Van Der Graaf Generator – H To He Who Am The Only One (1970/1988)

Van Der Graaf Generator - H To He Who Am The Only One (1987)
Artist: Van Der Graaf Generator
Album: H To He Who Am The Only One
Genre: Eclectic Prog
Label: Virgin
Year Of Release: 1970/1988
Quality: FLAC (image+.cue)

Tracklist:
1. Killer (8:07)
2. House With No Door (6:03)
3. The Emperor In His War-Room (9:04)
– a) The Emperor
– b) The Room
4. Lost (11:13)
– a) The Dance In Sand And Sea
– b) The Dance In The Frost
5. Pioneers Over C. (12:05)

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Personnel:
– Peter Hammill / lead vocals, acoustic guitar, piano (2)
– Hugh Banton / Hammond & Farfisa organs, piano, oscillator, bass (2,5), vocals
– David Jackson / alto, tenor & baritone saxes, flute, Fx, vocals
– Guy Evans / drums, timpani, percussion

With:
– Nic Potter / bass (1,3,4)
– Robert Fripp / electric guitar (3)

Van der Graaf generator quickly followed up their sophomore release The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other with the vastly superior H to He, Who Am The Only One with the same winning lineup that had recorded the previous album (save for the loss of bassist Nic Potter mid-recording). Bass duties were taken up by the foot pedals of keyboardist Hugh Banton. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp also makes a cameo appearance on “The Emperor in His War Room.” The sound here is darker, the instruments are tighter, the drums are vastly improved, the lyrics are more serious and metaphorical, and Hammill finds a way to use his voice to its full potential on songs other than emotive ballads, resulting in the first VDGG masterpiece as well as the first Van der Graaf album which could truly be called progressive rock.

The Least We Can Do… had many dull moments in its longer tracks despite the ace performances of “Refugees” and to a lesser extent “White Hammer,” and it was these instances of boredom which ultimately caused the album to be less highly regarded than the albums that would follow it. On H to He…, these occurrences are largely absent, with enhanced keys and saxophones filling some of the void, and Hammill’s soaring vocals filling the rest. A dark feel is more prevalent on this album than any before, with more distorted keyboard interludes, and more mangled saxophone solos. H to He… takes everything that was great about its predecessor and magnifies it to create one of Van Der Graaf Generator’s finest offerings.

Opener “Killers” is a fast paced, saxophone driven opener which kicks off the album to a fantastic start with its intense instrumental passages and intriguing lyrical concept, with ace performances by all members of the band to boot. “The Emperor in His War Room” featuring Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame is a progressive exhibition in the same vein as the previously mentioned track, and like the opener, is a highlight which never ceases to immerse the listener and excel where some of the longer songs on The Least We Can Do… fail. Closer “Squid 1 / Squid 2 / Octopus” fares no worse than the aforementioned tracks, with a stellar all around performance by the band, especially on saxophone.

If there is a low point on the album, it is easily “Pioneers Over C.” The song is fairly disjointed, and while the sections by themselves are quite enjoyable, they come together to form an average song. Hammill’s voice is not in its masterful state on this song, and during a few of the slower cuts of the song sounds strained when he hits the higher notes. This strain on his voice is brief yet somewhat grating, unlike the fitting vocal anomalies found on the next song “Squid 1 / Squid 2 / Octopus.” The worst aspect of the song is the short saxophone interlude, which is effectively pointless and annoying, although luckily it is as previously mentioned: short.

And who could forget signature Hammill ballad “House With No Door,” a song not unlike the beloved “Refugees” from the previous album. Piano driven, with flute and saxophone performances in top form, not to mention Hammill’s loftily emotional voice make the track like its counterpart from the preceding album, the flat-out best track to be found. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Hammill ballads, but this song as well as “Refugees” are the unsurpassed masterworks of their respective albums.

All in all H to He… is the best VDGG album yet, made so by the energy laden progressive pieces and classic ballad. Progressive rock has completely taken hold of the band, which put out a superb and consistent album with the exception of a few hiccups. Darkness descends upon Van der Graaf’s music, a trend which would continue through their succeeding works.
Review by tarkus

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