentation and dynamics, as well as their proper incorporation into an electric environment. The group eventually released their first album Overground Music in 1990, which introduced their distinctive morose, yet melodic, chamber music approach. The next album Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak showed a significant step forward in every aspect, and is without a doubt one of the very finest examples of symphonic progressive produced in the 90s - a true classic.

Over this time, the band added individuals with early ties to the group, like guitarist/keyboardist Torma Ferenc and creative consultant Görgényi Tamás. After the release of the third album, the excellent Föld és ég, main keyboardist and songwriter Vedres Csaba jumped ship to form Townscream, a move which, at the time, seemed to signal the end of the band. But the group soldiered on, releasing two more studio albums since Csaba's departure, De Profundis and 6, along with a number of compilations and live releases. After Crying's style has continued to move forward since their MéM opus, incorporating more of a bombastic Emerson Lake & Palmer style along with their more traditional influences. The sound of their more recent releases is definitely more straightforward, falling into a more typical symphonic mold than their groundbreaking early work. Overall, next to perhaps Änglagĺrd and precious few others, After Crying is one of the only absolutely vital bands dwelling in the "symphonic" realm to have released classic, groundbreaking work in the 90s. Their prime albums are all essential.

- Greg Northrup [April 2001]

Overground Music (1990)

After Crying's debut album is an excellent piece of classically influenced progressive rock, complete with cellos, trumpets and other authentic classical instrumentation. The lack of drums also gives it more of a chamber orchestra feel. The sound is immediately overwhelming and morose; rolling pianos, lilting flutes and churning cellos combine to make an extremely moody and melodic document. The only problem here is the vocals, as they are sung in accented English and therefore lose some of the magic present on some of After Crying's subsequent albums. Vocal parts, and the passages that surround them, are also more conventional than would be preferable, singing along with fairly simple melodies. The best moments on the album are clearly where the ensemble stretches out to create the trademark After Crying classical soundscapes.

"European Things" is an homage to Frank Zappa, and is one of the best tracks on the album. I'm not really familiar with Zappa at all, but I think the band is playing a medley of his stuff here. There are some extraordinary classical themes throughout. "Confess Your Beauty" has some cheesy lyrics, but is ultimately very cool, sporting an addictive groove. One of the other highlights the the awesome "..to Black..", during which the vocals are actually quite effective in delivering the solemnly powerful mood. Overall the album is very good in its own right, but in hindsight sits in the shadow of its successor, the monstrous Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak. That said, Overground Music is probably the album in the After Crying catalog with the most stylistic similarities to the MéM opus, and fans of that album would do well to look here next, although Föld és ég is also quite good. The accented English vocals may be distracting for some, but to me this stands as the second best After Crying album, behind only MéM.

- Greg Northrup [April 2001]

Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak (1992)

After Crying's second album, Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak, is a beautiful yet melancholy experience. This Hungarian band combines native influences as well as classical into an intimate chamber sound. The dominance of instruments such as cello, piano and trumpet provide a totally new listening experience for those who view prog simply as a form of rock and roll.

The strength of the band lies in their ability to create hauntingly beautiful yet slightly foreboding atmospheres with quiet passages that lead up to powerful and frenetic crescendos, and then return into calm atmospheric moments. The occasional vocals in Hungarian are sung very smoothly, almost chanting at times, and are used simply to compliment the music, not as the focal point. Minimal drumming helps to move the music along without being obtrusive to the strings and piano.

Tracks of note are the 22 minute opener "A Gadarai Megszállott", with its repeating theme and great cello playing. The action slowly builds throughout the whole piece to the finale, where the trumpet chimes in with a wonderfully intoxicating melody. There are a few parts early on where not much is happening though. The other highlight of the album is the title track, which quickly builds up to the most chaotic part of the album. Powerful drumming is contrasted by flailing cello and stately church organ, which later turns to piano. The second half of the song is much more laid back and atmospheric.

Unfortunately this is the only release by the band done entirely in this style, moving onto a more straight ahead symphonic rock direction with later albums. A personal favorite of mine, this should appeal to fans of classical music, being much closer to the real thing than your typical Emersonian rock bastardization. Any fan of symphonic music should check this out.

- Mike Prete [February 2001]

Unbelievable album from this modern Hungarian symphonic band. This is the album that really converted me into thinking that vital and relevant progressive rock was still being made in the 90s. I knew there were a lot of bands, but I didn't think too much of most of them until I heard this monster album. This is dark symphonic music with a heavy classical influence and somewhat sparse vocals and percussion. The emphasis is on gorgeous classical piano, keyboards and cello, giving the album an earthy, organic feel which I love.

