Salem Hill
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Salem Hill


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The best kept secret in music


"Ten to the Top"

Great as Testimony may be, there was an even better album released at almost the same time: Be, by the unjustly obscure, Tennessee-based band Salem Hill. This brilliantly inventive group of musicians is usually categorized as producing progressive rock, but their music really defies classification. Formed in 1991 and creator of seven albums since then, the band expertly masters sounds ranging from heavy-guitar hard rock to Beatlesque pop to whispery acoustic enchantment, while their lyric content is consistently earnest and intelligent and often savagely satirical. Their 1998 release, The Robbery of Murder, was one of the very best albums of the 1990s.

The songwriters' strong Christian faith tends to be at the forefront of their compositions, and lyrically it often takes the form of seeing all the sin in the world and wanting to tell about it, in all its ugliness and brutality. The band's musical agility and songwriters' skill in composing artful lyrics, however, prevent things from becoming lugubrious.

Be, my choice for Album of the Year, is "a 71 minute rock symphony," as singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboarder Carl Groves describes it. The album possesses all the trademark characteristics of the Salem Hill sound but with a somewhat harder musical edge. Musically, Be is thoroughly coherent even though its sounds range widely. Crunchy guitar chords segue smoothly into exquisite vocal harmonies. Bright pop melodies sung by sweet voices express dark, foreboding lyrics. Grand, symphonic passages and fierce electric guitar solos contrast aptly with quiet excursions into folk-inspired acoustic guitar or tinkling bells. This is as mature and sophisticated as popular music gets.
- National Review Online

"Review of Be"

Be is Salem Hill's foray into musical genius. Dabbling with dark themes and styles that wouldn't be out of place on Tool's Lateralus, Salem Hill revs the engines and goes full throttle on their latest release. Heavier than past efforts, Be combines alternative rock with Salem Hill's signature vocal harmonies and Kansas-like progressive leanings. Inspired by the stark cover photograph of a lone chair on the beach and a simple word etched in the sand, Be somewhat cryptically follows the story of someone tortured by their search for purpose in life, the desire to be regarded. The stark, acoustic opener Reflect sets the table before the feast starts with the next tune, Symposium. Bounding to a heavy groove, the aural assault begins. The song seems to be about a guy fresh out of the world sitting through a sermon and watching it fall on deaf ears, and it features a cool Beatle-esque harmony laden bridge and a tasty keyboard solo by Carl. Nowhere is Home sounds like it came right off of Catationia, with it's crunch and tight harmonies and hooks. There are hints in the lyrics that allude to the mind of a terrorist or other unstable individual bent on destruction, and it's not exactly uplifting. The Great Stereopticon, which sounds heavy like King's X like musically, deals with spiritual apathy, the spark of life sucked out by the cathode ray infused vicarious life many Americans sleepwalk through. The chorus sums it up:

The spark He gave you -- never a fire; The years of becoming -- when will you be?

