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Music | HERE’S AN ALBUM • № 7


Record label:
MMP CD 0102 | MMP CD 0103

Released: 1999



Images: Wojciech Pacuła | Adam Łassa
Translation: Marek Dyba

   No. 7

No 201

February 1, 2021

"Here's an album ..." is a series describing exceptional Polish music albums, with particular focus on their sound quality and the way they are released. In the sixth episode of this cycle we present an album belonging to the progressive rock genre - from 1999, reissued only once, titled 99 by the group called ABRAXAS.

OLISH TOPGUITAR.PL PORTAL IN ITS 10 greatest progressive rock albums chart names the following ones:

1. Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway | 1974
2. King Crimson, In the Wake of Poseidon | 1970
3. Yes, Close To The Edge | 1972
4. Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick | 1972
5. Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Best Of | [1970-1979] 1994
6. Camel, The Snow Goose | 1975
7. The Soft Machine, Seven | 1973
8. Focus, Moving Waves | 1971
9. U.K., U.K. | 1978
10. Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of The Moon | 1973

⸜ MACIEJ WARDA, 10 najwspanialszych albumów rocka progresywnego, September 20th 2020; accessed: 22.12.2020

⸜ The first release from 1999

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such charts, each of them subjective and no one agrees 100% with any of them. But I am mentioning this particular list for one reason - it nicely represents the time when the most important pieces for this type of music were created. It was the first half of the 1970s, even though it was the Frank Zappa’s and The Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out! from 1966 that are considered the first such album.

A dictionary of popular music terms by the Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, by Adam Wolański, defines PROGRESSIVE ROCK as:

«A style in rock music, based on the stylistic means of the old boogie-woogie, blues and folk music, characterized by the use of synthesizers and other electronic instruments producing sound special effects».

To this definition we should also add the presence of long guitar solos, the popularity of extensive, multi-part music suites, theatrical-like performances, but also repeated accusations of endless repetitions, as well as soulful, inspired, often pseudo-intellectual texts, which are meant to be mystical, and usually close to kitsch. However, there is a consensus that progressive rock, definitively ended by punk rock explosion (The Clash) on the one hand and synthesizer music on the other, including the new romantic (OMD, Depeche Mode), played a large role in the development of rock music. What's more, albums from that period are on the list of almost all lovers of high-end audio systems, because their creators paid special attention to the sound quality.

For obvious reasons, the Polish music scene was largely uneffected by this trend. Even if some great tracks were created in this spirit by SBB or Exodus, and its elements can be found on the albums of Niemen and Nurt, and even Skaldowie, they did not affect Polish music in any special way. The more that it was - almost in 100% - music secondary to the above-mentioned bands from Great Britain.

It only starts to get interesting in the 1980s. Already at the beginning of this decade, bands playing music referring to previous prog-rock experiences, such as Marillion and IQ, were formed, that were referred to as < i>neo progressive rock ones. With time, they were joined by bands playing classic progrock, and the prefix "neo" was dropped more and more often, and it was described simply as a new wave of this type of music.

⸜ CD from 1999

The says that this period ended in 1987, when Fish, the founder and vocalist of the Marillion group, began his solo career. In turn, the authors of Wikipedia believe that this wave has not subsided at all and music of this trend is still being created. I agree with them. Among the most important, in my opinion, performers of this music, I would mention the Porcupine Tree band led by Steven Wilson.

Among Polish bands practicing contemporary progressive rock, Wikipedia lists such bands as Riverside, Collage, Abraxas and Quidam. This is an absolutely imperfect list, because another page lists as many as 55 groups that in our country that had something to do with such music, but it is a list that indicates the most important bands for progressive rock. Among them, it is the ABRAXAS that has a special place in my heart.


