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Soma, England


No current internet presence for the band.
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Soma - Epsilon. 1991 Mystic Stones
Soma - Dreamtime. 1995 Beard of Stars (Italy)

We just covered Soma on their second album in the below review. So I figured I would close the loop, and cover off on the first album (doing this backwards). Basically I stated that Soma were a band that didn't live up the hype thrust upon it - that hype something akin to "better than Ozric Tentacles". But as I listen to this album for the first time in forever, I have to say the album doesn't live up to the promise of the very first sequence of tracks presented here. The near 13 minute "first track", which comprises of Being - Ghandarva - My Skin (Turns the Colour of the Sand), is absolutely phenomenal. Some of the best space rock ever committed to tape, with incredible atmosphere, build up and finally release. The middle section with the solo riffing guitar blazing out of the Moog tweets is jaw dropping in its execution. But the band couldn't keep up the intensity afterward - and it sort of peters out by the end. And the dullish, quiet mix doesn't help matters any. Seems the band could have benefited from an Ozric like production. Still, as with many of the UK festival psychedelic albums, this one has aged well for me.

Mystic Stones, along with Demi Monde, were one of the original leading lights of the creative underground space rock movement in the late 80's and early 90s. Strangely the label never did put out a "monster" album, though they have plenty of really good ones - perhaps Mandragora's "Temple Ball" being the highlight - an album we are certain to cover eventually.

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A timely listen, as this segues well with the Mr. Quimby's Beard blurb from yesterday. For those of you who remember when Ozric Tentacles broke out big-time in the late 1980's, then you'll probably also recall a host of other bands coming from the UK Festival scene, as well as other astral travelers from the world over. Soma's debut Epsilon was preceded by quite a bit of hype - something akin to "if you love Ozric, then you'll be blown away by Soma". Always a dangerous thing to do, and sure enough Soma's album didn't live up to such a lofty reputation. That's probably no fault of the band, but finger pointing goes to those that were trying to market it to a new, hungry and discerning audience. However, not living up to an exceedingly high bar is not the same thing as saying the album wasn't any good. Quite to the contrary, and I hope to review that album separately as I did manage to keep it after all these years.

Fast forward to 1995, and Soma's long delayed second album finally gets released (originally recorded in 1992). By the mid 1990s, as mentioned in the Mr. Quimby post, a certain blasé attitude had penetrated the targeted audience. Whether through overexposure, redundancy, or saturation - who knows - but many of us were exhausted of the style. And to top it off, Soma's album was already 3 years in the can, and was now finally being issued by an obscure Italian label with little distribution. I gave it the short shrift back then, tossed it quickly and said "same ol' same ol'" It wasn't fair, but I was still digesting hundreds of new albums in the mid 90s, and only the best of the best were standing out. I recently received a second chance to buy the CD through a used set sale, and I jumped on it.

A revisit has been kind to Dreamtime. In reality, you can hear the band had actually matured, while expanding their sound to incorporate more sophisticated structures. As such, Soma's final album isn't so much a space rock rave-up, but rather a progressive rock album via the Hawkwind lens. Complex meter shifts, and vocal fronted rock music aren't necessarily the common tools of the jamming space rock trade, but are more than welcome to this listener anyway. Too bad Soma didn't really get their chance to shine in the spotlight. I bet a reunion, similar to what Omnia Opera just pulled off, would prove to be quite a revelation.

Comments

  1. I didn't like their neoprogressive approach, compared to their "Epsilon" debut. I sold it right away upon it's release. It's very difficult to find it now, in order to give it a second chance...

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  2. By the way. The new OMNIA OPERA is very strong!

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  3. I did the same as you originally. And it *is* difficult to find now, which is why I jumped at this used copy when I had the chance.

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  4. Good news about Omnia Opera. I ordered it last night from the band (I doubt it will ever e carried here in the US). I should have it in a couple of weeks!

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  5. Dear Tom,

    I was interested in your reviews of the two Soma albums which I played bass on. I can assure you any hype being thrown around was not on the part of the band itself. We were really thrown into the studio at a point where the membership of the band was still fluctuating and we were (mostly) quite young and inexperienced about the studio process. The whole process of recording and producing the album was less than 7 or 8 working days. My favourite track is the last one on the album, which came from a very loose jam in the studio and captured us very nicely, I think, albeit 'Being' was an epic monster of an opener. Two decades on, when I listen to Epsilon I can still remember running round prehistoric burial mounds and a wonderful space rock summer around Bath and Wiltshire where we rehearsed and recorded the tracks. We recorded Dreamtime a year later after two tours of eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia and I think you can hear the band was much tighter, even after a number of line up changes. However, after a third tour at the end of 1992 things started to break apart. It was a very intense, volatile time and I think you can hear tensions, even a little anger in Dreamtime. It was released years after the band had ceased to be. No one to this day knows why it ended; it just did. When things are thrown together, they either compact and gel, or explode! Mr C.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mr. Cloudy,

      Thanks for your comments here! Excellent info. As stated, I knew you all had nothing to do with the marketing at the time. Both albums are very good, and I'm glad to own them.

      It would be great to see you pull off a reunion of some sort with new material. You all have immense talent!

      Delete

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