At-Az

At The Signe Of The Bull (UK): At The Signe Of The Bull (Guildhall/Boston Sound Hunters GHS 7, 10”, 1972)
Folk
Christine Scott (joint lead vocals, percussion)
This extremely rare 10" album offers an unusual, rather lo-fi take on medieval folk, with occasionally amateurish playing and odd, off-key harmonies. The band went on to cut a second album as Horncastle Fayre, by which time they had become considerably more proficient. GRADE: C+.
See also Horncastle Fayre

Atamadekkachi (Japan): Atamadekkachi (Couple HEAD-1001, acetate, with booklet, 1974)
Folk/Blues/Garage
Limited to just a handful of acetate copies for the participants, this collective from Asagaya Art College offer an enjoyable selection of self-penned folk, blues and garage rock songs. All loose, stoned and lo-fi (complete with a mono recording), it reminds me of some of the albums on Holyground, though this is even more basic and stripped-down. GRADE: C+.

Elka Atanasova (Bulgaria): Winds Of The Rhodopes (Erdenklang 91350, CD, Germany, 1991)
Progressive
Elka Atanasova (lead vocals, violin)
The sole album by talented violinist Atanasova offers an elegant fusion of mainly instrumental progressive rock and gypsy music, with original compositions throughout. Catherine Lara’s later albums offer a useful reference point, although Atanasova got there slightly earlier, offering a fair degree of variety across a highly accomplished set. GRADE: B–.

Atempo (Argentina): Abismos Del Tiempo (Record Runner RR0400, CD, Brazil, 2003)
Progressive
Mariela González (principal vocals)
It’s no accident that Mariela González, previously of Nexus, is the vocalist here – Abismos Del Tiempo represents a solid step forward from the best elements of Nexus’s music. Like Nexus, the music here is richly symphonic, delicate, understated and slightly folky, with some effectively dramatic crescendos; unlike Nexus, it is allowed to develop fully via three shorter (though far from short) songs followed by a superbly crafted 47-minute suite. GRADE: B–.
Atempo (Argentina): Simple (No label, CD, 2005)
Progressive
Andrea Katzman (principal vocals)
Album number two is a huge step down from their first, comprising three songs (all pleasant and mellifluous, but none particularly exploratory) followed by a symphonic instrumental and then a jazzy instrumental. It’s all listenable enough but ultimately pretty inconsequential, particularly in comparison with their much more adventurous debut. GRADE: C+.

See also Nexus

Athanor (France): Vos Cités Sont Des Tombeaux (Le Chêne Creux LCC-000-002, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, 2013)
Jazz/Rock/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Fabienne Gay (joint lead vocals, violin, cello), Natacha Brouat (joint lead vocals)
Lasting around an hour, this complex suite of music conjures up the spirit of the French underground greats, from early Art Zoyd and Shub-Niggurath to countless early seventies acts on the Futura label. Jazzy, austere and sometimes neoclassical, this is first-rate RIO and occasional zeuhl packed with fascinating musical diversions. GRADE: B–.

Atlantics (USA): Live At The Nite-Lite (Hashish AR 696, 1970)
Lounge
Adele Merritt (lead vocals)
Despite the trippy label name, this isn’t psychedelia of any kind, but a straightforward live performance by a lounge band. It’s a solid set, with an eclectic range of material (‘Let It Be’, ‘Morning Dew’, ‘Something’, ‘Band Of Gold’, ‘Aquarius’ et al) and some energetic and passionate moments. GRADE: C+.

Atlantis (West Germany): Atlantis (Vertigo 6360 609, 1972)
Blues/Rock/Progressive
Inga Rumpf (lead vocals, percussion)
The band formerly known as Frumpy return with an album that’s notably better than its predecessor By The Way. Whilst this never equals the brilliance of Frumpy or Frumpy 2 at their finest, it’s more consistent than either, with all the songs, both long and short, being superbly composed and executed. GRADE: B.
Atlantis (West Germany): It’s Getting Better! (Vertigo 6360 614, 1973)
Blues/Rock/Progressive
Inga Rumpf (lead vocals, guitar, percussion)
Neither the songwriting nor the instrumental jams are as good here as on their first album, but this is still an excellent mixture of blues, soul, rock, funk and prog. Nonetheless, it shows a rapid softening of their style, with some fairly languid grooves replacing the fieriness and unpredictability of their earlier work as Frumpy. GRADE: B–.
Atlantis (West Germany): Ooh, Baby (Vertigo 6360 621, 1974)
Soul/Rock
Inga Rumpf (lead vocals, percussion)
For album number three, Rumpf hands over most of the songwriting to new members Adrian Askew and Alex Conti, and the band drops all the progressive elements to deliver straightforward soulful, funky and bluesy rock. It’s very well composed and performed, and Rumpf’s raw voice is as strong as ever, but in place of the wild instrumental breaks of old they simply repeat riffs and choruses endlessly as though unsure what to do. Only one track breaks the five-minute barrier, and it’s the worst thing on offer – the dreadful proto-disco ‘Mr Bigshot (You Get The Credit)’. GRADE: C.
Atlantis (West Germany): Live (Vertigo 6623 900, double, 1975)
Blues/Rock
Inga Rumpf (lead vocals, guitar, percussion)
Whilst this live double set mostly features material from Ooh, Baby (plus a few unrecorded cuts and a smattering of older stuff), it’s energetic and punchy enough. Inevitably it’s far less expansive than their earlier live double as Frumpy, but there are still a couple of pretty good extended pieces. GRADE: C+.
Atlantis (West Germany): Get On Board (Vertigo 6360 630, 1975)
Rock
Inga Rumpf (lead vocals)
Once again, Rumpf writes very little – presumably she was keeping her material for her incipient solo career. This dispenses with most of the excesses of Ooh, Baby, opting for a straighter rock sound with funky tinges. The title track is excellent, with a brilliant riff and melody, but elsewhere this is competent rather than inspired, although it’s very well put together. GRADE: C.
Atlantis (West Germany): Top Of The Bill (Venus V78 AT-F1002, 1978)
Rock
Inga Rumpf (joint lead vocals)
Compiled from sessions recorded in December 1975 and March 1976, this comprises material that was presumably intended for the fifth Atlantis studio LP had Inga Rumpf not gone solo. Musically, it’s not dissimilar to Get On Board, although just a touch proggier, suggesting they might have returned to more interesting music in time. That said, there’s nothing exceptional here, the eleven-and-a-half minute ‘Just Blues’ inevitably outstays its welcome, and I have no idea why they allowed a couple of the male band members to take some of the lead vocals for the first time. GRADE: C+.
See also City Preachers, Frumpy, ID Company, Rockship, Inga Rumpf

