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A Great Inhumane Adventure

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Album Review

Present's dark vision is alive and well (so to speak) on this live disk, and the vision is perhaps even more congenial to the modern audience than it was at the time of its inception back in 1981. Present's leader, electric guitarist Roger Trigaux, had also been a founding member of the slightly earlier and equally dark Univers Zero, and in the late '70s and early '80s, the music of these two Belgian groups was strong stuff indeed and strictly for cultists. Both utilized macabre, ghoulish imagery and combined King Crimson-ish, death-of-the-universe prog rock with dissonant, jagged themes that owed more than a little to 20th century classical composers such as Stravinsky and Bartók. But while Univers Zero cultivated a chamber rock aura, utilizing bassoon, oboe, and various strings on its recordings, Present has always been a guitar band, relying on slashing, dissonant electric guitar leads and a certain relentless repetition that distinguishes Trigaux's jabbing, insistent and sometimes borderline obsessive compositions. In 1996, after a long hiatus, Present emerged from obscurity with a lackluster live CD distinguished largely by the appearance of Roger Trigaux's son Reginald Trigaux on second guitar. At that point, they might have decided to stick to the studio, but two years later, after touring in the U.S. to support a new studio album, Certitudes, they played before a live audience at a small studio in Baltimore, MD, and made the dynamic live recording they weren't able to make two years earlier. The young Reginald had two additional years of experience, and the touring had obviously honed the band's sound to a keen edge. Three of the tracks on the earlier live 1996 CD are repeated on A Great Inhumane Adventure, including the monumental "Promenade au Fond d'un Canal," which was the featured piece on Triskaidekaphobie, Present's inaugural 1981 recording. The two guitars entwine exquisitely on the newer live version of the piece, and Pierre Chevalier assaults his keyboards with dissonant, propulsive energy throughout the program. Dave Kerman (of 5uu's, U Totem, and Thinking Plague) is a congenial force on drums, and he combines with bassists Jean-Pierre Mendes and (on "Promenade") Keith Macksoud for the thick, bottom-heavy sound associated with the classic French prog rock groups such as Magma. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on this CD is Trigaux's gravelly, pitch-challenged singing — which is often closer to declaiming or just plain ranting. His tortured vocal growls sounded amateurish on the earlier live CD, and obscurely pretentious on the 1998 studio album Certitudes. Here though, Trigaux gets it right, with just the proper amount of slightly tongue-in-cheek theatrical swagger, while son Reginald adds occasional wailing counterpoint. Overall, the vocal elements are at least neutral, and arguably an added point of interest, depending upon the listener's tolerance for goth posturing. Most important, the vocals are never dominant enough to detract from the disquieting instrumental malevolence that has always been Present's specialty. The result is music that is still uniquely Present, communicating a sound and vision that hold up nicely more than 20 years after the band's inception.

Biography

Formed: 1979 in Belgium

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Present are a Belgian ensemble formed by guitarist/composer Roger Trigaux. In 1974 Trigaux co-founded the chamber rock group Univers Zero with drummer Daniel Denis. Trigaux left Univers Zero in 1979 to form Present with pianist Alain Rochette. Denis played in both Univers Zero and Present. Bassist Christian Genet played on the band's first LP, Triskaïdékaphobie (fear of the number 13), recorded and mixed between January and May 1980 and released later that year by the Atem label. Ferdinand Philippot...
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A Great Inhumane Adventure, Present
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