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Gandalf, 'To Another Horizon'

To Another Horizon  (1983,  48.47)  ***½/TTT½

March of No Reason
  The Falling Star
Natural Forces Getting Out of Control
  Wind, Rain, Thunder and Fire
Requiem for a Planet
Flight of the Crystal Ships
To Another Horizon

  The Divine Message
  Change of Consciousness
  Creation of a New World
Cosmic Balance
Peace Without End
Gandalf, 'More Than Just a Seagull'

More Than Just a Seagull  (1983,  41.01/57.00)  ***/TT (TTT)

Sky, Sea and Me
Beyond the Material World

Spiritual Dawn
Gandalf, 'Magic Theatre'

Magic Theatre  (1984,  51.44)  ***½/TTT

Entrance/The Corridor of the Seven Doors
1st Door/Reflections From Childhood
2nd Door/Castles of Sand
3rd Door/Loss of Identity in the Labyrinth of Delusions
4th Door/The Magic Mirror
5th Door/Beyond the Wall of Ignorance
6th Door/Peace of Mind
7th Door/The Fountain of Real Joy
Gandalf, 'Tale From a Long Forgotten Kingdom'

Tale From a Long Forgotten Kingdom  (1985,  50.07)  ***/T½

Forgotten Kingdom
Wandering in the Garden of Illusions
  The Palace of Dreams

The Sacred Esoteric Formula
The Narrow Path
On the Peacock's Wings
The River of Realization
Back Home
Gandalf & Galadriel, 'The Shining' Gandalf & Galadriel, 'The Shining'

The Shining  [as Gandalf & Galadriel]  (1986,  46.56)  **/T

Breathing (Part 1)
It's a New Life
The Eternal Stream
The Shining
Fooling Time

The War Must Go on
Children's Games
Way Home
King of Delusia
Breathing (Part 2)
Gandalf, 'The Universal Play'

The Universal Play  (1987,  50.18)  ***/T½

World Within
Cosmic Circle Dance
Gate to Infinity
Ocean of Time

Pure Love
Gandalf, 'From Source to Sea'

From Source to Sea  (1987,  56.15)  **½/T

Dreamscapes Part I
Dreamscapes Part II
Dancing Butterflies
Lotus Blossom
Clouds Dissolving
From Source to Sea
Yamuna Full Moon

Crystal Cascades
Refuge Island
Gandalf, 'Invisible Power: A Symphonic Prayer'

Invisible Power: A Symphonic Prayer  (1989,  51.07)  ***/½

Seed of Seeds
The River of Permanent Changes
  Part 1
  Part 2
  Part 3
  Part 4
  Part 5

Light of the Eternal Spirit
The Final Day
Invisible Power
Gandalf, 'The Stones of Wisdom'

The Stones of Wisdom  (1992,  75.36)  ***/T

The Lonesome Wanderer
Secret of the Ancient Tree [incl. 'Roots in
  the Mother Earth, Head in the Sky']
Questions of the Heart
Simades, a Guide on the Path of Wisdom
Words of Silence
Roads of Atlantis
Talk With the Spirits of the Sea
Astral Excursion
Dance of Ecstasy
Stones of Wisdom
The Light
The Ageless Beauty of Magaia
Mên-An-Tol, the Healing Stone
To a Different Shore
Ritual Night at the Stonecircle
  [incl. 'The Procession']

Wings of Love (Osjame's Theme)
Servants of Darkness - Servants of Light
Morning of Peace
Source of Life
Gandalf, 'To Our Children's Children'

To Our Children's Children  (1994,  59.46)  **/½

What Are We Bound for
Creatures of God
To Our Children's Children
The Machine

World on the Scales
There's a Fire
The Call of Nature
Aquarius (vocal version)
Evening Glow
Gandalf, 'Colours of the Earth'

