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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Metaphysical Animation, USA

Metaphysical Animation - s/t. 1973 private.

Well, after much ado, here we are. You know, we all hear so many rarities... so many things that just don't live up to expectations, that it seems unreal something as sublime as Metaphysical Animation's sole album can actually even exist. We often see the term HOLY GRAIL used in ebay auctions. And yet, if it's available for auction, how can it be a Holy Grail? My definition of a Holy Grail is Metaphysical Animation. That is, something you're not likely to ever witness. We are talking about an album that has existed for exactly 40 years in the wilds of the record stores/flea markets/warehouses throughout the world, and it is just now being discovered for the first time. And did I actually discover it? No, I did not. But the AC did. No, he really did. As in, he invested over $150 of his own money on some demo LP listed on ebay that no one had heard of, nor ever spoke of. It wasn't listed with any key terms that we all look for. It was just a demo album thrown out there and by pure happenstance, the AC stumbled onto it. Right time, right place. Fortunately, three short samples were put up, which helped mitigate the risk somewhat, but not too many folks are going to blow a good amount of money on a few snippets of sound. So he was taking a big chance. But the payoff on this one is the equivalent of a Vegas multi-casino jackpot.

After meeting with 3 of the 4 band members, between them only one copy was saved for posterity. It has been, it appears, completely sold out at the source as they like to say in the marketplace.

Here's how the AC first introduced the album to me. And before I do that, you know him as well as I do now. He does NOT exaggerate, or foam at the mouth for the smallest of rarities. So when I saw this, I about fell off my chair: "Okay, here it is. By far the biggest discovery of my record collecting "career" (so to speak), and one that may go down as among the more significant finds in American prog history..... But, something like this really does make you wonder what could still be lurking out there, languishing undiscovered in some dusty warehouse, on the very brink of extinction..."

As it was so eloquently stated on the incredible TV show The Wire once: "Omar listenin'"

"Part 1: The band Metaphysical Animation was first formed in 1968 in Gainesville, Florida, and later ended up in the Miami area. Their sound and lineup evolved gradually over this time, eventually coalescing around the core of guitarist Alberto de Almar and keyboardist Bill Sabella. They gigged around the small clubs of the area regularly, and by 1972 were ready to record an album. By then the lineup consisted of de Almar and Sabella, along with drummer Robbie Hanson and bassist Steve Margolis (another bassist, Larry Jessup, also played with them around this time). The album was recorded that same year at a professional studio in the area, over the course of one or two sessions. They had a test pressing made of it, but were never able to secure a record deal and soon disbanded. The musicians went their own separate ways, with Alberto de Almar ending up in another local band named Faustus, who opened up for some of the larger rock acts that toured the area. By 1976 they too had called it quits, and I believe de Almar then left Florida to pursue more advanced musical education elsewhere. 

Part 2: The album: Less than 50 copies were pressed, housed in a plain white demo sleeve with the band name hand-written in pen on the cover. Now here's where we get to the most amazing part: It's a double LP set, clocking in at nearly 65 minutes in total! I'm not sure if I know of any other instance where an unreleased test press of an underground band like this was done as a double LP. Anyway it seems that they had a sort of uncompromising attitude and never really did try to market it too hard. After failing to be signed, they sold most of the few remaining copies at local gigs, which might account for why no other examples seem to have survived. A few comments on this album's actual discovery: The seller who ended up with this apparently dug it up in a warehouse find that may have been associated with the particular (long defunct) pressing plant where these LPs were actually made, which would explain how it managed to survive these 40 years at all. This lone copy was buried amongst a bunch of other test presses, all the rest of which were just various 45s of local radio jingles and other such ephemera. 

