Arbatel are probably today's most 1970s influenced progressive rock band from Mexico, taking the early to mid 1980s Iconoclasta or Delirium blueprint and further embellishing upon it. The 70s influence is more pronounced from a compositional standpoint rather than a vintage equipment perspective.
As of August 2016, it appears the band has completely disappeared save an old creaky MySpace page (see Samples). That would be too bad if this was the end for the fine band.
Arbatel - Gamadion. 2004 private (CD); 2005 Mylodon (Chile CD)
Arbatel - Sumerios. 2009 Mylodon (Chile CD)
On Gamadion, Arbatel are an instrumental rock quartet with electric guitar and digital keyboards (including some cool pipe organ sounds) providing most of the input, with guests on vocals and violin rounding out the sound. Sure, it's not a crystal clear production, and a muddied production (especially the drums) mars this slightly - though it's also part of the charm really. Apparently the band at one point covered a few classic Italian progressive rock songs by Le Orme and Il Balletto di Bronzo, so clearly their influences are a bit more interesting and researched than just the usual suspects from England. There's an excitement to listening to music such as this, as you're really not sure what's going to happen next, yet it's all within a comfortable progressive rock context.
Following the debut comes Sumerios, their unheralded follow-up. Released under the cover of darkness in Chile by the excellent Mylodon label, the album has thus far seemed to completely escape notice. And that’s a tragedy really. There’s even a bit of encouragement from no less a luminary than Gianni Leone (of Il Balletto di Bronzo fame) with his enthusiastic liner notes (translated to Spanish). Gone is the violin and in its place is the key addition of soprano female vocalist Rosario Maza Hernández, who adds a bit of exotic narration as well. The music is primarily keyboard based, and has now gone decidedly analog, with copious use of Hammond organ, Mini-Moog and good old fashioned acoustic piano. Electric guitar, bass and drums provide the usual backbone and the rhythm section reliably lays down odd time signatures to keep everyone guessing.
The album starts off with an Indian tribal/religious bit that unfortunately isn’t revisited. I suspect its purpose is to tie the theme to the ancient Sumerians, but I love the atmosphere it provides. Once the rock instrumentation kicks in, there is no doubt this is a 1970s influenced progressive rock album. Like Gamadion, the Italian progressive movement of the early 70s seems to be the main influence here (thus the Leone narrative I suspect). In the early to mid-1980s, Mexico possessed a burgeoning progressive rock scene with such stalwarts as Iconoclasta, Delirium and Praxis all putting out very good albums. None seemed to cross the threshold to greatness. It seems to me that Arbatel has accomplished everything those bands had originally set out to do. And if you’re familiar with these acts, then the raw Mexican production qualities shouldn’t bother you on Sumerios. It adds to the charm. This is a deep, complex album that requires a few listens to penetrate. And it’s an album that needs more of an audience.
Last update: August 20, 2016