Issue 2012-046: Beardfish - The Void - Round Table Review
Beardfish - The Void
Tracklist: Intro (0:30), Voluntary Slavery (6:33), Turn To Gravel (5:30), They Whisper (6:06), This Matter Of Mine (7:06), Seventeen Again (7:44), Ludvig & Sverker (8:06), He Already Lives In You (6:38), Note: I. Note, II. Descending, III. The Void, IV. Note [Reprise] (15:50), Where The Lights Are Low (5:41) Bonus Track: Ludvig & Sverker [Solo Piano Version] (6:34)
Tushar Menon's Review
There is a subtle, often imperceptible, moment in the evolution of a relationship with a band when, as a listener, you realise that you've been captured. The back catalogue odyssey swiftly follows, and then the anticipation builds for a new album. The first Beardfish album that I anticipated was Destined Solitaire. My current reverence for that album is rivaled only by my initial distaste for it. The implicit contract between band and fan - that everything on the album exists as the intentional product of an intelligent artist-ensured that I persevered, much to my benefit. The follow up, Mammoth was more immediate, but no less permanent in its impact. Whenever a band releases a slew of wildly creative albums of a very high standard, the fear that the next will fall short increases geometrically with every new release and requires something increasingly special in order to be allayed. Is The Void special enough?
It is difficult to avoid being effusive to the point of sounding glib when talking about a band as good as Beardfish. Perhaps rebelling against the oxymoronic label 'retroprog' bestowed upon the band, The Void is the most radical departure from the warm Hammond organ-driven sound that they are best known for. In a statement released to commemorate the passing of Jon Lord, Sjoblom said "Jon Lord[...] managed to get this Pantera fan to put down his guitar for a year and instead learn his way around the Hammond organ". On the first half of The Void it seems like Sjoblom has rediscovered aggressive guitars.
The album opens with a short spoken-word introduction by The Tangent's Andy Tillison. How interesting might the proposed union of those two bands have been if circumstances had not dictated otherwise? Tillison's voice gives way to a guitar ostinato that signals the beginning of Voluntary Slavery, and things are under way. This is the song that the band has been playing live for almost a year now and is brimming with the live energy that they strive to capture on the album. Loath as I am to liken the sound to another band's, there are undeniable shades of Mastodon to the verses of this song. On the whole, it is reminiscent of The Platform off Mammoth inasmuch as it is laden with some great riffs and heavy grooves.
The next two songs, Turn To Gravel and They Whisper continue the guitar-centric approach of Slavery, but add to the mix some wonderfully melodic vocal sections, unusual in their simplicity, quite unlike the dizzying and abstruse melodies with which Beardfish are normally associated. This Matter of Mine boasts a few touches of Sjoblom's death metal growl that we first heard on Destined Solitaire and a magnificent succession of riffs (the Zappa-meets-Dixie Dregs riff in the middle section is especially dazzling).
The album conveniently divides itself into two sections, the first consisting of guitar heavy songs, the second of more keyboard driven songs, in the style of the two Sleeping In Traffic albums, assuaging fears that Beardfish abandoned their signature sound. The lyrics suggest a drinking game as well - a swig every time the word "void" is mentioned.
Seventeen Again sees the triumphant arrival first of the piano, then the Hammond organ. Possibly the most lyrical of all of Beardfish's instrumentals, Seventeen Again marks the sudden shift in tone of the album. Ludvig & Sverker follows, adorned by beautiful and unusual vocal melodies delivered with great aplomb by Sjoblom.
The mandatory fifteen-minute song, The Note, is considerably more sedate than its predecessors in this role - And the stone said... If I could speak and Until you Comply/entropy - but no less brilliant than either of them. It is a slow burn, which, in the finest prog traditions, makes it one of the best songs on the album, along with Ludvig & Sverker (swig of your drink here, The Note has an instrumental section called The Void).
A novelty on this album is the nature of the closer, Where The Lights Are Low. Choosing to forego the classic epic-prog style in favour of an almost Hendrix or Cream-like song is an interesting choice. It does end the album in a completely different place from where it began and the listener is definitely transported over the course of seventy-five minutes. It is not the smoothest ride- the change is quite obvious between This Matter Of Mine and Seventeen Again- but it is one that is necessary and highly rewarding. Is The Void special enough? Yes it is.
