Serbia in progressive music
It didn’t take too long until bands from Serbia started experimenting with odd rhythm structures, lengthy improvisations and time signatures. The most notable Serbian prog acts of the time were Smak, Korni Grupa, Pop Mašina, YU Grupa, Dah, Tako, Igra Staklenih Perli, Opus, and S Vremena Na Vreme. When I say progressive rock, I don’t only mean the bands who played strictly played in this genre, but those whose roots were laid in it as well. The period from 1970 to 1980 was probably the best decade for Serbian progressive acts. From the 80’s on there wasn’t too much, but there were certainly a few exceptions. Herein I will present some of these bands, starting from the beginning of the 70′s to the present. Here is a list of albums that you should check out if you decide to introduce yourself to Serbian prog.
SMAK – Crna Dama / Black Lady
This was originally released under the title Crna Dama in 1977 in Serbia, and one year later in English as Black Lady (the latter recorded and produced in London). It can be said that this album is certainly one of the best former Yugoslav records produced in the 70′s. Adorned with superb musicianship and excellent production, this album brought respect to the band from all around the world. Radomir Mihajlović Točak, the band’s guitarist, successfully lingers between symphonic rock and jazz fusion, with addition of blues, and progressive folk impact that are shown throughout the song Daire (Tambourine). Domaći zadatak (Homework, but perhaps better translated as “Housework”) is the pinnacle of the album, an instrumental that features the band showing off just how amazingly they flow together as a group. Tegoba (Suffer) is also an instrumental, this time with a nice piano introduction and excellent guitar solos. It’s a semi ballad that floats between ELP and Return to Forever. Daire (Tambourine) and Crna Dama (Black Lady) became hits due to their “catchiness”. The weakest part of this record, especially on the English version, are the vocals of Boris Aranđelović, not in the measure of his vocal capabilities, but his pronunciation. Anyway, this album is certainly a must for all of you who would love to know about the progressive scene of Yugoslavia and maybe a nice point from which to start. But also, don’t hesitate to check the band’s other releases, surely you will find something that will satisfy your hunger. Specifically look for their selftitled 1975 album Smak, their 1978 album Stranice Našeg Vremena (The Pages of Our Time), and their 1981 album Zašto ne Volim Sneg (Why I Dislike Snow).
IGRA STAKLENIH PERLI – Igra Staklenih Perli
This is the first album by a Belgrade band whose name was inspired by Hermann Hesse‘s novel The Glass Bead Game. Psychedelic rock in its turns to space space and krautrock, this album comes as a treat for all who respect Hawkwind, 60′s Pink Floyd, and Can‘s Tago Mago. The original first press release comes with only with 5 tracks, totalling around 27 minutes. It’s interesting to note that 2 master tracks were destroyed before the vinyl pressing. The album was reissued as a digipak in 2007, including 8 bonus tracks taken from the LPs Inner Flow and Soft Explosion Live. The highlight of this little album is the song Pečurka (The Mushroom), which starts with a Farfisa Organ intro and whispers that were taken from Can’s track Mushroom off Tago Mago. The song develops in totally spaced-out jam that explodes in a single riff and floats further to Hawkwind territory. Since it’s so short it gives you the urge to hear more. If you do decide to, check out Vrt svetlosti (The Garden of Light), also by Igra Staklenih Perli.
POP MAŠINA – Kiselina
With this record, we come to one of the forgotten, rare gems of former Yugoslav scene. Pop Mašina‘s (Pop Machine) Kiselina (Acid) consists mostly of acid rock, with early prog rock and British blues-hard rock influences. But these influences do not end here. The band shows off enviable musicianship, jumping from heavy rock to acoustic passages. This album was the second rock album to be released under domestic PGP-RTB label (first one being Korni Grupa‘s self-titled album), and actually the poorness of sound quality can be accredited to the label, who brought the producer and sound engineer who has never worked before with a rock’n'roll group. The studio was only booked for ten days, which by the way due to its technical weakness worsened the complete sound image of the album. The band didn’t have much time for overdubbing or tracking, almost everything was recorded live. Because of that, the album ended up being rather representative of the band’s sound. When album’s first press circulation was sold out in a relatively short time, PGP-RTG has not been interested in reprinting it, so the first issue of Kiselina is considered as one of the rarest gems of the Serbian progressive scene. In 2005, the Austrian label Atlantide RIP has reissued the album on vinyl, and in the meantime, it has been released on CD as the Serbian and Polish version. Aside from these historical facts, what does this album bring? From jazz rock jamming in the title track, over heavy metal in Svemirska priča (Tale of the Universe) in Black Sabbath style, to acid acoustic rock in Mir (The Peace) and Povratak zvezdama (Return to the Stars). If you ignore the notable weakness in the sound of this record, you will be able to capture the raw energy it brings rounded by the potential of the band members at the time. Remastered version of the album were released in 2007, called Originalna Kiselina: 35 Godina Kasnije (The Original Acid: 35 Years Later) and it’s a good indicator as to how this album should sound in 1972. You might like to check also the band’s second album called Na izvoru svetlosti (At the Source of Light), which is in my humble opinion rather average compared to Kiselina.