The opening epic has got to be one of the greatest prog songs ever; this one just rules. It opens with a haunting piano melody, then striking cello runs attack over it, making my hair absolutely stand on end. The Hungarian vocals are extremely effective, low and dark, and the song goes on to shift between extremely beautiful melodies, some intense sections and minimalistic atmospherics. By the second track, you're settled in for the long haul, and the band clearly demonstrates they know what they're doing. Some creative choir work merges into some Crimson-esque passages of aggressiveness. The rest of the album maintains a singular and intense emotinal focus throughout, the intense title track being another highlight. A great album that truly lends itself to repeated listenings, without a doubt a masterpiece of 90s progressive rock.

- Greg Northrup [February 2001]

Föld és ég (1994)

The keyboard bombast that opens the album illustrates that Föld és ég is a very different beast than its classic predecessor, Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak. On the two part "Manticore" piece, keyboardist/pianist Vedres Csaba opts for a over-the-top Keith Emerson approach, a style that is carried through most of the early tracks on the album (with the exception of the beautiful, but short, "Enigma" interlude). The self-conscious titling of these tracks (the first four), and the rather overt similarities to ELP gives the impression of a purposeful tribute to the group. For me, this first portion of the album isn't exactly a highlight. I've never been a huge ELP fan, and frankly these songs don't do a whole lot for me, though I certainly don't skip by them when I'm listening to the album either. They are well done for what they are.

The next three tracks are sort of transitional pieces, one a solo acoustic guitar piece, then a charming choir-like piece and finally a classical piano piece. Only then, after seven tracks, do things really get good. "Puer natus in Bethlehem" is the first track that really recalls the haunting chamber progressive of the previous album, as a exquisite trumpet line hang over a bed of melodic strings, giving off a reverential, almost religious air. "Júdás" tends to rock out a little more, but still scratches that itch for an overwhelming classical feel, with churning cellos, racing horn lines and occasional Frippian guitar textures. "Bár éjszaka Van" is yet another haunting track, a spoken word piece backed by classical piano motifs. Then, finally, we have the absolute masterpiece of the album, and definitely a perfect illustration of the classic After Crying sound. "Kétezer év" is absolutely glorious, and at the longest playing time on the album is without a doubt worth the price of admission alone. All the hallmarks of the classic After Crying sound, albeit with a greater emphasis on the vocals, which are absolutely gorgeous.

Overall, though the truly classic portion of the album makes up only four tracks, they are fairly lengthy and make the album an extremely solid buy. Though the first portions are certainly not unpleasant by any means, I find that they do bring the album down a tad from the previous heights of Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak. Check out that album first, and if you like it, by all means head over to Föld és ég. One of the pillar After Crying albums.

- Greg Northrup [February 2001]





Greg Northrup    3-November-2001 De Profundis

De Profundis was After Crying's first album after the departure of main composer Csaba Vedres, and turned out to be a solid addition to the group's already impressive back catalog. It proceeds with many of the same ideas of the previous three albums: emotional compositions and solemn symphonic emphasis, complemented by the usual barrage of stark, churning cellos and powerful horns. However, it does manage to carve out its own niche in After Crying's body of work, adding an even more cinematic scope and sense of grandeur, due more perhaps to its 70 minute playing length than actual musical differentiation. Though the album, I feel, lacks the same haunting atmosphere and unique beauty of Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak, it also dumps the rather unnecessary ELP-isms of the first side of Föld és ég, coming closest in style to the second half of that album. That is, a number of solo and chamber pieces for various instruments arranged as separate tracks sequenced back to back throughout the album, occasionally interspersed with an epic band composition such as "Stalker" or the title track. Fear not any sense of discontinuity though, as the band successfully integrates the seemingly disparate elements, such as a chamber piece followed by tasteful electric guitar soloing, into a flowing and integrated whole. A deft compositional touch is certainly applied, making the moments where the entire group comes in with vocals and orchestral flair eminently satisfying.

Apparently, De Profundis functions as some sort of concept album, though it is obviously beyond my capacity to interpret. Vocals do seem more prominent than on any other After Crying album I've heard, though they are certainly far from any kind of focal point. Funnily enough, this album took quite a few listens to grow on me, and I initially found it far inferior to any of their previous works. Having listened to it quite a bit recently, I'm finding it hard to see what it was I didn't like about it, save for the rather excessive length and occasional dragging passage. Even the length issue has become less and less of a problem as I've gradually absorbed the subtleties of the album. I'd probably go so far as to claim De Profundis as vying for second place with Overground Music in the band's catalog. Though not a seminal classic of the same magnitude of Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak, De Profundis is clearly among the top symphonic releases of the 90s.





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