St. Elmo's Fire - "Splitting Ions In The Ether" (Sprawling Productions, 1998 SPL-9801)

From Aural Innovations #5 (January 1999)

St. Elmo's Fire were a Cleveland, Ohio based band that existed for barely a year and a half from 1979-1981. If ever there was a limbo period for progressive rock it was then. The classic period had wound down and the so-called neo-prog era was barely underway.

The band was a five piece made up of Erich Feldman on guitar synth and effects, Mark Helm on drums, Paul Kollar on guitar, bass, keyboards, and tapes, Stephan John Stavnicky on keyboards, percussion, flute, and vox, and Elliot Weintraub on guitar, percussion, effects, and vox. They released one album, "Live At The Cleveland Agora", which is presented here for the first time on CD with five tracks added to the original four from the album.

The music is mostly instrumental and reminded me of King Crimson meets Gentle Giant with a dash of Genesis. Only two of the nine tracks have vocals. Complex arrangements, orchestral backgrounds, lots of mellotron, and good heavy rockin' are the order of the day.

The disc opens with a six minute dreamy keyboard buildup to "Gone To Ground In The Khyber Pass", a tune that reminded me of the earliest Crimson only more keyboard heavy. There is an 'edge of your seat' intensity that proved to be a trademark as I got deeper into subsequent tracks. Other standout tracks were the mid-70's Crimson influenced "The Abduction" and "The Nuremberg Waltz". "Aspen Flambe" and "Fantasy Come Reality" are the two tracks with vocals. "Aspen Flambe" has a bit of a metal influence, though I didn't care much for the vocals. "Fantasy Come Reality" starts off as a Crimson sounding tune complete with Wetton vocals. It then launches into a potent keyboard heavy rocker whose ending sounds remarkably like "It" from the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

Listening to St. Elmo's Fire I kept the time period in mind and while stylistically there are elements that seem to foreshadow the neo era, the music is more in the classic progressive period, though again... not firmly. Who knows what might have happened had they continued. My only complaint with this CD is that it's liner notes tell the story of Elmo to the exclusion of any band history. If you're going to release/re-release music from a band few people ever knew then tell us the story. Musically though, it deserves to be heard. Contact St. Elmo's Fire c/o Sprawling Productions; PO Box 1398; Burlington, IA 52601; Phone: 319-754-9534.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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