Children of the Dust kicks it up another notch, a duet between Carl and Michael that "disintegrates" into a heavy progressive melodic jam session, then drops down to an acoustic guitar and a simple vocal melody augmented by an oboe or some other woodwind instrument before jumping back into high speed with lyrics that highlight the fallen nature of man and how we wallow in our own depravity. This theme is continued as it segues into the next tune So Human, with it's great Queen-esque vocal lines and harmonies. Those two songs, which seamlessly play off one another, are the creative highlight of Salem Hill's career. The Red Pool is next, and the crunchy guitar and classic rock flavored hooks could have made it a radio staple in the late 80's (and should still today if it got exposure). Lyrically, the red pool appears to signify the blood of the redeemer which washes away the grime of life. Underneath follows, a heavy Tool-flavored groove counterpunched by a quirky vocal line (think Daniel Amos) that sticks in your head with unusually earthy romanticism. It's one of my favorite songs on the disc. Next, the beautiful piano ballad Seattle lilts forth like a John Lennon ditty, singing the praises of the great Northwest city that I grew up in. Is Ichiro really the epitome of Seattle sports icons? As a Mariner fan, I might have voted for Edgar. But that aside, the song really works. After Seattle, Mike Dearing shatters those who nodded off during the lullaby as he belts forth his song of doom, Apollyon. Holy cow, what a dark, heavy beast. Not for the faint of heart, the song exposes the grim reaper in his own words. This is the tune that's guaranteed to bring your wife out of the kitchen with a gasp of "What the heck are you listening to?" A Perfect Light is all Carl Groves, lush chords and tinny keyboard sounds underpinning obtuse lyrics and Beatle-esque harmonies about light refracting off darkness in human nature. Love Wont Save the World is another pretty, classic Salem Hill song about the black hole we are all trying to fill inside, and the fleeting nature of love and happiness. I Didn't Come For You again reprises the heavy King's X-flavored sound as they sing about the worldly philosophy of sacrificing people to reach higher goals. This song breaks into a heavy instrumental part that highlights Kevin Thomas' solid drumming and some fine guitar work. Beings follows, a beautiful, mellow, classic Carl ballad much like To The Hill. Quoting James 4:14, the song shows that despite our human flaws, there is hope. "Propensity for the base. Capacity for such grace. Love could change the world.." sings Carl, with passion tainted by uncertainty, much like life itself. As the surf crashes, the album concludes with Regard Me, and it isn't necessarily a happy note. Despite the offered hope, the hero turns his back to love, shakes his fist at the sky, and walks out to his fate beneath the surf. Much like they did with Catatonia, Salem Hill has created another masterpiece: music to make you ponder life, look within, face the demons, and turn toward the One who has the power to make you free. Hats off, gents. {11/08/03 dt}
- virtuosity

"Another Be Review"

Yes, after “Catatonia” and “The Robbery of Murder” Salem Hill release another fine concept album. Writing a solid review of a concept album is usually a rather difficult thing to do, for the music and the story are more complex than on regular albums and you need time to really get into the music.
I remember the first time I listened to Dream Theater’s “Metropolis part II” and not liking any of it. Boy, can things change after a few times of listening. Another fine example is Marillion’s “Brave”. This album ended up in my CD-rack very soon after I had bought it. I took over half a year before I got into their music, today it’s probably my all-time favourite album.

Well, Salem Hill’s “Be” is somewhat different from these two examples. It’s hard not to like this album at first listening. This is probably because all experimental and the more proggy pieces of music are alternated with very accessible intermezzos and some melodic rock tracks like “The Red Pool” for example. These accessible tracks with easy melodies, nice vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars, run through the album as sort of a guiding line.


They easily compensate for the progressive outbursts and the somewhat over the top lead vocals.
Take the track “Seattle” where a piano melody is combined with a multiplicity of vocal harmonies (think in the line of “Thoughts”) ending with screaming keyboards and flowing into the very rhythmic “Love Won’t Save The World” which is pretty much guitar and drums orientated. A track like “A Perfect Light” made me start to wonder... These guys sound like Spock’s Beard. It might however, and this is more likely, be an according interest in The Beatles.

“Be” is a well balanced mixture of easy listening melodies and pretty original and loose sympho and prog. I don’t think that any prog fan will be disappointed after listening to the album. Nevertheless I have some doubts whether “Be” will remain interesting after some months. There are probably too much easy listening Beatle-esque tracks on the album and too few mind blowing emotions. Then again, what do I know after a couple of times listening: this might well be another “Brave” or “Metropolis”. Time will tell.

- Rock E-Zine

"Review of Be in French / Translated in English"

