The Faceless Man finds safety only in the group think with which he must comply or be further alienated from society. He searches for meaning through membership in ideological tribes mistaking his shared beliefs for belonging. In fact, he is still a Faceless Man, a part of a movement, a cog in a wheel of godless religiosity that superficially and only temporarily numbs the awareness of his own loneliness.
— Read on treasureoftradition.com/the-faceless-man/
“And there is the understanding, born of repeated exile, that everything that seems solid and valuable is ultimately perishable, while everything that is intangible — knowledge most of all — is potentially everlasting.” Bret Stephens.
Having reverence for books, wisdom and knowledge is vital.
Controversial article? Jews are often smart. Tell me something I don’t know. This was an idea I thought about and discussed with my father almost 50 years ago. He said, and I think his approach has great wisdom, that the Jews had an ancient tradition of literacy (the most ancient in the world) and a great reverence for books, wisdom, and knowledge. Other peoples who similarly have developed or maintained a strong tradition of academic discipline and curiosity have excelled as well: we see this among many peoples but especially the ancient Greeks, Enlightenment Scots, Chinese and others. I consider myself an intellectual and I suppose I am. But both my father and I benefitted from having an education that was partially Jewish through our many Jewish teachers and professors. Next to the Jews, I would say many of my best teachers were Jesuits or Jesuit-educated professors. My grandparents were talented and hard-working people with little formal education not even finishing grade school and going to work as early as age eight. So my grandfather was (apparently) a talented linguist (he could communicate in Hindi, English, Punjabi and some French (as well as his native Gaelic and Scots) but he could not read most of these languages or write them. He was, however, an avid reader of newspapers and periodically and fascinated by geography, maps and atlases. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball traditions and stories (he must have heard thousands of games on the radio and seen hundreds in person) and he remembered dates, names of battles, regiments etc. He also loved music and enjoyed Rachmaninoff, John McCormack whom he saw perform in person. But I don’t think he ever read an entire book in his life. So he knew something about music, poetry and songs but almost nothing about literature. He was very knowledgeable about Socialism and Marxism because he flirted with Socialism/Marxism and therefore Communism as a young man. He escaped the influence of the Red Clyde, however, and by the time I knew him he was a staunch anti-Communist. From my grandfather I developed a love of Scottish songs, military music and baseball. From my parents I was instilled with a reverence for books, music, languages and higher culture. I was aware it was a great privilege to be able to go to school and to afford to buy books and do some travel. Too often people are narrowly educated and stop thinking and reading into adulthood. One problem of education today is that it has become so easy to get (like a supply of freshwater) that young people take for granted the highly subsidized leisure time they have to study and improve their minds. As a teacher, I see the biggest difference between students is one of concentration and discipline and reverence for schooling and education. If one does not have good discipline and respect for education then one will not progress very far. I can’t understand how some people think they can learn a subject in depth without listening and without reading and studying.
By Richard K. Munro
Rome conquered and endured due to its organization, superior communication systems, superior professional military and its basic legal and economic stability. One great weakness of Rome, however, was its lack of a formal system of executive succession. During the era of “Good Emperors,” the Emperors adopted the person thought best to succeed. This fell apart when Marcus Aurelius died and was succeeded by his son Commodus. Also for some reason, Rome stopped developing economically and technologically. Theoretical steam engines were invented but never used except as a parlor trick. The Romans had presses for olive oil and could have easily developed the printing press but did not. Perhaps their dependence on slave labor hampered or discouraged technological and economic innovation. Gibbon was convinced that Christianity destroyed the Empire by destroying its military virtue.
But the root cause, I believe is that philosophically and morally pagan Roman society was rotten to the core. Sex was for erotic pleasure only and the rearing and education of children were neglected. The Romans were extremely hedonistic and dedicated themselves to Bread and Circuses. In Rome by the 3rd century, there were over 180 festivals a year -which meant free food and games. I believe the Romans stopped thinking and working. The barbarians were numerous and warlike and increasing armed and trained in the Roman fashion. We forget that many of the barbarian leaders were Roman citizens and had been officers in the Roman army.
Nations and civilizations which discover how much easier and soft it is to live for ephemeral pleasures without worrying about anything permanent in the world of the mind and the soul, soon find their mental muscles turn to mush and they cannot think about difficult economic, social and political problems. They prefer emotional outbursts instead of thought and sustained the intellectual effort. Uneducated, indisciplined people become incapable of organizing their experience into a logical pattern and become impotent to plan or train for changes in the future or very important to recall the lessons of the past.
