Tarkus (song)

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"Tarkus"
Song by Emerson, Lake & Palmer from the album Tarkus
Released June 14, 1971 (UK)
August, 1971 (US)
Recorded January 1971, Advision Studios
Genre Progressive rock, symphonic rock, jazz rock
Length 20:35
Writer Keith Emerson, Greg Lake
Producer Greg Lake
Tarkus track listing
"Tarkus"
(1)
Jeremy Bender
(2)

"Tarkus" is the title track of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's second album. The progressive rock epic clocks in at 20:35. It was the longest studio song by the band until the three impressions of "Karn Evil 9". The name "Tarkus" refers to the armadillo-tank from the William Neal paintings on the album cover. The artist has explained that the name is an amalgamation between 'Tartarus' (a place of punishment mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4) and 'carcass' (hence the name being written in bones on the album cover). Consequently, the name refers to the "futility of war, a man made mess with symbols of mutated destruction."[1] The song "Tarkus" itself supposedly follows the adventures of Tarkus from his birth, through a fight with a manticore, which he loses and concludes with an aquatic version of Tarkus named "Aquatarkus". The word 'tarkus' means wisdom in Estonian.

Emerson, when asked what work he is proudest of, named his Piano Concerto (from the Works release) and Tarkus.[2]

Emerson recorded a new instrumental version with Marc Bonilla, Terje Mikkelsen and the Münchner Rundfunkorchester, which appears on their 2012 album Three Fates under the title "Tarkus - Concertante".

Movements[edit]

"Tarkus" itself is broken down into seven parts:

  1. "Eruption" (instrumental) — 0:00
  2. "Stones of Years" — 2:43
  3. "Iconoclast" (instrumental) — 6:27
  4. "Mass" — 7:43
  5. "Manticore" (instrumental) — 10:55
  6. "Battlefield" — 12:47
  7. "Aquatarkus" (instrumental) — 16:39

Personnel[edit]

Tarkus Story[edit]

A visual representation of the story, as seen on the inner gatefold of the LP

The parts supposedly follow Tarkus' birth in a volcanic eruption centuries before known history. The exact nature of Tarkus' origin and actions are unknown, and left ambiguous by its creator, Keith Emerson. "Eruption" itself presents a musical impression of cascading eruption on the keyboards in a 10/8 time signature, backed by Carl Palmer on drums. This segues into "Stones of Years" the first of three vocal sections.

The third, fourth and fifth are supposedly the movements that represent the enemies he meets:

  • "Iconoclast" is the third movement and the movement which represents travel of Tarkus and the enemy he meets first. The "Iconoclast", according to the inner gatefold, is a mixture of a pterodactyl and a war airplane, and is rapidly overpowered by guitar for "Mass".
  • "Mass" is the name of Tarkus' second enemy and the fourth movement, which is filled with numerous religious references; it often has its lyrics dropped in tours by the Keith Emerson Band, as does Stones of Years. The "Mass" is often thought to be a mixture of a lizard, lobster and a rocket launcher.
  • This is followed by "Manticore" in which the final enemy of Tarkus appears and a battle ensues between variations on the "Tarkus" theme and the Manticore's. Ultimately, "Tarkus" is defeated and "Battlefield" follows.
  • The movement "Battlefield" is the only part written entirely by Greg Lake.
  • "Aquatarkus" closes the track, centering mostly on a march based on the "Battlefield" theme and then returning to the original "Eruption" theme as a farewell to Tarkus and a greeting to the aquatic Aquatarkus. Since "Aquatarkus" is the last movement, this creates a sort of "Buried, but not dead" effect to the story.[3]

The Making of Tarkus[edit]

According to Emerson, while Palmer was excited by some of the technical opportunities the song would present, Lake was not quite so enamoured, telling Emerson "If you want to play that sort of stuff, I suggest you play it on your solo album." The band almost broke up over the issue, Emerson telling Lake "Take it or leave it." The managers convinced Lake to stay and record the piece.[4] Lake evidently did have the album grow on him, stating in an interview after the release: "It's about the futility of conflict expressed in [the] context [...] of soldiers and war. But it's broader than that. The words are about revolution that's gone, that has happened. Where has it got anybody? Nowhere." He has also complimented "Stones of Years" as one of his favourite parts of "Tarkus", though he admits is not entirely sure about what it means, but says it is about, "listening, understanding, hearing".

When asked how Tarkus could be written so quickly (six days), Emerson said:

"Our sort of creativity comes in varying periods. We get long periods when there isn't any creativity, we go into a studio and nothing sounds right, you know. Tarkus was written in six days because there was an awful lot of inspiration and one idea triggered another idea, and it was a long series of ideas being triggered off of what we had already done."[5]

Reception[edit]

The song, described by one journalist to be "about a post-apocalyptic, metal-plated, bionic armadillo outfitted with enough weaponry to wage perpetual solo warfare,"[6] remains a fan favourite and was, and still is, consistently played at ELP, Keith Emerson Band and Carl Palmer band concerts.

"Stones of Years" was used as a single from "Tarkus". The album as a whole reached number 1 on UK charts and number 9 in the US.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer played a 27 minute version of Tarkus on Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends... Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. A brief sample of King Crimson's Epitaph ("Confusion will be my epitaph, as I crawl a cracked and broken path, if we make it we can all sit back and laugh...") appears as a coda to Battlefield, followed by Aquatarkus and an extended solo by Emerson.

In popular culture[edit]

Part of the song served as a background in Soviet film "Begstvo mistera Mak-Kinli" (1975).

The 1986 manga series, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure which often features characters named after popular western musical acts, had a ruthless knight named Tarkus in its first arc Phantom Blood

In 2004, the Japanese classical pianist Aki Kuroda released an album with a classical adaptation of "Tarkus".

In 2007, Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess included a cover of this song in his solo album The Road Home, which consists mostly of covers of classic progressive rock songs.

The 2011 video game, Dark Souls features a character named Black Iron Tarkus who can be summoned to fight the boss in Sen's Fortress

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Tarkus". Williamneal.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-20. 
  2. ^ Fortner, Stephen (December 2010), "KEITH EMERSON Interviewed by You", Keyboard 
  3. ^ Songfacts article
  4. ^ Emerson, Lake & Palmer, "Story Of The Band," Beyond the Beginning, Sanctuary Records, DVD, Release Date: August 16, 2005
  5. ^ "Circus, March 1972". ladiesofthelake.com. Retrieved February 11, 2012. 
  6. ^ Boehm, Mike (1 January 2010), "The Genesis of a progressive trend?; The Hall of Fame's vote for the prog-rock band may be just the beginning for the genre -- or an anomaly", Los Angeles Times 

Further reading[edit]