Translated from French

After a double live (" Puppet show" 2003) that did leaves it beautiful to the beginnings of the group, the Americans of Salem Hill return with a new concept album, the third one of their career after "Catatonia" (1997) and "The robbery of Murder" (1998). For its part, the preceding opus studio "Not everybody's gold" (2000) proved to be itself a big step forward for the group and well I would say that "Be" goes again more far! His concept rests, between other, on the big interrogations of this century of the kind "That let us are we and where do we go?". Well evidently Salem Hill does not bring any response element, it leaves the listener to be done his own opinion, to each to interpret this history. Side music, one often did parallels between Salem Hill and Kansas, and well for the first time, the combo will not suffer anymore comparison and for causes, "Be" is l' œuvre more personal of Salem Hill. The references to Kansas totally blurred itself. The writing as much refined itself that his progressive one asserted itself. Carl Groves (guitars, keyboards and song) once again practically all wrote. It is so to speak it alone master on board and "Be" is his œuvre. The compos alternate rock passages and acoustic sequences guided by a theme that returns in a manner sporadic. The wealth of the instrumentation is a more, the finds are numerous, just like the vocal work is remarkable. Carl Groves is an excellent singers, it possesses a voice stamp delicate, it suffices to listen "Reflect" or "Seattle" to appreciate. The 15 pieces of "Be" link, the body is homogenous, without false grade and the melodies are all good magnificent ones. The titles have a less sustained rhythm that on "Not everybody's gold". This is principally played on mid-tempos. The construction more is stripped. On "Not everybody's gold", the foisonnement of ideas had tendency has to stifle the emotional aspect of the music. Here, it takes his full dimension, this album savors itself in his entirety and the emotion is constantly to the appointment. There is not title to put in epigraph, this is an all. With "Be" Salem Hill sits at last his reputation of big group. This disc is fascinating, it conceals wonders and it reveals a Carl Groves of which the writing attained his full maturity. This is without any doubt the better album of the group to this day. Know at last that the production is impeccable. Do not look for noon has 14 hours, this disc is essential!!! Denis - Antithetik

"Dutch Review of Be / Translated to English"

Translated from Dutch

In contrast till kindred spirits Echolyn (and in less extent of Spock's Beard), the also American tie Salem Hill is penetrated not yet marriage till the major league of the contemporary progliga. A pity and especially undeserved, for albums as ‘The Robbery or Murder' and ‘Not everbody's counted' wait still on general and wijdverbreide acknowledgement. Hopefully in this change will come with the new draft album ‘Be'.

The musical spectrum of Salem Hill do not let delimit self so willing (and da's all a compliment on self), but becomes controls clear through expertise and a marked sense for melody and harmony. Previous albums shone is also from through an uitgekiend balance between calmer popsongs and proper sturdy rockers and that with name on ‘Be' well even otherwise. It will most likely with the draft as such to make have, but the cd sounds rawer, more agressive and more sturdily than all predecessors. If you just begin to browse in the texts, mark you that themes as alienation and isolation, ingebed in a sarcastic view on the mankind, prominent be present. In tekstueel respect may the perhaps all kommer and want to be what the bell hits, in musical respect remains the group of sparks hit and chooses she, as just now already stolen, before a lake rockgerichte approach by which the stresses comes to lie especially on the guitar work of Groves and Daring. Admitted, the album is less accessible then bvb. ‘The Robbery', but the single splendor turns give and you are guaranteed verk (n) ocht. The relative short songs (15 pieces in totally) fit as meticulous worked stiff of a large legpuzzel seamless in each other. A number of that stiff are certain a separate indication landlord. The wondermooie samenzang in ‘So Human' for instance, that which has of Gentle Giant away. Or it strengthen to Kansas inclining and well in the hearing lying ‘The Drove Pole'. A small randbemerking between: the order, as indicated in the bijhorend bow, becomes not too strictly followed thus comes there already well what missing work at too just. Over contrasts spoken (and that remains the strong point of the group) : the fragile ‘Seattle' (piano, bass & song) egg is blown away comes look so after plants by it sturdily from the lumps ‘Apollyon', while Crowded House just round the corner on ‘The perfect light'. ‘Praise won' t save the world' has been blessed with a beautiful classic piano motive and a short only subtle guitar solo, a little bit to drawer Alan Morse on ‘Solitary Soul' (Spock's Beard - Snow). On the sturdy rocker ‘I didn' t come for you' let Groves (or Daring?) self again complete go. The cream of the crop sit turn ‘m these in the tail, actual. On the musing, what do droefgeestige ‘Beings' let Groves a dark shadow spot of its bovenkamer see: ‘So what life but a breath is? A tortured trance, a dance to death.' Breathtaking beautiful and subtle guitar solo at the end of the number…' Regard me' is the reprise of ‘Reflect', but then with a beautiful symphonic end agreement, that memories calls up at ‘The wanted places' of late Duncan Browne.

‘Be' is more than a worthy successor of ‘The Robbery or murder' (in terms of draft albums well to understand). Although the group more rockt then ever before, remains they her progressive roots get married. And songs write can they as the best. In that respect closes ‘Be' well good at by its predecessors. Strengthen sample of musical expertise!