Ian Butler's Review
I have come to this review a little later, so the other reviews might give you some more information and contrasting views with the more recent albums. Here are my highlights. I was won over by Sleeping in Traffic Part 1 & Part 2. Live on stage they were superb a few years ago and I met the band on tour with The Tangent and Ritual. A great bunch of guys who work hard on stage and have a great chemistry together. Their music is always refreshingly eclectic, humorous, different and mixes some folky and quirky elements. For some reason I've missed their previous 2 albums Destined Solitairei> and Mammoth... Sorry Beardfish, I'll check them out!
Voluntary Slavery bursts in after Andy Tillison's thirty seconds of speech with a heavy Beardfish sound and even some growling metal-esque vocals and then later higher Ian Gillan-esque high pitch screams! I thought that I'd put on the wrong album! A very different sound from Sleeping in Traffic I & II. It's heavier and initially it was difficult to say whether I liked the change of sound and I wondered what I had missed in the last two albums. To my ears it sounded a little more generic, Prog/Metal cross over, which is happening a lot these days, with the blurring of the genre edges. Sure, it has grown on me, but I initially thought, hmmm, not one of the finest Beardfish moments. I am glad that I was wrong :-)
Turn To Gravel - has a crunching Black Sabbath type riff - a bit more my style of heavy rock. It continues the grungier/dirtier Beardfish sound that I had experienced from previous records. Rijkard's rough vocals burst through with authority and the guitar solos are there too. I was at that moment thinking the sound is more The Tea Party or Stone Temple Pilots rather than Beardfish! I wonder what bands Beardfish have been listening to?!
They Whisper - now this is more back to the classic Beardfish sound and this, to me, is a great good example of typical Beardfish. It's complicated with loose but tight playing and always with a catchy groove along the way. Rijkard's uniquely unpredictable vocal range and the layers of keyboards give it back that 'progressive feel'. Crazy vocals, great funky bass provide that variety that feel I miss in the harder songs. I especially like one part in the middle of the song where the drummer, Magnus, plays several snare fills in the style of Buddy Miles on Jimi Hendrix's Band Of Gypsies/Filmore East track Machine Gun.
So far, it's fair to say that it's a much heavier Beardfish sound, but actually with all the bits we expect. Somehow the first time the heavier parts didn't grab me, but because they are quite classic types of riffs they work. This Matter Of Mine - frantic, speeding riffs start with one riff launching into one another, fast and technical stuff, these boys can really play tightly. I am not a great fan of this particular track, but it again shows another side to the band.
Seventeen again - I think this is an excellent track, perhaps a bit more traditional Prog with some melodic piano, changes of rhythm and soulful guitar solos over some organ/softer keyboards, before the lovely typical Beardfish folky/ska comes in... Very nice indeed... Very! This is my favourite track on the album, it's got all the typical Beardfish elements, lots of detail, and twists, and turns in the music where the instruments play the same notes which gives it a lot of depth and flow.
Ludvig & Sverker - is more atypical Beardfish Prog, sounds a little more like something from Sleeping in traffic, really flowing where the lead guitar introduces the chorus melody that then is later sung. Another good track, more guitar orientated with the multiple guitars playing riffs and melodies together, not quite Wishbone Ash on steroids :-)
He already Lives Inside You - again more Black Sabbath sounding riffing, changing to a melodic strut. I think Beardfish were probably always capable of a heavier rock sound, so now they are experimenting a little with it. I think this track is their best combination of heavier rock meets Beardfish. Note is the album's longest track and around 6 minutes we are treated to traditional stop-start Proggy time signatures and perhaps around 9 minutes a sort of Yes piano motif from Fragile. Catchy lyrics - 'so I find myself staring straight into the sun', provides a great lyrical hook, where it's mimicked by the guitar and keyboard.
Conclusion: It seemed initially to be an album of two halves, the first sounding more heavier rock/metal and the latter is 'typical Beardfish'. Overall, it's still more progressive than heavier rock/metal where the different musical elements are cunningly mixed in throughout the album. It might not be entirely a traditional Beardfish fan's cup of tea from start to end, but I think that it's an excellent album. It certainly contains all the Beardfish musical ingredients but importantly pushes them forward in a wider direction. I think it showcases their talent and appreciation of music too. I haven't really referenced any other bands, as to me it's Beardfish. I am glad say that to me they have a unique sound. If you want some kind of benchmark, there are many instrument sounds, riffs, classical motifs which after a while reminds you of a multitude of great's like Yes' Long Distance Run Around, classic Genesis and now some Black Sabbath riffing. It's a first-class album from a very underrated band, don't miss out!
