After the release of their new album ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’ earlier this year, Godsticks unveil a new video in celebration of the album’s next single ‘Throne’.
‘Throne’ itself exists very much in the heavier sphere of the band with downtuned chugging guitars forming the driving of the verse before the song opens up for a melodic and memorable chorus, culminating in a euphoric finale. The video, produced by Martin Holmes ( @ohmzfilm ) brings the ferocious nature of the band’s live performance to foreground.
Frontman and guitarist Darran Charles had the following to say:
“Throne was one of those tracks that had been taunting me for a number of years. I had the verse and intro nailed years ago but every time I tried to develop it further, I just hit a creative brick wall. I’m sure that wall gets higher and thicker for some songs more than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever given up on a song if, deep down, I knew there was potential there.
Thankfully with the help of the rest of the band, I broke through that goddamn motherfucking wall and as soon as I hit upon that chorus melody, everything flowed easy. It’s become one of my favourite songs on the record and also the hardest to play live, but given that we never shirk a challenge you can expect this song to feature in every setlist from now to eternity.”
Darran expands on the meaning behind the track as well:
“Lyrically, Throne is about the bottomless pit of someone’s narcissism when they have a position of power. Where they’re both absolutely sure minded and also the most fragile person ever, and how those two states usually go hand-in-hand. So as with the half of our songs, it deals with my frustration with other humans .. the other half of course dealing with my frustration with myself.”
To support their recent album the band will also tour the UK in 2024
31/1/24 – The Lousiana, Bristol
1/2/24 – The Peer Hat, Manchester
2/2/24 – The Hope and Anchor, London
3/2/24 – Planet RockStock
09/02/24 – The Bunkhouse, Swansea
The band is determined to do as many live performances as possible in support of ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’, especially because it was live performance itself that provided the initial creative spark that spawned so much of the music on the album.
Darran Charles commented that:
“We asked and listened to where our fans want to see us play, so as well as returning to happy hunting grounds like London and Manchester, we’re doing our first ever headline show in Bristol. Plus there’s not one, but two chances for our Welsh brethren to come see us live again! We love being on tour so we’re very excited to be playing more headline gigs, and to be working with the good people at Planet Rock again for the Winter’s End festival.”
Their love for writing and productivity had been reignited simply by being able to perform live. Experimenting with electronic sounds and delegating writing duties in the band allowed ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’ to be their most collaborative album to date.
It’s been a long and eventful road for Godsticks since emerging onto the scene with their eponymously titled EP in 2009 showcasing the band’s then progressive-rock leanings. Since then, subsequent albums became progressively heavier and received further critical acclaim, culminating in the ‘genre redefining’ prog metal masterpiece that was ‘Emergence’, which ultimately led to them being signed to Kscope. Having extensively toured Europe since 2012, in the last few years the band have finally gained recognition as the explosive, high energy live act they’d always threatened to become.
Having released their fifth full-length studio album, ‘Inescapable’, in February 2020, a mere month before the world plummeted into lockdown, the band had no means to perform the new songs to an audience. Living in this world of stasis, it wasn’t until September 2021 when the band were able to perform the tracks for a live audience that they began to think about their next album.
“It was impossible not to notice the creative tsunami that the pandemic engendered in the music industry – every band and their dog were writing and releasing new music. For me though, it was the least creative time in my entire life.” mentions guitarist and band main man Darran Charles.
Their love for writing and productivity had been reignited simply by being able to perform live. Despite the new-found resolve, the band remain humble yet incredibly driven. Experimenting with electronic sounds and delegating writing duties in the band allowed ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’ to be their most collaborative album to date.
Recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios, the album was produced by JamesLoughrey and mastered by Maor Appelbaum. The album’s striking cover artwork was created by Richard Beeching who mentions “The band and I agreed we needed a visually engaging sleeve to match the album’s strong title, but nothing too literal. Something just about abstract enough to allow the audience to make of it what they will. Our primate fits the bill nicely.”