ABRAXAS IS A BAND EXISTING, on and off, from 1986 to 2000, playing rock music often described as progressive rock; The official biography on the RMF.FM radio website says about them: "Polish band playing neoprogressive rock". Its founders were the vocalist ADAM ŁASSA and the guitarist ŁUKASZ ŚWIĘCH. The name was inspired by the god of good and evil named Abraxas, appearing in Hermann Hesse's novel Demian, intended to identify the interpenetrating dualism that over time became the band's showcase. This choice was not accidental, because Łassa is known for his spiritual fervor and spiritual search.

Although the Abraxas only existed for 15 years, they managed to pass several stages and change the line-up several times. The first chapter began in Bydgoszcz in 1987, during the explosion of the Polish punk scene. In 1989, the band suspended its activity, and resumed it in 1991. It was then joined by MIKOŁAJ MATYSKA (drums), KRZYSZTOF PACHOLSKI (keyboards), RAFAŁ RATAJCZAK (bass guitar) and RADEK KAMIŃSKI (classical guitar). It is the time when most of the songs that were included in the band's first album, released only in 1996, were created. Cykl obraca się. Narodziny, dzieciństwo pełne duszy, uśmiechów niewinnych i zdrady... (an interesting fact - it was also released in Japan, although the album was pressed in Poland).

In 1993, Radek Kamiński dies in a car accident and the band suspends its activity again, this time for a shorter time. They played live concerts the following year, with a new line-up: SZYMON BRZEZIŃSKI (guitar), MARCIN MAK (drums), MARCIN BŁASZCZYK (keyboards) and OLGIERD BAŁTAKI (bass), who was soon replaced by the returning Rafał Ratajczak. In 1996, Abraxas plays important concerts, acts as a support for Fish, Porcupine Tree and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and in July and August they record material for their first album.

⸜ Information that the album has been enriched with out-of-phase spatial effects

In 1998, the band releases their second album. It was conceived as a showcase of the band also outside Poland, where it was already known and valued at that time. So the album is released in two language versions, which will be repeated later for the 99; The Polish title is Centurie and the English title is Prophecies. Moreover, the musical skills of Szymon Brzeziński and Marcin Błaszczyk, who are invited to cooperate on the solo project of Collin Bass (Camel), were appreciated. As we read in the band's biography posted on the website, in 1999 "following the success" the band records and releases another album, entitled simply 99.

It was recorded after another line-up change, when the drummer MIKOŁAJ MATYSKA and the co-founder of the first line-up - ŁUKASZ ŚWIĘCH joined the band. In 2000, a recording of the group's concert was released - Live in Memoriam, which is a tribute to the tragically deceased presenter, translator and music critic - Tomasz Beksiński - a fan and friend of the band. On the album you can hear guest appearance of Anja Orthodox (Closterkeller). And this is where the band's story ends. As a post scriptum in 2004, the founders of the band, Adam Łassa and Łukasz Święch, as the ASSAL & ZENN duo, release an album under the same title.


AMONG ABRAXAS GROUP FANS, there is no consensus on which album is the best and which is the most important for them. In my opinion it is the 99. I believe that it is the most artistically mature, the most musically refined album. But it doesn't stop there. Its equally important advantage is the sound quality, i.e. the sound of the band. And this one is phenomenal - it is one of the best recorded Polish rock music albums. In addition, it was recorded using psychoacoustic knowledge. The person responsible for the sound is JACEK GAWŁOWSKI.

Holder of the Grammy statuette for the mix of the Night in Silesia by Randy Brecker and Włodek Pawlik from 2012, an excellent sound engineer specializing in mixing, mastering and remastering, a man responsible for the sound of all albums from the refreshed Polish Jazz series, producer of the last two T.Love albums, recorded the album of the Abraxas group at a time when his studio was still located, as he told me, in one of Warsaw's cellars.

