The one man, mighty music machine that is John Bassett returns with a new album from his Arcade Messiah project. ‘The Host’, released on September 17th, was mooted as a return to the angrier, heavier sound of John’s original, and best known, band, the imaginatively monikered KingBathmat and we have been given what we were promised… in spades…
John himself said that the new album was, “…more like KingBathmat ‘Overcoming the Monster’ than previous Arcade Messiah albums.”
That was nectar to my ears as I was, and still am, a big fan of the stoner/doom/psychedelic ‘turned up to 11’ sound of KingBathmat. The music sounded like it was hewn out of solid granite and ‘The Host’ certainly has that monolithic sound deep at its core but there’s also subtlety and not a little wistful, thought provoking going on in and amongst the usual huge wave of sound that John always seems to create. A wave of sound so monumental that it would have Phil Spector running for cover!
Also there has to be a big shout out for the ever excellent artwork on the album, a feature of every Arcade Messiah release, I’m always a sucker for a great album cover.
The first two tracks on the album are powerful, magnetic behemoths, Can Of Wormsand Electro Magnetic Divine both anchored on that hard hitting, grunge heavy guitar sound (one that any 70’s seminal metal band would be proud of) that is archetypical of the John Bassett sound, his urgent, edgy vocal adding further dynamism and efficacy to the songs. They move forward like an unstoppable force, inexorably heading wherever it is they want to go.
Hidden more in the background on the latter track is a rather elegant, 80’s inspired, keyboard sound and this comes to the fore on Show Me The Sun, a track more akin to John’s Sacred Ape project with its spooky, sci-fi inspired tone. Full on, in your face, heavy metal guitar returns on the intro to The Witch From The West, a compelling track that has opposing facets of a calmer, more reflective sound that is ying to the yang of that glacial inevitability of the heavier guitar and it’s a fascinating listening experience that draws you in to this musical juxtaposition of good and evil.
Title track The Host goes all techno and electronic on us again with a more laid back sound before opening up with some rather splendid guitar riffs and a mysterious undertone. John’s songwriting is as impressive as ever as each track lays its interesting tale before us, drawing you into a heavy, almost dystopian soundscape. Diagnosis is yet another fine song that takes John’s excellent guitar riffs and runs with them, if Ennio Morricone did stoner, doom rock Western movie soundtracks, this could well be one of them (trust me, it’s not as tenuous a link as it sounds!). I love the potent energy at the heart of this track, it is one of my favourites on the album.
The album closes with two shorter tracks, the haunting instrumental Wasteland, with its bleak, edgy guitar note and and austere, pared back feel (again, this could be a movie soundtrack but more in the Mariachi style methinks?) which then segues into the laid back, wistful nostalgia of Wildfire, quite a melancholy and reflective end to an album chock full of thunderous riffs and a primeval energy.
Well, Mr Bassett has only gone and done it again. I have no idea if it is a coincidence of his move to Ireland but this highly impressive songwriter and musician just keeps getting better and better. ‘The Host’, full of some of the most impressive riffs you will ever hear this side of Black Sabbath or Elder and yet containing moments of lucidity creating pathos and poignancy, is without a doubt, his best musical creation yet.
Prolific musician John Bassett has announced that pre-orders for the latest album from his 80’s Synthwave / Synthpop side project Sacred Ape will open this Friday, 19/1/18.
Following on from last year’s self-titled debut, ‘Electric Mountain’ promises to deliver more of those retro 80’s sounds that the first album delivered in spades.
John said, “I think, its kind of like a progressive 80’s electronic horror soundtrack, sort of? but that just might be me? I feel this is the closest I’ve got to the sound and style I was hoping to achieve when I first started this project.”
Listen to the title track here:
Originally from Hastings, John now resides in Sligo, Ireland. John Bassett is better known for his work in Metal & Rock with Arcade Messiah & KingBathmat.