"Review of Puppet Show"

Sometimes it takes a while for a band to get noticed. All good intentions aside you still need a great deal of luck and … the Internet. Having been together since 1991, Salem Hill has continued to grow and have taken step by step in order to create their unique blend of great melodies and wonderful craftmanship. The band delivered several superb studio albums but strangely enough never got the media attention that a band like Echolyn used to have. So maybe now was the right time to look back at their impressive career by means of a neatly packaged 2CD live set. In the liner notes the band says they hope it wasn’t an omen that most of the recordings were taped the day Lady Di died. Rest assured guys, 31st August is the day I got married, so you have to look at the bright side of life sometimes as well!

With recordings taken on numerous occasions whether during festivals or in small smoky venues, played over a span of five years, this set most certainly gives an ideal view of what Salem Hill is all about. The harmonies during "Real" already show that these guys offer more than your average prog tea party, delivering kind of CSNY meets Phish! This CD release most certainly could have been called “Certainly no overdubs” because there’s more than one bum note when "Between The Two" kicks off. The band decided to keep it as it was that night, illustrating the fragile nature of the band! Notice the "carpet crawlers" feel of the keyboards during the middle section! This collection of tunes also contains some recordings that were made during the band’s appearance at Progday in 1997, when they were lucky enough to have ex-Kansas violinist David Ragsdale on board as a guest. Apparently David never rehearsed with the band, just hopped on stage and delivered his own tunes which remarkably work very well. Just listen to "Brave New World" and "Awake" on disc one to be amazed as well! Especially "Brave New World" sounds like an unreleased Kansas tune, a true classic!

Salem Hill is the kind of band that not only is able to deliver great melodies but also has a professional hand at putting true epics together. In their own words "The Judgment" is the all-time Salem Hill composition, so if you like this one you will love their entire output. So maybe you better start with this track first then when you get the chance to check this album out? Me, I don’t like this track ... I luv’ it! With "Overture" it’s like listening to the intro for Rick Wakeman’s "Catherine Parr." Instead it’s part of a selection of material from the band’s The Robbery Of Murder album which, due to the fact that it concerns a concept album, is seldom played as part of a "regular" set. Although "When" doesn’t reach the "goosebumps" stature as on the studio version, it does remain a fantastic song. It would have sounded so much better with a real muted trumpet in the solo section but then again who has the budget to bring an extra guest on the road just for those couple of seconds?

Disc two opens with the fast and furious "Golden Crosses," which once again contains some Kansas references. Maybe the total of three different voices does the trick here? What is rather weird with Salem Hill is the fact that most of the members do write and deliver their own compositions, yet they all tend to contain the SH trademark. Patrick Henry’s "Listen To Me" contains loads if different atmospheres yet they all sound like authentic SH material to me. Sometimes you need to still work on existing songs as well to see to what extent you can change them to other, and who knows maybe to better things. "To The Hill" is one of them, having electronic percussion here as opposed to real drums on the studio version. It can work to such an extent where you will find it difficult to imagine the song with normal drums ever again. "Invisible" probably is Salem Hill at its loudest with drummer Kevin taking over lead vocals. The song finally ends in kind of a "free" form with the guitar getting every possible angle to shine. To end this incredible collection of live takes the band has recorded a brand new studio track called "Waiting For Wonderfulness." Once again all attention goes towards the vocal lines in order to make the arrangement as logical as possible. In the end you’ll be able to detect some Styx and/or Supertramp elements turning this song into a pleasant composition but surely not the band’s strongest effort.

Puppet Show is a double album with a varying result where quality is concerned. Due to the fact that it contains such a wide range of material and is recorded over a five year period it nevertheless gives a perfect view as to what Salem Hill is all about. For those with very good ears you can even detect the progress as time evolves! It most certainly is a wonderful testimony and proof that Salem Hill has wrongfully been rejected from the list of current prog icons as I don’t see any reason at all why they shouldn’t be seen as one of the world’s top ten prog -

"Another Be Review"

Sometimes an album can be so good it’s hard to gain any objectivity on it.

