Genre: Progr. Hard Rock
Solomon Kane was a Progressive Hard Rock band from Rapid City, South Dakota, USA (1981-1983). It was formed by members of the midwestern supergroup Asia (1976-1981), which in turn had been formed from the remains of Whitening (1968-1975). Asia independently released two albums, “Asia” and “Armed to the Teeth”, which have since been re-released as CDs by several labels (including PROGAOR). Whitening was originally on a Minneapolis label called ASI.
Solomon Kane were basically Asia under a new, different name. There is a whole back story abound the conflict with the British super group Asia that drove the group from South Dakota to a name change. However the full band version did not last. They eventually evolved to a studio project, consisted of Mike Coates who was basically recording with female singer Deb Marquart, those recordings were made between 1986 and 1991, but were never released officially until now. PROGAOR Records brings this material on the daylight, releasing it on CD.
The Solomon Kane originals were composed during Asia’s final year (1981) by Mike Coates -who was the main man and spiritual father on all the three bands: Whitening, Asia and Solomon Kane. They originally meant to be included on the Asia III album, an album that unfortunately never happened.
You may ask “What kind of music Solomon Kane were playing?”. I would put it straight and simple: An amazing combination of Epic, Hard Prog and Pomp magic.
In my option Mike Coates is one of the most talented, inspired and important composers in rock music. I would place his name straight next to the big ones without a single second thought. He has the god gifted ability to compose and deliver brilliant music. It is crystal clear that his overall composing approach is based on classical music formulas. His wide influence by the romantics of the classical music can be heard on almost each guitar theme he brings to the foreground and of course on his lead guitar and piano / keyboards melodies and main solos. He would easily combine those classical formulas with Epic musical parts, bringing to front an out of this world, heavenly result. I can give serious examples to emphasize all the above referring to “The Assassin” song included on this reissue.
I would of course have to mention the “Gypsy Queen” masterpiece as well. A composition which is briefly based on the “Thunder Rider” classic that was included on the second ASIA album. The song basis is almost the same as the “Thunder Rider” one, same goes for the melodic patterns as well. That similarity pretty much confirms Asia – Solomon Kane connection and perhaps can be accepted as a wide reference to the Asia III album. However there are parts on this song that make it sound unique. For example the three outstanding almost instrumental parts in the middle of the song: The first one starts on the 3:34 time point, carrying an exotic touch inspired by the music of nomads and their gypsy queen -listen carefully to the closing musical phrase form 3:01 to 4:04. From 4:05 to 5:16 -on the second part- we would be able to experience some more Coates magic: The classical vibe -which is also present in the first part as well- is now extended to a complete melodic lead theme, offered to the listener under a Prog approaching. The nerds would happily discover that in here, the main bass line which can be heard on the original “Thunder Rider”‘s introduction has eventually transformed on a beautiful semi – lead melody. The third final part includes Deb’s voice singing a magical epic melody, combined with Mike’s solo on the background. Oh Gods this is one of the finest pieces of music I have ever heard.
“God Save Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a brilliant example of a melancholic, pomp composition, carrying this 70s nostalgic vibe. The vocal melody heavenly shapes a brilliant song verse, letting you enter to the Pomp-ish chorus. Speaking about Pomp stuff, listen to the Coates rhythm guitar on the intro and on the chorus, he plays an amazing theme, that in most usual orchestration cases is delivered on keyboards. God the guy is a genius.
“Don’t Tell Me (Not to Rock “n” Roll)” is a catchy combination of classic and Hard Rock. Yes Coates can even deliver such kind of stuff. He probably would have thought of this track, to be the single of the Asia III album, who knows. Yes if you wanted a career on the US back then, you got to have a radio friendly tune. All the bands knew it. Even your favorite Metal ones. “Die By The Sword” has a similar vibe and is a small masterpiece: Epic, catchy and bombastic the same time. Oh! The classical epilogue on the solo is suburb.
Of course I have to straightly mention how great the voice of Deb Marquart is. She put her soul on those recordings. Her style and way of singing and the color of her voice are absolute trademarks on all the Solomon Kane originals.
A transcription of a large part of Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” (for piano) which was originally performed live in early Whitening years is also included in this collection. For this version Coates added even more “Lisztian moments”. To this day Coates views Franz Liszt as the greatest musician the planet has ever known.
The release’s final track is called “A Tribute To Clapton” and is a piece written for Coates electric guitar students based entirely on Eric Clapton licks from his early recordings. He was a monster.
These tracks were all recorded in the very early stages of the 8-track recording studio at MSUM (which Coates oversaw / directed). The studio was an official part of Moorhead State University, Coates also teaching guitar for them, back in the day and he actually built the studio from scratch himself! O have to add that Coates himself remastered all the material for this release and the sound is crystal clear.
Well to cut a long story short here we are dealing with a fine piece of art. I would definitely put this record next to the Lordian Guard releases even if they sound different and alike at the same time. They all share this epic magic, a drum machine and a female voice. Well to my eyes and ears all those elements eventually became part of the whole obscure aesthetic (even if I know that the drum machine was used due to lack a real drummer, I prefer to include its particular sonic result as a part of an artistic portrait, just to expand the myth a while).