“We are consciousness examining and expressing itself so that it can become increasingly aware of its infinite capacity for being and evolving.”
― Jay Woodman
On the 11th of December this year I shall return to The Bedford in Balham to attend the Masquerade one day festival. This will be the first time I have attended this music venue since the life-defining four days of the Resonance Festival in August. 2014.
Suffice to say those wonderful four days really were my epiphany when it came to the world of music that I now find myself deeply involved with and I will never forget the people I met over that weekend, many of whom have become very firm friends.
My musical tastes and my writing have definitely evolved and progressed since that time and it would be fair to say that the majority of musicians that performed at the festival have developed further and matured as artists as well. One musician I was keen to meet there, and one whose career I have followed before and after Resonance, is John Bassett, erstwhile driving force behind the band KingBathmat and the solo instrumental project Arcade Messiah.
It is the third album (imaginatively called ‘III’) from this solo project that I am reviewing today but, as ever, first we must have some background and history…
John Bassett is an English multi-instrumentalist and producer who currently resides in Sligo, Ireland. Primarily known for writing and producing the music for cult Hastings band KingBathmat, his most recent project Arcade Messiah blends Post Rock, Metal, Doom and Stoner rock into a heavy intoxicating instrumental brew.
All instruments on the Arcade Messiah albums are played by John alone and released through his own Stereohead Records label, making them very much independent DIY releases.
‘III’ is the third Arcade Messiah album in as many years to be released by John Bassett and he had this to say about the album;
“Arcade Messiah III has certainly been a labour of love for me, this is the most I have refined a record to the degree that I have done with this album, I incorporated many new production techniques and have learned a lot from the experience of putting this record together. I’m very excited to release this out into the wild and I hope you guys enjoy it.”
I reviewed Arcade Messiah‘II’ last year and had these words to say;
“A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.”
John is going to have to go some with ‘III’ to improve on that…
Revolver powers in with an immediate blow to the solar plexus from a monstrous riff that just carries all before it. The cacophony of guitars and drums that follows is just deliciously intense and mad surging ahead on a humongous soundwave of monumental noise and then, hark, what is that? Vocals, yes vocals! but only for a short while and, once you’ve got over the shock, it’s back on the proverbial manically enjoyable hell ride of musical virtuosity. Such a dense and compact sound, it really does pack a powerful punch and the coruscating guitar breaks just add the final touch of demented class. There’s a short break of a more delicate variety but, as it all comes to a close, it’s all you can do to stay upright in the face of such a pleasurable sonic onslaught.
Citadel, even the word conveys thoughts of a steadfast, immovable structure, one that has stood the test of time, war and destruction over a span of centuries and this track lives up to that definition. There is an age old primordial and primitive force at work here and this absolutely gigantic and rudimental riff feels like it has spanned the ages with its weighty and portentous feel. Now you know what Atlas felt like carrying the Earth on his shoulders, there is a supreme density and weight of knowledge at the core of this thunderous song. Almost a soundtrack to the age of Knights and siege engines, it pins you to the floor with its substantial tone. There’s a lull in the middle, like a break in the never ending battle between good and evil, before the dynamic drumming joins the compelling guitars and the hypnotic music powers on. To use a well known phrase from Queensryche’s‘Empire’, it really does ‘…hit you like a ten ton heavy thing…’
The longest track, coming in and just over ten minutes, Deliverance is, in my opinion, the best track that John has produced as Arcade Messiah. A slow burning, slightly hesitant opening of piquant guitar notes over shadowy keyboards gives an air of mystery and intrigue. The tempo increases with the jingling guitars leading the way, you almost feel like you are being taking on a journey, one where you have no idea of the destination. For those of a certain age, the title will bring thoughts of Burt Reynolds and hillbilly America and you do feel like you could be lost in the deep forest with all sorts of creatures watching your progress waiting to pounce and the tension increases when the riffs begin, aggressive and potent. There is an urgency to the guitars now, both more critical and serious as the overlaying vocal of the title rings out. It is a rush to find succor and shelter, to escape the unknown that lurks in the dark behind the trees and your heart beat increases to match the pace of the music. This song really does get you involved, placing you right in the middle of proceedings, the hunted trying to outwit the hunter, it is really clever how you find yourself as the centre of all that is happening, hanging on every sound and, as the last notes ring out, relief just washes over you.
