Archive: ELP's First Two Albums Reissued

The Classic Rock review from issue 177 in November 2012

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It could be argued that, for much of the world, ELP represent the best and worst of 70s prog. Their remarkable virtuosity meant that they were able to create some of the most moving and grandiose pieces of music to come from that era, yet they could also be so overblown as to be almost a parody.

Tarkus live in 1974

Both of these elements of the trio are evident in these reissues of the band’s first two albums. But what makes these a lot more than mere repackage jobs is that aside from the original recordings, each contains a 5.1 version remixed by Steven Wilson. This has brought out so much more of the sound and depth of the performances, it’s as if you’re hearing what ELP were all about for the first time. The differences only become obvious when you play the original album and the new mixes back to back. You also get the chance to explore the multi-faceted approach that was employed all those years ago.

On the debut, for instance, The Barbarian now has a clarity that brings Bartok’s classical composition crashing into the modern age. The Three Fates is a royal rumble of Keith Emerson’s keyboard brilliance that comes across as being both inventive and celebratory, as the man presumably intended it to be in the first place. Meanwhile, Lucky Man shows exactly why it was a successful single when released in 1970, having a truly melodic soul.

ELP interview from 1971

The same is also true on Tarkus. The title track, which took up the whole of side one on the vinyl version, is a theatrical tour de force that’s provoking and evocative. You can feel every nuance, every twist. And the likes of Jeremy Bender are sharp and energetic.

But this isn’t to suggest that the original albums should now be discarded. On the contrary, they still have much to recommend them, and when you put these on again, there’s still a lot to admire. You readily understand why this conglomeration of three distinct and individual characters could work so well that it helped to change the face of music 40 ears ago.

There’s also a CD of Wilson’s new stereo remix of the album included in each package, making this real value for ELP fans.

Jeremy Bender

On June 26, 1971 Tarkus topped the UK albums chart

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Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021