The Bloody Mallard — Realm
The Bloody Mallard is a fusion of heaviness and moody psych with progressive tones which has culminated in a well-realised album of songs. Realm is an opening salvo of instrumental pieces from its creator Tom Walding, who by his own bio admission reveals that the inspiration for the songs came from the memory of tripping on mushrooms in rural Kent. However, don't be fooled by this statement. This is not some unfocused, meandering, self-indulgent experience. On the contrary there is a punchy tightness to the structure and the end product is engaging and varied in its mixture of light and hard brushstrokes.
The backbone of the songs is guitar-led and tonally shifts from low-tuned metallic grunge to some delicate and cleverly augmented guitar passages. All of it pinned together marvellously by drummer Jake Bradford-Sharp's, complex, attacking delivery.
There a hint of a muscular Meddle era Pink Floyd in the excellent Noble Rot combined with a sense of King Crimson Frippery. Swirling psychedelic rhythms are both hypnotic and occasionally otherworldly. It is light on embellishments but strong on atmosphere and feeling.
The powerful formula of soft and hard is perhaps realised to its greatest success during the eleven minutes of Haemoglobin. It is clear there is an air of uniqueness about this work and the intensity is addictive. Sometimes it is relentless and jumpy before dying off and bubbling gently into almost nothingness.
It is not always maintained throughout and now and again the songwriting doesn't quite evoke the same mystery and mood deeply enough, as with the shorter Subject To Entropy where the central heavy melody is more or less the core of the piece and it presents a more straight forward flat-pack build. A little uninspiring and weaker against the rest of the album.
The delightful incense laden Reversion is a perfect little bridge between songs and helps to bind the work together as a whole. A lot of thought and intention has gone into the design of the album and it shows.
The way Walding plays is familiar yet fresh and his songwriting craft is a confident proposition which is well worth diving into. It straddles the fences on genres and this is much of its appeal. Rather than sit and try to work out what is happening, it just relies on immersion and rather like trying to understand a painting, it invites you to just feel it instead, and you should.
Electric Feat — Electric Feat
Electric Feat's self titled debut album is a heady brew of raw Black Sabbath and Deep Purple riffing mixed with The Doors unique style of psychedelic vocals. Their prehistoric monster riffs hail more from a mix of early 70's UK and US sweaty, flared denim rock, which surprisingly belies their Greek/Athenian heritage.
The opener It's Alright (With You) starts purposefully with a catchy mix of garage Alice Cooper backed by a gutsy bass that weaves in Clash flavoured punkish elements with some success. It's an indication of the album as a whole which is often intense and vigorous over its ten short tracks and at many points it feels a little too familiar to the aforementioned influences. It has an almost direct lift and shift in places with the main, dirty riff from Black Sabbath's N.I.B. on Leather Jacket feeling surprisingly close to mirroring the original. Fortunately there is some deviation with a Morrison voice over the scabrous fuzz which insists on pushing up the volume.
The Caveman also has its shortcomings as it also sails too closely to the Doors with a Robby Krieger tone complete with the Love Me Two Times hammer-on flourishes. Elsewhere the tongue-in-cheek entitled Lizard Queen goes some way to acknowledge their own take on The Doors.
However ignoring these issues, there are plus points here to savour. Singer Georgios Dimakis can shift deftly from a mighty howl to trippy drawl and then to beer-stained Jim in the space of 3 minutes with a surprisingly graceful punch. The excellent bass work from Themos Ragousis is equally impressive at being both metrically nimble and gritty.
The feverish overdriven Subatomic Plane is a thrill which has a hard-edged pop attitude and holds promise for what this band can achieve when they are less on the nose with their influences. The harmony sections elevate the snappy hooks to a hurried elegance.
Blackwood Secrecy thumps like something from Lenny Kravitz and proves there is still plenty of mileage in this form of raw, bluesy rock. Certainly they excel in this space more than the doom-heavy numbers.
