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Wednesday 8 July 2020

Reviews: Ten Foot Wizard, Magenta, Osta Love, Maryann Cotton (Matt & Bob)

Ten Foot Wizard: Get Out Of Your Mind (Beard Of Zeus Records)

I've always enjoyed the fiery stoner metal of Manchester monsters Ten Foot Wizard, I've also been lucky enough to see them a couple of times as well. So when their latest album popped into our review pile I closed the blinds put on the blacklight and cranked up the volume. With the first play of the record all the hallmarks that I enjoyed were still there, the heady soup of sexy grooves, head banging riffs and elemetns of punk, metal, blues, funk and psych. Get Out Of Your Mind is Ten Foot Wizard's third album and comes off the back of their Glastonbury 2019 set, they have teamed up with Grammy Award-winning producer Nic Hard (Snarky Puppy/The Bravery/Bokante) to create this album that just ups the ante on everything the funk is funkier than a mosquito's tweeter, the riffs rock harder than Dwayne Johnson and the vocals grittier than a council yard in the Winter!

It's got both elements of Clutch and Lionize and once again features some of the best song titles music has to offer, alas none can quite reach the brilliance of Covered In Tits but King Shit Of Fuck Mountain does come very close and even features Snarky Puppy's keyboardist Justin Stanton across an 8 minute psych journey. This spaciness ends the record but the groovy Namaste Dickhead that gets grunty at the end, however things get funky once again on Broken Man with a nod to the most recent Clutch album and funk bands such as Funkadelic with the wakka wakka guitar sound before it evolves into more killer stoner riffs at the end. Carrying these riffs from Adam and Gary are the driving rhythm section of Jonny (drums) and Emlyn (bass) all four playing their arses off on the most expansive record in their catalogue.

Take for example Summer Love it's a hip shaking blues rocker that brings to mind QOTSA before full freaking out with Dick dale surf guitar in the background. This song alone gives you the feeling that Ten Foot Wizard are throwing their all at the record. Get Out Of Your Mind is the most experimental but also the most fully formed record from Ten Foot Wizard, a must have for fans of Clutch or Wales' own Lacertilia, Ten Foot Wizard have come to expand your consciousness and shake your ass! 9/10

Magenta: Masters Of Illusion (Tigermoth Records) [Matt Bladen]

Cinematic prog rockers, and worthy successors to the Yes crown (if they ever bloody retire!) Magenta return with their latest album Masters Of Illusion which sees them once again returning to their theatrical, outlandish prog rock style after the more modern and politically charged last album We Are Legend. Robert Reed put's it this way: "'After making the 'We Are Legend' album, which was more contemporary, I really wanted to make a classic PROG album. I was desperate to get back to the original musical template of what Magenta was all about." This means the prog rock level here is at it's most grandiose with "Moog, 12 strings, Mellotrons, bass pedals" they have also indulged once again in concept linking the pieces, in this case 6 of the most famous horror actors to ever grace the screen in the 1950's/60's glory days for that classic horror genre.

Lyricist Steve Reed explains: My brother and I are both huge fans of the classic Hammer and Universal horror films. (we) came up with the idea of basing the songs on some of our favourite actors. The twist is that the stories are about their private lives rather than the characters they portrayed in their films" So there will be no songs about Dracula or The Wolfman here, they leave that to the countless Doom bands that use occult movies as their entire exisitence. No Masters Of Illusion is a record that deals with the often complex, sometimes tragic personal lives of some of the most famous faces ever to terrify.

To start us off is Bela which is easily identifiable as a song about Bela Lugosi, one of the most famous men to play Dracula who's career faced a downward spiral in the 50's. With an orchestral intro and a synth drenched coda at the beginning the feeling of being on familiar ground is almost instantly, those Yes inspired backing vocals as Robert's synths intertwine with Chris Fry's fluid guitar playing. It's almost got carnival sound as Christina weaves the story of Lugosi's descent into addiction and his loss of fame. It's a bittersweet number that shows how fleeting fame can be despite Lugosi's 'legendary' status, he faded away in obscurity relatively quickly before his death in 1953. A stark way of opening the record, with a story straight off the silver screen itself, but musically a stamp that the prog is most certainly back. This idea of being overlooked and undervalued is repeated on the rockier Reach For The Moon which is about Lon Chaney Jr's struggle with constantly being cast in his father shadow and never being allowed to be his own man. Here we get some great sax playing from Pete Jones and a nifty groove from Dan Nelson (bass) and Johnathan Griffiths (drums).