I am an absolute fan of this album and I know it by heart. I have listened to it at least several dozen times at every stage of my music and system education. This is because it was recorded using the surround effects we know from the Q-SOUND system. So those that we can hear on the albums of Sting (The Soul Cages) or Roger Waters (Amused to Death; more about the system HERE). What is extremely interesting is the fact that the mixing in Q-Sound requires special equipment and an encoder, and Jacek did it using home-made methods, and yet the effect is just as good.

I asked him about it several times, wanting to know how, using such modest technical means, he was able to create a world that on this album is simply unusual, but he always dodged the answer - or maybe it only seems so to me - saying that he can't remember the details. So I asked the band's founder, Adam Łassa, about it.


| A few simple words…

Vocalist, composer

WOJCIECH PACUŁA What was the creative process like, I mean, how were the lyrics and music created for the 99?
ADAM ŁASSA For me personally, the process of inspiration and the act of creating is the most enjoyable part of making music. The moment when a story slowly begins to unfold from the palette of sounds, and one comes from the other and begins to intertwine into an inseparable whole

I remember that before the album was made, I knew that I wanted to write a story about a specific person, such as me or you, where the story focuses on a non-obvious journey between two worlds. Music and lyrics were created independently, but conceptually. When I was working on the text, I knew what I wanted to write about and what emotions I wanted to describe. There was no problem with music either. We quickly arranged the ideas of Szymon, Rafał and Łukasz for the album.

To ensure a certain continuity of the story, I came up with the idea to connect the following pieces with short episodes / bridges in the form of melorecitation. It was a bit of a risky procedure, but we were never afraid of the experiments. All in all, it turned out well and stuck together some threads that I couldn't develop for obvious reasons. After all, I left many of these thoughts suspended in the air, but it is not up to me to interpret these associations.

I can only add that the story itself and the vision of the album's concept fit well the moment of the coming of the new millennium and the ominous rumble of the turn of the centuries, which additionally inspired us all with a mysterious prophecy and the mystery to come.

WP Who chose Jacek Gawłowski’s studio?
From the very beginning it was a deliberate choice of both the band and the Kuźnia Agency, with which we worked at that time.

Jacek Gawłowski mixed our material for the previous Centurie album and we were very pleased with the results. So we wanted to go a step further and let him also take care of the recording process. For Jacek it was quite a challenge, because he had not recorded bands from this music trend before and wondered how to get into this type of atmosphere. Personally, I think that it was the missing "ingredient" that we missed to achieve the final „taste”, because Gawłowski's open approach spiced it up with something "extra".

WP How did the studio sessions look like?
The studio sessions did not differ from the previous recordings in any special way. The recording schedule was always similar. This is a multi-track, multi-session recording - rhythm section, keyboards, guitars and finally vocals. Sure, twenty years later I might be missing something, but it always looks roughly the same.

⸜ The English limited release

From my perspective, the session required a double effort as I recorded the vocals for the entire session also in English. Metal Mind (the band's publisher - ed.) insisted on recording such a version as well, although I did not share this opinion. Personally, I think that due to the language and metaphors I use, it was too strenuous a task. Maybe if I had known in advance that there were such plans, I would have had a different attitude towards this idea.

WP Did you participate in mixing and mastering?
Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. We did our jobs interchangeably, because I remember that we were accommodated in one of Warsaw's estates, and the apartment itself had its limitations. We tried to work in the studio so that the logistics would work.

We devoted most of our time to refining the material, and some fragments were created even right before the session, in the apartment where we lived. But it turned me on and probably worked for the boys as well. I remember that I used my entire vacation to stay in Warsaw to reconcile the recordings with work, but it was such an intense experience that all I could feel was adrenaline and positive vibrations. As for the mix, it seems to me that there was no need for all of us to „supervise” Jacek constantly. We had a lot of confidence in him and it paid off.

