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 shook their heads in confusion, others with 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 complex, that mind-blowing.

Being a life-long Yes fan, and even having the honor of designing the cover art for their (Re)Union album (a budget release by BMG and featured at the bottom of this page), I had found their previous albums to all be gems. Including 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, I was uncomfortably numb! (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 and innovation of Sound Chaser. It was like the turntable had been switched to 78 speed. Sound Chaser is a showpiece of amazing virtuosity by the entire group. There was and remains nothing like these two works, which were off the charts alien, yet compellingly intriguing and utterly electrifying.

Patrick Moraz must be given some 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. Yet we must bear in mind that much of the album had already been composed when Moraz entered the fold, and thus explains why Steve Howe, especially, dominates this album. Meanwhile, Chris Squire and Alan White provided a rhythm 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. As for Jon Anderson, his concept to create a musical manifesto about the ugliness of war, loosely based on Tolstoy's War and Peace and his aversion to the horrors of the Vietnam War, produced his most coherent lyrics, while his magical vocals on "Soon" soared to the heavens and caressed the heart and soul, bringing tears of peace and joy to one's whole being. 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. However, Close to the Edge is another masterpiece that often gets voted as the greatest Prog song, and it's clear to see why. It's an extremely pleasant work of art that's easy to be embraced by the masses. Meanwhile, The Gates of Delirium is about the ugliness of war, and mankind's insanity; namely, while thinking of its enemies, they wish to "burn their children's laughter." Such brutal lyrics are indeed hard to swallow for many, not to mention the frenzied music depicting war. However, this tale not only offers profound meaning and clarity, since Close to the Edge is imbued with vague and fluffy lyrics, it also offers the sublime shimmer of light at the aftermath, when "Soon, Oh Soon the Light" takes listeners into the sublime stratosphere, being one of the all-time greatest moments in music history, reminding us of "Our Reason to be Here"... Love.

The combined power of the music and lyrics have profound meaning far beyond the pleasant and spacey head-trip of being Close to the Edge, despite the latter being a more enjoyable piece of music. Gates is for those wanting more than sheer beauty of sound, and requires more from the listener in turn, thus explaining why CTTE gets so many votes. Granted, Gates is not easy, or for the faint of heart; it's brutal, jarring, and aggressive, yet it ends with sublime relief. Those willing to endure the journey yield the greatest reward.

For those adamant that Relayer is not the greatest, surely we know that Close to the Edge, The Revealing Science of God, Awaken, or ELP’s Tarkus and Toccata, or Firth of Fifth by Genesis, or Magnum Opus by Kansas, to name a few, are worthy contenders for the title. But for those who rally for The Gates of Delirium, they realize that its a monumental work of art that explores the insanity of war, yet ends with an ethereal and emotionally heart-wrenching coda that forces listeners to search their souls for the true meaning of life, while also being a transcending journey into the misty heavens of divinity itself. There’s simply nothing else like it.

Meanwhile, Sound Chaser is a pumped-up adrenaline rush of speed and vibrant virtuosity by all players. And in its shorter timeframe, it delivers so much progressive punch and innovation that it too could act as a definitive example of "prog" music at its best. Here again, the music is blistering and complex, and not for the casual listener. While Chris Squire, Alan White and Patrick Moraz impressively blaze at lightning speed, it's Steve Howe who is the ultimate star in this piece, making it abundantly clear that Steve Howe not only stands alongside the greatest guitarists of all time, but quite possibly holds the title of being the ultimate guitarist. And this bold statement is backed up further by The Gates of Delirium and the next gem that concludes this monumental and flawless album.

To Be Over is the unsung hero of this trilogy. While its two other siblings get all the attention, To Be Over is a gorgeous piece of dreamy art, with delicate Asian-like nuances by Steve Howe, which offers a respite from the cacophony, hypertension, and chaos of the preceding Sound Chaser. Here Howe's versatility shines alongside Jon Anderson's magical, mystical voice, thus ending a masterful display of sheer prog perfection by a band that was indeed galvanized in molten titanium. 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 award-winning author of magazine articles and books, ranging from Western civilization to the fine arts, classical and contemporary music, historical novels and thrillers, and 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, Black Sabbath and many more. His website is at

The ART of Rich DiSilvio