Atoka Chase (USA): Grief, Sir, Is The Shadow’s Companion (No label, CD, with digipak, 2015)
Folk/Rock 
Maya Cole Renfro (joint lead vocals, guitar, violin)
This curious mix of folk/rock, Americana and experimental elements – including some jazzy and near-mariachi touches – reminds me of some of the releases on The End label, though of course without any metal touches. At its best, a on ‘Black Pot’, it’s genuinely eerie and psychedelic; elsewhere, how much you like it may depend on your tolerance for artists like Tom Waits and your feelings about banjos. Nonetheless, it’s consistently interesting and frequently quite surprising. GRADE: C+.

Atonal (Argentina): Plegaria Urbana (Sazam 50-14.480/5, with inner, 1979)
Folk/Rock
Josefina Steinhardt (occasional vocals)
Belying their name, this trio offer gentle, melodic music with a spacy edge: somewhere between singer/songwriter and folk/rock, with arrangements borrowing from progressive music. It’s all very mellow and enjoyable, with a distinctively South American feel, but the disc really cries out for some variety and vitality. GRADE: C+.

Atrocity Featuring Yasmin (Germany): Calling The Rain (Swan Lake MASS CD 071, CD, with digipak, 1995)
Folk/Rock/Metal
Yasmin Krull (principal vocals, flute)
This unusual project by the death metal outfit Atrocity showcases the talents of band leader Alexander Krull’s sister Yasmin. Musically, it offers slightly mystical folk/rock with lots of hand percussion, a definite shamanistic feel and a few light metal edges here and there. Oddly, the album includes two versions of the title track, before climaxing with the odd, minimalistic ten-minute ‘Ancient Sadness’. GRADE: C+.
Atrocity (Germany): Werk 80 (Swan Lake MASS CD0168, with poster booklet, 1998)
Metal
Liv Kristine Espenaes (occasional vocals)
Quite different from Calling The Rain (and indeed from all the band’s earlier work), Werk 80 is a concept album offering heavy metal interpretations of a variety of eighties pop hits. If you ever wanted to hear ‘Shout’, ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Being Boiled’, ‘Don’t Go’, ‘Let’s Dance’ et al performed in a techno-edged metal style, then this odd but mildly interesting album provides the perfect opportunity. Krull’s wife and future Leaves’ Eyes collaborator Liv Kristine Espenaes provides backing and duet vocals on a few cuts. GRADE: C+.

Atrocity Featuring Yasmin (Germany): After The Storm (Napalm NPR 348, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2010)
Folk/Rock/Metal
Yasmin Krull (joint lead vocals, flute)
Much more dynamic and assured than their first venture together, the second Atrocity & Yasmin album offers more mainstream folk/metal, hinting towards numerous other acts in the genre. Whilst this isn’t the most original LP (though they could arguably be described as pioneers of the genre with Calling The Rain) it’s consistently satisfying, blending the folk and metal elements very well. GRADE: B–.
See also Leaves’ Eyes, Liv Kristine, Theatre Of Tragedy