KORNI GRUPA – Korni Grupa
Korni Grupa (The Kornelyans) released only two full-length albums, this self-titled that appeared in 1972 and two years later Not an Ordinary Life, which was released for foreign market under the group name The Kornelyans. I have been thinking a lot about which one I should have presented here and my choice is the group’s debut, with a remark that “Not an Ordinary Life” should certainly be listened to as well. Besides Time‘s first album (which will be mentioned later, in the article about the Croatian progressive scene), Korni Grupa’s debut is the first Yugoslav rock LP record issued at the beginning of the 70′s. This album is the best example of how progressive rock sounded in the early 70′s in Yugoslavia and as such it has been considered one of the first progressive rock albums to appear at the time. Kornelije Kovač (you might notice the band’s name comes from his), after this album being released showed as a creative composer and arranger, but it has to be said that the band consisted of a really good group of musicians. Throughout the band’s career, three vocalists has passed through: Dado Topić (Time), Zdravko Čolić, and Zlatko Pejaković, who appears as a lead singer on this album. Put za istok (A Road Towards the East) is an epic that builds up this record, a nice song that floats between hard rock, jazz, and even blues at moments. It even has some nice oriental motifs. Knowing that Kovač has been picky since the beginnings of his musical career, and always tended to perfection, I may say with an assurance that this record is certainly one of those “well-planned” records, as everything sounds just right in its place. Bezglave Ja-Ha horde (The Headless Ya-Ha Hordes) is crazy jazz rock monster. Tata Ko i Mama Spo is a ballad that talks about a young father, who, being divorced, can visit his daughter only on Sundays. And I will stop talking about this album here, with a big remark that you should, without a doubt, try this out.
TAKO – Tako
Tako, being tagged as a mixture of jazz rock and symphonic rock, emerged in the second half of 70′s and they released two albums, the fist one, self titled which I will describe here, released in 1978, and two years later U vreći za spavanje (In the Sleeping Bag). The self titled album is a reflection of the influences the band has gathered up and put together in their own way. The obvious touches of, at the time, leading forces in progressive rock movement such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, Camel and Jethro Tull mean that the band has engaged in an adventure of creating something unique and different in the Serbian progressive scene. Tako is Serbian for “this way, that way”, and this says something for their goal to make music “in their own way” under the influence of the aforementioned foreign bands. The album consists of 6 songs, totaling a little more than 40 minutes of music. I have to mention here that a Brazilian label Rock Symphony has re-issued this album in CD format with the addition of a bonus track. The album is grounded under an epic Druga strana mene (Second Side of Me), which starts with a bombastic intro and after several turns and rhythm changes in the classic symphonic rock style shows off the band’s interest in spiritualism. Lena, a track that emerged in the woods near the Sava river, has become under the baroque impact of Handel and Bach. Minijatura (Miniature) is an homage to the work of Jethro Tull. Sinteza (Synthesis) brings a bits of jazz-rock with bluesy arrangements reached with accordion. Utapanje sunčeve svetlosti u peščanu memoriju (Merging of Sunlight into the Memory of Sand), besides its weird title, brings eastern influences on board with the lyrics of Lao Tzu, and by the words of Đorđe Ilijin, a keyboardist and flutist, this song is a kind of a moral mantra. The feeling that this album might give you after few listenings is the presence of uncompleteness, the album’s production is poor, but aside that all, this album deserves to be mentioned as one of the holders of 70′s Serbian progressive rock scene.
OPUS – Opus 1
Opus was actually a band of Miodrag Okrugić’s (a former YU Grupa member), Miodrag Kostić and Dušan Ćućuz (who later went to form Tako) formed in 1973. It didn’t take long after the band formation to disband, but in 1975 Okrugić reformed the group and released their only album named Opus 1. The album is inspired by the leaders of the symphonic rock genre with a strong influence of Hammond organ driven acts such as Deep Purple, Procol Harum, ELP, Atomic Rooster, etc. The same old complaint can be put here: poor production. Though the musicianship is as good as any band’s. The album has only been released on a vinyl, but you can find vinyl rips. Check around Google or wherever you look. I hope someone will hear this and decide to do a remaster for a possible CD release at some point in the future.
