When one mentions 'Progressive Rock', there are certain assumptions that many people make. One is that the genre is a particularly English phenomenon: most of the leading lights from the heyday of Prog were English, or at least British; another is that the songs will be at least 8 minutes long, and preferably 15 minutes-plus, and will be on some fantastic theme.
So when I was asked if I would listen to an album by a Greek band, my ears pricked up a little. I'm aware that Greek Prog has been around since at least the days of Aphrodite's Child, and that there are some excellent Greek bands out there at the moment - Verbal Delirium and Residuous Mentales are a couple that I have written about on this site - so my interest was piqued at the prospect of more. And then the album arrived. 15 tracks, a total playing time of around 50 minutes, and none of the songs were longer than 4:45. Is this Prog, as we know it?, I found myself asking.
So I gave the album a listen.
The Sun Has Fallen is the work of Apolis, a three-piece band from Athens, who list their influences as including Socrates and Pink Floyd!: Tassos Loukos, vocals & guitar; Christos Kyrkilis, keyboards & piano; and Simos Melissourgos, bass & vocals. There are drums also on the album, but I'm not sure who plays them. The band have been together since 2008, but this is their first album, released in 2017. Well, I say first album: the band apparently were originally called 'The Sun Has Fallen' and released an album called 'Apolis' in 2008, but then changed their name and the name of the album accordingly! The cover art is simple yet effective, and reminded me of Utopia's album, 'Ra' a little.
The album opens with 'Intro', a simple instrumental lead into the songs with ringing arpeggio guitar into a crescendo of keys and swiftly segues into 'Solve Me'. This is a more driving, heavier song, with a powerful bluesy guitar riff that carries the song throughout, supported by a Hammond-esque keyboard, and a good rock-y guitar solo towards the end. My only gripe is that the vocal could be a little stronger. 'Misty Trips' is gentler, the vocals a little breathy, and the feel a little psychedelic, though the pace picks up as the song progresses as guitar and keys vie for dominance. 'The Yard of the Strangers' is the first, though not the last, song in 3/4, which gives it a different feel to the other songs so far. There is flute (or similar) throughout, and some simple but pleasant vocal harmonies in the chorus which gives a different feel to the tune. 'Just a Sweet Melody' has a slow funky vibe, with quiet, breathy vocals again that gives a laid-back feel enhanced by the guitar solo that comes in half-way through and again towards the end.
'Ariadnes's Thread' has a kind of Middle Eastern feel to it, and is slightly darker and more syncopated than hitherto, with a heavier, staccato edge with guitars and bass working well together. 'Evening Walk' is a gentle acoustic guitar song that grows with the addition of keys, drums and bass, and is the second song in 3/4 time. There is some oboe & xylophone sounds at times which gives an interesting colour to the song. 'Ridin' in The Night' is a longer instrumental track and for me one of the stand-out tracks on the album. A quieter tune, with funky, phased guitar & keys and some simple wordless vocalising. For me it had clear 70s blues-funk feel to it, almost Isaac Hayes-y at times, with some great screaming Hammond and driving bass towards the fade-out at the end. 'Inside War' opens with lyrical piano, and with the vocals comes some excellent fretless bass. And that's all that this song has - no guitars, no drums: just piano, fretless and voice, and that gives it an increased melancholia that is quite staggering at times.
'Face Your Idols' has fast arpeggio guitars in contrast to the last song, and almost military snare drums, then some more ponderous vocals. But the song changes its dynamic in places, and even its signature in the final section moving from 8/8 to 3/4. 'Bring Me Home' has some dominant bass and vocals that are almost rap-like in their attitude and style, though quite ponderous in their delivery at times (in a good way). Acoustic & electric guitars tootle alongside an almost Latin feel at times, and they then go into a radio fade to a quieter acoustic guitar to finish.. 'Waltz Of Fear' is, unsurprisingly, also in 3/4 time (!), and surprises with Oboe again and even accordion and upright bass, which give the song a distinctly "wooden", homely, almost Parisian feel to it. 'Apolis' is, I suppose, the band's theme song: a steady, ponderous tune with phased guitars & keys giving it a kind of Led Zeppelin's 'No Quarter' vibe musically combined with an almost Steven Wilson vocal edge. 'Outro' is just a solo plucked electric guitar and some quiet vocals that ends with 19 seconds of silence. And then, almost as a after-thought, or perhaps a coda, is 'Childhood', the final instrumental piece in this collection, a pleasant work of solo acoustic guitar that draws the album to a thoughtful and fitting conclusion.
So, is it Prog? And, in the end, does it matter? It is, I believe, a collection of interesting, stimulating, entertaining music, that touches on rock, blues, funk and ethnic European music, drawing it all together in a magical musical melting pot. This is an album that has grown on me with every listen, and I invite you to join me in discovering its many delights. With Apolis, Greece continues to give us some excellent contemporary music at the Progressive end of the spectrum, and long may it do so!