Of all the strains of progressive rock floating around, the one that most consistently earns the bombastic label so often smeared across the entire prog genre is zeuhl. Not that that's a bad thing, of course. If you've heard the albums that most deserve the title (albums such as Magma's M.D.K. and Koenjihyakkei's Angherr Shisspa), you will know that they consist of some of the most amazing music ever released. Naturally, however, that characteristic doesn't carry over across all Zeuhl CDs. Archaia's sole release, a 1977 self-titled, is one of those Zeuhl albums that shies away from the bombast of Magma and Koenjihyakkei (the "Japanese Magma").
Instead of dominant jazz influences and operatic vocals, Archaia opts for a single vocalist and a far more stripped down rock sound (though without any drums, just some percussion). This they augment with electronics, creating a highly trippy yet distinctly Zeuhl sound. In fact, I'd go so far as to list this among the top five trippiest CDs I've ever heard, up with the likes of Brainticket's Cottonwoodhill.
At this point, if you're a Zeuhl-head, you're probably drooling at the sound of what I've described. Is such drooling warranted? Yes, to an extent. This CD will strike every listener differently, even dedicated Zeuhl-heads such as myself. When I first got the CD, I was underwhelmed, but it quickly rose to rank among my top 15 CDs of all time. Only two months or so later, however, it had fallen to below where it was after my first listen. To complete the cycle, of course, more recent listens have seen it again rise a bit in my eyes. And thus, while I wouldn't call it genius, it is a CD every fan of Zeuhl should hear.
There are some parts of this CD that are absolutely incredible, but these are balanced by those that are less so. For example, the opening two songs pack an incredible punch. In particular, "L'Arche Des Mutations" stands out as a zeuhl quasi-epic within the framework of the CD, taking trippiness to new heights and sounding amazing the entire journey. "Massa Confusa," on the other hand, never quite recovers from the terribly dated sound effects that plague its beginning. Other than those two highs and that one low, the album is fairly consistent, however. The only other notable problem I can point out is on "Le Festin Du Lion Vert," which starts out as the most interesting piece on the CD, then devolves slightly in decent but much less interesting tribal percussion.
Unfortunately, this CD is out of print (though one can always hope Soleil Zeuhl will re-reissue it on CD), and the LP often fetches $300 or more. As such, you're not likely to get your hands on a copy unless you're willing to download it. That's not a reflection on the quality of the CD, however, just on Zeuhl's obscurity. I heartily recommend this gem to all who love Zeuhl and want something different from Magma. This gem just might be the one you're looking for.