This is one my favorite Peter Hammill albums.
All of the traits which appeal to me in Peter Hammill's music are present here. Hammill's skill and versatility as a singer are at their peak here. The material is all high quality, and it's all well-paced as a whole. Even if "Again" is not a particularly outstanding or profound song, it's a pleasant interlude that fits in well between heavier, more intense tracks. The last piece, the musique concrete (noise) of "Magog" is disparaged by many reviewers who don't have a taste for that kind of stuff. I'm not going to say that this is one of Hammill's greatest compositions, but in the context of the rest of the album it works well, coming after the fire and brimstone of "Gog", and credit needs to be given because not many rock artists had done that kind of stuff at the time.
The lyrics explore many of the familiar Hammill topics. One recurring theme is an individual's struggle to maintain his identity in a harsh world, and the seemingly inevitable corrupting effect of the passage of time. "No more the Submariner" laments the loss of childhood dreams. "Tapeworm", "Faint Heart and Sermon", and "Comet, the Course, the Tail" all deal with some sort of impeding (nasty) fate. One of his recurring themes is the mixing of religious and scientific metaphors (right back to the Van der Graaf Generator name itself), and the implication is that both ultimately let down. The comet is an astronomical phennomenom, but also a messenger of doom. Peter Hammill has a talent for turning a phrase, that really stands out among rock singers/songwriters. Who else will rhyme "laugh" with "cenotaph"? (his lyrics often send me to the dictionary and/or the encyclopedia). The album culminates in "Gog" and "Magog", which run into each other. "Gog" is like an incantation of Old Nick, with the Unmentionable One, backed by a rising crescendo of dissonance and manic drumming, taunting you and tempting you to join him, saying all efforts to resist or even to define him are worthless. This truly is a masterpiece! The song finally gives way to the "Magog" noise-fest, which has a brief distorted spoken word part that lets you know that you have now arrived in the "place where the guy with the horns and the pointed stick does his business" (as Frank Zappa put it). This last track is often maligned by reviewers, and some in fact downgrade their rating for the whole album for it. I would consider it as an essential (if perhaps long) finale.
This is Hammill's first album on which he plays almost all the instruments, and which he recorded largely in his home studio. This is would become the norm for most of his solo career. The relative "low tech" may sometimes results in somewhat muddy mixes (Although they may be intentional), and his timing is occasionally "special", but these things, along with some decidedly avant-guarde sounds, contribute to the uniqueness. This is a very atmospheric sounding album. Don't try to pick out every little detail, just absorb the whole wash of sounds!
If you are new to Peter Hammill, there is no one album that can possibly represent his huge catalog, which spans 40 years! You will certainly want several. This one is my favorite of his early period. Being the first "DIY" solo album makes it more distinct from the Van der Graaf Generator albums which bookend this series of solo albums. It is certainly not "easy listening", but then again all of his material is challenging, and if you are even interested in exploring it, presumably you have an ear for music that's out of the ordinary. Oh, and I personally think the cape on the cover adds some nice camp value!
Please give this one a listen!