WP What did you expect from this album soundwise? - Did you achieve what you wanted?
We wanted to achieve a rich and modern sound with great clarity in individual layers and on many frequencies. On the one hand, we were looking for new sounds and solutions, and on the other, we dreamed of going back to the lost and sometimes archaic sounds or instruments. Jacek Gawłowski was also open to experiments and various ideas, even the strangest ones. Sometimes it was just small things, like the hospital noise from the life supporting equipment. But we knew it was important and we did not spare our time for such flavors.

In the Iris track, we added fragments of archival recordings kept on disks, from Radek Kamiński's compositions, so that at least in such a symbolic way, a trace of him would remain on this album. It worked, and I know that thanks to this we kept a thread that connects our worlds. I personally always try to remember those who are no longer with us.

That's why it's hard not to mention Mikołaj, who passed a few months ago. Certainly too early and completely unexpectedly. I think that Mikołaj as a member of the Abraxas brought to the band confidence and quality behind the drums and a professional approach to his instrument, which he treated with reverence and respect. I appreciated his charisma and sense of humor, intelligence and rich imagination. Fortunately, he left recordings behind, and you can never cheat the music.

⸜ The English version featured a different color of the cover and the disc itself

WP What happened with the album’s cover?
The manager JANUSZ KORBIŃSKI was mainly involved in the process of creating the album’s art and consulted his ideas with us. The idea was the same as always, that nothing would be literal, that we would mix up different means of expression and create something original. The cover is memorable or not. Sometimes less is more. I would have probably thought of something else, a knight in a kayak or a bat in a hammock ;-).

WP How do you remember that time?
Overall, when I recall these moments from my memory, it seems to me that they gave me a lot of positive energy and a large dose of unique experiences. After all, it is unusual to record an album, and even more so when you feel that the world is open to you. Another thing was that less than six months later, the band started to break up and it was the last studio album of Abraxas. After all, we were in agreement with 99 and we were guided by the good of the music. We invited renowned musicians, Krzysiek Ścierański and Anja Orthodox, to collaborate on the album. It was also a step into an unknown but in a quite interesting direction.

Besides, there were also funny moments during the sessions that I always remember with a smile. Once, after a whole day of work in the studio, Łukasz Święcha and I drove to a gas station to buy something stronger for our long night conversations. And behind us in the queue, there was none other than the late Zbyszek Wodecki in a good company and in a good mood. Łukasz and I decided that we would not miss this opportunity and we started humming Pszczółka Maja ... - oh, that was fun, hehe ... And the queue was quite long, the people standing in it also had a lot of fun. Let me reassure you that we behaved nicely.



THE LAST STUDIO ALBUM, THE ABRAXAS, was released only on a Compact Disc, but in two versions, with an additional variation - in Polish and English (MMP CD 0102 and MMP CD 0103, respectively). They differed not only in language but also in color; the Polish version used warm, saturated colors, and the English version was green. But the latter also has a limited variant, a disc inserted into a case with holes, limited to 1000 copies (mine is number 0141). In all three cases, however, it was a classic release on aluminum and in a jewelbox .

On the inner part of the cover, hidden under the disc, we find the recommendation: "Due to the use of a stereo extension system, the disc is not intended for mono listening". The material was recorded in Jacek Gawłowski's Q-Sound studio in May 1999, apart from the drums recorded in the Sonus studio. Tomasz Dziubiński was the producer and Jacek Gawłowski was the music producer. And he is responsible for both recording, mixing and mastering. We talked about it with Jacek many times and it seems to be one of the keys to success, which means leaving the mix and master in the hands of the same person. There is no information about it anywhere, but I assume the recording was digital.

Let me add that such artists as Anja Ortodox, singing in the Spowiedź, Krzysztof Ścierański playing the fretless bass in Jezebel and Dorota Dzięcioł and Joanna Kalińska as backing vocals participated in recording of this album.

