The icy tone of the Mellotron was one of the most distinctive sounds of progressive rock in the late 60s. It was an essential battle weapon for King Crimson and others until it disappeared against the onset of synthesisers, becoming as extinct as the dodo. It’s spine-chilling and startling to hear its glacial, mechanical drone introducing Book Of The Dead, the opening track on Vision And Ageless Light by Columbus, Ohio space proggers EYE.
The band’s keyboardist and mischief-bent studio scientist Lisa Bella Donna possesses a genuine working Mellotron among the analogue synths she deploys as EYE attempt to tame their self-described “flowing river of sound”. By the time the band have hang-glided through the album’s space rock blowouts, episodic prog and pastoral calm on Dweller Of The Twilight Void and 27 minute As Sure As The Sun, it’s apparent that there’s a unique collective alchemy afoot.
Drummer Brandon Smith formed the band five years ago, and Lisa recorded and further hot-wired EYE’s first three albums at her Backroads studio. She then became a full-time member of the band, and says that EYE’s manifesto has always been “to create focused yet sprawling psychedelic music”. Lisa and Brandon are joined by bassist Michael Slicien and guitarist Jon Finley, and their new set is EYE’s most fully realised statement, starting life at their large rehearsal pad littered with instruments, equipment and records (including “universal favourite” Black Sabbath, Moody Blues, Bee Gees, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Sandy Denny, Earth Wind And Fire, Dylan, Rolling Stones and Tangerine Dream).
“Even our rehearsal space has a great vibe, a vintage stereo and massive LP collection,” says Bella Donna. “We just hang out and build that vibe together. We absolutely love to make music together. It’s a natural extension of our collective personalities to turn up the amps to the maximum setting and take it out to space.”
Bella Donna’s Mellotron is always a humming presence in the room, along with the analogue synths she started collecting as a teenage studio engineer in the 80s. “I’ve been using a wide range of vintage keyboards and analog synthesisers since I began playing. Over the past two to three decades I was extremely fortunate to acquire a great number of these instruments but, more importantly, develop a longstanding rapport with them. They can be cumbersome and difficult to maintain but have lasted longer than the modern digital equipment that has long come and gone in my arsenal.”
On the new album she says: “Brandon and I just began writing songs very instantly and naturally. Then we would bring these to the guys and it would evolve and solidify. This record has more of a connected vibe than concept, along with the intention to take the listener to unexpected yet momentous territories.”
The epic album closer As Sure As The Sun began life as her acoustic guitar piece. “Brandon and I instantly conversed and correlated on how the song would unfold. It quickly wrote itself as we discovered the cosmogony of its mountainous passageways.”
Next up, a double album. The mind boggles, but do keep this EYE open.
|Brandon Smith (drums, percussion and vocals), Lisa Bella Donna (organ, synths, guitar and vocals), Michael Sliclen (basses and vocals), Jon Finley (guitar and vocals)|
|A torrential wave of space rock star-sailing, monolithic riffage and hidden arcane spirits|
|Vision And Ageless Light is out now on Laser’s Edge|
|For more, visit EYE’s website.|