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FSB (Bulgaria) - Overall View (progressive albums)


DISCOGRAPHY:

1977 - "Non Stop"
1978 - "II"
1980 - "The Globe"
1981 - "78 r. m."
1983 - "Ten Years After"
1984 - "VI"
1987 - "I Love You Up to Here"*
1988 - "Kissing You Goodnight"*
1989 - "Nothing Left to Do"*
1992 - "Singles Collection"

Prolusion. This material is dedicated to the progressive part of creation of Bulgaria's best and most well known progressive band FSB (this is the abbreviation of Formation Studio Balkanton). The reviews of the band's non-progressive albums* and compilations are certainly needless here. The only exception will be "Singles Collection", which consists predominantly of unreleased tracks, including the earliest FSB recordings from 1975.


1977/2001 - "Non Stop"
(33 min, UBP)
*****

TRACK LIST:

1.  Dynamic 5:41
2.  Power & the Glory 3:13
3.  Ten Years After 3:25
4.  Free Hands 4:14
5.  Reflection 3:49
6.  Green Door 4:47
7.  My Town 4:38
8.  Intermezzo 3:31

All music: by Boyadjiev, Tsekov, & Baharov.

LINE-UP:

Roumen Boyadjiev - 
-	synthesizers & Mellotron; vocals;
-	acoustic guitar; percussion
Konstantin Tsekov -
-	electric & acoustic pianos, Hammond, 
-	Mellotron, Clavinet, & harpsichord; vocals
Alexander Baharov - electric bass; backing vocals
Peter Tsankov - drums & percussion
Boris Dinev - percussion 
Angel Veznev - saxophones

Produced by D. Timnev & FSB.
Engineered by M. Bozeryanov at "Balkanton".

Synopsis. Like in the case of the second FSB album, which I'll review next time, the duration of the band's debut output "Non Stop" is 33+ minutes. These two, and also "Singles Collection", are the only full-length albums of those by FSB that feature progressive and proto-progressive music, while the others (from "III to VI") are EPs. Well, I think it doesn't matter much. The first FSB album presents four original works by the band and the four renderings of the others' songs, three of which are immediately recognizable. These are Gentle Giant's Power & the Glory, Free Hand, and Reflection (originally titled I Lost My Head: 2, 4, & 5). Ten Years After (3) sounds also familiar to me, but I am for some reason uncertain about its origin. The renditions of Gentle Giant's songs are done without vocals (some vocalizes are available only on Reflection) and are excellent by all means. Especially amazing and interesting sounds The Power & the Glory, which is originally quite an ordinary Hard Rock song unavailable on the eponymous LP of 1974. The Bulgarian guys have bravely and very successfully transformed it into a classic Symphonic Progressive number. All the other adaptations are also about a keyboard- and hand percussion-driven Symphonic Art-Rock within the framework of the band's very own style, which, by the way, is remarkably unique and colorful. (Indeed, the whole three of the original FSB members are professional percussionists.) All four of the band's own compositions on the album: Dynamic, Green Door, My Town, and Intermezzo (1, 6, 7, & 8), the latter of which is also an instrumental piece, are the works of Classic Symphonic Art-Rock with elements of Jazz-Fusion that are provided mostly by a saxophonist. Both of the 'boundary' tracks of the album are the most diverse and intensive compositions filled with completely unpredictable arrangements and are my favorites. Overall, "Non Stop" is worthy of the masterpiece status, but I'm a bit confused with the large number of renditions of the others' songs here, even though one of them sounds better than the original.

VM: January 12, 2004


1978/2001 - "II"
(33 min, FSB)
*****+

TRACK LIST:

1.  Wake Up 5:18
2.  Morning 3:31
3.  Three 4:56
4.  Unisons 2:26
5.  To Play Gamma 2:32
6.  Gold 3:05
7.  Song 4:46
8.  Instead 6:48

All music: by Boyadjiev, Tsekov, & Baharov.

LINE-UP:

Roumen Boyadjiev - 
-	synthesizers & Mellotron; vocals;
-	acoustic guitars; percussion
Konstantin Tsekov -
-	electric & acoustic pianos, Hammond, 
-	Mellotron, Clavinet, & harpsichord; vocals
Alexander Baharov - electric basses; backing vocals
Kasimir Kamenov - drums 
Emil Handzhiev - percussion
With:
Angel Veznev - saxophones

Produced by D. Timnev & FSB.
Engineered by M. Bozeryanov at "Balkanton".