Colours of the Earth  (1994,  64.59)  **½/0

Colours of the Earth part I
Garden of Miracles
Closer to Heaven part I
Colours of the Earth part II
Closer to Heaven part II
Secrets of the Heart
Closer to Heaven part III
Traces From Eternity
Garden of Miracles (reprise)
Angel of Light
Gandalf, 'Echoes From Ancient Dreams'

Echoes From Ancient Dreams  (1995,  55.46)  ***/T

Echoes From Ancient Dreams part I
The Inner Flame
A Flower in the Desert

Heartbeat of the Universe
So Close - So Far
The Magic of Spring
Shine on Full Moon
Echoes From Ancient Dreams part II
Gandalf, 'Gates to Secret Realities'

Gates to Secret Realities  (1996,  67.02)  ***/½

Dreamcatcher (part 1)
Footprints in Red Sand
Majestic Mountain View
Voice in the Wind
Along the Milky Way
The Power of Nature
Ascending on the Eagle's Wings
Man's Promise to Mother Earth
Dreamcatcher (part 2)
The Wheel of Life
Floating Down the Silent Stream
Gandalf, 'Colors of a New Dawn'

Colors of a New Dawn  (2004,  55.23)  ***/T½

Rhythm of the Tides
Bridge of Confidence
In the Presence of Angels
From Distant Shores
In the Presence of Angels (Reprise)
Hearts in Celestial Union
Flowers Along My Way
Colors of a New Dawn
Brighter Than a Star
Gandalf, 'Sacred River'

Sacred River  (2006,  55.31)  ***/T

Morning at the River-Bench
Sacred River
Blossoms Falling Like Snow
Silent Joy
The Ferryman's Tale
Take Me Gently Across the Water
Confidently Floating Seawards
A Visionary Passage
Flow, Water, Flow
Where the River Joins the Ocean
Gandalf, 'Lotus Land'

Lotus Land  (2007,  56.16)  ***/T½

A Seed Dreaming Inside
Life is Love
Where the Heart Finds a Home
Love Opens the Gates
Just a Glimpse of Paradise
Mystic Voyage

A Heavenly Gift
The Lotus Unfolds
Waves of Delight

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Austrian multi-instrumentalist Gandalf (Heinz Strobl to his mutter) has a career stretching over four decades, operating at the insipid end of the electronic spectrum; effectively New Age. Think: an Occidental Kitaro, but less dynamic (!). He didn't use Mellotron on his first two albums (Journey to an Imaginary Land (***) and Visions (***)), but he seems to have used one on most of his subsequent recordings and, to give credit where it's due, he appears to still be using it, albeit sparingly. Much of the discographical information here comes from Gandalf's own website and I've already found at least two major errors, so apologies for any dodgy information. I'm also going by his release dates, which differ, sometimes sharply, from other sources, although I'd rather trust his than those of some anonymous CD retailer.

As far as his Mellotron albums go, 1983's To Another Horizon is more dynamic than many of his later recordings, a drummer utilised on several tracks, his melodies aren't bad and the arrangements and musicianship are good, but the music (for me, at least) lacks that 'spark' that makes an album stand out from the crowd. Gandalf isn't afraid to use guest musicians, so there are some nice flute and piano parts, although the 'voices' on a couple of tracks are probably slightly unnecessary. There's a fair bit of Mellotron on offer, with strings and choir parts on most tracks, with particularly nice strings on Natural Forces Getting Out Of Control, although it all tails off towards the end of the record. Note Gandalf's propensity for 'hello flowers, hello trees' titles, present from his first album, not to mention the crass King Crimson steal in the nonsensical March Of No Reason.

More Than Just a Seagull was apparently written for a stage production of Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a rather dull spiritual 'classic' of the '70s, for those of you too young (or fortunate) to know. Like the better-known Neil Diamond album based on the book, this is pretty insipid, rarely rising above the mundane, to be honest. The CD adds two tracks, although neither is at the customary position for bonus tracks, i.e. the end of the disc, explaining the italicised titles above. Anyway, a smattering of background Mellotron choirs towards the end of Self-Realization, leaving Beyond The Material World as the original album's Mellotron classic, with much choir and strings, not to mention an almost solo flute arrangement at one point. Incidentally, the second bonus track, Reincarnation, is smothered in Mellotron flutes.

