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3.52 | 27 ratings | 6 reviews
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Album · 1974


A1 Power of Love 4:36
A2 Vision Is a Naked Sword 14:16
A3 Smile of the Beyond 7:56
B1 Wings of Karma 6:12
B2 Hymn to Him 19:23

Total Time: 52:14


Bass Guitar – Ralphe Armstrong
Cello, Vocals – Philip Hirschi
Conductor, Piano – Michael Tilson Thomas
Drums, Percussion, Vocals – Michael Walden
Guitar [Guitars], Vocals – Mahavishnu
Keyboards, Vocals – Gayle Moran
Leader [The London Symphony Orchestra] – Hugh Beau
Orchestra – The London Symphony Orchestra
Viola – Marsha Westbrook
Violin [Electric, Electric Baritone] – Jean-Luc Ponty
Violin, Vocals – Carol Shive

About this release

Columbia – KC 32957 (US)

Recorded at AIR Studios, London, March 1974

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

Mahavishnu Orchestra meets an actual orchestra, London Symphony, that is. MO vs. the LSO? This has got to be one of the greatest integrations of an orchestra into progressive music and I suspect they all had blisters on their fingers by the end of the recording session. These guys all get a tough workout.

Many people lament the break up of the original MO lineup, but I'm not in that camp. Apocalypse is John McLaughlin's first outing as the MO without any of the original members and I love that period but, this is my favorite MO album. The music here is very apocalyptic, but some of the song titles don't quite fit the theme: Power of Love, Smile of the Beyond, Hymn To Him. Vision Is A Naked Sword and Wings of Karma, I can kind of get.

The Power of Love is a rather mellow starter for the album, but it has some kind of ominous undertones going on in the music.

After a brief moment of silence, Vision Is A Naked Sword, sneaks up on you and the music is very dark. Over 14 minutes of intense Mahavishnu and London Symphony Orchestra interplay. But it's not all totally bleak. Almost like a musical short story.

Things mellow out again with Smile of the Beyond, but not completely. And you get a first for MO, vocals, female vocals no less. Gayle Moran, who is also the keyboardist for this lineup has a really pretty voice. There will be more pieces to come in the soon to be future, but fortunately vocals in MO have been occasional. Usually not much room for them in this kind of music. This one starts out with Moran singing and the other orchestra, but then the band really takes off and jams about midway, before a return to the beginning, still a little bit of ominous feeling at the end. I think Moran's keyboard work is a little bit of a departure from the style that Jan Hammer, who preceded her.

Wings of Karma starts off continuing and intensifying the quiet ominous sound. After giving LSO a could opportunity play, the band really takes off again. Then you get the band and the orchestra trading licks and the music starts to pick up speed. And then, a sudden mellow ending.

Hymn To Him also starts out mellow. There's enough music packed into this one track to fill up a whole album by itself. This track is sort of the Supper's Ready of jazz-rock/fusion. Actually, it probably takes you to even more places musically. The hectic climactic section of this piece goes on for several minutes and I'd be highly surprised if everyone's fingers aren't blistered by the time slows down. Things end on a rather upbeat note.

The interplay of all the musicional elements is just spectacular. Jean-Luc Ponty, Ralphe Armstrong, and Michanel Walden are excellent successors to Jerry Goodman, Rick Laird, and Billy Cobham Respectively and respectfully. Also of note, the album was produced by George Martin of Beatles fame and Michael Tilson-Thomas conducted the London Symphony Orchestra.

And of course, things just wouldn't be the same without John, who is the core. Can't compliment the guitar work on here enough.

