APRIL 17, 2022
BY BILL GOLEMBESKI
Ben Craven – ‘Monsters From the Id’ (2022)
Australian progressive-rock guy Ben Craven’s new album Monsters from the Id is just a wonderful way to “Take a little trip back with father Tiresias” to the days when side-long (and quite brilliant) epics were the vinyl du jour of music lovers who just happened to possess (in the always willing pre-frontal cortex!) rather lengthy attention spans.
And, as the great Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once wrote, “Nice, nice, very nice.”
This is what we did — we music buffs of the ’70s: We brought our newest purchase home on a Friday night (after deliberating at the local record store for hours because, of course, although we had loads of cool albums, very few of us had actual girlfriends!). Indeed, “Rock went to college.” And also, to quote Mary Hopkin, “Those were the days, my friend.”
Think of the prog-rock albums that graced the shelves and our turntables back then: Thick as a Brick, Foxtrot, Tarkus, Dark Side of the Moon, Demons and Wizards, and Close to the Edge — which, despite its quasi-cool mysticism (cribbed from footnotes in The Autobiography of a Yogi) and complex music, reached the No. 3 spot on the Billboard 200 Chart!
And, yeah, we’re all old now and have purchased way too many reissues always claiming to be “from the master tapes” but Monsters from the Id (great title, that!) is like spending time with a young relative who has discovered the glorious grooves of his dad’s precious (and now worth a lot of money) vinyl record collection. Ben Craven has created a great big progressive-rock epic, smack dab in the midst of our very modern, rather silly Masked Singer world, and with two side-long tunes to boot! This is the real deal.
The first song, “Die Before You Wake,” has all sorts of subheadings (which we all loved way back then!) like “Sleeping Spectre,” “Ancient Majesty,” “Parts 1 & 2” of the title track, “Warming Glow,” “Wicked Delights,” and “Endless Night.” And it begins with a big Carl Orff by way of Magma throb, but then quickly dances a Nutcracker moment, before it gets into prog-rock sublimity with a very adventurous and heavy Steve Hackett-like guitar vibe. There’s a piano-graced vocal, before the song floats into heavenly discourse and then rides on an electric guitar melodic cloud that recalls the intensity of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
Then things get dissonant, as prog epics tend to do, and there’s a rebirth of beauty (as prog epics also tend to do), then a vocal returns with the restated melody. The song subsequently evolves into a very bluesy Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd solo that, in a weird way, made everything all right in the world without a girlfriend, of course, but still with a pretty cool record on the Friday night turntable that buzzed into a young brain’s synapses with a wide open-throttled counterculture funhouse ride of really odd time signatures.
You know, it’s just a thought, but the Beatles gave us more than great music. They gave us patience, the kind of patience it takes to listen intently for an album’s lifespan. And, of course, many of us who were lucky enough to attend liberal arts colleges in the generous ’70s (and sadly still without dates on any given Friday night!) dug even deeper into the progressive (sometimes international) fare, with great albums and epic songs by lesser-known bands like Focus, Earth and Fire, Gryphon, Caravan, Nektar, Soft Machine, Can, Eloy, Carmen, and lest we forget, the absolutely wonderful Grobschnitt!
So thank you! All of those above bands who “set the controls for the heart of the sun” and created the deliberate interest (and lengthy attention spans) to fathom the second epic tune, “Amnis Flows Aeternum.” Yes, indeed, it’s all about the flow of eternity!
That said, this second side-long tune begins with an acoustic prelude called “Amnis Flows Aeternum Part 1,” as ominous keyboards hover in the shadows. Yes guy Steve Howe often did the very same thing. But the song quickly morphs into Pink Floyd land with spacious and very wandering, cosmic Gilmour-esque blues on “Guiding Voice.” Then, there’s the carnival ride of “Sound and Light,” which subsequently returns to “Guiding Voice Part 2.”
Oh my — vocals suddenly erupt and then glide with passion, while the music throbs (sort of) like a less earnest Magma composition. It all gives way to a necessary lull with stretched emotion (through sundry pretty cool named subtitled sections), and then the whole thing enters a deep pulse of sturdy vocal and a really great electric guitar solo that burns the heavens, with a keyboard halo and quells the passion into the final always lovely and dramatic progressive-rock grooves.
There are several extra tracks — all of which are single edits of various bits from the epics. And (!) the package comes in a “triple gatefold (with a Freyja Dean artwork) CD/DVD wallet 5.1 mix including in the DVD, while both stereo and surround-sound versions are available for digital download in 24-bit 96Hz high resolution. Truly, I don’t know about all of that, because I just bought a new turntable.
But during those long-ago Friday nights, after all those equally long-ago deliberations, if the chosen record (which may well have had a cover done by Freyja’s dad, Roger) were as progressive-rock cool as this one, I would have been, to say the least, deeply satisfied.