The sleevenotes on Magic Theatre helpfully give a track-by-track equipment rundown, showing that for some reason, Gandalf ended up using his Mellotron on every other track. The material is broadly similar to that on To Another Horizon and once again, guest musicians are used, pianist/saxophonist Peter Aschenbrenner taking a several-minute solo on 2nd Door/Castles Of Sand, although 3rd Door/Loss Of Identity In The Labyrinth Of Delusions is actually quite in-yer-face, with aggressive synth bass, drums and sax. The Mellotron use is the usual drifting strings and choirs, although I think that's a solo flute line in 6th Door/Peace Of Mind, along with Robert Julian Horky's real flute. Overall, I feel the more interesting material is on side one, with side two slipping into the by-now familiar pattern of lightweight major-key tracks, but there's still several worthwhile moments amongst the blander stuff.

The following year's Tale From a Long Forgotten Kingdom was a definite step towards new ageness, with none of the more upfront material of its predecessor, which may or may not have been due to the lack of collaborators. None of the pieces particularly stands out, to be honest, although there's some reasonably nice guitar work on The River Of Realization, but it's all a bit bland. The Mellotron drifts gently into the background here, although there's the usual strings and choir to be heard in places, but none of the upfront use on To Another Horizon. For 1986's The Shining, Gandalf collaborated with a woman calling herself Galadriel (yuk), a.k.a. Pippa Armstrong. It's hard to tell whether or not she's Mrs Gandalf; the album is dedicated to 'our children', but they could be speaking metaphorically, I suppose. Anyway, Strobl's music lurches defiantly even further towards the middle of the road here; most of the material has Galadriel's MOR vocals all over it and the lyrics are, to say the least, anodyne. Despite using it on several tracks, the Mellotron is barely audible; the only definite use is a couple of quick bursts of choir; strings and flute parts are in evidence, even a bit of brass, but they may all be polysynth sounds. The Shining is neither prog nor electronic and even Gandalf's fans would be advised to steer clear, I'm afraid.

The Universal Play was an improvement on its predecessor; not difficult, in fairness. An influx of digital synths and samplers may have helped Gandalf's muse, but they only served to enable him to make blander music, I'm sorry to say. The Mellotron's pushed well into the background, marking (presumably) the end of any upfront use, à la To Another Horizon, with the usual half-buried strings and choir parts, blending slightly uncomfortably with the more modern equipment. Although you can hear it on almost every track, it's not only well back in the mix, but often only audible for a minute or less, so it's difficult to recommend this on Mellotronic grounds. The same goes for From Source to Sea, even more digital than its predecessor and with even less obvious Mellotron. I think the choir parts on three tracks are from the Mellotron rather than a sampler, but the more rhythmic parts are definitely samples. In fact, the only reason the album's even reviewed here is because it says 'Mellotron' on the sleeve. Avoid. 1989's Invisible Power: A Symphonic Prayer is Gandalf-by-numbers, I'm afraid, with nothing to distinguish it from everything else he's done, as far as I can tell. The only Mellotron I can spot is some background choirs on opener Seed Of Seeds, but what's all this about The River Of Permanent Changes? Surely not a ripped-off Genesis lyric? Oh well, after March Of No Reason, at least his titular plagiarism's from consistently good sources... Funnily enough, his next two efforts, 1990's Labyrinth (a film soundtrack) and Symphonic Landscapes are slightly more interesting, with genuine orchestral textures, although they're very much Gandalf albums. I've never seen any Mellotron credited for either, nor can I hear any, so they're not going on here until/if I should find otherwise.