In short, only the educated are free and the uneducated will lack the wisdom to sustain and make a more perfect Union. Surely, this must be considered a warning to our own “permanent” and “highly-advanced” civilization. In the years to come we may find out how fragile our civilization really is.
It is these defenders of order that Birzer seeks to highlight. For people like myself, it is easy to feel like you are alone, watching the world burn, but not knowing what to do about it. I live in a state with a very small Christian minority. While I am thankful for the Christians I have in my life, we all know that we are, in the words of Russell Moore, a prophetic minority. Birzer’s work serves as an antidote and an encouragement. There is a vast tradition of those who have looked into the abyss but have remained strong. In fact, they have done more than that, they have created. They have harnessed pieces of the Good, True and Beautiful and presented them to us for our fortification and enjoyment.
— Read on www.enteringthepublicsquare.com/blog/book-review-beyond-tenebrae-christian-humanism-in-the-twilight-of-the-west
A more serious challenge came from English poet and historian Robert Conquest who charged Lewis and Charles Williams with holding and promoting totalitarian sympathies. While his criticism applied mainly to Williams, Lewis became a part of the controversy by praising Williams’s Arthurian poetry. The two men, Conquest claimed, willfully obscured the venerable mythology, thus rendering it and its story unintelligible to the average person. They turned the vast Arthurian legend into a “complex intellectual parlour game,” a gnostic jumble, accessible only to the Elect. In Williams (and, by inference, in Lewis), one finds “a genuine writer who has fully accepted a closed and monopolistic system of ideas and feelings, and what is more, puts it forthrightly with its libidinal component scarcely disguised.” That which is intelligible advocates the use of violence “to bring in unbelievers” with human beings treated merely as a means to an end. Lewis and Williams each promote a “psychology of totalitarianism—of hierarchy and sadism.”
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/12/cs-lewis-his-critics-bradley-birzer.html
One of the bestselling and most popular rock groups of all time, Pink Floyd—in its various incarnations—released 15 studio albums between 1967 and 2014. Throughout it all, the band never stopped experimenting with sound, pioneers in psychedelic and progressive rock. Their eighth album, Dark Side of the Moon, sold over 45 million copies and remained consistently on the album charts for a decade and a half. Their eleventh album, The Wall, sold over 23 million copies in the United States alone and many, many more worldwide.
Over the last year, Pink Floyd’s stalwart guitarist, David Gilmour, has emerged as the grand and genteel statesman and gentleman of the rock world, donating his guitar collection to charity. Gilmour raised an astounding $21 million from that auction, including from the sale of his famous black Stratocaster used for “Comfortably Numb.”
Gilmour’s chosen charity? ClientEarth, a nonprofit that seeks to radically and fundamentally alter economic activity toward a more sustainable and “green” future. “The global climate crisis is the greatest challenge that humanity will ever face,” Gilmour tweeted, “and we are within a few years of the effects of global warming being irreversible.”
— Read on www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/if-orwell-had-an-anthem-pink-floyd-would-have-produced-it/
Well, we’ve reached the end of the decade, and the end of our retrospective. Whew!
2019 proves that prog rock’s current renaissance is showing no signs of slowing down. We finish this decade with another year providing a surfeit of wonderful music. I’ve picked 11 representatives from 2019 for your listening pleasure. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Big Big Train went for the big ideas on this one. It’s loosely based on the concept of a “grand tour” that educated Europeans took in the 1700’s and 1800’s. They manage to pull together such disparate topics as St. Theodora, the poet Shelley, and the Voyager spacecraft. Believe it or not, it all works!
Both Manuel Schmid and Marek Arnold are in Cyril, and I recently wrote a review of their excellent 2019 release, The Way Through. It’s about a man who has a near-death experience, and the struggles he has to overcome to reunite with his earthly body. A great prog effort!
This supergroup just gets better and better. On their third album, Flying Colors branches out into a diversity of styles, and come up with one of the best of the entire decade. “Last Train Home” is my favorite, “Geronimo” is funky blast of fun, and “Love Letter” sounds like a lost Raspberries classic.
In Continuum is another Dave Kerzner project that rose from the ashes of a planned Sound Of Contact reunion. It is a concept album about an alien who falls in love with a human, before Earth is scheduled to be destroyed. Kerzner recruited the cream of the crop to play on this, and it is a fine addition to his already impressive resume.
