In 2015 I reviewed, in some depth, King Of Agogik’s Exlex Beats, the studio project of drummer and multi-instrumentalist Hans Jörg Schmitz. An enjoyable release if not a tad overlong in my humble opinion. Morning Star, albeit about five or so minutes shorter, still clocks in at well over the hour mark. As remarked upon in that review I do feel that the album would have benefitted from some pruning, as is the case with this release, however it is not my place to advise the composer, more to report and critique.
As with previous releases, Schmitz mixes healthy doses of heavy prog, oft bordering into prog metal territory, but balancing this with a wealth of delicate measures of acoustic tracks. On Morning Star these tracks tend to emerge towards the middle of the CD. So from the atmospheric Ignes Fatui we have a series of pieces that appeal more to this reviewer.
Backtracking slightly, the album booklet features the works of German author and poet Christian Morgenstern, however there’s little evidence of Morgenstern’s nonsensical whimsy to be found on Morning Star. The more underlying theme seems to be war and conflict, emphasized once the soothing atmospherics of Veils Open elapse, the album’s main opener is the ambitious, thirteen minute, The Unavoidable Wayfare…, a thunderous, heavy neo-prog workout, with all but the kitchen sink thrown in to the mix. In contrast …To the Place of Origin is a more accessible, less bombastic piece, with some fine ensemble playing and some fiery soloing.
Once again Schmitz is responsible for much of the instrumentation on the album and along with the drumming, he also undertakes guitar, bass and keyboards. As with previous releases he has called in an impressive list of guest musicians including Steve Unruh (flute & violin), Willowglass’ Andrew Marshall (classical guitar) and Dago Wilms (acoustic & electric guitars).
As with Exlex Beats, Morning Star is interlaced with shorter tracks, with varying degrees of success. Mother of Depth works as an amorphous link to Nyade. Did Tony Iommi drop into the session? Or more likely a reference to Holst’s ‘Bringer of War’, although as the narrative for this track is German I could be wrong on all counts. Finally in this mid-section is The Art of Make-Up. A made-up drum solo?
Truth be said as we hit the halfway mark and as Suprema Lex, another fairly heavy workout, emerged from the speakers, my interest went into a sharp decline. Finally the inclusion of a lengthy montage of found-sounds including Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches…” Parliamentary address was the final nail… and a great deal of time elapsed before I returned to this album.
But I did – and bring on Ignes Fatui, a lovely delicate tune with Dago Wilms on acoustic and electric guitars, Scott Taylor on Uilleann Pipes and bringing to mind the Iona duo of Dave Bainbridge and Troy Donockley. Equally engaging is the quirky, grooving A Visit to the Mouse Barber with some great interplay between Pantelis Petrakakis on fretless bass and Hans Jörg on drums. Along with the aforementioned couple of tracks, the album’s epic finale makes a strong closing statement. Mention of Steve Unruh’s contribution here, which is magical.
Probably an age thing, but I do tend to struggle with overtly long albums. With the capacity for 70+ minutes available on CD, there seems to be an ever growing necessity to fill the entire length. Now this would constitute a double album in ‘old money’ and although there are exceptions to the rule, there were very few bands who released successful double albums and none that spring to mind who consistently released double albums, good or bad. Apologies to Hans Jörg for selecting his release to vent my thoughts on this matter…
So there’s definitely an albums worth of excellent material on Morning Star and depending where your musical allegiances lie, it could be completely opposite to mine. A lot to digest, but certainly worth the time and effort…
01. Veils Open (1:37)
02. The Unavoidable Wayfare… (13:25)
03. …To the Place of Origin (11:09)
04. Mother of Depth (2:05)
05. Nyade (2:55)
06. The Art of Make-Up (2:22)
07. Suprema Lex (8:14)
08. Ignes Fatui (3:37)
09. A Visit to the Mouse Barber (2:09)
10. The End of Dithyramb (20:04)
11. Curtain Call (3:13)
Total Time – 70:18
Hans Jörg Schmitz – Drums, Keyboards, Guitar & Bass
Steve Unruh – Flute & Violin
Dago Wilms – Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars
Gary Farmer – Bass
Pantelis Petrakakis – Bass
Andrew Marshall – Spanish Guitar
Peter Simon – Oboe & Woodwinds
Philipp Schmitz – Keyboards
Chip Gremillion – Keyboards
Erik Vaxjö – Mellotron
Scott Taylor – Uilleann Pipes
Kathrin Daniel – Voice
Viktoria Papen – Voice
Year of Release: 2017
Morning Star (2017)
Exlex Beats (2014)
From A to A (2011)
The Rhythmic Drawing Room (2009)
Aleatorik System (2008)
Membranophonic Experience (2006)