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Gandalf's Fist

The Master and the Monkey

Review by Gary Hill

The debut disc from Gandalf’s Fist, this isn’t the masterpiece the 2011 release is, but it is a fine album that shows a lot of promise. It’s not as focused as The Road to Darkness, but so many of the musical elements presented on that disc are hinted at and foreshadowed here. This still holds up very well and serves as a great example of the type of killer space rock meets prog that these guys create.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Master and the Monkey (Pt I)

Ambient textures lead this off, and as it climbs it feels a bit like Pink Floyd, but there are also hints of Hawkwind and Kraftwerk. Then, around the thirty second mark, a searing guitar line brings in some fusion sounds. There’s a dramatic building in the under layers as that continues. It rises up gradually and the guitar almost turns to metal as this works onward. Then, a bit before the two minute mark, acoustic elements begin to dominate. The guitar work gets quite intricate as it continues. Then it turns out to a Latin sounding movement. As it works through from there it becomes more classical meets progressive rock in nature. Then it shifts to a keyboard dominated, mellower section. From there a dramatic progressive rock movement takes it in new directions. They turn it towards a rather soaring sound from there. Some vocals appear, but nearly buried in the mix, more as another instrument. Those vocals become more prominent after a time and there’s some crunchy guitar introduced later. In a lot of ways this segment calls to mind the Space Bandits era of Hawkwind.

Stakes at Low Tide
There’s a real Celtic air to this. It builds out in melodic progressive rock format. They take it through a few variants. The vocals are dramatic and theatrical. There’s a real old world air to this, but with modern elements on display, too. It has a lot of intricacies built into it.
The Siren's Kiss
A bouncing kind of introduction leads this off. As it continues the number becomes sort of a melodic prog meets alternative rock and space kind of arrangement. There’s some tastefully screaming guitar soloing later in the number.
Maurice the Bat (Instrumental)
Acoustic guitar opens this in fine fashion and builds it upwards as it continues. Other musical elements are added to the mix, but the acoustic guitar is the driving factor here. In some ways it calls to mind early Genesis. It’s quite pretty and intricate.
The Life and Crimes of Pierre du G√Ęteau
There’s an almost playful nature to the energized melodic prog that makes up this number. It’s a fairly dynamic and fun ride. A tasty guitar solo soars over the top later.
Dance of Umbra

This comes in with a fairly bouncy melody progressive rock sound, but shifts to a intricate classically tinged sound. As the vocals come in this resembles a more modern progressive rock mixed with alternative sounds. It’s perhaps akin to a harder rocking No-Man. An intricate acoustic guitar solo is heard mid-song. After a climax, it moves to some almost creepy keyboard sounds to take it out.

Zavier the Troll (Instrumental)
Weird sounds, space rock based and sound rather like a voice, lead this off. Then an acoustic guitar with echoes of Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity” takes over. As that element continues it works out to more classically oriented territory and moves further away from the Ryche comparisons. In some ways this sounds a lot like early Genesis. It’s a short cut that shares a lot of territory with the earlier “Maurice the Bat.”
The Master and the Monkey (Pt II)
The mellow introduction here makes me think of Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants…” Then a soaring guitar line brings in hints of Satriani. It becomes quite expressive as it keeps soloing. It works out from there into a cool, rather slow moving and very melodic prog jam that combines elements of Yes-like music with fusion. It works through quite a few changes as they continue. At times it reminds me a bit of Nektar. There’s a cool jam later that feels a lot like Pink Floyd, particularly in respect to the guitar sounds. That bit doesn’t stay around long, though, as earlier musical themes return and the guitar continues soloing. There’s even a little funk introduced later and that guitar just keeps driving it forward.
 
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