Part 3: The music I'll say right now that I think this album is fantastic, pretty much from start to finish, which is quite an accomplishment considering its unusual length. The basic style here could probably be summed up as classic 70s prog, with significant elements of fusion and psychedelic rock. But this band really had its own identifiable sound, which holds firm over the course of the entire sprawling opus, even though there's quite a bit of diversity displayed here as well. Being a bit more specific, the then-recent works of Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra seem to be obvious building blocks for their style, as well as the more advanced forms of jamming psychedelic rock. Some of their early roots in blues-rock and jazz also peek through just a bit at times, as you might expect from an exploratory band of the era. Finally, Alberto's background as a Spanish guitar player can be heard informing some of the phrasing and rhythms on this album as well. What's really refreshing is that they seem to have come to this synthesis very naturally. As probably only an early 70s group could do, these guys were sort of making it up as they went along, using their influences as a starting point, rather than the be-all end-all. In that sense, they were following the same path of many of their own chronological peers over in continental Europe, especially in Italy and Germany. With all that in mind, let's talk about the individual instrumental performances a bit. First, there's de Almar. His guitar is phenomenal, and often loaded with cool effects, lending a very psychedelic tone. Along with the occasional hint at his Spanish guitar background, there's a sort of "Mclaughlin gone prog" feel to his playing. Then there's the rhythm section, which is very active and nimble, never allowing the music to get stuck in a rut, but also capable of locking into a steady, hypnotic pulse for the intense jamming that frequently breaks out overhead. Last but not least are the keyboards. Oh man... Anyone who's into vintage keys is just going to keel over when they hear this album. The most noticeable thing is Sabella's organ work, which is just over the top incredible. He's able to alternate between dark, spacey textures and extremely intense, choppy soloing like it's second nature to him. Then there's the mellotron. I'm only half kidding when I say that there must be more mellotron on this one album than the entire King Crimson back catalog put together. It seems to be going almost constantly in the background, and other little flourishes are added here and there to great effect. And of course there are plenty of classic synth lines as well. As for the vocals, here is where you'll see the strongest Yes influence. They're definitely Anderson-like, but not in that overly high-pitched and strained style that some Yes-influenced bands insisted on. The lyrics are also mostly in the Anderson mold, with lots of crazy made-up words and weird turns of phrase, spaced-out hippy dippy mysticism, etc. The vocals most definitely take a back seat to the instrumental work, but when they're there, they fit the mood perfectly. As for the sound quality, it's quite good, all things considered. Obviously a bit raw, but still better than many private prog albums that actually did see wide release. To use a relevant example, I'd say that this album actually has a much more pleasing, vital sound than the otherwise excellent Polyphony LP, which I've always thought suffers from a very dull, lifeless production job. 

I read all of that before actually hearing the album. He had submitted it during a particularly crazy busy period in my real life (that is, my paying job). So it took a couple of weeks for me to actually sit down and focus on a 65 minute album. And here was my initial reaction back to the AC, which I have no qualms sharing: "

Wow.

Wow.

This is an absolute jaw dropper. It's almost too good to be true. Normally I would be suspicious, except that it is so authentic in sound. So original, but totally a 1973 context is delivered. It could have only come from the USA in the early 1970s. All your observations are so spot on. I can only imagine how future listens will propel this to one of the all-time great progressive albums from the United States.


My early observations from a comparison standpoint: As you noted, I think Polyphony is about as close as anything. Polyphony itself is an anomaly, since we have so few examples of progressive rock in the US during the early 70s. That statement alone is almost mind blowing. How the US ended up missing on the entire progressive movement in the early 1970s would be a great doctoral study (not even one label like Silence, Brain, Ohr, Trident or any major stepped up). So in some ways, Polyphony was the only one that really got out there. The other album that MA could relate with is the-beyond-underrated Ram "Where in Conclusion" album. That album has the unfortunate street rock opening, but by the time of the side long suite, it features some of the intensity and creativity I hear on MA. And I'd also throw in the Baltimore group Id on "Where are We Going?" Not so much in the song craft (because there really isn't any with Id...), but in the overall guitar / mellotron aural backdrop. One aspect that links all these bands together is the awkward American vocal delivery, that was still prevalent well into the early 1980s.