Hey, I was looking at the credits on the back of the CD case, and I notice Columbia Records is at 666 Fifth Avenue. Hmm.
With all of the original members of his innovative and surprisingly popular group scattered to the four winds John McLaughlin decided to make the Mahavishnu Orchestra a REAL orchestra and put together an album with the London Symphony acting as a partner and a whole bunch of his virtuoso friends. By that time every type of music had been joined with an orchestra so why not jazz/rock fusion? When this LP appeared on the record racks in 1974 and I saw that George Martin had produced the project I could hardly wait to get home and revel in some high fidelity fireworks. I was hoping to hear more of the wild, exhilarating hold-on-to-your-seat roller coaster thrills that I had enjoyed from the previous incarnation of this unique band. With a title like "Power of Love" you might brace for a powerful rush out of the gate but it turns out to be a very subdued, soothing blend of muted orchestra, some intricate acoustic guitar and Jean-Luc Ponty's tasteful violin. It may not be what you expected but after you hear it a few times you can better appreciate its aura of peace and beauty. "Vision is a Naked Sword" is next and it's more along the lines of what you probably anticipated from the get-go. It's a bold attempt to meld the symphony with the band but on this particular song the experiment fails from a lack of cohesion. It begins with a very typical Mahavishnu convoluted melody but this time around the orchestra clumsily performs it. I must mention that drummer Narada Michael Walden replaces the phenomenal Billy Cobham and he does an excellent job. There are brief moments when they approach the tightness of the old group but each time they involve the symphony they lose momentum. After a short drum solo and an electric piano ride from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas the orchestra delivers some ascending swirls that hold promise. But then it drops down to McLaughlin riffing on guitar with Ponty eventually adding violin on top. Unfortunately they stay in this guitar segment too long and it becomes quite tedious. The symphony reenters with the original melody but they can't save this inconsistent mess. "Smile of the Beyond" follows and things get unbelievably weird in a hurry. It features Gayle Moran's smooth vocal over an orchestral score that would be right at home in a Broadway production of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. That's not so tragic in itself but imagine that you're in the audience for this show. Abruptly they transition into an uptempo dance sequence with some contemporary chorale work behind the music. Then out stroll John and Jean-Luc to deliver some avant garde, high velocity, slightly out of tune solos! You'd likely say, "This is so ridiculous it's almost laughable! What in the hell are they doing in this song?" Very strange but that's exactly what happens here. Makes no sense whatsoever. The tune ends with Gayle singing the operatic air as if the rude interruption had never taken place. Yark. Moving right along, "Wings of Karma" gets things back on track. A very pretty symphonic score gives way to a jazzy feel with the guitar and violin providing the melody line. McLaughlin and Ponty both turn in excellent rides over the orchestra as they build up to a frenzy before returning to the opening. With "Hymn to Him" they get it right again. The symphony provides an easy-listening background while the guitar and violin add florid noodlings that rise and fall. Then the orchestra starts to play a theme that grows and grows till McLaughlin finally unleashes his electric guitar and delivers his trademark intensity. Things subside for a piano break from Moran which leads to a new melody played by the guitar and violin together as bassist Ralphe Armstrong shows his stuff. Ponty offers up his best solo then the whole thing escalates to supersonic speed and you receive the long-delayed payoff as John and Jean-Luc trade hot licks wedged between some fiery flourishes from the symphony. The twenty-minute song ends as it began with the orchestra and band descending together in a gorgeous grand finale.

In the history of symphonic experimentation there have been more duds than skyrockets. Using that analogy this one's just a sparkler. McLaughlin certainly had an adventurer's spirit with this project yet he could have benefited enormously from a good dose of selective editing and basic common sense. But the engineering and production are top drawer and, since there are five songs and three of them turned out okay, it's a no-brainer to give this one a solid three stars. Just try not to choke on your Cherry Dr Pepper when you hear the ludicrous "Smile of the Beyond."

Often ignored in favor of their better-known releases, M.O.'s 1974 project was an ambitious gathering of musicians from all backgrounds led by McLaughlin and his second Mahavishnu incarnation of Ralphe Armstrong on bass, the percussion of Michael Walden, Gayle Moran's keys and voice, and Jean-Luc Ponty's violins. They are supported by the London Symphony Orchestra with George Martin handling production and except for a few passages of dated jam-rock, it is among the best things they ever did. In '74, it was nothing terribly original in the brave new world of progressive fusion to employ a full orchestra, or to dabble in realms never meant to meet. What is special about this session is that it worked so well. And it is filled with beautiful, powerful music.

