Monday, 30 May 2011

"Never Tease Wolves Who Arrive at Your Door:" On the Splendour of Progressive Rock Band Aragon

In 1996, an acquaintance lent me two CDs. One was IQ's The Wake (which made an IQ fan out of me) and the other was Don't Bring the Rain, the first full-length CD from the lesser known Australian progressive rock gem Aragon. And I took to the latter immediately.

The band was formed in Melbourne in 1986 by Tom Behrsing (keyboards), John Poloyannis (guitar) and Les Dougan (vocals), and added two more members – Rob Bacon (bass) and Tony Italia (drums) – after having spent months writing songs. Don't Bring the Rain was first released as a mini-LP in 1988, but as it made some success in Europe, the band recorded extra tracks for a full-length CD release, which saw the light of day in 1990 (and reached my own hands some five to six years later). Bacon left the band even before the release of the CD, however, and Italia followed suit in 1991 (albeit for different reasons), leaving the band in its original trio format, in which it has remained since.

After having been introduced to the band, it was not long before I had bought Don't Bring the Rain myself as well as their 1995 concept album Mouse, and the preceding six-tracks mini-CD The Meeting (1992), which is actually Act 5 of the concept album served up as a kind of work in progress teaser (in fact, in 1999, Mouse was re-released by LaBraD'or Records as a double-CD incorporating The Meeting in its proper place in the story). I also managed to track down the rarer 1993 release Rocking Horse and Other Stories, which collects material from demos and the like, including the 20-minutes epic "Rocking Horse." While this material is recorded in lesser quality, it nevertheless provides a good glimpse into the earliest stages of the band, and "Rocking Horse" alone makes the CD worth getting.

By the time Mr. Angel was released in 1997 (as the band's first recording in their own studio and their first release on LaBraD'or Records), I was eagerly anticipating the album. At the time, it represented something of a break from the progressive rock found on Don't Bring the Rain and then developed in the concept album format on Mouse, and while I know that this slightly more pop-rock oriented music disappointed some of my friends at the time, I liked it (albeit in a different way than the earlier CDs).

That being said, when the band's latest album to date, The Angels Tear (2004), I was not in the least bit saddened by the fact that the band was returning to their progressive roots. Rather the opposite.

So what is that makes Aragon so fantastic in my humble opinion? Well, one need only consider the great melodies and the fantastic lyrics, wonderfully interpreted vocally by Les Dougan. Dougan's vocals are quite particular, and I know people who find them hard to digest (just as some people have a hard time digesting the vocals of Rush's Geddy Lee), but the emotion expressed is raw, beautiful and gets me every time.

Or to let you sample their greatness on your own, allow me to present four highly recommended tracks I found on YouTube.

First out, "In Company of Wolves" from Don't Bring the Rain, the playful lyrics of which I absolutely fell in love with the first time I heard it:

Secondly, "The Changeling" from The Meeting (and consequently Mouse), which certainly gives a good sense of where and what the band was about during this period:

Thirdly, a step back into the past, Aragon's epic 20-minutes song "Rocking Horse", which is a really well-constructed song with a good set of narrative lyrics:

And finally, I would like to leave you with a sample of the band's latest release. "Growing Up in Cuckoo Land" is the opening track on The Angels Tear:

And for those of you who find this stuff interesting, I can also inform you that the band is currently working on new material. While there is not yet any set release date, this is indeed great news for all Aragon fans out there – old and new!

(And lest I kill any people from the suspense, I better end this post with a quick tie-in with the preceding second anniversary post. The blog's new sibling (of sorts) arrived not on the day of the anniversary itself, but half an hour into the following day (as if to ensure a celebratory day of his own). So, as predicted, I was indeed elsewhere as the post went up, but after many an hours wait, my son deigned to grace us with his presence. And that, as they say, is that.)

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