Atrox (Norway): Mesmerised (Head Not Found HNF031, CD, 1997)
Metal/Progressive
Monika Edvardsen (joint lead vocals)
Very different from the band’s later, more avant-garde albums, this is a mixture of doom and gothic metal with strong progressive edges and both male and female vocals. Monika Edvardsen’s singing is nowhere near as extreme or experimental as it would later become, but there is some invention on offer, including a few moments recalling her sister’s band Third & The Mortal (especially the excellent ‘A Mind’s Escape’). GRADE: B–.
Atrox (Norway): Contentum (Season Of Mist SOM 021, CD, France, 2000)
Metal/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Monika Edvardsen (lead vocals, synthesiser)
Their second is a huge step forward, with a powerful, elegant sound blending heavy riffing and complex time changes, and with Edvardsen going completely over-the-top up front – from conventional singing to Arabic scales, ululations, giggles and more. The result is a dramatic and varied yet surprisingly cohesive album that stands at the vanguard of experimental progressive metal. GRADE: B.
Atrox (Norway): Terrestrials (Season Of Mist SOM 058, CD, France, 2002)
Metal/Progressive/Avant-Garde
Monika Edvardsen (lead vocals, synthesiser)
Terrestrials is both slightly weirder and much jazzier than its predecessor, taking the band’s music in all kinds of different directions. The result is a wonderfully eclectic record that varies between nimbleness and crushing heaviness, packaged in another stunning cover that again features a Hieronymous Bosch-inspired painting by Edvardsen. GRADE: B.
Atrox (Norway): Orgasm (Code 666 Code 021, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2003)
Metal
Monika Edvardsen (principal vocals, synthesiser)
Their fourth and final album is a heavier, more riff-driven set somewhat in the vein of countrymen Madder Mortem. The change isn’t really to their advantage, and this is the least interesting Atrox album, despite some quite experimental vocals. GRADE: C+.
See also Tactile Gemma

Debbie Au (USA): Don’t Be Afraid (Trilogy Arts TAR-1003, 1971)
Singer/Songwriter
Debbie Au (lead vocals)
Solid singer/songwriter fare, ranging from delicate ballads to light rock to the bluesy ‘Homeward’ (probably the best cut). Some of the lyrics have a Christian slant, but overall it’s not too preachy. Released on a small label, this is now moderately scarce and has sold for reasonable money. GRADE: C.
Debbie Au (USA): Clay (Ranwood R-8103, 1972)
Pop/Rock
Debbie Au (lead vocals)
Au’s second and final album, issued on a larger label, mostly consists of covers of other singer/songwriters (Carole King, James Taylor and Neil Young). Inevitably, it’s far less personal than her debut, with a more generic early seventies pop/rock sound, but it’s probably more consistent (despite an ill-advised stab at ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, which rivals the Grateful Dead’s ‘Dancing In The Street’ for the blandest Motown cover). Ranwood obviously threw some money at this, as she had a stellar backing band including Mike Deasy, Ben Benay, Larry Carlton, Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye and Ron Tutt. GRADE: C.

Loren Auerbach & Bert Jansch With Presence (UK): After The Long Night (Christabel CRL 001, 1985)
Folk/Psychedelic
Loren Auerbach (principal vocals)
This five-song album may be fairly short, but not a second is wasted. The two best cuts – ‘Frozen Beauty’ and the lengthy ‘So Lonely’, with its sinuous lead guitar – are superb acid-folk creations, whilst the bluesy closer ‘Journey Of The Moon Through Sorrow’, sung by lead guitarist Richard Newman, provides a welcome change of mood. With its crystalline acoustic guitars and woozy violin, this is mesmerising stuff, confirming Auerbach as a top-notch talent. GRADE: B.
Loren Auerbach With Richard Newman (UK): Playing The Game (Christabel CRL 002, 1985)
Folk/Psychedelic
Loren Auerbach (principal vocals)
This has twice as many songs as its predecessor, but the standard hasn’t dropped an iota. Admittedly, as on After The Long Night, a few cuts are good rather than great, but the remainder are truly great – top-notch acid-folk with superb interplay between acoustic and electric instrumentation. GRADE: B.
Loren Auerbach With Bert Jansch (UK): Colours Are Fading Fast (Earth EARTHCD012, triple CD, with gatefold minisleeve, inners and booklet, 2016, recorded 1985 to 1988)
Folk/Psychedelic
Loren Auerbach (principal vocals)
This lovely retrospective of Auerbach’s brief career repackages After The Long Night and Playing The Game with In Moonlight’s Grace, a disc of demos from 1988. These demos are for the most part the equal of the studio albums, completing a superb package. GRADE: B.

August (Japan): Impression Of August (Made In Japan MCD-2916, CD, with obi, 1990)
Progressive
Misuzu Kudou (lead vocals)
Quite different from the high-tech neoprog typical of Japanese bands at the time, this lives up to its name by offering impressionistic, atmospheric music based around acoustic and electric guitars and piano. That said, there are plenty of rock elements, with a jamming feel to much of the material; the whole thing sounds distinctly retro, whilst drawing on different elements from most modern prog. There’s a definite seventies Renaissance influence at play here, though it’s fairly slight; the result is an elegant, unusual and (I suspect deliberately, given the concept) mildly inconsequential LP. GRADE: C+.

Aura (USA): Aura (Chakra CH-001, 1977)
Funk/Soul/Rock
Paulette Collins (principal vocals), Jean Hintermann (trombone)
The label name and back cover notes (‘A luminous, colorful [sic] misty glow, surrounding every human being, pronounced and beautiful… it radiates from each individual as solar rays emanate from the Sun’) suggest some kind of meditational or new age work. This couldn’t be further removed: it’s lively, punchy soul and funk with an early seventies feel, lots of horns and some excellent guitar leads. Whilst there’s nothing very distinctive here, fans of Sly & The Family Stone and similar outfits should certainly enjoy this. GRADE: C+.

