WONDEROUS STORIES (Italy) no. 18, March 2002, 50-51
The musical production of Hermetic Science, a band led by American keyboardist and mallet percussionist Ed Macan, carries on with punctual regularity. Collaborating with him on this occasion is bassist/multi-instrumentalist Jason Hoopes and drummers Matt McClimon and Joe Nagy. Compared with preceding albums, the changes are notable: the keyboards have taken primacy and the musical palette is enriched by new instruments, amongst which are the sitar and the electric guitar, both played by Jason Hoopes, who also brings his valuable contribution to the compositional realm. All which contribute to rendering En Route the best disc produced to date by Hermetic Science, but we are led to expect still grander things for the future, especially if, as I predict, the group stabilizes around the lineup of Macan, Hoopes, and Nagy, a lineup that seems to have great promise of further development.
The little-noted novels of J.K. Huysmans (1848-1907) constitute the fount of inspiration for the long suite En Route, main course of the disc, which will probably contribute to provoking a bit of interest and curiosity about them. To judge from the notes, they would seem to be a very stimulating read, suggesting the period in which he was writing and at the same time anticipating the successive evolutions of Western culture.
Even without the massive presence of vibraphone and marimba, a characteristic trait of the music of the group in the two preceding discs, the sound of Hermetic Science remains one of the more original that one is able to hear. These compositions cannot be classified in the ordinary categories, and the initial sensations become more precise the more one hears them. Initially, in fact, the neatness, the geometrical architecture of the pieces and the precision of the performance demands one’s attention first, before one passes into a second level where one apprehends the more profound musical content, but scarcely has one penetrated the more intimate essence of the piece, when one discovers how the proposal of Hermetic Science is able to be emotional, and then one is left to be involved there without delay in the variegated atmosphere, until one follows on without respite.
Not withholding a negative note, but it is possible to question the instrumentation at times, as for example the insistence on the pervasive use of the ARP string ensemble when, in my opinion, the Mellotron could be better substituted, with its more affective and efficacious string sounds; or else the utilization of the Hammond organ at the end of one of the best pieces of the disc, “Raga Hermeticum,” which seems to fit awkwardly in the hypnotic and spiritual atmosphere created by the sitar, the pianoforte, and the other instruments. Much more numerous are the positive things to be pointed out, like the suggestive and dreamily meditative piano playing of an inspired Hoopes presented in the central part of “Against the Grain, part one,” the galloping “Against the Grain, part four,” an authentic keyboard festival, while “La-Bas” suggests inquiet and menacing visions ultimately passing into the evocation of a desolate funeral. Closing the En Route suite is the title track, a piece with a masterful overture for solo piano followed by a driving rhythm excellently created by Nagy that grows afterwards in a whirling crescendo and in perpetually-changing piano variations, creating a sense of expectation resolved only at the end.
Good, finally, as the overture of the album, the reworking of the celebrated piece of Gustav Holst, “Mars, the Bringer of War,” already arranged by King Crimson, by Emerson, Lake and Powell, and by Hermetic Science themselves on their first disc. To get further information you can visit the group’s web site, www.hermeticscience.com. Paolo Rigoli