A Gift From God which tells of the regret Christopher Lee had at never featuring in an opera. A self confessed opera fanatic, Lee had a strikingly powerful baritone voice, however he was never asked to record/perform in an opera. In fact the only recordings we have of his voice are on the two metal albums he made (both of which are brilliant). This song is structured like a operatic/musical number, with nods to Gabriel fronted Genesis, even featuring producer/multi-instrumentalist John Mitchell. It's a lament to the one thing thing that felt incomplete in his life. For anyone who followed the career of Lee (like me) you know that despite his immense success in films (though he grew tired of Dracula) it was opera that remained his main love. Again like with much of this album there is a sadness here fueled by wonderfully layered composition and Christina's beautiful voice.

From here we have yet more songs that deal with light and shade as Rose is the tragic/romantic story about Peter Cushing's devotion to his wife, his indiscretions, his rose cultivating and his eventual remorse and longing when his wife died, all characterized by yet more classic prog rock styling and the unmistakable Uilleann Pipes of Troy Donockley, which bring a tear every time I hear them used. Snow is about the early life of Ingrid Pitt, she spent her childhood in Polish concentration camp and how these horrors influenced her portrayals in later life. It's probably the darkest song on the album with the chilling lyrics describing a little girl version in such a terrible place, juxtaposed with an almost jaunty choral styled music that manages to paint a silver lining as it progresses, making the whole song about resolve in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Finally the 16 minute title track is dedicated to the master of the hammy macabre Vincent Price and his role as Matthew Hopkins the Witchfinder General for which he was reluctantly cast as the lead. This song is as gothy and theatrical as Price himself and really ramps up the prog rock posturing as Price embodies his most impressive role. A figure that has been portrayed throughout cinematic history there are few who have done it as well as Price so to think he wasn't first choice was madness! The song itself is Magenta flexing those virtuoso muscles for a fitting finale to their 'classic prog' resurgence. As with many of their releases there is a special bonus CD that features alternate mixes and extras so you can get another 74 minutes of music to go with the 62 minutes of the main disc.

Magenta rarely put a foot wrong but for those that found We Are Legend too modern in it's prog rock style can rejoice that we a re very firmly in the 70's glory days on Masters Of Illusion. Colossal slabs of labour intensive music, an expansive vocal range and interesting subject matter make for another winner in this Welsh prog rock band's collection of albums! 9/10

Osta Love: About Time (Recordjet Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Osta Love are a two-piece band from Heidelberg in Germany and About Time is their third full release. Having originally started out as a duo when music students they acquired two more members for their well-received sophomore album Isle Of Dogs but now seem to have returned to the original two-man format. From the decorous cover shot close-up of a pollen covered bee and their bio citing Pink Floyd and King Crimson as influences you kind of think early on that you’re in for an ambient synth and melancholic lyric Floydian atmosphere musically and given the reviews of previous releases this album could easily be passed over on the basis of them being another in a resurgent crowd of Floyd-a-likes that are heavily populating the new release pages (it is entirely possible, putting Floyd as an influence in your bio could, in the current crowded sector, might even be considered counter-productive).

What Osta Love actually provide is a collection of mostly slower and genteel prog/arty tracks that center around some pleasant piano/organ and yes, glimpses of Gilmour like slow-handed guitar parts. They occasionally dip into some ever so slightly rockier guitar-based parts such as the time signature shuffles in the jazz/funk of Amethyst Deceiver, the Rush-lite of Moth To A Flame or Desert Shuffle but there is little aggression about them, even in the more upbeat parts, they offer a warm musical friendliness. Its fair to say That the duo have yet to fully cast off all of all of the nods to early Floyd such as the Wish You Were Here echoes of The Waters Of The Nile but in the main, they have found their own style.