⸜ The reissue from 2010 has a slightly changed printing on the disc - the cover remains unchanged

The album was re-released only once, but on a gold disc - in 2011 (Kuźnia JK2011CD07, Gold CD). It has exactly the same cover as well as almost unchanged graphics in the booklet. I have not found any information about the new master anywhere on it, so I assume that the same material was used as for the original release. The whole thing was placed in the then fashionable plastic box with rounded corners, the similar to the one in which the SACDs were sold.


GETTING TO KNOW THE 99 CD I would suggest to start with listening to it yourself, from start to finish, without reading my comments below. I just don't want to spoil your fun - the album, listened to for the first time, provided that we like this kind of sound, makes a great impression. And only later, after some time, you can sit down in front of the audio system with my notes in hand. I will guide you step by step, pointing out the most important elements of the following tracks, suggesting what they should sound like and - this is very important in this case - WHERE.

14.06.1999 2:58
Czekam 1:42
Jezebel 6:49
Szaleństwo Przyszło Nocą 0:17
Spowiedź 4:21
Anatema, Czyli Moje Obsesje 7:30
Pętla Medialna 3:37
Noel 5:11
`37 1:16
Medalion 6:10
Iris 6:40
Oczyszczenie 4:30
Moje Mantry 3:08

14.06.1999 The spoken sequence that opens the album immediately shows what we are dealing with - the album in terms of artistic means related to its production, with a "program". The whole thing begins with vague whispers spread across the sphere around us. In a moment right in front of us, almost at our fingertips, we hear Łassa's strong, dense vocal, the echo of which crashing against the walls of the "church" surrounds us, coming most strongly from the right side, from behind our head. The hard, rock, energetic track ends with a long echo that - again - comes from behind, behind us.

CZEKAM Another bridge announcing the song Jezabel, is played on keyboards. And again - some of the sounds come from the sphere in front of us, but the ones behind our head seem to be more important. At least until at 1:43 the electrocardiogram starts beeping, having a strong representation in front of us, but not directly in front of us, but on the left side. And again Łassa's voice, this time focused in a dense ball in front of us ...

JEZEBEL Immediately afterwards, there is a strong, low fretless bass played (brilliantly!) by Krzysztof Ścierański - it is one of the best recorded instruments of this type in Polish phonography. It is accompanied by the sound of the synthesizer surrounding the listener. The drums also sound surprisingly well here, with a dynamic entrance, but without unpleasant contours, with distinct cymbals, without brightening them. Importantly - the drummer's playing technique is perfectly legible, and the changes in the way of hitting cymbals are perfectly audible. The vocal that only appears at 1:59 is soft and resembles a loud whisper rather than a rock scream.

SZALEŃSTWO PRZYSZŁO NOCĄ The title of this bridge is almost as long as it lasts - only 11 seconds. But this is another display of Jacek Gawłowski's capabilities. Łassa's voice is around us, but behind it there is a huge space, a very long reverberation, it really suggests a huge cave or church nave.

⸜ The 2010 reissue was pressed on a gold, theoretically better, base

SPOWIEDŹ Immediately afterwards there are strong, dense, perfectly legible drums, with strongly played snare drums. And the bass - it's a beautiful example of how you can play quickly, which is, however, legible and clear. It sounds low and is also taut. The vocals are set quite far away, but at 1:16 he starts shouting "I'm a murderer!"

ANATEMA, CZYLI MOJE OBSESJE This time it is not a bridge, but an introduction to the piece. It is based on a synthesizer underneath and a guitar playing on top - positioned far in front of us, and the synthesizer surrounds the listening position. At 1:57 the Abraxas vocalist starts singing - this time his voice has been processed in such a way that it seems as if he is singing in a small room with a fairly high reverb.

The guitars, usually coming from the place in front of us, here have been separated into the "channels" behind our head - there they begin and their reverberation ends in front of us. Only the solo in the third minute is a classic one, on the listening axis. It is a multi-threaded track, because at the end of the third minute we are left with only the vocal, synthesizer and a quiet guitar, only to return to the prog-rock madness. A beautiful track with a female vocal at the end that also surrounds the listener.

