Two of the most memorable progressive acts of the last 20 years have been the Japanese pick-up band Mr Sirius and French outfit Hecenia. Both could be uncharitably described as vanity projects - the former for multi-instrumentalist Kazuhito Miyatake and the latter for keyboard player Thierry Brandet.
Both bands produced music of scarcely-disguised late-Romanticism, distinguished by debts to ELP, Yes and most of all The Enid- but despite Brandet's fondness for Bachian triplets and scales in the vein of infinitely poorer Emersonian epigones like Par Lindh, both managed to create a harmonic soundworld of progressions and chords that really did set them apart. Brandet's 'La Vieille Femme et la Chandelle' from the 1989 Hecenia album Légendes is, despite the programmed drums on the original, a bona fide prog classic; the triumphant climactic (and recapitulated) synth theme leading into the first statement's reprise is redolent of mid-70s Genesis (and the 'mellotron' choirs are fakes) but this it would take a heart of stone not to be stirred. Brandet, certainly on this album if less so on the consistently impressive but relatively bloodless Le Couleur du Feu (1994) is a master of cinematic chordal tension and release.
Mr Sirius' 1990 sensationally brilliant album Dirge is one of the very finest and most sophisticated progressive albums ever made, notably less influenced by the harmonies of Chopin, Liszt and Bach than by the more allusive and elusive language of Gabriel Fauré. This fabulous fantasy of Zappaesque time signatures, big band textures, tear-assing instrumental virtuosity, out-and-out symphonic bombast and chromatic delicacy has to be heard to be believed.
Where are they now? Miyatake is selling umbrellas, having taken over his family's Tokyo firm; Brandet is a qualified yoga teacher in eastern France. Both men have made choices; we should respect them, but also remind them that were the muse ever to return, an audience would be willing to crawl over acid-steeped broken glass to obtain new product.
Myspace, my boys, myspace.