Mess

Sven Grünberg's Proge-Rock Group

 

 

Mess was one of the most influential bands in the mid 1970's. Their creation of marvellous keyboard-based progressive rock started a new trend not just in Estonia, but all around the region as well. As Ruja at the time experimented with different styles of music, not limited to "standard" prog, Mess created a unique form of what is known as classic '70s keyboard-driven progressive rock.

The long lost music of '70s progressive rock giant was released on CD in 1995 thanks to band leader Sven Grünberg. After some horrendous and unnecessary editing and re-mastering, the German label Bella Musica released the CD to a world surprised by the uniqueness of the Estonian progressive rock pioneer. Many had not heard of Mess -- providing they knew something about Estonian prog. Many simply labelled it simply as Russian. However, Mess is an integral part of the development of Estonian prog, and this CD captures some of their best work.

However, despite any re-mastering, the quality of the recording and packaging leaves much to be desired. Errors throughout the sleeve and at times shoddy sound quality hinder the total enjoyment of the music. But still, the music is strong enough to forget such little problems. Some who have heard the original Mess work thinks that the editing to some of the songs were quite extreme (as do I, which I will talk about later), but many are also thankful this wonderful piece of Estonian prog history has come to CD!

The pieces on the CD follow one general theme, which is obvious upon the "Avamäng" (Overture). The soft, '70s-like keyboard opening creates the general theme of the entire work. It soon dives into "Rohelised leed" (Green Hearths), which is a strong old-style prog monster. The interesting array of keyboards, many of them unique creations with sounds not heard before on a '70s recording, makes its statement very quickly. One soon notice the clear and excellent vocals of Grünberg--an excellent asset of Mess. The drumming of Ivar Sipra (later to join Noor Eesti) is also excellent on this piece. Though the guitar solo of Elmu Värk sounds a bit weak in this piece, the keyboards and percussions come to help quite soon.

Then we get into the beautiful "Valged hommikud" (Bright Mornings). The instrumentals are fantastic throughout, as well as the vocals of Grünberg at the end. At points Matti Timmermann's bass resemble the aggressive picking of Chris Squire, and the keyboard playing of Grünberg is top notch yet again. Heavy Yes influence throughout the song, but it also boasts a very uniquely Estonian flavour.

The next rack, "Pilvini" (To the Clouds) is a high-energy piece, with excellent introduction instrumentals--including the drumming of Sipra. Nice temperamental vocals by Grünberg, but the piece is solidly played by all involved; the music is excellent and powerful at times. A quieter middle section resemble other great '70s "quiet sections" before regaining its aggressiveness in a massive crescendo.

Then we move to the softer but still temperamental "Tiik" (Pond), which features some of the unique sound effects from the home-made machines used by Mess. The emotional vocals again prevail in this song, but the music moves away from the softness and progressively takes on a more harsh tone. Then a near-total change just about mid-way into a fast and shifty section, with again excellent drumming from new drummer Andrus Vaht (coming from Ruja, as Sipra left for Noor Eesti) before descending into another "quiet" section featuring the fantastic special effects from Härmo Härm's electronics. After a bit it builds into a catchy longer guitar solo by Värk before vocals return in this temperamental opus. The song closes out with more sound effects and effective percussion work, alongside darker, spoken words.

The song "Lugu" (Story) features some beautiful playing of oboe by Leho Lätte at the beginning, which is met by an aggressive mix of guitar and keyboards throughout at spots. The guitar melody line is quite catchy, reprising a little of earlier themes. The song drifts into an aggressive instrumental, with busy drumming in the background and at-times strange sounding guitar leads.

This is followed by "Üksi" (Alone)--an excellent song with hints of Eddie Jobson-like sounds throughout (especially Themes of Secrets, but that wasn't recorded for over another decade!). This demonstrates Grünberg's skills on the piano, with some fascinating bits. At times it drifts into a new-age sound (a genre in which later Grünberg released several works), but is a wonderfully composed and played piece. One wonders if Eddie Jobson somehow heard this song back years ago! Plays perfect to the song title.

Nearing the end comes the adventurous "Küsi eneselt" (Ask Yourself). The prog masterpiece brings back many of the total work's themes, especially from the opening "Avamäng" (Overture). Several different sections are featured in this long song, of course with excellent playing throughout. The use of the oboe again brings a special dimension to this song, as well as the haunting Church organ accompanying Grünberg's vocals. About a third of the way through guitarist Värk pulls off an excellent solo in front of some really busy stuff by Sipra on drums. Half-way through the song is a catchy and cool section, with a little hint of jazz chords throughout, before it fades into a "quiet" section. It continues to slowly boil with sound effects, frightful vocals and percussions, eventually rising into the ending section. The song closes with another reprise of the opening. Awesome stuff.

Finally, the recording finishes with the soft "Taevas" (Sky). The acoustic ending features Grünberg's emotional vocals, joined by the powerful Church organ of Rolf Uusväli. Finally, it closes out with a reprise of earlier themes but fades out on the edit...

Here is where I moan and groan about the edit. Some of the original pieces are completely different, as vital segments disappeared from various parts of the total piece. The long piece "Küsi eneselt" (Ask Yourself) was significantly edited, by nearly half. Important aspects of the song totally disappeared. Throughout the entire CD, pieces are missing. This CD, as good as it is, does not do the music of Mess any justice. We hope one day this will be fixed and the full works will be released -- as it should be, original and in tact.

Mess is remembered as one of the pioneers of Estonian prog, and this CD is a good idea why. It is one of the most interesting pieces of recording among all of the genre. The keyboard-dominated music is intriguing, since it feature both the excellent playing of Grünberg and the unique sounds of the home-made machines. Though at times the other musicians do not match the high standard of Grünberg, the over-all effect of this recording works wonderfully. Highly recommended.

Mel Huang
Tallinn, Estonia
9 October 1999

 

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