Floyd references aside, Osta Love have an uncanny knack of sliding gently into your subconscious and make comforting listening. It’s not without occasional issues musically but there is even a charm about those and I’m now on the third enjoyable listen in a row. While nothing about this album hits you directly in the feels or makes you sit up clapping in appreciation immediately, it really does have an insidious, difficult to pinpoint enjoyment to it. Starting with the very listenable opener We Can Do It Again’, a Beatles-esque piano accompaniment in the style of Hey Jude or a more gracious Wonderwall showing the vocals to have a light dreamy quality as well as being a little idiosyncratic rather than perfectly pitched.

The vocals are often supported by a vocal effect or layers of complimentary backing vocals, clearly to support a slight lack of range. It’s not the most perfect of vocal performances throughout which in a different setting might be a criticism as they occasionally get stretched, but that indefinable quality of the occasional vocal frailty is quite endearing and totally fits the delicate nature of the song writing. Case in point is the eponymous song About Time where the slow, acoustically backed, very catchy ballad pushes the vocalist to their outer limits of range but it doesn’t make for a negative to the song or feel like a poor performance it offers a very likeable delicacy of touch and a likeable delicacy of touch is probably a suitable analogy for the album as a whole.

Usually, my musical tastes veer on the side of the more up-tempo, the brash and the bold but I surprised myself by pleasantly drifting into Osta Love’s gentle world of calm and deftness of touch. Having seen their previous recorded work being frequently described as Floyd-esque and sporting some stock Prog comparisons it seems that on About Time they are mellowing and finding their own chilled style and direction away from the influences so many ape and their ilk cite. Ok they slip back their roots occasionally but I like where they’re heading, I like it a lot and much prefer it to stock Floyd tributing. 8/10

Maryann Cotton: Hallelujah (El Puerto Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Mary Ann Cotton was a female English serial killer hung in 1873 for poisoning her children and several husbands and the name which this LA based (all male) four piece glam/shock rock band have taken on board for this project. The lead vocalist also, confusingly, calls himself Maryann Cotton. Not an original idea for a band identity as LA’s Lizzie Borden pipped them to it 37 years ago and originality, or lack of it, seems a recurrent theme here. Before we even hit the album, there are tropes, clichés and plagiarism written large all over Maryann Cotton. A scan over the social media provides endless narcissistic photo ops and posed by ‘Mr Cotton’ (the rest of the “band” rarely feature) permanently decked out like a guy-linered, Johnny Depp look-a-like, posing with glamour models and selfies with his hero’s backstage like Alice Cooper & Lemmy (rest his soul) who look suitably indifferent. Visually, Mr Cotton desperately begs to be Alice’s successor – more of that later - and one of the more famous faces papped regularly outside The Viper Room. He has (and I’m being kind) stylistically “borrowed” liberally from the more familiar ‘Strip’ legends and The Hollywood Vampires super group specifically, even pinching the Vampire’s demon cover art (which they stole from Black Sabbath).

So, what of the recently released, eight tracks of Hallelujah? Does it live up Maryann Cottons wannabe ambition? Well first and foremost there is no escaping the fact that Cotton’s vocals and song-writing is just straight up copy/impression of Alice Cooper – there, I said it. There’s no mention of being a tribute act but this pretty much is exactly that. Don’t believe me? Check it out on your streaming service of choice, it’s difficult to tell them apart. From the eponymous track, Hallelujah (Alice’s I’m Eighteen) to the clean vocal on My Own Way (Alice’s Only Women Bleed) through Night In California (Elected) to Take Me Home (No More Mr Nice Guy) – you get the idea? If you are a big Alice Cooper fan I’m not entirely sure whether you will be enraged or impressed with this guy’s almost perfect vocal impression of your (and clearly his) hero. Seriously, Alice just might want to check with his lawyers on his copyright contract. Apart from the obvious vocal comparison, the tracks are fairly stock, pedestrian, stompy LA riffy hair metal and certainly not worth a fraction of the attention or adulation Maryann Cotton covets via his/their pages.

If Maryann Cotton declared themselves an Alice tribute act or ‘in the style of Alice’ I’d probably be far more impressed by this album, as it would be a fair and decent product but as it is, there isn’t an original moment on Halleluja or any attempt by the band to be their own brand. 4/10

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