Fireballet - Night on bald mountain (1975)

Posted by Amelia Swhizzagers On 5:06 AM

Another one of those little-known American prog rock bands, I noticed this country's prog rock scene consisted of very few bands that actually made it big, only KANSAS did, because they included uniquely American elements in their European-influenced prog sound. Most of the other bands were unlucky, only having small, local or regional labels back them up (good examples go to acts like CATHEDRAL or BABYLON) or they had to privately issue the album themselves. There were a few that were lucky to get on major labels, giving them at least a small chance for national exposure like STARCASTLE (Epic Records), HAPPY THE MAN (Arista) or ETHOS (Capitol), but of course, you know how American radio was to prog in the second half of the '70s (not exactly the most friendly, and they'd prefer the most AOR stuff from KANSAS).
FIREBALLET at least had the decency to record for Passport Records, a small label that at least was able to distribute nationwide, and had quite a few great prog acts on its roster (ARTHUR BROWN'S KINGDOM COME, CAPABILITY BROWN, NEKTAR, SYNERGY, BRAND X, etc.). As for the rule of American prog (with a few exceptions, of course), most of these bands were either from the Midwest or the East Coast, and FIREBALLET was no exception, they hailed from New Jersey, which was also the home to Passport Records. "A Night On Bald Mountain" was their debut, and best known for being produced by Ian McDonald, who was previously a member of KING CRIMSON, and later a member of the multi-platinum selling AOR act FOREIGNER (a band that I don't need to explain to those who have even the slightest knowledge in FM rock).

The band consisted of drummer Jim Cuomo, keyboardist Bryan Howe, guitarist Ryche Chlanda, keyboardist Frank Petto, and bassist Martyn Biglin, all credited to vocal duties aside from the bassist, and Cuomo was the guy responsible for the lead vocals. His vocals tended to be on the dramatic side, and he had to try to imitate a European accent.

To me, I thought the album sounded like GENESIS or YES playing the Mussorgsky and Debussy songbook. In fact the title track, of course, is the band doing a version of Mussorgsky's famous work, but they also included some Debussy in there too. I kept hearing how this album is a Mellotron masterpiece. Don't buy in to that, the Mellotron is used nowhere as many claim, I mostly hear it on the short "Atmospheres", that's it, really. I more hear the RMI electric piano/harpsichord, ARP 2600, and Hammond organ. "Les Cathedrales" find the band borring a theme from George Martin's "Theme One" (the one VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR covered as a single they released in 1972, and included on the American LP of "Pawn Hearts"). "Centurion (Tales of the Fireball Kids)" is a prime example of Jim Cuomo being dramatic in his vocals. Somewhere you hear a theme from Holst's "The Planets". Of course the band went and tackled on Mussorgsky's famous work, stretching around 18 minutes, the title track is a prog version of that work, but near the end, the band seemed to abandoned rock and put emphasis on pipe organ and more classical structures.

Around this time, Passport Records started promoting the Sansui QS quad-stereo unit (you can see this promo also on Synergy's Electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra), from my understanding you can only get quad stereo from these titles if you owned a Sansui quad (and also my understanding was that reel-to-reels were better at quad than LPs).

Unfortunately the only way you can get this on CD is through a Brazilian label called Rock Symphony which they also paired their second album Two, Too (which is usually regarded as not so good as their debut, but I hadn't heard that album). Passport Records went belly-up around 1988, making many titles difficult to get reissued if they weren't on other labels (BRAND X was on Charisma in the UK and NEKTAR was on BELLAPHON in Germany, so that's why those titles ended up on CD reissues). By Proghead.
Line-up / Musicians
- Martyn Biglin / bass, 12 string acoustic guitar, backing vocals
- Ryche Chlanda / acoustic & electric guitars, electronic devices, backing vocals
- Jim Cuomo / lead & backing vocals, percussion
- Brian Hough / Hammond & other organs, keyboards, backing vocals
- Frank Petto / acoustic & electric pianos, synths, Mellotron, backing vocals
1. Les cath├ędrales (10:16)
2. Centurion (tales of the fireball kids) (4:46)
3. The fireballet (5:15)
4. Atmospheres (3:40)
5. Night on bald mountain: (18:55)
a) Night on bald mountain
b) Night-tale
c) The engulfed cathedrale
d) Night-tale (reprise)
e) Night on bald mountain (finale)

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