Aurore (France): Lettres Au Monde (APDAR 012, 1986)
Rock/Progressive
Dominique Granger (joint lead vocals, guitar)
I expected this to be full-blown prog, but it’s actually melodic soft rock with symphonic edges and straightforward, simple song structures. It’s a patchy album, with some lovely dreamy cuts (‘L’Exilé’, ‘Pourtant…’ and the closing ‘Quand Je Me Retournerai’ in particular) but also quite a few rather naïve and plodding numbers, not helped by the primitive digital recording (which gives a very dated eighties sound, especially on the drums). With a bigger budget, tighter quality control on the songs and more willingness to stretch out, this could have been a fine eighties progressive album. GRADE: C.

Christine Authier (France): Solen (No label UPCOP 04, 1976)
Folk
Christine Authier (lead vocals, guitar)
Housed in an attractive pink silkscreened gatefold sleeve, this is a pleasant if unexceptional album of acoustic folk. Her rather MOR and slightly childlike style may not appeal to many listeners, but this is perfectly listenable if overly sweet, and almost everything is self-penned. Authier went on to cut many more albums, of which I have just one (1983’s La Muraille); I wouldn’t go out of my way to acquire the rest. GRADE: C.

Auto Da Fé (Ireland): Tatitum (Spartan SPLP 003, with inner, UK, 1985)
Pop
Gay Woods (lead vocals)
Gay Woods’s early eighties band Auto Da Fé issued a number of really excellent singles in their native Ireland, the first five of which were compiled with a B-side as Five Singles And One Smoked Cod (Stoic STILP 1003). In an inexplicable move, they then re-recorded most of them with cheap synthesiser and drum machine backing for this album. Thankfully the first and best, ‘November November’, survived unscathed, but for the most part the quality of the writing and Gay Woods’s singing barely transcend the banality of the arrangements. GUIDE: C+.
Auto Da Fé (Ireland): Songs For Echo (Hux HUX 022, CD, UK, 2001, recorded 1983)
New Wave
Gay Woods (principal vocals)
Featuring two BBC ‘In Concert’ performances from 1983, Songs From Echo showcases several numbers that the band never recorded. This material emphasises their new wave roots, and faint progressive undertones, far more strongly than their studio work, although none of it is outstanding. There are also decent versions of most of their early singles, with Phil Lynott assisting on bass and backing vocals, making for an enjoyable set. GRADE: C+.

Auto Da Fé (Ireland/Holland): When The Curtain Goes Bang! An Anthology (Feather Head Production FD006, double CDR, 2020, recorded 1981-1991)

Pop

Gay Woods (lead vocals)

This compilation, privately issued by keyboardist and co-leader Trevor Knight, summarises Auto Da Fé’s career in the studio, from 1981 recordings by the Irish-Dutch line-up through the early singles and B-sides, the Tatitum album and the Bring Me A Bouquet EP to a final recording from 1991. Yet despite 32 songs totalling nearly two hours, including numerous unreleased numbers and versions, this isn’t complete – I can think of nearly half-a-dozen previously released pieces that aren’t present. However, it’s churlish to complain about what isn’t here: this is as good an overview of the band’s work as one could hope for. Yet it ultimately confirms my impression that they were a truly odd child of the eighties: never quite sure whether they wanted to play electropop, folk/rock or new wave, and frequently blending elements of all three in slightly uncomfortable combinations. As such, Gay Woods completists will certainly want this, and I’m delighted it was released. However, more casual observers might conclude that the Five Singles… compilation and ‘Credo Credo’ single gather together all the truly great recordings they ever made; the fussier among them could simply buy the classic ‘November November’ as a 45 and never play the B-side. GRADE: C+.
See also Steeleye Span, Woods Band, Gay & Terry Woods

Autochalk (Japan): Mahou No Chalk 2 (MR MRX-102, with insert, 1978)
Folk/Rock

Miyako Nakamura (principal vocals), Kyoko Kato (occasional vocals)
I expected this rare Japanese private pressing, cut by a female trio with backing band, to sound something like Spinning Jenny, but whilst it has the same naïve and precious air there’s little musical resemblance. Instead this has full electric backing, with keyboards adding a lush, mildly symphonic edge, resulting in a lovely and very professional LP. The title suggests that this may have been their second album, but I’ve never encountered their first. GRADE: C+.

Autumn Breeze (Sweden): Höstbris (BG OR-L26, some with poster, 1979)
Progressive
Birgitta Nilsson (lead vocals)
This is a pleasant album of soft progressive rock, with mostly instrumental short tracks dominated by electric guitar, keyboards and flute. At various times, it recalls a low budget Carol Of Harvest or their countrymen Radiomöbel, although it’s not in the same league as either. On a couple of tracks, they add funky edges (in one case, with horns) that don’t work particularly well. GRADE: C+.