Synopsis. On the second FSB album are three songs: Three, To Play Gamma, and Gold (3, 5, & 6) and five instrumental pieces: Wake Up, Morning, Unisons, Song, and Instead (1, 2, 4, 7, & 8), and all of them have been composed by the band. The music is distinctly original and, unlike that on the band's first album, doesn't contain even light traces of Gentle Giant's influences. Here, FSB experimented with a few different styles, most of which, though, are kindred. Wake Up and Song, which features female vocalizes, were performed without drums and represent an atmospherically symphonic Art-Space Rock. Here, the arrangements aren't as diverse and complex as those on the other tracks, and nevertheless, the beauty and some indescribable magic that they possess make both pieces sounding attractive. Those familiar with the creation of Eloy and remembering one of the band's most exciting instrumentals Carried by Cosmic Winds (from the "Planets" album) can get at least an approximate idea of what Wake Up and Song are about. The first part of the album's closing track, Instead, consists of classically influenced, highly diverse and virtuosi passages of piano, while another presents the band's joint arrangements typical for Classic Symphonic Progressive. The song: Three is the only track on "FSB II" done in the style prevailing on the band's debut album. In other words, this is Classic Symphonic Art-Rock with elements of Jazz-Fusion. Whereas all four the other tracks (i.e. about a half of the album's contents): the instrumental pieces Morning and Unisons and the songs To Play Gamma and Gold are about Classic Jazz-Fusion in pure form. The music on each of the best six tracks on the album features plenty of twists and turns to keep it interesting. "FSB II" is in many ways stronger than its predecessor, but I wouldn't say that I like it better than "Non Stop", regardless of how strange it would sound. So in my view, the best choice would be to have both of these albums.

VM: February 6, 2004


1980/2001 - "The Globe"
(20 min, UBP)
***+

TRACK LIST:

1.  Celebration 5:31
2.  The Globe 4:18
3.  Skipp Roppe 3:16 
4.  Generation 3:53
5.  Kaleidoscope 3:41

All tracks: by Boyadjiev, Tsekov, & Baharov.

LINE-UP:

Roumen Boyadjiev - 
-	synthesizers & Mellotron;
-	lead vocals; percussion
Konstantin Tsekov -
-	electric & acoustic pianos, 
-	Hammond, Mellotron; vocals
Alexander Baharov - electric basses
Peter Slavov - drums
Ivan Lechev - guitars 

With:

The Brass Ensemble "Sofia" (on most tracks)
Emil Handzhiev - marimbas & percussion (on most tracks)
Angel Veznev - tenor saxophone (on 5)

Produced by V. Stefanov & FSB.
Engineered by M. Bogerianov at "Balkanton".

Synopsis. It has been a while since I heard "The Globe", and I must admit I liked it very much at the time, somewhere in the middle of the eighties. Today, however, I clearly see not only the value of the album, but also all of its drawbacks. For instance, I can now hardly tolerate bright (rather, flashy) synthesizer chords, as well as those of a brass orchestra, pseudo-romantic vocals and vocalizes, and all the other then-up-to-date techniques that the songs Celebration and Skipp Roppe (1 & 3) are filled with. The music found herein is an accessible "modern" Jazz-Fusion with rollicking passages of piano at the helm. Each of them contains only a couple of interesting episodes. The album's title track (2), which is the only instrumental piece here, is a bit more diverse, featuring some complex interplay between solos of synthesizer and those of marimba and bass. That said, though, the absence of vocals is also one of its virtues. Only the last two tracks on the album have a classic progressive feel to them and are really interesting. Unlike the other songs, both Generation and Kaleidoscope (4 & 5) contain not that many vocals and are notable for a really solid arsenal of keyboards, which, apart from a 'ubiquitous' piano, includes organ and Mellotron. The music is a blend of Classic Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion with almost all of the band members being actively involved in the arrangements. Nevertheless, the main hero of the latter song is a guest saxophonist. By the way, this is the first FSB album that features a guitarist, but while I know that Ivan Lechev is an extraordinaire guitar player, unfortunately, his role here is limited to playing rhythms. Overall, "The Globe" can be regarded as a good album, but it is much inferior to anything created by the band before. With saying this, I imply not only the first two official releases by FSB, but also their earliest recordings (from 1975). These are available only on the "Singles Collection" CD, the review of which will be last in this series.

