The original career of Hungarian art-rock band Solaris lasted from 1980 to 1986, after which the band realigned as Napoleon Boulevard, commercializing its sound to make it more acceptable to the Hungarian State Publishing Company. When the Soviet Bloc crumbled, Solaris's former members were surprised to learn that the band had a cult following in the West. The group then reunited for gigs in California and Brazil, and now has made "Nostradamus: Book of Prophecies," its first studio album since 1984's "The Martian Chronicles."
Like the recently reassembled Czech band, Plastic People of the Universe, Solaris has reactivated a style rooted in '60s and '70s art-rock. But where the Plastics emulate the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, Solaris prefers the more grandiose style of Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd and -- in the flute flourishes of vocalist Kollar Attila -- Jethro Tull. "Nostradamus" was conceived as the score to a "monumental, mysterious" (and imaginary) film, complete with choral arrangements and Latin lyrics. The Hungarian sextet integrates church-music elements more convincingly than most rock bands who have attempted such hybrids but the album still sounds like the soundtrack for a movie that would be difficult to sit through.
Essentially an instrumental trio, the Dark Aether Project draws on the style of latter-day King Crimson, especially in the percussive playing of guitarists Yaman Aksu and Adam Levin. The latter uses a Warr Touch guitar-bass, an eight-string instrument that requires no picking, so he can play separate parts with alternate hands. Ray Weston adds vocals to two of the six tracks on the Maryland group's "Feed the Silence," but even those are designed principally to showcase Levin, Aksu and drummer Brian Griffin.
There's plenty of room to do that, since the average length of these compositions is almost nine minutes. The music is most engaging at its most Crimson-like, notably the chiming, cyclical "Stages." Elsewhere, the band shows a weakness for bombast, from the sci-fi-soundtrack overture of "Building the Worm" to the rock-operatic balladry of the title track, which suggests Yes fronted by Roger Daltrey. This is a rare example of a rock band whose extended solos are its strong point.
Both appearing Friday at Phantasmagoria. To hear a free Sound Bite from Solaris, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8110. For a free Sound Bite from Dark Aether Project, press 8111. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)