The feel changes a bit with Life Clock, there is still that vitality and depth to the music but the monstrous, mountain toppling riffs take a back seat for once. A pensive, thoughtful tone exudes from the guitars and seems to soften the sharp edges of the tones coming forth. A feeling of treading water ensues, anticipation or meditation? who knows? I feel an expectation in the air, contemplation of what has gone before and, also, what is now to come. Like the ticking of a clock in a silent room, time still passes whether we are there to observe it or not and, while we live our lives, the days, months and years will continue to accumulate. It is only music, no words, but I get the feeling that we are being taught a lesson here, don’t let life pass you buy, live every moment with no regrets as we are a long time dead, the pugnacious riffing and energetic drumming that close out the track seem to imply that time is running out to do so…
Crunching riffs, immense in scope, lead in a towering tsunami of sound as Black Tree lurches in to view, like some vast mammoth of noise. It almost overwhelms you with its intensity yet you would die happy, like a man drowning in vat of the best malt whiskey. There are the odd interludes where the ferocity and tension lull for a short while but the potent fervor is soon ramped up again and the substantial music regains its impetus and momentum and rides roughshod over all that is unfortunate to get in its way, the unstoppable dominance there for all to see.
After the forceful intensity and enduring dominance of what has gone before, Sanctuaryis exactly what you need and it is delivered beautifully by the closing track to the album. A delightful blend of guitars, drums and keyboards that has a soothing effect on your bruised mind and soul. The elegant guitar tone still has a life and vibrancy to it but, this time, it is not trying to pound you into submission. The drums are composed and precise and add a cultured layer to the track and mean it is one that you can let wash over you and reinvigorate you, it is still, obviously, John’s distinctive sound but with a restrained and relaxed feel to it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the huge, continent crushing sound that this amazing musician can generate but this just ends the album on such a lovely, high note and works perfectly.
So does ‘III’ improve on ‘II’ or is it left trailing in its wake? There’s a subtle change of tack going on here as well, a more mature feel to the music, John Bassett can riff with the best of them but has added other strings to his bow in his continual quest to improve as a musician, he has evolved once again with this excellent release, he is really at the top of his game and making his ‘Wall of Sound’ become even more of a unique and elemental force. If I did ratings this would be 9/10 without any argument whatsoever.
I continue to be drawn to clarity and simplicity. ‘Less is more’ remains my mantra – Stephane Rolland
My mate John Bassett is like a one man music factory. If he’s not making prog-tinged psychedelic albums with the brilliantly named KingBathmat or the seriously heavy and melodic instrumental colossus that is Arcade Messiah, he’s laying down some more personal and intimate tracks as a solo performer.
John’s last solo outing under his own name was the sophisticated restraint of the uncomplicated ‘Unearth’, released in March 2014 and I had this to say about it:
It is a shining beacon of simplicity in an over-complicated world and an antidote to the ponderous, heavy and dull music that can clog up our airwaves in this industrial age.
With no fanfare or previous promotion, John announced he was releasing a four track E.P. called ‘Aperture’ and, in his typical humble style, he had this to say about the recording process:
It only took me 10 days to make it from nothing, which is some difference to 6 months to putting together the last arcade messiah….
Now, if another artists has told me it had taken them less than two weeks to make a record, I’d be either worried or very sceptical, but not John Bassett. I was pretty certain that he would have produced something quite brilliant as usual….