VM: February 16, 2004


1981/2001 - "78 r. m." ***
1983/2001 - "Ten Years After" ***
1984/2001 - "VI" ***+
(All: UBP)

LINE-UP:

Roumen Boyadjiev - synthesizers & piano; vocals
Konstantin Tsekov - synthesizers & piano; vocals
Ivan Lechev - electric & acoustic guitars 
Peter Slavov - drums & percussion
Alexander Baharov - bass (on "IV" & "V")
Ivailo Lraichovski - bass (on "VI")

Synopsis. Having listened to the remaining Progressive-related albums by FSB, I found that there is no necessity to review the first three of them separately from each other. Just like in the case of the previously reviewed "The Globe", these are EP's from 21 to 26 minutes in duration, each containing from five to six tracks, one or two of which are instrumental pieces. Each album features a couple of truly progressive compositions, while the others represent either 'modern', very slightly Jazz- or Prog-tinged AOR and Hard Rock songs or electronically spacey pieces, some of which sound much like those by The Alan Parsons Project in the eighties. "78 r. p. m." is overwhelmingly flashy and is weaker than any of the first six albums by the band. Just for example, I can say that the difference between it and "FSB II" is like that between Genesis's "Abacab" and "Foxtrot", though, of course, this comparison is very relative, as the bands, speaking in sports language, have always been in different weight categories. "Ten Years After" is a bit better, but is stylistically rather motley, combining strong Hard Rock numbers with sugary AOR ballads. Closer to the middle of the eighties, FSB has finally polished their 'new' style, and "VI" turned out to be at least more coherent and tasteful than any of the preceding three albums. (Yes, I mean "The Globe" as well). However, the band wasn't able to follow that minor success and, unfortunately, continued its adaptation to the world of mainstream music. All of their further studio albums are completely out of interest to Prog-lovers. The guys have arrayed themselves in leather pants and jackets and moved towards bright, primitive, distinctly commercial Heavy Metal with lyrics still in Bulgarian. Which has inevitably led them to a complete breakdown in a few years. Next time I'll finish this material with the review of the 70-minute "Singles Collection", more than one third of the tracks on which are the band's earliest recordings from 1975. There is also a double CD (a double EP actually), "FSB in Concert", 1985. Musically, this collection of live recordings is very good, and I could recommend it as the alternative to the first two albums. However, the sound quality is rather poor.

VM: March 1, 2004


1993/2001 - "Singles Collection"
(71 min, UBP)
****

TRACK LIST:

1.  Medal Winner 3:38 (1990)
2.  Cutting Edge 4:41 (1991)
3.  Earth 3:13 (1975)
4.  Watch 3:10 (=)
5.  Holiday 3:42 (=)
6.  Winter 3:09 (=)
7.  Children's Performance 5:32 (=)
8.  March 2:48 (=)
9.  Shega 3:04 (=)
10. Testament 3:47 (1984)
11. Not Like This 4:30 (=)
12. Rainy Questions 4:32 (1985)
13. Daylight 6:32 (=)
14. Nothing to Say 4:48 (1989)
15. Flying High 6:12 (=)
16. Our Time 5:03 (=)
17. Composer 3:10 (=)

Synopsis. As you can see above, most of the tracks on this 70-minute CD are the earliest and latest works of FSB. The first two were recorded after the band released its last studio album, and the following seven were crafted two years before their official debut. Generally, this output consists exclusively of rare recordings by FSB. But does this factor make the CD really worthy of buying? Please make your decision on your own. The musical picture is very motley, to put it mildly, and completely uninteresting songs adjoin here with real gems, some of which are perhaps even better than those presented on the band's best albums, "Non Stop" and "II". These are the only three instrumental pieces on the CD: Holiday, Winter, and Shega and two songs: Children's Performance and March, all of which are located in the core of it (tracks 5, 6, 9, 7 & 8 respectively). Of course, all of these are from 1975. Composed and recorded at the heyday of Progressive, they represent a diverse and highly original Symphonic Art-Rock, which, generally speaking, fully corresponds to the spirit of the time. The remaining two of the band's earliest recordings: Earth and Watch (3 & 4) are Classic Art-Rock ballads with excellent interplay between passages of piano and Mellotron and solos of organ and flute in non-vocal parts. Our time (16) is the only song here with a woman taking the duties of a lead singer and, just like Flying High (15), is a simple, but beautiful and rather freshly sounding ballad as well. Both of latest songs by FSB (1 & 2) were recorded without a drummer. Despite the obtrusively 'plastic' sound of a drum machine, one of these: Cutting Edge (2) is a rather impressive Modern Jazz-Fusion number featuring a lot of orchestral arrangements. The other seven songs on the CD are about either AOR or Hard Rock and are sugary and flashy rather than tasteful.

Conclusion. The first two FSB albums: "Non Stop" and "II" get my sincere recommendations, while "Singles Collection", which features about 30 minutes of good music, too, may serve as an addition to them. For the most part of their activity, FSB was a decent AOR band, nothing more, nothing less. In any case, even taking into account that their first two are really remarkable albums, this Bulgarian outfit can hardly pretend to be named among the best progressive bands to come out from Eastern Europe.

VM: March 24, 2004


Related Links:

UBP Records
FSB


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