Prog, in its many guises, has often been accused of taking itself a little too seriously and for the most part lacking in humour. Well for nearly a decade now, drummer and multi-instrumentalist Hans Jörg Schmitz has done his part to redress this with a series of albums, under the title King Of Agogik, producing music which is complex, well written and often tinged with a wry sense of humour. As is the case here on Exlex Beats – but more of this later.
For those unfamiliar with Mr Schmitz, he is German born musician and noted drummer, who started playing music towards the very end the 70s, has performed and recorded with several bands and released a body of solo albums. Some may have come across his contributions to the Colossus/Musea projects, most recently the Decameron: Ten Days In 100 Novellas – Part II release, where he performed all the instruments on his track. On his latest recording, Exlex Beats, Schmitz is responsible for the majority of the instrumentation, however he has called on a number of fine musicians to add their skills.
I mentioned the wry sense of humour and perhaps no better demonstrated in the album’s twenty minute epic, Thin As A Skin. Here he calls on the talented Steve Unruh to add flute (and violin) as we are taken through a Tullian flavoured tour de force, although it should be noted that this is certainly much heavier than anything that Mr Anderson & Co would have produced. And herein lies that sense of humour I mentioned, as just past the halfway mark, Schmitz brings in Tull’s Thick As a Brick (see what he’s done with the title there?), adding those memorable themes in a mashed-up instrumental workout. It could have been disasterous, but actually it works rather well, segueing as it does, at one point, into a twisted 5/4 theme that could equally be Tull, although here grabbing the main line from Dave Brubeck. In fact there are 80 plus themes used across the entire album. Irrespective of these diversions the track is well written and along with Dago Wilms (guitars), Erik Vaxjö (mellotron) and Gary Farmer (bass) the band create an enjoyable piece of epic instrumental prog.
This calling in of themes is something that is employed across the album, to the point that you end up constantly listening to see if you can recognise more. And although I may have missed something in the gutsy album opener, Bronto’s Navel, it is left until the second track, 11th Sense, for the obvious to appear. Yes’ Owner Of A Lonely Heart joins hands with Van Halen’s Jump, ELP’s Fanfare For The Common Man along with Asia’s Only Time Will Tell. Infact the entire track draws more of these spices into the mix. Now whereas this works for me in Thin As A Skin, 11th Sense feels somewhat disjointed and takes a long time to go nowhere in particular.
Having said this, 11th Sense is not without musical depth and actually there’s a great deal going on. Ultimately though, it just didn’t fully engage, which can’t be said as we move to the next piece, where Dago Wilms acoustic guitars along with Steve Unruh’s flute and violin make Nomouglea a truly magic moment. Not entirely sure how the brief bookends to the track fit into the scheme, but the rest of the track meanders wonderfully before building into an emotive instrumental ballad. Schmitz’s keyboard parts are subtle and effective and a mention again for Wilms who plays a sweet melodic guitar solo, which could have come from the Steve Rothery school.
There’s one thing that Exlex Beats is not, and that is predictable, making it nigh on impossible to describe in just a few paragraphs. The Chasteness, for example, moves from heavy Hammond-esque organ, through pastoral mellotron and back. Then from one side to another – a macbre dance if you will. Whereas later on the album gives us Sheol, with an opening Spanish guitar that could well have graced an early Genesis album, whilst the remaining music retains flavours of said band.
Elsewhere there’s the monster riff-o-mania that is Lick Me. At times reminiscent of Derek Sherinian’s solo work, but with an ever changing progressive metal/math rock backdrop. Once again Schmitz foregoes, the perhaps, predicatable fiery solo section, electing to use a few bars of iconic guitar riffs. From Aerosmith to Black Sabbath, taking on board Metallica, The Beatles, Nirvana and more…
I could go on, but as Exlex Beats clocks in at a hefty seventy seven minutes and with such a diversity of music to be found, this could end up as a very long review.
So now the difficult part – how to summarise. I’ve been listening to this album for many months now, still with mixed thoughts, but on the whole it has been a good experience. There’s no doubting the musicianship throughout and there’s some really strong and enjoyable material to be heard on Exlex Beats. It does suffer from being over long at just over an hour and a quarter, and perhaps too diverse for its own good. But it is an album that grows and as with previous albums I’m left with the belief that there is a “classic” album in Hans Jörg Schmitz. With some minor re-writing, eschewing the comedic elements and perhaps clocking in nearer the forty minute mark, Exlex Beats could well have been close.
Or alternatively I’m just a prog micropachycephalosaurus with a sense of humour bypass :0)…
01. Bronto’s Navel (3:09)
02. 11th Sense (11:57)
03. Nomouglea (7:12)
04. The Chasteness (8:17)
05. Making Of SWEP (1:37)
06. Musicogenic Epilepsy (3:50)
07. Sheol (8:21)
08. Lick Me (5:17)
09. The Venturous Dream Of A Schlabbershirt (3:02)
10. Thin As A Skin (22:47)
11. Arrived Without Travelling (1:31)
Total Time – 77:05
Hans Jörg Schmitz – Drums, Keyboards, Guitar & Bass
Dago Wilms – Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitar
Gary Farmer – Bass
Steve Unruh – Flute & Violin
Michael Elzer – Chapman Stick
Pantelis Petrakakis – Bass
Andrew Marshall – Spanish Guitar
Arne Schäfer – Electric Guitar
Michael Kreutz – Bass
Peter Simon – Oboe
Erik Vaxjö – Mellotron
Year Of Release: 2014
Exlex Beats (2014)
From A to A (2011)
The Rhythmic Drawing Room (2009)
Aleatorik System (2008)
Membranophonic Experience (2006)