Brian Watson's Review
Reasons to Hate Beardfish: Part 2
1/ They are young
This in and of itself is not good reason I grant you. Unless you're old, like me, in which case their flagrant youth stings me like barbs in my ever so slightly wobbly, elderly flesh. Writing in 2008, Dave Baird thought "they look like they've only just left school". Enough said.
Anyhow, there's four of them, and they're from Sweden: Rikard Sjoblom / vocals and keyboards David Zackrinsson / guitars Robert Hansen / bass Magnus Ostgren / drums
Sweden. Home of perhaps some of the greatest third-wave progressive rock music ever made. The list of stellar artistes hailing from this relatively small country is immense. A veritable progressive rock who's who. A progucopia, if you will.
2/ They are genuinely nice guys
No one I've ever spoken to - and I've spoken to a lot of people - has a bad word to say about them. They were, for a period in 2008, a formidable part of The Tangent and their Summer's End show saw them freely mingling with fans before and after their set. They had time for everybody and have a lovely world-view, that I wish I shared more often. I try, I really do. I ordered the double vinyl direct from them, as I often do, to ensure bands recoup the maximum amount of cash they can for each sale. It was only later they realised they had miscalculated shipping costs and wouldn't make very much money at all. I offered to pay more. "Our bad" was their response. Now, can you imagine just about any other band doing that?
3/ They are insanely talented
The Summer's End show in 2008, when they performed with Andy Tillison as the Tangent, and performed some Beardfish tunes too was an absolute triumph of musicianship that blew my pantaloons clean off. I had been a fan for a wee while, down to some staggeringly good reviews they had gleaned for their 2007 Inside Out debut Sleeping in Traffic: part 1. Here's what we had to say about it: "with hardly any duff moments, it's a strong and enjoyable CD which could have wide appeal".
I hear that. As winter follows autumn, so Part 2 follows Part 1, and so a year later it did. "Stellar musicianship, tons of influence, great mind-sticking melodies all presented in a relaxed and laid-back style with a strong dose of humour thrown-in".
Needless to say both were added to cart in rapid fashion. As was the 2009 follow up, Destined Solitaire, perhaps my personal favourite to that point. The awesome Geoff Feakes thought that they were "undoubtedly one of the most distinctive and original bands around at present even if they are occasionally a little too clever for their own good". He stopped half a point shy of a recommended review and commented that it kind of went on a bit. Which it did I guess. But with the CD format catering for 75 minutes plus nowadays bands are damned if they commit 45 to disc, damned if they commit 75. He hit the nail on the head, though, when he said they were especially recommended to lovers of analogue keyboard Prog.
It was a couple of years before we saw Mammoth, which the DPRP's Gert summarised thus: "Everyone knowing Beardfish knows they can expect great songs, catchy melodies, strong lyrics and a good mix between hard and heavy, and softer more ballad like works but always very eclectic - almost Art-Rock. I can only leave with recommending this album to everyone as I believe it to be, a must have".
4/ See 1, 2 and 3
The magician looked into the future and saw nothing but the past, repeating itself. With caution he turned his eyes to the present and found himself staring into a void. He disappeared in the dark. Time passed, and one day he returned, with a vision. Once he talked to the first stranger he met it was clear that in his absence nothing had changed, but him...
So, 2012 brings us to The Void. It's a year of fantastic albums, with almost every player in the third-wave progressive rock scene weighing in with a record. Or, in the case of Galahad, two (both fabulous, by the way). It should come as no surprise, given the above, that I am hopelessly, helplessly in love with this record.
Now there's been a little bit of bobbins on the Interwebs about this being 'too heavy', written generally by people who still have name tags in their clothing and their gloves on string going up and down each sleeve, and who haven't listened past track three. Refreshingly, though, there's also an awful lot of positive energy about what, for me, is the best thing Beardfish have ever done. Or for that matter one of the best European third-wave progressive rock albums, ever. That should give a great many English bands pause for thought. It should, in fact, be essential listening for bands who are either part of, or aspire to be part of this current fourth-wave of 'new Prog'. It's a particularly Anglo Saxon phenomenon this, and a worrying one too, for an anorak like me. Now, didn't a band write an album about that, a few years ago? You know the one. They "weren't" Prog for years and years and years but then they "were" when it got them on the front page of a magazine.
There's no hypocrisy with Beardfish. They are a progressive rock band and always have been, even when it wasn't popular. And one with a love for retro, analogue elements. Zappa-esque humour, fantastic musicianship, melody and great song writing. Indeed this year has for me seen the greatest number of top quality albums released, ever. A prog fan's nirvana (lower case, obviously). To release anything this year you've got to be either a) supremely confident in the quality of your material or b) oblivious to whether it's shite or not.