Godsticks come crashing into your inner space with an almighty, primeval bang, this new album is hard, dissonant and downright heavy, with a capital ‘H’! Progressive metal with a definite emphasis on the ‘metal’, opener If I Don’t Take It All has crunching riffs aplenty and Charles’ vocals have that hard-edged, world weary style to them. The rhythm section feels hewn from granite and yet there’s a melodic vibe deep down, especially on the chorus. There’s a real vibrancy to the music although that vibrancy has a definitive chaotic edge to it. What a thunderous start to the album! Eliminate And Repair takes a step back with it’s staccato guitar and incessant beat, like everybody is just waiting for things to kick off. The track ebbs and flows a bit but never quite explodes, becoming something of a brooding slow burner. This Is My New Normal opens in a similar vein with that restless and skittish guitar hitting you where it hurts but this track has a really funky chorus in a (heavy) Red Hot Chilli Peppers style. There’s a real groove to the track, if an exceedingly heavy one and I’m sure this will really rock in a live setting. Godsticks can turn the dial back when they want to, as the low key, intense and somber Devotion Made To Offend shows. A weighty and thoughtful track that really gets under your skin, the rhythm section really shining and providing the foundations of what is a really classy song. Silent Saw dials it back even further and reminds me a bit of Queensrÿche at their ‘Empire’ peak. The sorrowful vocals and melancholy tones of the guitar add real solemnity and gravitas to the track and make it one of the stand out pieces on the album.
Time for a punch to the solar plexus, Throne and Don’t Say A Word take the quieter, reflective mood and blow it apart with excellent recurring riffs and discordant beats that break into a superbly melodic chorus once again, these guys really have the knack of blending the two and it gives their music a real polish. The lead track from the album, Mayhem, is exactly that with a monstrous riff that could flatten buildings, it’s not just metal, it’s HEAVY metal! It’s so bloody heavy that you can’t help but just love it and it’s got to be a mosh pit favourite at the forthcoming gigs. Revelling in the chaos of the track, Darran Charles, had the following to say:
“I stumbled upon this really ugly dissonant chord that sounded great with distortion, and thought about ways of making it sound even nastier and more chaotic (hence the title). But I was also interested in causing Tom (drummer) physical harm so I devised a bass drum pattern so complex that it will likely cause him a repetitive strain injury in the very near future. This song promises to be immense live and the music video hopefully translates the energy we’re going to bring to the stage when we take this song out on the road.”
Lying is a delightful, lighter, track that allows you to pick yourself up after the preceding rock behemoth and sees Charles’ vocal take on a much more atmospheric tone and the music is given space to breathe, which is welcome. I love some seriously heavy music as much as the next man but, now I’m getting older, I do need a sit down now and again. The elegant guitar solo is a highlight of what is an airy and refined piece of music. The album closes out with Wake Up where Charles’ dynamic vocal and the stylish music remind me of some of Chris Cornell’s solo work. While lacking the punch of some of the other tracks, this song really has intelligence and depth and shows a more inventive side to the band.
If you like your progressive metal with a big emphasis on the metal then this new album from Godsticks is one you should definitely check out. There are heavy, mountain moving riffs galore and a rhythm section that is as prodigious as they come but there’s also some high quality melodies and Darran Charles’ excellent vocals complete what is a rather impressive package.
Ahead of the release this Friday of the band’s acclaimed new album ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’, Progradar sat down with frontman/guitarist Darran Charles to get the lowdown…
1. Godsticks were formed in 2009, for you, personally, how much has the music scene changed in the last 14 years?
Good question. I suppose in terms of the prog scene, I’ve seen that a subset of Prog – Prog metal – has now become the dominant force in terms of popularity, and arguably they’ve become the new boundary pushers, which is what prog has always been known for.
Obviously the way music is now consumed means there’s less income to be derived from the sale of physical media, so we now see bands having to earn their income mainly from touring. And since Brexit it’s also proving cost-prohibitive to play shows in Europe. All in all, there hasn’t been much that has changed for the better for bands!
That said, the consumer has never had it so good. The music scene is absolutely saturated with bands and a huge percentage of these bands are absolutely great. As technology has become more accessible as the years go by you see more and more people being able to exercise their creativity and produce things on par with anything that was created with a huge studio budget.
2. Who were your influences then and who are they now?
At the time of the EP, I was mostly listening to Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, and a lot of jazz-fusion. I might have even been listening to Alison Krauss a lot.
It’s hard to say who my influences are currently. I listen to music a lot differently than I did when I was younger, and I have to say that I miss physical media, CDs especially. My car doesn’t even have a CD player anymore so everything has to be streamed digitally. In the last few years I’ve been mostly listening to pop music, but the last band to truly inspire me were ‘The Smile’ – featuring Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. I’ve watched the recent live performances on YouTube and the quirky complex songs are quite often a mind-fuck that require complete absorption.
3. You had a run of very good albums from the self-titled EP, right through to ‘Emergence’ after which you were signed to Kscope, did signing for a major label put any additional pressure on you?