Autumnal Blossom (Germany): Against The Fear Of Death (QuiXote CD 67, CD, 2013)
Progressive
Pia Darmstaedter (lead vocals, keyboards, flute)
This side-project by Pia Darmstaedter of Coarbegh and Poor Genetic Material (supported by colleagues from both projects) sets words by mostly Victorian poets to original music. With lots of neoclassical touches and some well-judged rock elements, it’s pleasant enough, although as with Coarbegh the drum machine makes the whole thing sound like a demo rather than a finished. Also like Coarbegh, the album oddly starts out rather poorly and then steadily improves. GRADE: C+.

Autumnal Blossom (Germany): Spellbound (QuiXote Music qxt cd 72, CD, 2016)
Folk/Rock/Progressive
Pia Darmstaedter
The opening ‘Because I Could Not Stop For Death’ is all atmosphere and no substance, but the second number ‘Memories Of A Child’ is excellent folk/rock and far superior to anything on their debut. The rest of the album blends the two approaches in varying combinations, mostly with considerable success. GRADE: B–.
See also Coarbegh, Poor Genetic Material

Ava Inferi (Portugal/Norway): Burdens (Season Of Mist SOM 113, CD, with digipak and booklet, France, 2006)
Metal/Progressive
Carmen Susana Simões (lead vocals)
The music here – essentially gothic progressive metal, although the soprano vocals are the only identifying gothic factor – is dreamy and impressionistic, with loosely structured songs that appear, exist for between three and nine minutes, and then disappear. Such an album could be inconsequential to the point of irrelevancy, but the music here is so delicate, so atmospheric and sometimes so spellbinding that this is ultimately something rather special. GRADE: B–.
Ava Inferi (Portugal/Norway): The Silhouette (Season Of Mist SOM 167, CD, with digipak and booklet, France, 2007)
Metal/Progressive
Carmen Susana Simões (lead vocals)
This is a touch more robust and more conventionally structured than their first, with some notably heavy riffing, but it succeeds well on its own terms and doesn’t lose the distinctiveness that sets them apart. Once again, their dreamy, impressionistic music won’t be for everyone, but for the right ears it’s a delight. GRADE: B–.
Ava Inferi (Portugal/Norway): Blood Of Bacchus (Season Of Mist SOM 201, CD, with digipak and booklet, France, 2009)
Metal/Progressive
Carmen Susana Simões (lead vocals)
Accelerating the trend begun on its predecessor, this takes the band a long way from its dreamy, impressionistic roots. In fact, the style here is downright bombastic, recalling acts such as Leaves’ Eyes, so whilst it’s very good it’s also just a touch generic. GRADE: B–.
Ava Inferi (Portugal/Norway): Onyx (Season Of Mist SOM 221, CD, with digipak and booklet, France, 2009)
Metal/Progressive
Carmen Susana Simões (lead vocals)
‘The Heathen Island’ includes excerpts from ‘The Wicker Man’, one of my favourite films of all time, which immediately gives the band extra brownie points. Otherwise, this is much in the vein of Blood Of Bacchus – dramatic, florid gothic metal that equals the best in the genre but lacks the distinctiveness of the band’s early work. GRADE: B–.

See also Earth Electric

Avalanche (Holland): Perseverance Kills Our Game (Starlet STL 10036 SL, 1979)
Folk/Rock/Progressive
Marcella Neeleman (flute)
This unusual album offers instrumental (apart from part of one cut) folk/rock with strong rock and progressive elements and some almost psychedelic edges. By turns punchy, intricate and atmospheric, this is a consistently fine LP from start to finish; the eleven-minute closer ‘Oblivion’ is quite sublime. With just 500 copies pressed and some allegedly destroyed it’s unsurprisingly very rare and expensive. GRADE: B.

AvantGarde (Israel): Another Place (No label, download, 2015)
Rock/Metal/Progressive
Nellie Nissan (joint lead vocals, keyboards)
Despite the name, this Israeli band isn’t avant-garde in any shape or form: this is straightforward song-based hard rock with some minor progressive leanings and a spacy Pink Floyd feel. Nonetheless, whilst it’s fairly unambitious, they have an exceptional knack for memorable hooks and great solos, making for a very accomplished album. GRADE: B–.
AvantGarde (Israel): Every Time (No label, download, 2018)
Rock/Metal/Progressive
Nellie Nissan
Whereas their first was a fairly weighty 13-track collection, this EP is comparatively lightweight, offering five relatively short songs. Again, there are some excellent hooks and riffs, but one wishes they might have come up with a little more in three years. GRADE: C+.