A solemn piano, John's strings and a vibration of brass gingerly awaken 'Power of Love', sad and reflective, a nourishing piece that tugs at the heart. The mood changes and this record comes alive on the enormous 'Vision is a Naked Sword', a titan of strings, horns, and Walden's cracking skins. It expands with rushes of change, huge movements, migrations west, east, and the two crashing into each other with great joy. And McLaughlin's fevered frenzy out in front, possessed, as if he's trying to squeeze out several lines at once. 'Smile of the Beyond' is pleasant enough and features Gayle Moran's engaging mezzo-soprano, the London Symphony giving their all with much pride and no prejudice as heard in 'Wings of Karma' and the sublime 'Hymn to Him', a 19- minute roiling cauldron of musical interaction, atom-smashing, skattered altercations and the occasional explosion of life. An album that remains a passed-over high point in the all too often bourgeois world of fusion, and perhaps John McLaughlin's finest hour as leader.

Members reviews

"Apocalypse" was the first MAHAVISHNU record I heard back in my teens when I most actively explored progressive rock and related genres. At that time I found it too serious and too distant and even too difficult to comprehend. Recently I gave it another spin in order to write this review.

Well, I can't say that I was much wrong back then... This album comprises of elements of what I would call "symphonic fusion" and the band, now featuring different line-up from previous works, is doing an amazing performance. I was never a fan of McLaughlin's speedy guitar technique, but one must pay tribute to his love and confidence towards his musical expression. A remarkable novelty on this record is the presence of Jean-Luc Ponty, jazz-violin virtuoso, who is capable of producing rather spacey and almost psychedelic effects on his electric violin.

On the composition side, I am much less convinced that "Apocalypse" is an important album. Symphonic arrangements, lush orchestration and occasional female vocals are largely spoiling the rock sound of the band and bring zero interest to my ears. At times it all sounds like a soundtrack from a classic Hollywood melodramatic films of the 1950s... Nice to listen but out of the scope of progressive fusion daring achievements.

If you are a classic fusion fan, you will definitely need to hear this album, simply because it comes from the nest of a premiere exponent of the genre. Otherwise, I will not go as far as recommending it to larger, general music listeners.
After the original Mahavishnu Orchestra lineup dissolved over bitter arguments about John McLaughlin's control over the band, John pieced together a new lineup to start afresh. Not one to balk at a challenge, he also decided that the new lineup's first studio album would be an ambitious attempt to combine a fusion band and the London Symphony Orchestra - with the legendary George Martin producing.

The Mahavishnus weren't the first band to attempt to combine their playing with that of an orchestra. They were also, as Apocalypse shows, not the first band to discover when doing so that all they achieved was a murky compromise which robbed both the band and the orchestra of their power. The fact is that the original Mahavishnu lineup didn't need an orchestra to lay thick snoozeworthy string segments over their music, because they had all the power and energy they needed right there in the lineup. McLaughlin's attempts to integrate the orchestra into the Mahavishnu sound are hamfisted and awkward, and too often consist of the orchestra playing a bit, then the band playing a bit, then the orchestra playing a bit with perhaps one or two band members soloing, and so on in that vein, with the end result being that on half the album we don't get to hear the full Mahavishnu lineup as it existed at the time playing together as a unit. All too often, the orchestra is drafted in to play parts which on the previous albums would have been handled by a band member, rather than adding something unique to the sound, which seems like a waste of time.

When the band *do* get to play as a unit, however, the reasoning behind minimising the amount of time they spend doing so becomes all too clear: whilst the individual members all have decent chops, the lineup simply hadn't gelled as a unit at this point in time, and their interplay is lacklustre and misses the firey vigour that characterised the previous incarnation of the band. What John and the crew needed to do at this point in time was rehearse exhaustively and work on creating a band album on which the group could have a chance to get used to each other. By taking on the orchestra project, the band ended up creating a huge challenge for themselves well before they were ready to face it, and no number of string players are able to cover for the lack of confidence on show.