To be honest, they’ve always been very supportive. They’ve never tried to change us and given the type of non-mainstream music we produce they kind of knew what they were in for when they signed us. I work closely with Johnny Wilks from the label who is a fantastic source of help when I ask him to scrutinise the album demos.
4. Your initial sound was described as being progressive but the new album ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’ is definitely more intense and hard rock oriented (in my opinion), is that a natural evolution of the band’s sound or was it intentional?
It’s a natural evolution because we’ve found that the heavier music is more enjoyable to play live due to its intensity. However, we still have a wide range of musical styles that we enjoy writing in. In fact, we recorded 7 other songs that were not as heavy as the other material on the album which we purposely left out because they didn’t necessarily fit with the vibe of the album. Three of those songs are included on the bonus track ‘Crushed’ while the other 4 tracks will be released over the course of the next 12 months. I suppose you could say that these tracks showcase the gentler side of Godsticks.
5. There is a lot more focus on guitar riffs and a dissonant edge, do you think this will transfer into a live arena particularly well and are you looking forward to getting out there and unleashing the new music on your fans?
Always! Every time we write a song we try to imagine what it would sound like live. Not that we would impose any restrictions on ourselves by reducing the instruments/overdubs etc but we simply imagine what we would like to hear if we were the ones in an audience. It’s important for a song to have some sort of physical impact upon me, which is usually manifested with a vigorous head-nodding!
6. Is the new album a lot different to your last, ‘Inescapable’? You say that the writing process was different with a lot more collaboration with other band members?
Each album has resulted in more and more input from each member. I’m the main songwriter primarily because I find it almost impossible to come up with good vocal melodies over ideas that other people have written, which is a shame because Gavin often comes up with some great riffs. But Godsticks music has always been about textures as well as riffs, and the parts that Gavin comes up with on synth and guitar are integral to the songs and enhance them in a way that I would likely be unable to do.
Tom also ‘hides the seams’ between seemingly disparate sections of music, and without his ingenious drum parts the songs would sound very different indeed, and worse for it.
7. How do you go about writing a Godsticks track, what influences the creative process?
Usually, things start with a guitar riff or drum beat and I take it from there. A lot of ideas emerge from either studying music, practising or transcribing things. It’s usually when I least want to be distracted from the task in hand that inspiration strikes.
Sometimes, although it’s very rare these days, I’ll get inspired by a new band or song which I love. The last occasion something creative happened like that was when I watched a live show of ‘The Smile’ – I was so blown away by the music that I felt inspired to sit at the piano and write something. That track ‘Crushed’ features on the bonus disc.
8. How did you cope with the lockdown? A lot of musicians I know have actually said that they found the whole period to be very creative and have come up with a lot of new ideas?
Well, I experienced the opposite sadly. I never wrote a single piece of music during the lockdown period. I tried to force it but in truth, most of it was poor.
That’s not to say that I didn’t make use of the downtime. I spent all my time either studying or practising and even began delving into the world of electronics and having zoom conversations with expert amp builders.
I also began reading books on synth programming and understanding exactly how they worked. That episode will definitely benefit our music in the future.
9. Obviously, due to the pandemic, you couldn’t play live after you released ‘Inescapable’, how frustrating did you find that?
It was incredibly disappointing as you can imagine, but at the same time the fact the world was a little bit strange to say the least put things in perspective a little. Then as the pandemic dragged on we started to worry if there would even be any venues or promoters in business when the world eventually re-opened its doors.
So whilst it was frustrating, that feeling was eventually subsumed by relief that things could finally get back to a state of normality.
10. I know most musicians will say that their current release is their favourite but do you hold any of your previous albums in particular regard and, if so, why?
I would say ‘Emergence’ is probably the most important of our albums, as it heralded the future sound of the band. At the time of its release, It may have seemed like an abrupt left turn in terms of heaviness but I think the overall sound and vibe of that album proved that this was our natural sound.
11. Who would you consider to be the best live act today and one you would pay to go and see?
Meshuggah! I’m desperate to see them play live. The last time the opportunity arose the nearest place they were playing was Bristol, but I absolutely hated the particular venue they were playing, so didn’t go.
12. What’s next for Godsticks or are you just concentrating on getting the new album out and playing it live?
Our sole focus at this time is rehearsing the new music to perform live at our upcoming shows in June. Then it’s just a question of how many gigs we can successfully put together and how many festivals that will welcome us.
13. What do you do to relax away from music?
Most of my life is taken up by music, whether that’s practising, studying or writing, but in the evening times I like to watch TV. I’m a big fan of shows like ‘Succession’, anything HBO, and stand-up comedy. I also like to read non-fiction books on biology and history.