As a debut it has imitated rather than innovated yet this can be seen as a little churlish when so many bands in the 21st century display their Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd credentials rather obviously. With this in mind there is much to recommend about this album. The musicianship is rhythmically tight, and full of energy which has an infectious ambition. With time to mature and filter, this band could prove to be something to really take notice of with their boisterous appeal.
The Fierce And The Dead — Show Me Devon
The enforced lock-down has left working bands without an audience and, crucially, without any means of income. Lots have made good use of social media and on-line sources to help alleviate fan boredom and isolation and provide a few extra pounds to keep the coffers ticking over. This has helped draw artists and their fans closer together as well as generating many unique performances and interactions, not to mention the creation and/or release of many musical enterprises that we would not have been privy to under normal circumstances.
In the case of The Fierce And The Dead (TFATD) this has been the release of their 2019 performance at Kozfest under the amusingly title of Show Me Devon (I love a good pun!). This is of particular interest as it is in the live arena that TFATD really excel. This is a warts and all release direct from the mixing desk with no tinkering so there has been no editing or overdubbing; what you hear is exactly what was performed. Not that the musical performance requires any editing as they are uniformly excellent. An official live album would in all probability have excised or shortened some of the between song talking but it is not as if it is too much of an interference to the enjoyability and adds to the 'official bootleg' quality.
The sound throughout is first class and the set is taken from right across their releases with each of their albums represented by at least one track. Naturally, the bulk of the material is from the band's latest album, The Euphoric, and four of the songs also appeared on the live mini-album Field Recordings. Not as if that is a problem as the versions on the release and quite different or, at least, played a lot faster!
There are some humorous moments like, as given away by the first track's title, the drummer is late to the stage, or in the explanation that "Being an instrumental band we can just say that all the tracks are about anything we like, this track is called 1991, it's about 1991". And what's not to love about including a blast of Hawkwind to end the set? What I'd really like to hear would be a live album of the TFATD playing Parts 1 to 8 together as one long 50-minute piece, that would be quite an achievement and a wild listening experience.
But in the meantime, snap this one up and feel good about yourself helping a band denied the opportunity to go out and about sharing their great music.
Hale De Mars — Hypno
One of the great losses to the alternative rock universe in recent years was the departure of Anneke van Giersbergen from The Gathering, and even though they stumbled on for a while with a different vocalist, it just wasn't the same. Even Anneke in her solo career and other projects seemed to have lost some of the magic that the Dutch band created. Hale de Mars may well be the ones to fill the gap, albeit in their own particular way.
Hale De Mars is the name of a cold, dry Alpine wind (Breath Of March), and having spent nearly two months listening, I can attest it is an apt moniker. Laudably front-woman Daria Shakhova sings in Russian, eschewing the easier English language route to growing a fanbase. Helpfully, she sent me the translated lyrics and some background info, which explore topics of loneliness, “heartbreaking bright sorrow”, cosmic love and disturbing dreams. Buckle up!
The band was formed in 2014. In 2015 their first single Desire was released, in 2017 EP April, in 2019 singles Nebula and Breath Of March, but it took another two years to finish Hypno. And it's a good one. The songs are based on Daria Shakhova's melodies and lyrics (vocal, piano) and then orchestrated and refined during rehearsals by all band members.
I am told they all create their parts individually, but in accordance with the main theme, bringing in personal vision and musicianship. Valentin Mikheev has some particularly silky drum skills ranging from soft flourishes to intense blastbeat paroxysms. Ivan Filatov's base is effective without room to show off in this genre, and Sergei Guselnikov's electric guitar jingle-jangles throughout most of the buildups before exploding post-rock style with some walls of sound.
