Monday, December 21, 2015

Sfinx - 1978 - Zalmoxe


01. Ursitoarele (Fortune Tellers) (5:30)
02. Blana de urs (Bear's Fur) (4:00)
03. Mierea (The Honey) (4:28)
04. Pestera (The Cave) (4:10)
05. Epifania (Epiphany) (4:11)
06. Furtuna cu trup de balour (Dragon Shaped Storm) (4:53)
07. Cãlãtorul prin nori (Cloud Traveller) (6:26)
08. Kogaion (5:28)
09. Epilog (Epilogue) (3:00)

CD Bonus tracks:
10. Din nou acasã (Home Again) (4:37)
11. Scufita Rosie (Little Red Riding Hood) (3:01)
12. Fetele albine (Bee-Girls) (2:51)
13. Zmeul (The Kite) (2:43)

- Dan Andrei Aldea / guitar, keyboards, vocals
- Corneliu Bibi Ionescu / bass
- Nicolae Enache / keyboards
- Mihai Cernea / drums

 ... And out of the ashes of Phoenix come this amazing band from Romania who recorded a gem of an album with "Zalmoxe". SFINX's "Zalmoxe" is a concept album based on the historical figure "Zalmoxe", who was a divine religious leader under the rule of the king Burebista. "Zalmoxe" is symphonic prog lovers buffet. Musically this band were deep and tight and I just love the vintage 70's keyboard sound they created. All songs are well thought thru and performed in a spacey soft manner. Musically this album remonds me at times of a few bands including BARCLAY JAMES & HARVEST (Mierea), Canada's FM, NEKTAR and even OMEGA.

This album turned out to be everything I read it would be and more – what an outstanding piece of seventies prog! Romanians may be familiar with Sfinx, but for guys like me on the other side of the world this is a band and a record that is a delight to discover even more than thirty years after its release.
I suppose the band may rate a ‘progressive folk’ label based on the lyrical theme of this album, or perhaps thanks to a few lighter and somewhat pastoral tunes on the record such as “Mierea” or the ambient and heavily synthesized “Cãlãtorul prin nori”; not sure. In reality though this could easily be considered a symphonic rock band with their extensive use of keyboards, tight electric guitar riffs and regular rock-opera, swelling arrangements reminiscent of the American art rock band Styx circa the same timeframe (listen to “Kogaion” and tell me you don’t hear “Mr. Roboto”, or a viber similar to “Fooling Yourself” on “Blana De Urs”).

These are not ripoffs or tributes though, but rather a quartet of dedicated musicians half a world away from the rock arenas of North America, discovering their own sound and apparently in spirited competition with countrymen Phoenix for the hearts and minds of adventurous music lovers in Communist-era Romania. This was originally supposed to be released in 1975 and was also supposed to be a double album, but thanks to government bureaucracy and censorship was reduced to just forty-two minutes (plus a few bonus tracks on the reissue).

Not that I’m complaining; the music that made it to release is top-notch as the band relates the life story of Greek cult figure Zalmoxis as told in the lyrics of Romanian poet Adrian Hoaja. I’m sure the storyline enhances the appeal of the album for native speakers, but I’m quite impressed simply by the quality of the music without even knowing more than just the theme of the songs themselves. Like I said, if you were into seventies arena art-rock bands like Styx, the Nice or even ELO you should find this album appealing. At times it’s heavier and more proggy than those bands though, who tend to be known as more commercial (and rightfully so). Sfinx take their craft a bit more seriously I think, as evidenced in the wickedly heavy instrumental (guitar/keyboards) dirge “Kogaion” or the spacey “Calatorul Prin Nori” (the traveler through clouds). That latter one has a few issues with the production quality, which in general is good on the album but uneven in just a few spots.

I really wonder what the other disc’s worth of music that was cut from this record sounded like. One can imagine a true rock opera with deep forays into synthesizer and guitar riffs stretching out over well over an hour; perhaps someday the suppressed tapes will be reunited with this music and a proper reissue can be made.

Highly recommended album.

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