Izz released one of the most enjoyable albums of 2019. “42” is about Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. While “Age Of Stars” features interweaving vocals and a driving beat. Their previous album, Everlasting Instant, was good, but Don’t Panic has more focus and confidence.
Goofy name, amazing music! These guys sound like a hybrid ska/prog/new wave band with an incredible vocalist. They have terrific playing chops, and their ability to switch styles mid-song makes my head spin. I found them via Tony Rowsick’s indispensable Progwatch podcast, and you can’t beat them if you just want to have something fun to listen to. “Captain Awkward” is a great track to start with, if you’re curious.
The Neal Morse Band pick up the story where Similitude Of A Dream left off. In this installment, the son of the protagonist from Similitude must battle his own demons and find salvation. I actually like this album better than Similitude, because there is more variety in the songs. There are so many good ones, but “Vanity Fair” really stands out.
Since Pattern-Seeking Animals consists of current and former Spock’s Beard members, you would expect this to sound somewhat Beard-like. However, the Pattern-Seekers come up with their own individual style that sets them apart. Ted Leonard is excellent on vocals and guitars, and John Boegehold steps up and takes a more visible role. “No One Ever Died and Made Me King” is the key track.
Often a much-loved album doesn’t make a positive first impression on me. That was the case with Bruce Soord’s (The Pineapple Thief) second solo album, All This Will Be Yours. On first listen, it is an unassuming set of songs, softly sung by Soord over a bed of mostly acoustic guitar and murmuring electronics. However, the more I listen to it, the more I am taken by it. “One Misstep” in particular is an engaging tune, with a mournful melody as Soord sings of his determination to make a broken relationship whole. As a matter of fact, I like this record better than the Thief’s much-acclaimed Dissolution, which was also released this year.
This was the biggest news in progworld in 2019 – after more than a decade, Tool reunited and recorded this massive groove-laden record. All of the songs segue into each other, and the result is almost trance-inducing. I was not a huge fan of Tool’s early work, but I love this one. Maynard James Keenan seems to be rejuvenated these days (as last year’s Eat The Elephant illustrated), and that is good news.
After recording several albums with his Devin Townsend Project, Townsend decided to go solo for the highly personal Empath. Once again, his patented wall-of-sound production is in play, and his incorporates choirs, strings, and guitars. Lots of guitars. Devin can be inconsistent, but Empath is one of his best.
And that completes our look back at the decade from 2010 – 2019. There were some exciting new artists that emerged, like Damanek, Evership, Perfect Beings, and Southern Empire, while veterans like Big Big Train, Gazpacho, Glass Hammer, Katatonia, and Neal Morse released some of the best music of their careers. Several surprise reunions bode well for the future: it was great to see Kino, A Perfect Circle, Tool, and Slowdive back in action.
I hope this series of posts inspired you to check out somebody you may not have been aware of, or go back a revisit an old musical friend. If you are interested in hearing more prog news and music, check out the podcasts ProgWatch and The Prog Report. Both are excellent resources for learning about and hearing new music in progworld.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy New Decade!
One of his great apologetics perfectly conveys the wonder and joy of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.
We’re getting close to the present day in our look back at the best music of the decade. 2018 was another bountiful year for prog fans, and, like 2017, it included a couple of surprise reunions along with some reappearing favorites.
We’ve chosen 15 albums to represent the excellence of 2018, so without further ado, here they are in alphabetical order.
Damanek’s second album is even better than their impressive debut. “Skyboat” sounds like a mid-70s Jethro Tull single, and the three-part “Big Eastern” is an epic telling of a family’s saga from their roots in China to their settling in America. Thanks to Damanek, I have become a big fan of Guy Manning.
Another sophomore effort that improves on an excellent debut. Evership II continues their championing of classic prog. Fans of Marillion and early Spock’s Beard will love this.
Gazpacho released one of their all-time finest albums in 2018 with Soyuz. Loosely based on the true story of a doomed Soviet Russian space mission, the music is uplifting, angry, and heroic.
There’s a reason a Glass Hammer album has been featured almost every year this decade: they have consistently produced great music! This entry to their catalog is a sequel to Chronometree, and it showcases their pop skills (think classic Todd Rundgren). “Fade Away”, the majestic finale, is one of their best.
Haken released a 2-CD/DVD set of a great performance in Amsterdam in 2018, where they play the entire Affinity album. Later in the year, they put out Vector, which made quite a few Best of 2018 lists. Haken are at the top of their game, with no sign of fading.