Beardfish clearly fall into the former category. I'm not going to do a traditional 'track by track'. Oh no. I'm going to let you in to a very personal, visceral listening experience. You and I are going to listen to The Void. By Beardfish. I'm going to listen on vinyl But I've listened on all my kit. The Bolus review gives you an insight into what cheap but cheerful listening equipment I have.
Andy Tillison's spoken intro leads into the most blistering, yet tuneful Prog-metal you'll ever hear. But then wonderful Beardfish tunefulness kicks in. There's a little bit of grunting, true, but only a little bit and the grungy guitar, time changes, just serve to make the melody better. There's some serious drummage, too. It's not long before melancholy, considered lyrics and great singing take over. The production on this record, particularly on vinyl is sublime.
Pearl Jammeets Nirvana quickly segues in from the opener, with layered guitars; heavy, heavy stuff but with a tunefulness, and I can write this with a degree of honesty as I heard this a long, long, time time ago, on a car stereo and it sounded full on metal. Which might have accounted for some of the Interwebbery. It sounds massive on decent kit. The music moves on to Hammond, harmonies, Zappa-isms and whatnot. But still there's the heaviness that comes from the greatest, dirtiest bass sound ever committed to record. And the most sublime drumming. Vocal harmonies, laid-back funky guitar lines. A wall of guitar underpinned by Hammond and rock-solid bass. A Hammond solo that blows your trousers off. Great, great stuff. Wonderful production, especially on the vinyl.
Rocky times, great drumming, emotive soloing, heavy, metal, angry bass lines to die for. A bit of growling! Gets a bit busy sometimes but listening on good headphones is a joyful experience.
And I'm spent.
Buy this record. You will love it. Promise.
Gert Hulshof's Review
With The Void, Beardfish from Sweden have released their seventh album with Rikard Sjoblom once again delivering most of the material.
After I put the CD in the player and started listening at first I thought I was listening to the newest outing of The Tangent when hearing Andy Tillison's voice speaking of a wizard looking into the future. I didn't know that Andy was asked for the opening lines, after a second glance at the CD I was reassured it was indeed Beardfish.
Putting in the CD once again, the introduction made me flashback to I believe 1967 (or 1978) to a band called Procol Harum and their song In Held 'Twas In I. I was struck by the intonation in Tillison's voice speaking at the same level as that intro. Enough said on the introduction only leaving that this also made clear to me The Void as an album had to be a conceptual one.
Voluntary Slavery the first real song then makes you wonder if this new album is a heavy progressive album and Beardfish have changed some of their styles once again. Listening carefully to the song all the trademarks making Beardfish the band they are, are all present. Voluntary Slavery no doubt is one of more heavy, raw sounding songs Beardfish have ever done, with growling and grunting, and all still it remains true to the Beardfish standards.
The song-writing style of Rikard is of an autobiographical nature; the mood he is in comes back into his songs and as a musician making use of what music is. Guitar and then more specific heavy riffing guitar appear to be dominating on this album.
Still in Seventeen Again an instrumental song Beardfish become very Jazzy from the start with a piano piece, almost no guitar is heard, after this the piano becomes organ, organ and guitar then continue in battle with the most beautiful sounds. Seventeen Again really is all over the place musically speaking. Becoming carnival-esque, then again sounding like the guitar/organ battles of earlier Prog from the seventies. Certain bits and pieces of the melody seem to re-appear everywhere in a different form.
The title Ludvig & Sverker made me frown a bit, was this going to be a song sung in Swedish or was this just the name of the song? In fact it's the latter. Ludvig & Sverker is a Beardfish ballad in optimum form, sung gently as to really let the listener know the delicacy in the lyrics. A joy to the ears.
The overall setting on The Void is dark and moody, the music and lyrics really do compliment each other. The Void is not as it appeared at first listen, a heavy progressive metal album, it is a varied album where heavy and raw sounds dominate to reflect the setting of the album, all of this is demonstrated best in the inevitable epic song Note. A fantastic piece of musical and lyrical craftsmanship.
The Void is a concept yet all the tracks can be listened to separately, although preferably in one session from beginning to end. The songs however are not tagged together so a break is possible, otherwise you are in for a 69 minutes long progstavaganza.
Album number seven for Beardfish is once again a great album, it will not appeal to us all, and it most certainly is of a very high standard and will draw new fans towards Beardfish. They are an exceptional band making fantastic progressive rock.