And the Santana observation you made is astute, and dare I say I hear some Chango here? The organ/guitar rave-ups of Chango are unrivaled anywhere (with the exception of an occasional live Santana show), and yet I hear MA doing the same kind of thing. There are a couple of places where I catch an early Chicago Transit Authority vibe, especially in the vocal song portions. And I feel Chicago was a huge influence on American bands in the early 70s."

If you think the above is all made-up-fantasy, I've spoken with Bill Sabella myself when trying to line up a CD reissue. He informed me that de Almar "went nuts with all the effects and phasing", which he didn't personally enjoy, and he thought it ruined a perfectly good recording. I, of course, couldn't disagree more. But I love the honesty. Bill is a very level headed guy, who has done quite well for himself in "the real world" outside of music, and I found myself bonding with him on many levels beyond the album. As for Alberto de Almar, he is something of a local Miami legend. And you can read some reminiscing about him here. And listen to his current music here.

There's no doubt that the first person who hears this album will rush to chat boards and scream "It's OVERRATED!!!". Or worse it's "OVERHYPED!", as if I actually have something to gain from my personal enthusiasm. Yea, the CDRWL has been a financial boon like you have no idea. I can assure you, this is not my pension plan. To date, I've netted an entire $0 dollars for my endeavors. A lot of grief I get, but no money. And for the overrated crowd, which believe me is coming, do you really think the CDRWL is the barometer for what is worthy and what is not? So save the self-serving declarations please. Because if YOU had discovered this album, you'd be going nuts telling everyone about it. And that's exactly what I'm doing.

Both the AC and I worked behind the scenes for the last year for a CD reissue. The three band members we have spoken with have given tentative approval. The master tapes are long gone, as would be expected I suppose. The first - and only - label I contacted was very interested. We'll see if anything comes of that. If not, we'll go to the next label on the list.

Priority: 1 (ZERO really - this has to be heard by the masses)

And with this, the CDRWL plans on taking an extended break. It's tempting to call it a day right here. It's not likely to ever get better than this. But as long as I'm still buying LPs and CDs, we'll keep the flame on this blog going. I have received numerous other submissions, which I will most certainly entertain at a later date. And, as always, News items will be reported as announced. Look for new rarities in 2014!

12 comments:

spacefreak said...

Wow!

dripdrip said...

Sounds awesome, Tom. And I *so* feel your enthusiasm - nothing compares to that feeling of unearthing a true lost masterpiece. Been there, done that - but it's always like the first time, isn't it? I strongly hope that the reissue deal that you're speaking about will come through! Good luck with that, and please keep on running this excellent blog.

Tom said...

Thanks my good friends for the comments!

spacefreak said...

Yes, it's always like the first time. Like the first record we ever bought. And that;s the feeling it keeps us in this hobby/sport/addiction/way of life :)

Mike said...

Some people think this is a really great album, but I listened to a low quality mp3 of it while the dishwasher was running and knew it was overhyped from the first organ run. And some people think this is the next coming of Anglagard!

MEGAOVERRATED!!!!

Tom said...

LOL Mike!

Anonymous said...

Is there anywhere on the internet to listen to this album. It sounds fantastic!!!! is there any Hammond B3 on it????

Anonymous said...

Third comment no response!!!! can you respond to my question. Please i swear some things are like pulling teeth. LOL

Tom said...

Hi... The organ is indeed Hammond B3. And it's not on the internet. We're working on an official CD reissue now.

Anonymous said...

Ah beautiful i cant wait to hear this bad boy. Your blog is always bitter sweet you will write about great obscure albums. However when they cant be listened to then its time to play the waiting game. I hope some song samples are avaliable at some point. Better to hear it first before spending the money. I guess just check the internet every now and then to see hey????

DJ said...

Let me know if there's any way I can help. Once Ken Golden says it's really really good, I stand up and take notice. I want to hear this!

The Perfect Wife said...

I saw this group at Lion's Share in Miami. Guitar player painted his hands and they played in black light. I would so love to get an album or cd.