The E.P. opens with Break The Wall, the intro to which is a bewitching brew of jangling guitars, all immediately recognisable as being John Bassett. The drums and bass join in what is quite a whimsical and wistful melody and then the vocals begin. Yes, vocals, I’d been so used to the power and pomposity of the instrumental only Arcade Messiah that I forgot that John has quite a delicate, yearning voice that works perfectly with the clarity and purity of the music. The whole song has an openness at its core and I find it emotionally cleansing as it carries my worries away, yep, I was right, John doesn’t do ordinary or mundane, this is sheer class.
There is a haunting feel to the opening of Joy In Despair, an all pervasive feel of hushed restraint to the pared back music and John’s guileless vocal. The fog of uncertainty begins to lift as the rhythm section opens up, there is a chink of light appearing in the misty gloom. There is an undercurrent of nostalgic melancholy running throughout the song, a feeling of whatever will be , will be that manifests itself as stoic fortitude and the track closes out with a very stylish guitar run, near perfect.
Awaiting has a slow burning opening, a low down guitar and vocals full of longing are accompanied by an expressive bass, just lulling you into a state of dignified solemnity. The chorus is all breathy vocals and a stand out guitar note that lifts the tempo slightly. A thoughtful guitar solo is laced with feeling and sentiment and you well up with emotion, a superb thought provoking track that left me in a reflective state of mind.
The final track on the EP is the delightfully eclectic instrumental Jenna. Sepia tinged memories flood your mind as the plaintive and longing guitar leaves wishful notes on your mind. A meditative and unhurried track of musical rapture that cleanses your mind and soul to leave you in a calm state of well being.
There is a beauty and grace to ‘Aperture’, John can do immense walls of sound in his sleep but, this time, he shows he has a gentle and rarefied touch to deliver a small and perfectly formed musical gem. Any negatives? yes, just one, it’s not long enough…..
There is a place in music for everything. There is a place for quiet and contemplative and a place for upbeat and energetic. Heartwarming and heartbreaking can be found in every listener’s record collection. I mean, even the blasted wasteland of thrash and death metal will float quite a few people’s boats somewhere.
Yes, as individuals we can shut ourselves off from what we dislike to concentrate on the music that resonates and innovates our souls but, that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone, somewhere who really appreciates that which we do not. Yes, even chart music, the anodyne, tasteless blurb that blasts out from shopping centres all across the world, even that has its place, much as it pains me to say it.
As a music reviewer I try to cover a hell of a lot of bases and keep my musical tastes varied and relatively indiscriminate. I like the beauty and soul that emanates from a lot of progressive music but, then again, I also like the hard hitting and innovative too. And, sometimes, I just like to listen to something that blows my bloody socks off and tries to remove what little hair I have left.
One artist whose music resonates with me for its power and deep down raw energy is John Bassett. English multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and producer John hails from Hastings in Sussex. He first came to my notice as the driving force behind the Progressive Rock band Kingbathmat who are well known for their style of prog that combines cutting vocal melodies with sledgehammer riffs and psychedelia.
As well as the eight albums he has released with the band, John also released a brilliant, acoustic based, solo album ‘Unearth’ last year but, it is John’s other solo instrumental project, Arcade Messiah, that is the centre of attention for this review.
The first, self-titled, Arcade Messiah album was released last year to wide acclamation. I penned these words about it, “Dark, bleak and full of despair it may be but, when it is this good, that pales into insignificance as one of the UK’s premier progressive musicians re-invents himself with assured aplomb once again.”
It was also bloody monstrous, a huge tapestry of immense musical brilliance and John is just about to release the follow up to the album, imaginatively titled ‘Arcade Messiah II’.
John was surprised by the success of the first album and that spurred him on to record the follow up, hopefully bigger, better and more refined but without losing the edginess of the first release.
Produced and recorded by him in his studio in Hastings, it has quite a lot to live up to…..
John has gone to the unusual lengths of releasing the download for 99p but, it is the CD version that I review here. This includes a near nineteen minute cover of The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite’s Child. There is absolutely no way I was missing out on that!
