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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Reviews: Thank You, Scientist, Grim Existence, Eva Bartok, Wizard Rifle (Alex & Lee)

Thank You, Scientist: Terraformer (Evil Ink) [Alex Swift]

Across three albums Thank You, Scientist, have blossomed into one of the strangest acts in the universe of prog. A 7 piece who play a miasma of instrumentals, ranging from fretless guitars to Theremins, to Shamisen’s, they carry with them a wide array of influences. Like their debut, Maps Of Non-Existent Places, gloriously proved, a typical Thank You Scientist song – if such an entity exists - can lurch from metal to jazz to pop in the space of a few minutes, while keeping the listener engrossed. Stranger Heads Prevail took their detailed mix to new heights, feeling more unified and melodramatic than preceding releases. Now on opus no. 3, the question stands: Can they continue on their ambitious and expansive path, or will they fall prey to self-indulgence and pretentiousness?

I’m overjoyed to tell you, that Terraformer is equally as massive and dazzling as the previous albums if not more so. Ultimately, it's a hopeful album yet also a contemplative one. FXMLDR opens, the stratospheric imagery, gigantic horn sections, flamboyant choruses, and sanguine verses, already creating a journey full feel, and a sensation that something enormous is about to take place. Swarm proves aptly titled, the buzz and hubbub of the instrumentals, lending a chaotic genius. Hypnotic and spellbinding, Son Of A Serpent showcases the talents of horn players, Greenfield and Gullace, the supremely diverse guitar skills of Monda, and the luscious yet spine-tingling vocals of Morrano. Furthermore, while I thought I would never see these musicians make a minimalist, electronic ambient piece, they work wonders with the concept on Birdwatching, which proves an interesting change from the detailed, and vivid nature of many of the anthems on show.

Everyday Ghosts brings the immersive, deep and shockingly well-composed prowess back in a gorgeously contemplative way. Chromology is an instrumental piece where every member has to chance to break loose and demonstrate their wondrous capabilities. There is one of these on every Thank You Scientist album but this just might be the most extraordinary. Bringing us back into the swaying, transient nature which these musicians excel at, Geronimo has stints of tenseness and moments of bliss. Incidentally, Life Of Vermin ascends into neoclassical at one point, and then into oriental-style music at another. Anchor has a touch of the sea shanty vibe which the name alludes to, and a splendid guitar solo which seems to melt into an equally jaw-dropping violin solo in such a way that the listener is made to think ‘when that instrumental change happen?’ Again, taking a creative leap, New Moon is an unashamed folk song. Closing the album is Terraformer, which seems to finish the record on the same type of adventurous, daring note that we opened on. All the technical eccentricities are brought together into one colossal beast here, yet so are the melodic, infectious and experimental peculiarities.

There are many variations on progressive rock. However, a gross oversimplification would be that there are two types: The prog which is accessible and influenced by easier to broach music, and the prog which is difficult, and inspired by Jazz or Classical. Plenty of acts don’t fit into that analogy and plenty have brought those influences together in the past. However, by committing to the idea so wholeheartedly, Thank You, Scientist, have established themselves as one of the finest acts in the modern prog movement. Terraformer only furthers that impression, and that’s why no one of our readers should be surprised at the score or the high position which it will inevitably take on my album of the year list. 10/10

Grim Existence: Expansion Of Reality (FHED) [Lee Burgess]

Grim Existence make infectious music for those who don’t mind having a short terminal illness that grabs the body, batters the living hell out of it and then leaves it bleeding out until there is nothing left but shrivelled skin. Unlike a lot of extreme metal which often uses silly gimmicks and horror movie sound FX, there is no warning with Expansion Of Reality, no humour, no sounds of chainsaws and choking. It’s straight down to business with crusty, groove laden riffage. Make no mistake, this is unpleasant stuff. It bridges the gap between hardcore-punk and death, whilst infusing a Lamb Of God style groove into the mix. The audio mix is deep and rich. The tracks are layered with care and attention to the band’s filthy style. What we have on in these two tracks is an assured musical identity that effortlessly intertwines genres and references without copying or covering in a way that too many younger bands do. There are no hipster-core copycat moments to be had here. If I had one criticism it would be that the tracks seem a bit short in length. Having said that, that could be a good thing, as this music is so hammer-blow heavy that much more of it may actually cause physical injury. This is the kind of beastly music you need in your life. 8/10

Eva Bartok: Eva Bartok (Self Titled) [Alex Swift]

Eva Bartok, (the band not the Hungarian-British actress) perform a style of raucous noise-punk, which uses chaos as its guiding light. Everything they do revolves around chaos, and while there is a tangible sense of melody and rhythm present, it is accompanied by noise, distortion, rabid energy, anger and most importantly CHAOS! Chess Club opens this four-track EP, leading to images of incensed chess fanatics engaging in a brawl over who moved the knight. Indeed, that’s exactly how these songs feel: There are hints of the exploited and Bad Brains, yet also allusions to ’90s, ‘nerdcore’ acts in the vein of modest mouse or la dispute. Houses continues, alternating frenetically between stints of melody and harshness as if trying to control itself against firing into a fit of rage, and failing miserably! LIES is equally throttling, its distorted instrumentals, and unpredictable tempo changes furthering the fun if somewhat daunting aesthetic. Mexico finishes in hectic, frenzied style, never once pausing for breath and proving what ‘messy, untidy’ noise can achieve when channeled into something creative. I somewhat doubt 50’s models and actresses would approve, yet Eva Bartok only needs the validation of the disenfranchised, tortured and pissed off to continue unleashing their pandemonium. 7/10

Wizard Rifle: S/T (Svart Records) [Lee Burgess]

Wizard Rifle are just not my cup of Earl Grey. The music is just dull, the vocals are annoying and the whole package is a mess. In short, there are bands out here doing the same kind of thing but with so much more verve, quirk, talent and/or humour. Now, I don’t mind a bit of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, or heavier blues-tinged bands like Monolord or Conan, but the truth is, unless you’re going to do this type of music justice, it just comes across as a little bit scrappy. What tries to be stylised and stylish just comes across as a bit of an effort that never really goes anywhere. Some of course may love it, and that’s great, but I want music to affect me in some way other than pressing the off button. There’s just nothing that grabs me here at all, which is a shame because there’s a few directions the band could have taken to make this more interesting. The vocals are not strong enough to sing along to and we’ve heard the same riffs in countless other heavy rock outfits over the past 50 years. I would suggest more of the heavy and less of the pace. This just isn’t my thing at all. 2/10

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