Hypno, Daria tells me, is the story of five dreams where the protagonist, a young lady, tries to break free of a complicated, abusive relationship despite still feeling love. Despite the need for a translation, and the subsequent loss of most rhyming (not that it is necessary by any means), there are some artful lyrics here. Akin to Major Parkinson there is a strong hint of classical romantic literature which serves as a fine compliment to the dark brooding music:
now that I'm sleeping the fire awakes
to set all that fiber ablaze, burn it down to the ground
my heart is now sheer it's pushing me on
to follow the tail rope ahead, but the darkness is breached
In fact the whole listen is quite a cinematic experience, and would be a perfect accompaniment to a trans-Siberian rail-journey with a vodka-soaked compendium of classic Russian fiction. Traditionally it has not been foremost in my listening idiom to concentrate on the words (I'm more inclined to all the showy playing and complex time-signatures), but things are different here.
I'm projecting September on inanimate vehicles
my hysterical nature is absorbing the silence
if that happened to you, it will happen to me
it's exactly the same, if I don't fall asleep
The album was recorded and mixed at home, with artwork courtesy of Brazilian photographer Nadia Maria. It is a lovely thing, and I strongly urge you to enter the dreamy melancholia it exudes at least once. I've cut one star purely due to a slight monotony in the palette on offer. It may be an overly harsh criticism, but I would love some Bent Knee type crazy curveballs thrown in for future efforts - I'm sure this band is more than capable. After-all, we don't want to fall asleep like the character portrayed in the lyrics.
Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate — Nostalgia For Infinity
Five albums in but this is my first exposure to Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate, the London-based duo of Malcolm Galloway (vocals, guitar, keyboards, programming) and Mark Gatland (bass, guitar, keyboards, Chapman stick). A third musician, the flautist Kathryn Thomas, also has a large input, having co-written five of the songs, although one assumes her compositional contribution is the flute parts as they are the only tracks she appears on.
If the band's name hadn't been written on the cover one could be forgiven for thinking this was an album by The Mute Gods what with the people on the sleeve all having their heads stuck in a box, something that doesn't really resonate with the major theme of the album, the fragility of human civilisation. In seven of the twelve tracks this theme is explored by taking inspiration from the astrophysicist and science fiction novelist Alastair Reynolds, whose work I confess to be completely ignorant of.
The album kicks off with Century Rain which takes its name from one of Reynolds' novels, which from the synopsis given in the CD booklet is a rather convoluted tale involving alternative history, French fascism, an unsuccessful musician turned private investigator, a time-travelling archaeologist, parallel universes, bootleg music collections and weaponised nanotechnology. And it is set in 1950. Thankfully, one doesn't have to have read the novel which inspired this and the following track, Twin Earth. Both tracks are well constructed and well paced with good melodies and are lifted by Thomas' excellent flute, particularly on Twin Earth where it is intricately interwoven with the synths. There is one big difference between the two songs that being the vocals. Indeed, on first hearing the album I thought it was two different vocalists and wondered why the singer on 'Twin Earth' had not provided all the vocals. Perusal of the credits showed that Galloway had sung everything it is just the manner of his delivery that was different: the tracks he actually sings reveal the limitations of his rather weak voice that lacks a degree of warmth and richness, whereas when he adopts a Tim Bowness-like 'talking-in-tune' vocal style the results are much more pleasing on the ears.
With six of the songs being instrumental there is a large emphasis on the music. First of these is Ark which, in under 12 minutes, tells the history of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier The Ark Royal, on which Galloway's paternal grandfather had served during the Second World War. Each major part of the history is recanted with a different musical approach which flow in one continual narrative. The construction section has a Penguin Cafe Orchestra feel to it and the drama of hunting, and being hunted, by U Boats is perfectly judged. Throughout, the piano makes a great contribution to the continuity and the fact that an instrumental number needs a good tune to hang on every now and then is not forgotten.
Nanobotoma, which for some reason is the only vocal track for which the lyrics are not provided, which is a shame as they contain one of the best lines on the album: "It may seem obvious now, but remember I was dying at the time, and that can be quite distracting". A home-spun science fiction tale about nanobots designed to kill cancer cells, which by Darwinian selection, actually become a disease in their own right. An interesting concept that deserves to be the subject of a book on its own, the song contains a memorable chorus and a couple of lengthy guitar solos that lend muscle to the song. In complete contrast Chasing Neon is an electronic synth piece with one foot in the dance genre and doesn't really do a lot for me.