DAH – Povratak
Dah (Breathe) was formed in 1972 in Belgrade by Zlatko Manojlović (ex-Džentlmeni) and prior this album, they released Veliki cirkus (A Big Circus). Povratak (The Reurn) was released in 1976, after the band’s return from Belgium, where they performed and released an album under the name Land, called Cool Breeze in 1975. It has to be mentioned that after Cool Breeze was released, the band had a live joint-venture performance with cult Dutch progressive rock band Focus in Luxembourg. Povratak is not an album that splutters of virtuosic progressive rock, but rather a selection of songs that features melodiosity and simplicity based on well-structured hard rock, funk and rock elements. Ranging from hard rock, mellow/soft rock to baladous songs, Povratak is a good choice for all those who enjoy likes such Led Zeppelin, Focus, Rush or Yes.
Although 80′s and 90′s did not bring much forth in regards to progressive music in Serbia, there has certainly been references to the subgenre in various forms. Bands like YU Grupa, S Vremena na Vreme, Galija, Neverne Bebe and others incorporated elements of progressive rock music, mostly in their first albums, but not, of course, to the degree that has been discussed in this article. Anyhow, if you are interested in exploring more Serbian rock, feel free to look for these bands, you might find something that will look interesting to you. Other than that, I’m going to push forward into the new millenium and mention a few albums that have appeared in recent years which deserve to be heard and discussed.
CONSECRATION – .avi
As I’ve already reviewed this album before (check here), I will only give a brief overview of what you might expect from this release. As I already stated, Consecration is one of the finest acts on the Serbian scene. The band blends many different genres into their music and the interesting thing about them is that the band is not based on a single genre. They’ve released two albums, the first one called Aux and the secnd one that I am writing about here. While first one was mainly rooted in doom metal, the second album brings a totally new and different approach to the band’s concept, laying their roots into more sludgy/droney waters. Isis, Cult of Luna, God is an Astronaut, Pink Floyd, 65daysofstatic are just some of the influences you may hear on this recording. But have in mind the fact that this album brings originality and freshness like you cannot imagine. The band has received very positive reviews and in general a positive feedback from all around the world, so if you are looking for something new out of Serbia, then Consecration is a good start. The album is incredibly cheap, a measly three euros for a digital download. Buy it from them immediately, before the files sell out (heh).
ANA NEVER – Ana Never
If you look on internet for this band that comes from Subotica, a town in northern Serbia, the most common description you will find is that they are labeled under post-rock. Now, let’s forget all the prejudices with genre categorizations here and let the music speaks for itself. The easiest description of this very nice band is if I would give you the names of the bands their music reminds me of. Thus let me try that easy way. Sigur Ros, Ash Ra Tempel, Can, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor… The album consists of 4 instrumental tracks that clock over 60 minutes. The band tends toward lengthy improvisations, exploring sonic spheres on their way throughout this record. The intensity here is established through droning sound walls, you don’t really need any fuzz moments every time to create something intense, and that is exactly what Ana Never successfully produces. Just a few days prior to when I wrote this article the band signed a contract with Fluttery Records and this album is now officially available all around the world, so don’t hesitate to check it out.
TEMPLE OF THE SMOKE – …Against Human Race
Temple of the Smoke is a band that emerged in 2008 and this is their first album, that actually is about to be released on Russian independent label, R.A.I.G. Records. These guys are kind of like successors to what Igra Staklenih Perli used to be, just in a heavier and spacier mode. …Against Human Race is made of 8 songs with a total duration of less than an hour and it brings a wide influential spectrum, ranging from psychedelic/space rock, krautrock, reggae, electronica, doom driven riffage to a droning form of metal. They’ve truly created an eclectic chimera. Our faithful readers and followers could meet with this band (as well as with Consecration) on the third part of our Progstravaganza compilation with a song called Naked Sun, which recalls the aforementioned krautrock, setting this band aside as, probably, the only band in Serbia that has recalled this genre since Igra Staklenih Perli’s taking such a role more than 30 years ago. Thus, if you are in mood to hear some good fuzzy hodge-podge coming out from Serbia, …Against Human Race is a right choice.
To conclude I would like to say that the albums and bands presented in this part, as well as the ones which will be presented in the upcoming parts of this series about the former Yugoslav and current scene in all former republics, are based on my personal taste and knowledge. There might be a bands that are not mentioned here or will not be mentioned in upcoming posts, but do not take it against me. We are all here to praise the music and that’s what I do. Or at least, I try to do.
The next part of the series will be dealing with progressive music scene in Croatia. In the meantime, I hope you decide to track down some of the albums I’ve mentioned.