PĘTLA MEDIALNA Pętla… starts with a synthesizer low bass, followed by drums, like from a radio, and a different synthesizer sound around us. At 1:28 playing with the voices starts that circle around our head, with the sound from the sampler underneath.

NOEL And again the synthesizers around us, the background to what is happening on the axis. A guitar in a classic programmatic style and with such a sound, synthesizers again and from 1:00 vocals - around us, but without a clear "center", diffused, quiet, yet incredibly clear. The song then progresses to intense, hard part, somewhat similar to what prog-metal bands do, to go back to the idiom of progressive music, with a long guitar solo. The bass guitar sounds great here, it is not too strong or deep, but it is the "backbone" of the song. And there is also a vocalization that briefly appears at 3:46.

’37 A bridge that imitates the reproduction of an old vinyl record, with organs but in stereo. It is also an out-of-phase sound, but subtle.

MEDALION Medalion starts with a piece played on percussion instruments, under which the synthesizer is placed. Already at 0:30, however, the vocal comes in, coming from the whole sphere in front of us, without a single center. And the bass, hitting for the first time at 1:00. Once again an example of how this instrument can sound on high-end equipment.

IRIS starts with a strong bass and drums, but most of all with the sounds of a synthesizer arranged in various planes in front of us and on the sides. Together with the guitars and drums, the bass creates a progressive, forward-moving rhythm, which at 1:53 turns into a march with leading vocal. The imaging is amazing here because there is a distant plane in front of the synthesizer, a surrounding vocal that has its center of gravity in front of us, and then a guitar that surrounds us from the right.

OCZYSZCZENIE The organ is the basic sound in the prog-rock keayboarders arsenal. This is also how the Purification begins. At the end of the first minute, the whole band comes in, along with the vocals - a whisper, but clear and clean that seems to form right in front of us. Again we have a vocal that comes from the right but far behind the lead vocal. And again, bass - strong, focused, but beautifully soft. The whole thing is surrounded by synthesizer sounds that come from the sphere around us.

MOJE MANTRY It's a track that starts almost mono - with a strong guitar and drums with bass in front of us, quite a distance away. It is a tribute to prog-rock guitar with a beautiful long solo. Only in a moment does an electric piano join them, which gently resonates around us. We are also surrounded by vocals and then choruses. At 1:57 a voice comes in again, but far to the left from behind our head.


99 by Abraxas is an album that should be listened to in its entirety, from beginning to end. It has a keynote and is also musically connected with short instrumental inserts/bridges. It seems to be one of the best Polish progressive rock albums, and in the broader sense simply one of the best Polish albums. Its sonic dimension is like from outer space - it's beautiful colors, great planes and clarity. And the stereophony! Sitting in the center between the speakers, listener is literally transported to another dimension.

⸜ „High Fidelity’s” reference system

Interestingly, the gold version from 2000 is slightly worse than the original. The sound has lower resolution and slightly muted dynamics, which makes everything a bit warmer and less clear. I wonder if it is the changes introduced at the stage of mastering and cutting the glass matrix, or the effect of the passage of time and multiple copies of digital material. Therefore, if you want to hear what I hear, look for the first edition on a classic CD.


|1| STAN GETZ, Stan Getz w Polsce, Polskie Nagrania „Muza” | 1960
|2| PORTER BAND, Helicopters, Pronit | 1980
|3| VARIUS MANX, The Beginning, Polskie Nagrania „Muza” | 1991
|4| KOMEDA QUINTET, Astigmatic, Polskie Nagrania „Muza” | 1966
|5| 2 PLUS 1, Blue Lights Of Pasadena (Disco Version), Maxi-SP, Autobahn Musik Produktion GmbH/Express | JAPAN | 1981
|7| HELMUT NADOLSKI, Meditation/Medytacje, LP, Veriton Records SXV-786 | 1974