Beyond the Clear Air

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Beyond the Clear Air is one of the major albums of Japanese '80s progressive rock. It was also Midas' sole LP, until the band's re-formation in 1996. The music resolutely belongs to its era and the neo-progressive ethos, with Marillion and IQ being obvious reference points. That said, the music is also more symphonic and has a jazzier edge than most European neo-prog outfits of the '80s -- a trait many Japanese bands shared. Released in 1988, the original LP featured four tracks ranging from 5 to 18 minutes in duration, all fronted by singer/violinist Eigo Utoh and co-written by Utoh and keyboardist Eisho Lynn. Though proficient, the rhythm section is largely unremarkable. As for Lynn, his keyboard work is strongly reminiscent of Rick Wakeman, as much in the way he stacks his sounds as in the overall shape of his solos. Midas got its signature sound from Utoh, who could be a flashy violin player (his solo in "Beyond the Clear Air") and a disconcerting singer, as illustrated by his sudden (and wavering) high-register flights in "Sham Noctiluca" and "The Slough of Despond." In terms of structure, the compositions are closer to neo-prog than '70s progressive rock: juxtaposed sections with little integration between them. It works well though, despite a tendency to be long-winded. "Sham Noctiluca" and the title track are impressive pieces, and the album as a whole will surely please fans of '80s neo-prog. Since its reissue on CD in 1991, the album contains one bonus track entitled "Green Forest." In 2009, the French label Musea gave the album its first proper release outside of Japan.