Avatarium (Sweden): Avatarium (Nuclear Blast 27361 32050, CD, with digipak and booklet, Germany, 2013)
Metal/Progressive
Jennie-Ann Smith (lead vocals)
Housed in a handsome silver foil digipak, this debut album is unusual, ambitious and commendably bold. The basic style is doom metal, but they also have a penchant for folky sections and atmospheric ballads, with plenty of tempo changes adding a progressive edge. Add in a vocalist with an unaffected yet dramatic style and the results are distinctive and intriguing, though the most straightforward song (‘Boneflower’) is also the best. GRADE: B–.
Avatarium (Sweden): The Girl With The Raven Mask (Nuclear Blast 27361 35510, CD plus DVD, with digipak and poster booklet, Germany, 2015)
Metal/Progressive
Jennie-Ann Smith (lead vocals)
If Avatarium have a failing, it’s that their distinctive style tends to play out similarly on each song – there’ll be dramatic tempo changes, slowed-down verses, soaring choruses and lots of atmospheric bits, with Jennie-Ann Smith being as dramatic as possible. Notwithstanding, their distinctiveness is also a strength – whilst plenty of bands are operating on the same turf, nobody sounds quite like them, and their lyrics are far from the metal norm too. The bonus live DVD (on which Smith also plays guitar and shakers) is even better than the album proper, revealing Avatarium to be an excellent live act. GRADE: B–.

Avatarium (Sweden): Hurricanes And Halos (Nuclear Blast 27361 39091, CD, with digipak and booklet, Germany, 2017)
Metal/Progressive
Jennie-Ann Smith (lead vocals)
Album number three marks a change of direction for Avatarium – this is still progressive metal, but the dramatic doom-cum-ballads style is gone and this has more of a wall-of-sound retro rock feel recalling Devil’s Blood or to a lesser extent later Blood Ceremony. There’s still a fair degree of variety, including some mellow moments and an instrumental, and if anything this represents a slight step up from their first two. GRADE: B–.

Avatarium (Sweden): The Fire I Long For (Nuclear Blast 27361 46750, CD, with digipak and booklet, Germany, 2019)
Metal/Progressive
Jennie-Ann Smith (lead vocals)
This marks a return to doom metal, and once again the standard is impressive – Avatarium’s music is majestic without being pompous, melodic without being simplistically catchy, and powerful without being pummelling. GRADE: B–.

Avec Ignatus (France): Parfois La Vie Est Douce (La Souterraine STRN-228, CD, with minisleeve, 2019)
Rock
Sylvie Franceus, Aline Bois, Marine, Jessie, Aurélie
This 22-minute EP was a project at a mental hospital, involving both patients and stuff. If that makes you expect ‘real people’ weirdness or Collective Tools-style downer vibes, think again: this is a varied set of French rock and folk, ranging from the startling Malicorne stylings of the opening ‘Arc-en-ciel’ to the louche Téléphone-like rock of ‘Ça Suffit’ to the borderline disco stylings of ‘J’ai Pas’. In fact, with every track in a different style, it’s a clear homage to French popular music of the seventies, aiming to cover every possible base. As such, maybe it does deserve to be classified as ‘incredibly strange music’ after all. GRADE: C+.

Avenue (UK): First (Boulevard B.R.2, cassette, 1980)
Blues/Rock
Valerie Cowell (joint lead vocals, guitar)
Avenue’s debut album has some defiite cabaret and lounge tinges, but unusually for this sort of thing almost everything is self-penned. Those MOR tendencies are kept well in check, however, and for the most part this is pleasant if ultimately unexceptional bluesy rock that is solidly performed, played and recorded. GRADE: C+.

Avenue (UK): III Cheers! (Boulevard BR4, with insert, 1983?)
Rock
Valerie Cowell (joint lead vocals, guitar)
An odd mixture of styles and moods, the LP includes several commercial hard rock tracks with some unwelcome period production touches, plus (mainly on side two, which was recorded live) several cuts with an early seventies bluesy progressive feel. However, one dealer thought it resembled Affinity – a comparison I can’t see at all. GRADE: C+.

Avenue O (USA): Understanding Love (Sail 781112, with booklet, 1978)
Pop/Rock/Jazz
Lorraine Dilmore (principal vocals, percussion)
This soft rock album features competent compositions and good musicianship, but is often rather bland, with the second side being notably stronger. The best cuts are the opening title track, which has a funky edge and some unusual use of cello, the upbeat, jazzy ‘Fly Away’, with some nice flute work, and the more dynamic ‘Will You Walk Away From Love?’, which features a very inventive string arrangement. GRADE: C.

Away From The Sand (UK): Away From The Sand (Beaujangle DV 0003, 1973?)
Folk/Country/Pop
Linda Thompson (violin), Kate Binnion (backing vocals), Linda Evans (backing vocals), Rosemary Todd (backing vocals), Annie Morris (backing vocals)
The brainchild of singer/songwriter Bev Pegg, this the epitome of a locally-released LP. Its ten self-penned songs span rural folk/rock, country/rock and light pop – all pleasant and naïvely charming, all badly recorded with strange stereo separation, all utterly inconsequential. Needless to say, the Linda Thompson who plays violin here is not Richard’s ex-wife! GRADE: C–.