1992's Gallery of Dreams is notorious for its contributions from Steve Hackett, which are exceedingly tasteful, if a little formulaic; mostly electric lead, although closer End Of The Rainbow features his trademark classical playing. Once again, no obvious Mellotron work, although the title track 'features' the, er, 'strident' vocals of Miss Tracy Hitchings, ex-Quasar and latterly of Landmarq. Tracy's vocals are an acquired taste, although I can't say I have acquired them as yet; nor do I expect to do so in the foreseeable future. The Stones of Wisdom was easily Gandalf's longest album to date, rather outstaying its welcome after a while, to be honest, despite a couple of interesting tracks around the mid-point. After plenty of real flute on his albums of the period, it's quite clearly the Mellotronic variety on Roads Of Atlantis, on a melody vaguely (deliberately?) reminiscent of Auld Lang Syne, paired with Uillean pipes. It's difficult to tell, but the string line in To A Different Shore and the choir swells on Ritual Night At The Stonecircle have a certain Mellotronness about them, as do the choirs on the last two highlighted tracks.

To Our Children's Children is a very different Gandalf album, song-based, with a bassist and a drummer. And a singer. Who is... Ms Hitchings and her patented 'breathy' vocal style again, making the whole affair all but unlistenable. And I haven't mentioned the lyrics... Tracy, dear, you really don't need to 'emote' quite so much; a nice, straightforward line often works far better. Interestingly, this approach actually produces some better music from Herr Strobl, although it's still basically new-age drivel, while the vocals drag its rating way down; it would've been more like a three-star effort had it been instrumental. On the Mellotron front, I think the strings on the title track are Mellotron, ditto the occasional choir swells on The Machine, but if there's anything else, it's either buried in the mix or doubled with something synthy (isn't that the same thing?).

Incidentally, if you take a look at the cover scans above, you'll notice that by this point in his career, Gandalf was no longer having albums released on major labels, finding himself well into the age of 'early and rather duff computer-aided design'. It seems to me that the original sleeve of The Shining was actually his last really 'professional' effort, the previous year's Tale From a Long Forgotten Kingdom being his final really decent non-photographic piece of artwork. This sorry state of affairs would continue until 2000's Visions 2001/20 Years, when either a new version of PhotoShop was released, or Gandalf found himself a decent graphic designer. It's amusing to note that at least three of its predecessors now have new sleeves in a more 'modern' style; I have no idea whether or not this revisionist approach will continue, but let's not argue, eh?

Colours of the Earth is back to Strobl's usual style and, as such, I can't think of a single thing to say about it. While he's credited with Mellotron on this one, it's entirely inaudible, unless any of the ethereal choir parts are Mellotron, but I feel I should include it for the credit. Now, I've no idea why, because it superficially sounds just like everything else he's done, but Echoes From Ancient Dreams seems a little more... interesting, although we're not exactly talking complex progressive structures here. More Mellotron, too, with flutes on Echoes From Ancient Dreams Part I, The Inner Flame and The Magic Of Spring, with what sounds like Mellotron choirs on A Flower In The Desert, which is a good step up from several of his albums from that era. Gates to Secret Realities is a collaboration with cellist Emily Burridge, who also sings, making a considerably nicer sound than Ms. Hitchings (note: not difficult). Apart from The Power Of Nature, a rather dodgy upbeat song halfway through the album, the material is his usual stuff, with Burridge's vocals and cello work here and there, although they neither intrude upon nor especially enhance the goings-on. Various Mellotron flutes (alongside real ones this time) and choirs on the highlighted tracks, but nothing that actually stands out. Gandalf's second collaboration with Burridge (unfortunately calling herself 'White Horse' by this point), Barakaya: Trees Water Life, has a more rhythmic slant to it, though no apparent Mellotron, with the same going for '99's Into the Light.