First things first, the artwork, absolutely stunning and carrying on the style first encountered on the debut Arcade Messiah release.
The main album is eight tracks of near-perfect instrumental hard rock with an infinite depth to it. Opener Moon Signal is a perfect marker for what is to follow with its restrained opening, the resonant guitar sound of John Bassett instantly recognisable. When the thunderous riffs and almighty drums kick in, it is enough to knock you back a step or to, immensely powerful and not for the faint-hearted. You feel yourself surfing on a huge wave of sonic dominance and you know you will fall off the wave eventually so enjoy the ride while you can. There is no let up to the ferocity of the precisely engineered music and it is highly addictive, please approach with caution. Red Widow carries on in a similar vein, this time with a menacing background aura to it. Compelling and commanding, it has a real heavy metal riff running throughout it, a sound that is granite hard as it hits you from all sides. Believe me when I say it is like a beautiful aural assault and one that you cannot back down from. It is like staring into an endless, limitless abyss and still jumping in with no safety line, obsessively habit-forming.
Taking the mysterious route, Black Dice Maze opens up with an enigmatic guitar note, lighter, lithe and agile. It is almost hypnotic in the way that its featherlight tendrils touch your synapses, leaving you in a calm and collected mood. The complete antithesis to what has gone before it would seem but, wait, all is not as you would presume it to be and another monstrous riff kicks in and drags you along in its wake. The mercilessly incessant drums and quick fire licks hook you in and steal your soul as this roller coaster ride of instrumental inventiveness carries you away on an influx of musical torque only to leave you exhausted on some metaphorical shore. Will there be time to catch your breath? It would appear so as the gentle undulating calmness of the guitar introduces Gallows Way, an altogether much more serene proposition. A tranquil and harmonious contrast to the intense maelstrom that has preceded it. At three minutes, a relatively short but perfectly placed respite and one that allows you to collect your thoughts before moving on to more of the dangerously addictive towering musical force that is Arcade Messiah.
Fourth Quarter strides confidently into the room on the back of a coruscating guitar and stylish drum beat. Almost like a mind control drug, you find yourself focusing on that astringent guitar note as it overwhelms your very being. A guitar-led break impacts with even more of the bleak, barren grace that radiates from this track. Reminiscent of a post-nuclear landscape that has been scorched and left with a naked and raw beauty, this song really impacts on your soul. Just over one minute of refined, statuesque refinement, Via Occulta packs a lot of intent and meaning into a very short timescale, I just wish it was longer.
By the time you reach the sixth track, you are comfortably ensconced in the metaphorical musical seat that John Bassett has provided for you. Read The Sky is another intensely acute listening experience that washes over you as if you were a gravel shoreline being assaulted by rolling Atlantic breakers. Meticulously created riffs from another planet hit you from every angle leaving you a laughing, maniacal wreck, the experience is vivid as your synapses reverberate with the brilliantly vivid soundscapes created by this innovative musician. Almost like a meditative come-down, the introduction to Start Missing Everybody is an esoteric opposite to the general atmosphere with a guitar note that feels like Ennio Morricone could have invented it. Hold your horses though, the thunderous musical train is on the track and coming your way with no brakes, the final run out of the song pulverising your senses before it comes to an abrupt close.
So, onto the CD bonus track and the cover of The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite’sChild. Perhaps with more of a feel of KingBathmat to it, it is quite an impressive musical odyssey. Mesmerising guitars and dynamic drums and bass combine to deliver one of the best tracks of the year. You really do get lost in the striking grandeur of the music, a wide-ranging vista of imposing melodic inspiration and sagacity and one that takes over your world for the nineteen minutes of its duration.
‘Arcade Messiah II’ takes all that was good with the first album and enhances by taking the raw, coruscating energy of the first release and developing it into a superb sound that, while holding nothing back, is full of nuances and intelligence. A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.