Relayer by Yes - Galvanized in Molten Titanium

by Rich DiSilvio

Relayer by Yes stands alone. Many Yes fans have finally given this masterpiece its just due, as this album, when it was first released in December of 1974, came as a shock. Many Yes fans had turned away, shaking their heads in confusion and disappointment. And while I was not one of them, I could understand their reaction in hindsight. It’s because this album was music from a distant future. It was that radical, that innovative, that transcending, that mind-blowing.

Being a life-long Yes fan, and even having the honor of designing the cover art for their (Re)Union album, which featured a CG alien landscape and was not a commercial success, I had found their previous albums to be all gems, even their long-winded and sprawling religious meditation, Tales from Topographic Oceans, which did not initially resonate with many fans, or even with some of the band members as well, prompting Rick Wakeman to leave.

At that time, I was heartbroken that Rick left. How could this band ever sound the same, I thought? So naturally I was very wary when Relayer was released. Naturally, Roger Dean's fantastical artwork, which once again took viewers to new heights, was reassuring that all would be the same. But I must admit, upon first hearing this album, it was uncomfortably numbing! (Floyd pun intended) Where Tales was lush, mellow soundscapes drifting in a nebulous realm, Relayer was harsh, shrilly, and jacked-up on speed. The radical contrast was disturbing, hard to process.

Yet after the initial shock, it became quickly apparent that this was a major milestone, not only in their careers, but in music history. Yes had taken a quantum leap from the 20th century into the distant regions of the future. Gates of Delirium is such an aberration for Yes, as is the frenzied lightning-speed of Sound Chaser. It was like the turntable had been switched to 78 speed. Sound Chaser is an amazing piece of virtusoity by the entire group. These two works were off the charts alien, yet compellingly intriguing and utterly electrifying.

Patrick Moraz must be given credit for not only integrating into his new home, but for, in some measure, inspiring the others to explore a completely new direction in sound. Chris Squire and Alan White provided a rythym section that at times seemed humanly impossible. Steve Howe, in my opinion, being perhaps the most versatile and artistically gifted guitarist alive, or at least on par with a very select few, had taken his playing to the absolute summit. Meanwhile, Jon Anderson's vocals "Soon the Light" soared to the heavens and seared the heart and soul, bringing tears to one's eyes. Yes had reached for the stars, pushing the boundaries of exploration to the max, and playing with a cohesiveness that was beyond impressive, beyond comprehension. For that brief moment in time Yes had been galvanized in molten Titanium. The hardest and most adrenaline-pumped they would ever be.

As many have stated, Gates of Delirium is the quintessential masterpiece of Progressive Rock. It’s the Prog King, The Pinnacle of Progressive Perfection, with ELP’s Tarkus being a possible contender for second place. Yet, as moving and masterful as Tarkus is, it never receives the repetitious playbacks like Gates. And naturally, Gates ethereal and emotionally heart-wrenching coda is a transcending journey into the misty heavens of divinity itself. There’s simply nothing else like it, except perhaps for the passionate arias of Puccini, or Karl Jenkins’ Benedictus.

To Be Over concludes the album and is a beautiful piece of dreamy art, with delicate Asian nuances by Steve Howe, that offers a respite from the cacophony, hypertension, and chaos of the preceding Sound Chaser, thus ending a masterful display of sheer perfection. Where Tales beautifully praised the Gods, Relayer was the gift from the Gods.

See the review of Tales From Topographic Oceans

The Author/Artist

Rich DiSilvio is an author of magazine articles and books, ranging from Western civilization to the fine arts, classical and contemporary music, several historical novels and thrillers, and two YA/children's books. His artwork has adorned book covers and the album covers and animated advertisements for Yes, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Rolling Stones, Queen,and many more. His website is at richdisilvio.com