'99's Samsara is horrendously cheesy, well on the ethnicky side of Gandalf's work, although no obvious Mellotron, but Visions 2001/20 Years is business as usual. It's a two-disc set, disc one being subtitled 'Music inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings' (aargh!), while disc two is 'Rare and Precious Pieces', compiling previously-available studio tracks with some live versions. While the material on disc one doesn't actually conjure up pictures of Middle Earth for me, I'm willing to accept that it may do for many of his fans; they might as well have used this stuff in the films, as against the tacky pseudo-Celtic rubbish Peter Jackson opted for. Ol' J.R.R. must be veritably spinning in his grave... No obvious Mellotron on either disc, apart from the odd previously-released track, although disc two includes a gutsy live version of Mysterious Creatures, which must be the loudest piece of music I've heard on over twenty Gandalf albums.

Yet again, nothing audible on 2002's The Fountain of Secrets, but Colors of a New Dawn (why the sudden Americanised spelling?) from two years later actually credits it. For the first time since the '80s, Gandalf sticks some Mellotron strings down on From Distant Shores, Brighter Than A Star and Flowers Along My Way, the latter possibly adding choir and/or flutes to the mix. Although it only seems like a few months since I got hold of these, there are already another two titles in his catalogue, 2005's Der Prophet (Khalil Gibran connection - seems to me the pair are made for each other), which only credits Gandalf with piano on the keyboard front and the following year's Sacred River. Amazingly, the latter not only features a (very) little Mellotron work, but, in many ways, could be considered the ultimate Gandalf album. Compared to the abortion I'd just finished listening to, Samsara, Sacred River is a gentle, relaxed record, entirely inoffensive and - dare I say it? - actually quite pleasant, in a let-your-mind-off-the-hook kind of way. Definitely a pleasant surprise. Take Me Gently Across the Water features some distant Mellotron choirs and a few definite string chords, with more of the same plus a few flute chords on closer Where The River Joins The Ocean, but we're not exactly back to his early-'80s Mellotronic heyday, unsurprisingly. The only sensible thing I can think of to say about 2007's Lotus Land is that it's exactly the same as at least the preceding fifteen Gandalf albums. If you like them, you'll like this. Several Mellotron tracks (is he still using a real machine?), with strings on Where The Heart Finds A Home, Just A Glimpse Of Paradise and Waves Of Delight and choirs on Mystic Voyage, although all other strings and choirs sound digitally-generated.

So; whether or not you like Gandalf's music will depend almost entirely on whether or not you go for that lightweight prog/new age crossover area. My chief problem with most of it is its relentless positivity. Huh? Well, I'm all for a positive outlook (well, occasionally), but listening to a Gandalf album is like being slobbered to death by a posse of toothless lapdogs, or tambourined into submission by happy-clappy born-again God-botherers, with their mad, "He is alive!"-style stuck-on smiles. Herr Strobl does use the odd minor key, but practically all the above could best be described by that appalling phrase, 'blissed-out'. Ugh. Anyway, To Another Horizon's the only one of these I'd actually recommend on the Mellotron front, although Magic Theatre has its moments. Given the Mellotron's fairly uncompromising sound, I'm amazed Gandalf's carried on using one up to the present day, as it doesn't really sit that well in a new age environment, but let's not look the proverbial gift horse, eh?


Live in Vienna  [as Gandalf & Friends]  (2008, recorded 2001,  67.18)  ***½

Gandalf & Friends' Live in Vienna is the man's first live album; it seems he was opposed to them earlier in his career, but has come round to the idea, albeit at his own pace, as it took him seven years from recording to release. Would'ja believe, it's probably the most dynamic thing he's recorded since the early '80s? Figures, I suppose - that's what live albums tend to do - but in Gandalfland, who can say? Anyway, yer man and a cast of thousands, including many of his regular collaborators, not least Steve Hackett, present a selection of mostly previously-unrecorded material (some of it Lord of the Rings-themed), plus a handful of tracks from his back catalogue. The playing is excellent throughout (Hackett does his usual thing), with particularly fiery violin playing on a few tracks from Toni Burger. What are quite certainly sampled Mellotron strings appear on The Keeper Of The Old Forest, as I can't imagine he hauled the real one out for a couple of gigs. So; the best Gandalf album since 1984? Possibly.


See: Steve Hackett

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