Compositionally, John seems to be running out of ideas too, with most of the material on here being highly reminiscent of previous Mahavishnu tracks... except not quite as good, because of the awkwardness of cramming the orchestra into them and because the lineup were not yet as comfortable and confident as the previous band were. A few limp attempts to incorporate vocals into the band's music crop up here and there and only serve to embarrass the band further. The band's playing is also sabotaged by some baffling production decisions by George Martin - precisely why is John's guitar sound so weak and faint on this album?

Where the band get to play together without the orchestra butting in, Apocalypse is an interesting but otherwise forgettable fusion album, one which would have probably been forgotten about if it weren't for the Mahavishnu name attached to it. But the botched incorporation of the orchestra as a desperate attempt to cover up the cracks makes the album a tiresome chore to listen to. When you consider the fire and the fury of The Inner Mounting Flame, I'd say that things have come to a pretty sorry pass when I can say that a Mahavishnu Orchestra album bored me, but that's precisely what Apocalypse does. The result is an album I can recommend only to the most uncritical of McLaughlin cultists.
Sean Trane
With the first line-up of MO now gone, McLaughlin instantly went back to work, recreating a group, which had yet to reach its goals of mixing Stravinsky and jazz-rock. So recruiting Ponty and Gayle Moran in the forefront, and adding Narada Walden and Armstrong in rhythm section behind him, technically MO was no worse off. If Ponty and Armstrong were better than Goodman and Laird (this is debatable and certainly not flagrant), he was losing out on Hammer and Cobham being replaced with Moran and Walden (and anything but that obvious) but the group was still top notch, especially adding a small string section.

This fan once dismissed this album a tad because of the heavy string arrangements it contains, but with age, Apocalypse is probably becoming THE album that MO had set out to make right from the start: it is probably the one closest achieving the Stravinsky realm and not just because of the orchestra, but in its writing concept. A fairly long album (over the 50 minutes), Apocalypse is a bold and daring move, especially risking the “Orchestra and group” thing, missed by Deep purple and but almost transformed into a touchdown by Caravan and Procol Harum, here still more convincingly so, even if Sir George Martin botches up the job, much the way he’s done it with Stackridge’s Bowler Hat album. Indeed, if Sir George was indisputable in the 60’s with the fab four, he was not quite up to par in the following decade: he’s responsible for the cheesiest moments of this album.

After the slow-crescendoing Power Of Love, where strings of all kinds are echoing the same feeling than on Carlos and Alice’s Illuminations album, the album plunges deeply (and darkly) with the impressive Vision Is A Naked Sword, where the Orchestra is magnifying the exploits of the group and Narada’s drumming is wowing everyone. The 14 minutes of this track are simply awesome, changing perpetually, alternating group, orchestra and both fused passages and a solid Mc solo. The first side closes on the very slow and cheesy intro with strings accompanying Gayle Moran’s very average singing, before the track finally jumps into shape halfway through, Gayle getting some help from Narada and apparently Armstrong as well in the middle section. But as quick as it came, the group disappears to leave the orchestra to close up cheesily.

Just two tracks on the flipside with Wings Of Karma starting on very Stravinskyan orchestra (Spring’s Rite comes to mind) before Ponty leads the grouping a wild fusion of molten lava, the orchestra enhancing the group’s depth of sound. The huge epic Hymn To Him is the centrepiece of the album and one of the main achievements of Mc’s MO, all line-up considered. Indeed the Hymn is more an ode as to how to fuse classical jazz and rock music together and somehow it manages the feat in a way that very few others managed (if at all). There are moments when the over-powering strings are laying it a bit thick and a certain lack of finesse can be seen, but this is a very minor gripe.

Apocalypse was a bold move, one touchdown, but the conversion kick bouncing off the poles, but the point totals were enough for MO to have won the bet high-handedly. I’d say the album’s best moments are when the orchestra is at the service of the group or when parts of the group help out the orchestra, but when the orchestra is left to do the majority of the music in a given moments, it sounds too awkward for this listener. Nevertheless an essential album that represent fusion at its best.

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