This band has been accused of representing all the excesses of the Progressive Rock that led to the backlash the genre received at the end of the Seventies, but I don’t think that’s entirely fair. For one thing, while the other major Prog acts like Pink Floyd or Yes had the longwindedness and emphasis on self-indulgent instrumental showoffs down pat, they still made relatively ‘normal’ music…it was dressed up in an artsy format, but the actual sounds these bands made weren’t going to shock anyone who was familiar with Rock music at all. Even the ‘edgier’ acts like King Crimson were really just more abrasive, less accessible versions of the same standard ‘Prog’ sound. ELP, on the other hand, were the Rock equivalents of postmodern experimental Classical composers like John Cage. Like them or not, they undeniably had their credentials as genuine avant-garde artists to a vastly greater degree than anyone else in the Prog scene except perhaps Frank Zappa. This song is one of their more ‘normal’ sounding compositions, but at the same time it is one of their most ambitious achievements, one that was intended to finally establish them as a legitimate Classical act. This is a setting and arrangement of a famous Classical hymn adapted from a Blake poem…think of it as a kind of “Wacht, Auf” for the Rock era. The late keyboard visionary Keith Emerson was apparently the primary force behind it, and while the Classical snobs who ran the BBC radio at the time refused to give it airplay, it really is one of the band’s all-time greatest achievements, stately, majestic and strangely beautiful in a very English way. I personally suspect it would probably have been their biggest hit had it not been denied proper exposure for no good reason, and one hopes that in the wake of Emerson’s tragic demise, people will come to be more appreciate of his achievements in general and this underrated masterpiece in particular.
Verdict: A magnificent legacy.