My usual practice in reviewing is to listen to an album once or twice, set it aside for a week or so, then listen again after it’s had a chance to “mellow” in my brain a bit. I knew I was in trouble when I listened to Salem Hill's Be for the fifth time in three days. To put it as simply as possible, I have not been this impressed by a concept album since I first heard Recycled and Quadrophenia back in the mid ‘70s.

I managed to put it aside, finally, then took it up again after two whole weeks. After another dozen listenings, I am still in awe of this music and the band that produced it. It leaps from musical style to musical style, but the whole thing works.

I know that some fans want a band to have "a sound," but I'm always impressed by what I call nimble bands, bands that can move from style to style without losing quality. Some of the better albums by Queen and Todd Rundgren's Utopia do this remarkably well. So did the later Beatles albums.

And so does Salem Hill. Very few of the individual songs on Be are all that amazing taken out of context of the whole. Don't misunderstand - they're all good songs. But not many of them would individually make me stand up and go "Wow!" the way the whole album does.

It isn't easy to make out just what the "concept" behind Be is. In at least one interview, they've refused to answer a direct question. But some details can be made out, and perhaps they add up to a whole picture.

(Incidentally: neither the tray insert nor the lyric sheet give the correct order of the tracks as they appear on the album. The correct order appears to the left, and I will discuss the songs in this order.)

The album opens with sounds of waves and seabirds – which has always heralded good powerful music, for some reason, at least in the cases of Quadrophenia and A Tab in the Ocean. These sounds open out into the first song, "Reflect," which sets the scene, showing us a "marker" by the sea and telling us that "no one quite remembers how / close the end passed by." It's a quiet little acoustic guitar number, very pretty.

From here on out, the lyrics all seem to be from the point of view of the album’s unnamed main character, whom I’ll simply call “B.”

"Symposium" is one of the more difficult songs to decipher. It opens with the sounds of children in a playground, with a tone that reminds me of “that scene” in T2. “B” seems to be seeking for an answer, but I can't tell what the question is. Certainly he seems to be far more convinced than any human ought to be of his own importance. The music that goes with the words is a strong, rocking piece that jumps between a couple of different themes.

"Nowhere is Home" sounds, both musically and lyrically, like something that could have come from a band like Pearl Jam. Though I'm not a big fan of theirs, it works here. We get a clearer picture of “B,” who regards himself as "a thing of disgust / The pariah cooped up in his hole," whose alienation from his fellow humans is "setting the stage / for the coming apocalypse, sinking the human ship..."

“The Great Stereopticon” pulls the title into the context for the first time. It’s a song of disdain for the human race, technology, popular culture: “I will scorch your epitaph ‘amuse me’ / Liquid crystal display on your coffin lid.” It adds little to our picture of “B,” but does bring in two key concepts: a capitalized “He,” whom I presume to be God, and the title of the album: “The spark He gave you--never a fire / The years of becoming--when will you be?” I’m not entirely clear on this, but the impression I come away with is that “B” resents the wasted potential of the human race; yet it might as easily be a step outside, the narrator speaking to “B.”

“B”’s alienation continues to build in the next few songs. “Children of the Dust” is a hard-rock rage-song, a Grand Guignol catalog of the crimes of humanity. “Children of the Dust” seems to be a code word for “human beings” in this set of lyrics. The song’s crooned-chanted bridge (rather reminiscent of Kansas, actually), “so human...” is also the title of the next song, displaying less anger and more of the disdain mentioned above. Musically, it was the first song to really catch my attention, a kind of cross between late-Beatles pop and Gentle Giant crosstalk polyphony, and one of the best songs on the album for my money.

“The Red Pool,” which could easily have been a huge hit in the heyday of stadium rock, is one of those things that could pass for a love (lust) song if you don’t listen carefully. Things become ominous as it speaks of the “thinning air” and how time has grown scarce. This may be an exception to the point of view; “I wouldn’t touch you / When I had the choice” sounds to me almost as if it were sung to, rather than by, “B.”