The next five tracks, from Glitterband up to the title track, comprise the Redemption Ark Suite which uses Reynolds' Revelation Space novels as inspiration. Another elaborate storyline that, if Glitterband is anything to go by, may have been better developed as a purely instrumental concept. The lyrics are difficult to understand without having prior knowledge of the novels, are delivered too quickly over a non-descript backing and are the chief witness for the prosecution in terms of poor vocals. The instrumental section is very good though.
Speaking of instrumentals, the next three tracks Conjoiners, Scorpio and Inhibitors are all vocal free but only Scorpio (about a human-pig hybrid animal, apparently) really stands out, although the more cinematic Inhibitors is an interesting experiment with the only instrument involved being an electronically manipulated flute. Some interesting sounds and effects but doesn't really stand up outside the context of the album (or within the concept of the album as some will no doubt proffer). Last part of the suite is Nostalgia For Infinity which is the tale of another hybrid beast, this time of the spaceship captain and his spacecraft (the result of a melding plague of course). Thomas' unmanipulated flute shines through the track but there is the same problem with the vocals/lyrics.
The strength of the band as an instrumental unit is exemplified in Voyager, named after the spacecraft Voyager 1 that in its 43-year flight has journeyed nearly 14 billion miles into the solar system and is still in communication with earth. It is by far the best piece of music on the album, which may be related to the fact that much of it takes its lead from a Pink Floyd style of composition. The flute and guitar compliment each other majestically; I could easily listen to a whole album of this kind of music without any reservation, it is simply marvellous. Sadly it only lasts just under six minutes before we hit final track The Sixth Extinction, a more aggressive number with the rather more simple to understand fact (unless you are Donald Trump of course) that humans are rapidly becoming the agents of their own destruction.
So, first experience with Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate? Although they are more than merely adequate and have musical ideas and chops a-plenty, the album never really clicked with me and doesn't inspire me to check out any of their earlier albums. But enough evidence is provided to prove they are a competent and interesting duo (or on this album at least really a trio as Thomas adds some special moments) that are worthy of an appreciative audience.
Sublunar — A Welcome Memory Loss
Over time, Poland has become one of the most productive European countries when it comes to Progressive Rock bands. And Sublunar is not an exception to this rule. Founded in early 2016 by five great musicians: Lukasz Dumara - vocals and lyrics, Michal Jablonski – guitars, Marcin Peczkowski – guitars, Jacek Ksiazek – bass and Lukasz Wszolek – drums, finally their debut album A Welcome Memory Loss came to light last year.
In their website we can read this introduction: "We are SubLunar - a sum of sounds, noise, time lapses and our spare anxieties”.
Well, these guys are coming with an intense but interesting musical proposal, which not only is melancholic, it is also well crafted, complex, and technically skilled. In a first listen we can identify the similarity between Dumara's voice with Mariusz Duda being the first one but softer and lighter. Obviously Riverside is their primary musical influence. Perhaps Sublunar it is some kind of an In-between Riverside and Lunatic Soul, due to the atmospheric passages this album also had.
Overall this is an album that is easy to listen to, despite their melancholic and progressive metal influences, it also has a wide range of musical influences among the ones mentioned earlier, because of their guitar-oriented compositions. I've identified some arrangements that reminded me of bands such Haken and Dredg. Their technical influences have a little bit of Tool. You won't feel disappointed by this album.
The highlights of this album are, well, almost all of them, perhaps except the opening track and 43%, but the best track is definitely Suspension Of Disbelief.
Sublunar's A Welcome Memory Loss is an album that exceeded my expectations in many ways. An album that is worth all the effort invested in it by the band and that without any doubt deserves being listened to by all our readers. I wish all of you great success with this debut and I'll be waiting for more wonderful music like this.