Axe (UK): Crystalline (Unreleased acetate, 1970)
Psychedelic
Vivienne Jones (lead vocals)
Whilst this band was called Axe for most of its career, it briefly changed name to Crystalline to cut this acetate; all the reissues (variously known as Axe, Axe Music and Live And Studio) credit it to Axe, however. Musically, this is possibly the finest example of British underground psychedelia, combining exceptionally heavy guitar work (almost on a Black Sabbath level) with Vivienne Jones’s high-pitched, floating tones to extremely eerie effect. Four of the compositions are originals, all of a stunning quality, and the fifth number is a superb cover of Love’s ‘A House Is Not A Motel’ that quickly gives way to an orgy of fuzz guitar onslaughts. Allegedly, twelve copies were pressed as 10" acetates with blank sleeves with a business card attached to the front, whilst the thirteenth was a 12" acetate with a handmade gatefold sleeve. The Kissing Spell reissue is notorious for remixing several cuts (with added echo effects and backwards tapes), changing the running order and altering song titles; a couple of ostensible extra tracks were merely remixed excerpts of original songs, whilst rumour has it that ‘Here To There’, the bonus track on the CD version, was largely a contemporary recording masterminded by Sun Dial guitarist Gary Ramon. A more recent reissue on Guerssen is thankfully unadulterated, though the second side was mastered from a very crackly copy.  GRADE: A.
Axe (UK): Live 1969 (Kissing Spell KSCD 9592, CD, 1995, recorded 1970)
Psychedelic
Vivienne Jones (joint lead vocals)
This lo-fi recording of a May 1970 (not 1969) show consists entirely of cover versions, and whilst enjoyable is more a historical document than a musical masterpiece. That said, it is amusing for the band’s rising annoyance at the audience’s lack of enthusiasm. Contrary to what the sleeve credits claim, both the vinyl and CD versions have the same tracklisting. Finally, the odds-and-sods compilation Middle Earth And Axe features four cuts from 1974, by which time the band had become a West Coast-influenced country/rock outfit with a male singer. GRADE: C+.

Ayreon (Holland): The Final Experiment (Transmission TM-001, CD, 1995)
Progressive
Jolanda Verduijn (bass, backing vocals), Lucie Hillen (backing vocals), Mirjam van Doorn (backing vocals), Debby Schreuder (backing vocals)
Guitarist and composer Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s first project under the Ayreon moniker very much sets the style for his subsequent works. It’s an epic conceptual rock opera with multiple lead singers, a rather silly fantasy/science fiction storyline (in this case, involving images of the world’s impending doom being transmitted back in time to a sixth century minstrel) and musical backing straddling heavy rock, pomp rock and neoprogressive. It’s by no means bad, with Lucassen demonstrating a knack for writing catchy and anthemic choruses, but it’s extremely derivative and utterly unremarkable. In 2005, the album was reissued with a bonus ‘semi-acoustic’ disc of previously unreleased reworkings. This is ironically far superior to the original album, with some excellent and ornate mediaeval-flavoured arrangements. Female musicians on the bonus disc are Astrid van der Veen (occasional vocals), Esther Ladiges (occasional vocals), Marcela Bovio (occasional vocals), Irene Jansen (occasional vocals), Lori Linstruth (guitar), Ewa Alberings (flute) and Marieke van der Heyden (cello). GRADE: C.

Ayreon (Holland/UK): Into The Electric Castle – A Space Opera (Transmission TMD-014, double CD, with digipak and booklet, Holland, 1998)
Progressive
Anneke van Giersbergen (occasional vocals), Sharon van den Adel (occasional vocals)
Ayreon’s third album – their second, Actual Fantasy, had all-male vocals – is a considerable step forward from their debut. At its best (‘Valley Of The Queens’ or ‘The Castle Hall’), this has some great riffs and lovely melodies, but the overarching concept constrains the material, preventing the band from really stretching out. Also, when all is said and done, this is really a pot-pourri of classic rock and neoprog elements without much personality of its own, and a quick perusal of the lyrics will reveal that – in the words of Graham Chapman – it’s all a little too silly. GRADE: C+.
Ayreon (Holland): The Dream Sequencer (Transmission TM-019, CD, 2000)
Progressive
Lana Lane (joint lead vocals), Jacqueline Govaert (occasional vocals), Floor Jansen (occasional vocals)
Whilst this has another rather daft science fiction concept, it’s far less intrusive and the music is altogether more mature and accomplished and significantly less bombastic. Compared to previous efforts, the sound is folkier and more synthesised, with a definite Beatles influence in some of the melodies, although – despite its doubtless high-blown ambitions – this isn’t what you’d call an adventurous LP. GRADE: C+.

Ayreon (Holland): Flight Of The Migrator (Transmission TM-020, CD, 2000)
Progressive/Metal
Lana Lane (occasional vocals), Jacqueline Govaert (occasional vocals), Floor Jansen (occasional vocals)
The bombast is back, and how: this is Ayreon’s heaviest album yet, complee with leather-lunged vocals throughout; Lana Lane merely contributes the spoken introduction plus some backing vocals. If you like this kind of thing, you could thoroughly enjoy this. I don’t mind this kind of thing and mildly enjoyed it. GRADE: C+.
Ayreon (Holland): Ayreonauts Only (Transmission TM-027, CD, with poster, 2000)
Rock/Progressive 
Astrid van der Veen (occasional vocals), Lana Lane (occasional vocals), Anneke van Giersbergen (occasional vocals)
This collection of alternate versions, outtakes and demos is more enjoyable than ‘real’ Ayreon albums precisely because it is a ragbag compilation rather than a concept album. Without silly science fiction themes or narration with electronically treated vocals, Lucassen is revealed as an above-average purveyor of classy melodic rock – nothing that’s likely to change your life but entirely pleasing listening. The demos on which he sings also reveal him to be a decent vocalist, and in many ways preferable to the hard rock screamers he often favours. GRADE: C+.