“Underneath,” at the center of the album, is startlingly tender, considering that the music is nearly m -


Mimi's Magic Moment (2005)
Be (2003)
Puppet Show (2003)
Not Everybody's Gold (2000)
The Robbery of Murder (1998)
Catatonia (1997)
Different Worlds (1993)
Salem Hill (1992)


Feeling a bit camera shy


"Is there still a place for music that is interesting, well-crafted and cerebral?" Salem Hill's leader, Carl Groves, asks. "God, I hope so." Salem Hill was formed in 1991 by Groves, bassist Pat Henry, and drummer Kevin Thomas. Michael Dearing, a childhood chum of Groves' joined a bit later. Their goal was simple: Make music of creative and artistic merit. Not an easy task in the blossoming Grunge era. Nevertheless, the band recorded and released their debut, "Salem Hill" in the spring of 1992. This album, along with its follow-up, "Different Worlds" in 1993 garnered promising, if limited reviews. "Our subject matter on the first two albums is esoteric, to say the least," Thomas explains. "We'd perform a song based upon Stephen King and Peter Straub's The Talisman ("Between the Two"), and follow it with a song about Judas ("Aceldama"). I think folks came away impressed, but confused."

The confusion was temporary. After a 3-year hiatus from performing and recording, the band reassembled to write and record their third album, 1997's "Catatonia." Groves explains, "'Catatonia' is a concept album depicting the internal journey of a man born without the ability to dream. To compensate, he is able to self-induce these catatonic states at will and transport himself back to his youth, as well as to fictional places where he can interact with characters from his favorite books and stories. The catch is that as he gets older-and bigger, it becomes more and more difficult to leave Catatonia. So he avoids it for the early part of his adulthood. After years of living a mundane and routine life, in bitterness he decides to enter Catatonia, knowing that he'll probably be stuck there permanently. As fate would have it, once there, he experiences his first dream!" Propelled by such powerful songs as "Peculiar People," "Awake," and the 11 minute tour-de-force, "The Judgment," Catatonia received critical acclaim and precipitated an invitation for the band to play 1997's international music festival, Progday, in Chapel Hill, NC.

The success of "Catatonia" enabled the band to pull out all the stops in recording their next album, 1998's "The Robbery of Murder." Another conceptual piece, The Robbery of Murder is an emotional roller coaster ride which follows the protagonist's quest to hunt down and kill the drunk driver responsible for killing his father. Christopher Thelen of The Daily Vault writes, "No single disc has caused me to be moved as The Robbery of Murder did. This is a powerful listen." Following international critical acclaim, European distributors, Cyclops Records, signed the band to their label. Thomas explains that one of the biggest benefits of this partnership is that it has enabled the band to remaster and re-release Salem Hill's entire back catalogue. 2000 saw the addition of keyboardist, Michael Ayers and the release of the band's fifth album, "Not Everybody's Gold." Although not conceptual in nature like the past two releases, Not Everybody's Gold is another offering that carries the listener on a musical journey. Capping off the album is the majestic 28-minute "Sweet Hope Suite." Groves explains, "'Sweet Hope Suite' is really a Jobian type dialogue between two friends. One friend is struggling to find his place in the world, and the other friend is trying to point out the obvious.

On the strength of "Not Everybody's Gold," Salem Hill again headlined the ProgDay festival in 2000, and played at DragonCon, the largest scifi-fantasy convention in North America. But changes were on the horizon. The recording sessions for "Not Everybody's Gold" had been grueling, and Groves was not willing to enter the studio again under those circumstances. Thomas moved to Florida. Unofficially, the band called it quits. In June of 2002, as a tribute to their fans, Salem Hill rented out a hall in their home area and invited anyone who wanted to attend to come enjoy an evening with them. As a lark, they also recorded the evening. To the other four's dismay, Michael Ayers did not participate in the event. Impressed by fans who had flown in from all over the country, and invigorated by Thomas's move back to southern Kentucky, the band began discussing a future. Sparked by the live tracks from their fan appreciation party and having a vault of older live recordings to work with, the band compiled "Puppet Show," released in March 2003. The album garnered immediate praise from fans and critics alike, propelled by almost two hours of fun and frivolity that many folks who'd never seen Salem Hill live were unaware the band possessed. As a bonus, the four original members recorded a new studio track, "Waiting for Wonderfulness." It was upon completing this tune that the band seriously discussed going forward.

In October 2003, Salem Hill released their seventh album, "Be." Like "Catatonia" and "The Robbery of Murder", this album is conceptual. Easily the most collaborative work they’ve ever done, "Be" finds Salem Hill at the peak