This was a nice surprise! Way back in 2005, John Mitchell (Arena, Frost*, Lonely Robot, It Bites), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), John Beck (It Bites), and Chris Maitland (Porcupine Tree) got together and recorded what many people thought was a one-off album. Lo and behold, they reunited in 2018 and released Radio Voltaire, which ended up being one of the best of the year. Like anything Mitchell is involved in, there are excellent tunes, superb guitar, and a dash of humor.
Tim Morse (no relation to Neal) quietly and carefully self-produces gems of albums every few years. Tim Morse III is a delight to listen to, and I hope he never stops creating music.
If you’ve worked your way through this series, you know that I like North Atlantic Oscillation – a lot. Grind Show doesn’t disappoint, as they continue to hone their unique sound that marries layered harmonies to synth-heavy music. Sort of like what would happen if Brian Wilson collaborated with Kraftwerk.
A fascinating set of songs from the Norwegian group Oak. I would classify it as chamber pop music. They even include “Clair de Lune” in one of their songs, but it doesn’t come off as pretentious. Highly recommended if you are looking for something pretty to listen to.
Wow. This is one of the best albums of the decade, let alone 2018. Vier means “four”, and the songs are divided into four groups: Guedra, The Golden Arc, Vibrational, and Anunnaki. The entire album is one long suite as various themes emerge, recede, and reappear. On their previous two albums, Perfect Beings incorporated some Beatlesque power pop into their music, but this is on another plane of music entirely.
Another surprise reunion. Maynard James Keenan’s side project A Perfect Circle released two incredible albums in 2000 and 2003, and a horrible one in 2004. It seemed like that was that, and they were done. Fourteen years later, they put out Eat The Elephant, which is excellent. Not as metal-oriented as their earlier music, but more subtle. Beautiful melodies and lyrics expressing barely controlled rage characterize this one.
Riverside survived the dreadful loss of Piotr Grudzinski, their guitarist, and released the very strong Wasteland in 2018. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, this album manages to be hopeful and uplifting.
RPWL started out as a Pink Floyd tribute band, which was obvious on their earlier Beyond Man and Time. On Tales From Outer Space, they just rock out and have a great time. I ended listening to this album almost more than anything else in 2018. “Not Our Place To Be” has a great hook that gets in your ear and won’t come out.
This is the album I actually did listen to more than anything else. It is sung in German, and the melodies are elegant art-pop. Here’s what I said in my original review: Schmid and Arnold’s melodies are beautiful and delicate, catchy without being cloying, and deceptively complex. The instrumentation is primarily keyboards based, and mostly acoustic. There are very tasteful synth flourishes and electric guitar solos, but none of them overwhelm the beauty of the underlying melodies.
The second outing by this band from Down Under consists of four epics, and there isn’t a wasted note anywhere. These guys are going to be prog superstars very soon.
That completes our look back to 2018. Honorable mentions are Big Big Train’s live set Merchants of Light, Gunship’s Dark All Day, Pineapple Thief’s Dissolution, Tesseract’s Sonder, and Umphrey McGee’s It’s Not Us.
Let us know what we’ve missed in the comments!
While we eagerly wait for the next installment of Tad Wert’s wonderful series, Those Awkward Teenage Years, and collectively shake our heads in disgust at the events (or pseudoevents) transpiring in Washington, DC, I’ve been thinking a lot about Pink Floyd. As most of you probably know, the band released its immense (and immensely expensive) boxset, The Later Years. Its coming and its arrival have, for a variety of reasons, sparked my imagination and stirred my soul. I’ve loved Pink Floyd since roughly 1979, and the band has inspired me personally in a variety of ways, most of them indescribably affecting me in ways I could never measure. From the unrelenting anger of “Another Brick” to the genteel heights of “High Hopes,” Pink Floyd has been a constant in my life, intellectually and emotionally.
The last actual Pink Floyd album, The Endless River, came out five years ago. There were, of course, the usual complaints and criticisms. So be it. Whatever the complaints and criticisms, I must disagree. The Endless River is not just a great Pink Floyd album, it’s one of the best rock albums of the last decade. In very large part, this excellence comes from intent—it is rather intentionally an homage to one of rock’s greatest and most innovative keyboardists, Rick Wright.
Musically, it is innovative, and the music breathes, lingering where it needs to linger and moving when it needs to move. If you’ve not listened to it in a while, give it another spin. It’s well worth many, many spins.
Believe me, it will be far healthier than dwelling on politics. And, it will probably be more productive, too.