“Do not live in the shadow of the masters for ever. Learn to live in the light of your soul. Life deserves full expression.”
― Amit Ray
Robin Boult (guitars), David Stewart (drums, percussion) and Steve Vantsis (bass guitars, electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, programming) have been in the shadow of a giant of the Progressive genre while recording, writing and touring with prog legend FISH over the years.
Now, with their new project TILT, it is time for them to come out, front and centre, and be the focus of attention. Steve, being responsible for most of the writing of the last two well received Fish albums, ‘13th Star’ and ‘Feast of Consequences’, also has definite pedigree as a songwriter.
Over 5 years in the making, ‘HINTERLAND’ is the long awaited debut album from the band and follows on from their acclaimed debut EP ‘Million Dollar Wound’. ‘HINTERLAND’ has over 60 minutes of new music and the three core members are augmented on this endeavour by guitarist Paul Humphreys and singer PJ Dourley.
TILT are also joined on this release by keyboard player John Beck (It Bites) and guitarist John Mitchell (Lonely Robot/Kino/Arena/It Bites) with John Mitchell also responsible for the final mix.
I got sent an early mp3 download of ‘HINTERLAND’ by Steve and have given the album many listens, it has now cemented itself as one of my favourite releases of the year and now I’ll tell you why…..
“Language taught, Instinct not
Society lost, Trauma is forced…”
The album is book-ended by two brooding and slow burning tracks that compliment each other. Opener _Assembly begins with some obscure static noise before a deliberate percussive beat, metronomic in its perfection, hypnotises you into the slow laid back feel of the song. It’s quite ominous and portentous as the tempo increases slightly, almost like a heartbeat in the background.
Here you get the first impression of PJ Dourley’s impressively distinct vocal as he delivers the gripping tale to an engrossed audience, keeping you on tenterhooks, that haunting percussion and keyboard sound covering everything in a layer of anticipation. The layered vocals are a nice touch with the more expressive voice overlaying a robotic stanza.
A dramatic guitar riff, urgent and dynamic, then takes over along with some forbidding sounding keyboards to leave you on the edge of your seat, bated of breath, wondering what’s coming next. The vocals take on a pleading manner…
Before the track concludes in a rather prophetic manner, a really impressive opening to the album.
“Your eyes are filled with wanted dreams, The strangest shade of green, I’ve never seen before…”
Hinterland is a total rock-fest from start to finish, from the ‘in your face’ manic riff that the guitar beats you over the head with to the frenetically exciting drumming and the ever present stylish bass. Add in the elegant keyboards and PJ’s vibrant vocal and there isn’t much that can go wrong. This is a talented group of musicians who are at the top of their game and it shows.
There’s a super verse where things calm down a bit with a lovely guitar tone and ever more catchy vocals and you just find your self rocking along with this really upbeat song. We have a pause before that concussive riff returns with a slightly off-kilter piano note, just to make sure you’re taking notice and then we are off again, there is only one thing left to do, turn the volume up to 11!!
“Touch, don’t feel and know how this ended. It’s death but it’s not real, when truth is suspended…”
Time for a change of pace and lull in proceedings, Against The Rain is a superbly emotive song with the delicate piano and dreamy synth sounds backing the touching and affective vocal delivery. Almost dreamlike in delivery, it is a track that draws you into its warming embrace and heartfelt warmth and sentiment.
Reflective, it leads you pausing to gather your thoughts with its intelligent construction and demeanour. The gentle percussion and sympathetic guitar just add a lustre of sepia tinged nostalgia and, as it comes to a close, a feeling of compassion and well-being washes over you.
Talk about down and dirty riffs, the opening to No Superman hits you right in the solar plexus. A really low down and muted sound that then opens up and just nails it. Imagine taking some of the best 90’s grunge music and melding it with some modern prog metal and you wouldn’t be far off. The vocals have an edge to them and the drums are huge but it really is that monster riff that grabs my attention.
Deliciously dark and dangerous it is one of those tracks that leaves you feeling a little bit naughty but thoroughly entertained. PJ Dourley gives his best Scott Weiland impression (minus the illegal substances, obviously!) and seems to be really enjoying himself. Add in a little lull to let you get your breath back, rapidly followed by a hugely caustic, fiery riff and you really couldn’t ask for a more hard rocking track.
“Don’t look now, looking straight down, Reach for the sky, live or die..”
Even when you really like a whole album, there’s the one track that really grabs you and, for me, on this release it is Growing Colder. ‘HINTERLAND’ is a brilliant collection of songs but, for whatever reason, it is the slower, more brooding tracks that resonate with me most and the sombre and pensive opening to this song fits that brief perfectly. Wistful guitar, drums and keyboards lay the foundation for PJ’s melancholic vocal delivery, sad and downbeat and yet striking nevertheless.
There is a dolent tone running throughout with the supine, almost dreamy, rhythm almost lulling you into a hypnotic state. The build up to the hugely impassioned and affecting chorus is superb and I always find myself singing along at the top of my voice.
This is one of those tracks that you find yourself listening to three or four times in a row, it really is that good. The combination of the muted verse and stirring chorus really is something special and, as I listen to it again, it is making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The closing out of the song with string effects is utterly poignant.
“You look at me like you’re hypnotised, just blindness left behind your eyes…”
A hard rock track with a progressive edge, Strontium Burning is another one with a slow burning opening that builds slowly before flaring up and powering away into the distance. A definitive guitar note and powerfully dynamic drums are the driving force behind this track, all held together by the unobtrusive bass line. There is a raw energy struck through the centre of this restless and impatient song that you can hear in the delivery of the vocals, an elemental force that is embodied in the compelling and dexterous guitar solo that dominates the end of the track.
“Bleeding, holding onto the edge of my luck, I’m breathing, Trying to get out of here but I’m stuck, My soul’s gone…”
Bloodline was the lead single from the album and, like the title track, is more akin to a hard rock track than progressive but still, at nine minutes long, there is still a whiff of Prog about it. A low-key and subdued undercurrent of an opening makes way for a determined guitar riff and rhythm section, urgent and straining at the leash before the throttle is notched back a bit and the vocals come in, searching and probing. I say it has more in common with hard rock but, here especially, there is a feel of early Porcupine Tree serious feeling heaviness.
There are some intricate melodies playing in the background but, when the powerful chorus fires out, that more mainstream rock angle returns. It is quite a clever mix of styles with some subdued, complicated sections weaving between the more straightforward rock themes and gives TILT there own definite sense of identity. There’s quite a long outro to the song, brooding and self-involved that sets you up for the final track on the album….
“Is there no God, There’s only me, I watch them pour from church, like warriors lost in battle…
Disassembly_, the partner track to _Assembly, opens with a very moody keyboard note that gives a hushed atmosphere of anticipation before there is a sort of awakening, a keening keyboard and guitar tone that is quite abstract in its mysterious feel, almost oriental in fact. That enigmatic aura is only enhanced by PJ’s vocal delivery, precise and esoteric, as he sings over a laid back, electronica inspired, backdrop.
Calm and collected, his voice is almost like a mantra that your mind follows though this delicate maze of ambient progressive music that seems to flow all around you. Guitars join in to add some substance but, all the while, keeping the mystical feel. This song always makes me stop what I’m doing to let the music wash over me and fill my entire being with a feeling of fulfillment and, as it comes to a close, I just feel relaxed and as calm as can be.
What TILT have delivered is a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done!
Released 30th June 2016.