In a overview of the music from the last thirty-odd years of this century, Van Der Graaf Generator should simply not be overlooked. VDGG are one of those bands fans do not speak constantly about, unlike, when the biggies are listed, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Genesis. However, the references to the ingredients that comprise VDGG can be found in a lot of others' work.
For the DPRP's Counting Out Time series, I picked VDGG's 1970 album H To He Who Am The Only One. I could have picked almost any other album from between 1969 and 1975, but we needed still a title for 1970. I don't mind, I like talking about all of their albums.
Let's take a look at some of those ingredients. First of all, there's the complex side of the band. The music was mostly written by the genius of Peter Hammill, who as a unique way of composing without losing touch of what is real, feeling, emotion. The complexity is found in the music of, for example, Yes as well. But where the latter fill every gap of silence to impress, VDGG know the emotion lies between the notes.
Not to be missed is Peter Hammill's voice. He sings like he plays - from the heart. The strong poetical lyrics are not seldomly written on melody lines other lyricists would find it very hard to sing any words on. And it still sounds as it can be done no other way. Whether he is screaming or singing on the top of his voice, it fits the music, and even if you're not listening to the lyrics, it's all part of the great emotional expressions of a wonderful band.
Very important for the sound is what distinguish VDGG from a lot of other prog bands: the saxophone. It's used for a foundation on which the rest of the composition is built together with the organ, but also for solo melodies, and, as in the first song Killer, a freaky highlight. This song contains a hypnotising melody of keyboards (organ) and saxophone that make you float with the music, being soaked into it. It portrays the haunting atmosphere this band is able to create with their music.
VDGG can do differently, as is shown in the second track, House With No Door. A slower piece with blues influences, but the easiness of the piano does not hide the sensitive aggression that marks the voice, that can show even in the quietest moments. The Emperor In His War Room musically is somewhere between the first two tracks, alternating quiet, almost laid back verses (with flute), with menacing verses that are heavy, but not fast. It is the fear and aggression that speaks.
Pioneers Over C, besides a guest appearance of Robert Fripp on guitar, also contains those hypnotizing sax and keyboard lines. The song is over twelve minutes, so that phrase does not describe the whole thing. As with almost any VDGG composition, verses can be long, but the musical bits are never repetitive in the way of a verse-and-chrorus structure.
This album was released too early for prog clichés, but it still is as unique as it was then! There's so many parts of VDGG's music that have set the benchmarks for the bands to come. Every, and I mean every record collection should at least contain two VDGG albums. If only never to forget what progressive music with a great voice sounds like without the pressure of forced complexity.