Ayreon (Holland): The Human Equation (InsideOut 6 93723 00942 1, double CD plus DVD, with digibook, Germany, 2004)
Progressive 
Heather Findlay (occasional vocals), Marcela Bovío (occasional vocals), Floor Jansen (occasional vocals)
This is probably one of Ayreon’s better albums – only moderately bombastic and with wide-ranging influences ranging from the Beatles to Deep Purple – but it’s not that easy to tell. Rock opera format? Check. Mix of classic rock, prog and metal influences? Check. Robotic voices providing occasional narration? Check. In other words, nothing really new to hear here. As a footnote, the bonus DVD features a ‘making of’ documentary, a promo video and a few other extras. GRADE: C+.
Ayreon (Holland): 01011001 (InsideOut SPV 79688 DCD+DVD, double CD plus DVD, with digipak, booklet and slipcase, Germany, 2008)
Progressive
Anneke van Giersbergen (joint lead vocals), Floor Jansen (occasional vocals), Simone Simons (occasional vocals), Magali Luyten (occasional vocals), Liselotte Hegt (occasional vocals), Marjan Welman (occasional vocals)
There are some well-crafted melodies here, some nice acoustic interludes and some effective riffs, so by any standard this is a solid and satisfying album. But at nearly an hour and three quarters, it’s a touch indigestible, like all the Ayreon I’ve heard; and it doesn’t have that X-factor to lift it to the next level, also like all the Ayreon I’ve heard. This time round, the somewhat longer DVD features some acoustic bonus tracks as well as a ‘making of’ documentary. GRADE: C+.

Ayreon (Holland): The Theory Of Everything (InsideOut 0506669, quadruple CD plus DVD, with digibook and insert, Germany, 2013)
Progressive
Cristina Scabbia (joint lead vocals), Sara Squadrini (occasional vocals)
Varied, accomplished and musically literate, this is impressive in small doses – but Ayreon don’t do small doses and this runs for the best part of an hour and a half. The third and fourth CDs offer an instrumental version of the album, which makes a fascinating alternative, whilst the DVD offers more than two hours of ‘making of’ and interview footage, completing a truly gargantuan package. GRADE: C+.
See also Ambeon, Astrid, Arjen Lucassen’s Guilt Machine, Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One, Roswell Six, Stream Of Passion

Azteca (USA): Azteca (Columbia KC 31776, 1972)
Jazz/Funk/Rock
Wendy Haas (occasional vocals)
This seventeen-piece band offers lively Latin jazz and Santana-esque rock with lots of horns. It’s a bit patchy, with some cuts being throwaway languid grooves with soul edges, but occasionally they really catch fire, with impassioned vocals and powerful guitar work. Surprisingly for such an obscure LP, this was also released as a quadraphonic pressing (Columbia CQ 31776) with a slightly different non-gatefold sleeve. GRADE: C+.
Azteca (USA): Pyramid Of The Moon (Columbia KC 32451, 1973)
Jazz/Funk/Rock
Wendy Haas (joint lead vocals)
A bit more soulful than its predecessor, this occasionally resembles Sly & The Family Stone. It’s another solid album, if a little lightweight and lacking in intensity. GRADE: C+.

Azteca (USA): From The Ruins (Inakustik INAK 9090 CD, Germany, 2008)

Jazz/Funk/Rock

Wendy Haas (joint lead vocals, percussion)

The 2007 live reunion of Azteca sees the band on fine form – their energetic brand of funky Latin horn-rock works particularly well on stage. As on their studio albums, their music is perhaps a bit short on profundity or innovation, but they certainly know how to whip up an infectious groove. GRADE: C+.

See also Giant, HE3 Project

Azusa (Norway/Greece/USA): Heavy Yoke (Indie Recordings INDIE224CD, CD, Norway, 2018)
Metal 
Eleni Zafiriadou (lead vocals)
For a band including a member of the Dillinger Escape Plan, Azusa are surprisingly straight. Sure, there are lots of odd tempos, but the short songs – bridging metalcore and thrash – aren’t exactly filled with twists and turns and don’t deliver much in the way of surprises. They’re also somewhat lacking in variety, though there’s no denying the band’s sheer heft and power. GRADE: C+.
Azusa (Norway/Greece/USA): Loop Of Yesterdays (Indie Recordings INDIE270CD, CD, Norway, 2018)
Metal 
Eleni Zafiriadou (lead vocals)
This follows the ‘short songs’ format of their debut, but it’s much more varied and less relentless, with everything from pummelling metalcore to spooky, classical-tinged ballads. Thus, whilst I prefer my metal more majestic and more overtly progressive, this is quirky enough to appeal to a wide audience, including fans of avant-prog bands like A Formal Horse, Bent Knee and District 97. GRADE: C+.