14. Finally, what, if any, advice would you give to that younger version of yourself who was just about to release the debut EP in 2009 now you have been on the rollercoaster for 14 years?
As someone with an aversion to reading manuals and instead intuitively fumbling there way around new technology, whether that’s creating synth sounds or learning how to use my gear, I would advise myself to take the time to learn the technology you’re surrounded with, especially production techniques. These are often invaluable tools to assist with your creativity. That’s something I’ve changed my approach to in the last 3 years or so, and these days I look forward to reading a manual!
‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’is released 26th May, 2023 on Kscope
Following the release of Welsh rockers Godsticks’ new studio album – Faced With Rage the band have released a video for the song “Angry Concern”.
The clip was filmed during the recording sessions for Faced With Rage at the world-renowned Monnow Valley Studio in Wales. Darran Charles, Godsticks vocalist, guitarist and main writer talks in depth about the track and their time at Monnow: “‘Angry Concern’ is probably one of our most experimental sounding tracks to date and testament to how integral each band member’s contribution is these days. Dan and Tom’s bass and drums are key to keeping an aggressive edge to what is a deceptively vocal-heavy track. I remember that this was one of the first tracks we recorded drums for at Monnow Valley and unusually for us, we ended up tracking drums for the entire song rather than section by section. This ensured a certain dynamism to the performance and I remember that after Tom’s very first take of this track we were all stunned into silence, including James our producer – it blew us away! One of my very favourite drum performances since the band first got together.”
Godsticks, having recently toured with The Pineapple Thief and appeared at Planet Rockstock festival, have also confirmed they will playing two headline shows in the UK in May – their hometown of Cardiff and in London.
A rather excited Darran Charles comments on taking that step to headlining: “After spending the best part of a decade as an opening act you can imagine we have been chomping at the bit to finally do our own headline shows. We’ve more than paid our dues I think, and with 4 albums behind us it’s time to stand on our own 8 feet! We’ll be performing tracks that we’ve never played live before and rehearsing harder than ever to ensure these are the best two Godsticks shows you’ve seen to date. We genuinely cannot wait!!”
Here’s a bit of that old serendipity doo dah that we often talk about. A few months ago at the behest of Good King Martin of Progradarshire I ventured forth on a cold wet Bristol Sunday evening to see Gavin Harrison and Bruce Soord steal pineapples in a German themed drinking den (which I’m reliably informed is larger than the feast) in the ensuing review which I am sure Martin will cleverly link to here, I discovered Godsticks for the first time.
My definition of a great support band is one where you enjoy the set so much you want to buy the album, I have discovered bands like Tilt and Jemima Surrender amongst others like this, and the only regret at the Godsticks gig was the fact that their set was heavily dependant on their next album ‘Faced With Rage’, which hadn’t been released yet.
Well, the good news for all you Godsticks fans, and all those who enjoyed their sets on the recent Pineapple Thief tours is that it’s now out, and I have been listening to it all week on my commute in, good job really, otherwise this would be a terribly pointless review (what’s new? Ed.).
Bit of history, Godsticks were formed in Cardiff back in 2008 the band has Darran Charles at the front, his guitar sound and vocals are an intrinsic part of Godsticks (and his work as touring guitarist for the Pineapple Thief also showcased his versatility) and he is ably accompanied by guitarist Gavin Bushell, bassist Dan Nelson and ‘new boy’ – drummer Tom Price.
Live, Godsticks are a mixture of power, aggression and melody, and the new material they played sounded like it had been part of the set forever.
On record there is obviously a more subtle dynamic at work, and it is refreshing to hear a four piece traditional style guitar band sounding on record like they do on stage, there is no technical malarkey tampering with the songs, these are songs designed to be played full tilt in the context of a concert, and the fact that they work so well in both arenas is a testament to the writing and production.
This is the bands 4th album, and they weren’t a band I had ever heard of prior to seeing them rip the stage up on tour with the Pineapple Thief, and I’ll hold my hands up here and state I had seen them described as prog metal, which to this listener is a bit of a turn off. A lot of the new prog metal stuff is just loud music that goes on too long.
I would not describe Godsticks as prog metal, they have the knack for writing a catchy tune, they have a dynamic twin guitar sound that propels the music forward, and they are probably at the heaviest end of the music that would appeal to me, but prog metal? No.
In layman’s terms Godsticks Rock! They have an impressive musical armoury, and certainly live having an extra guitarist to do some of the heavy lifting allows Charles to be the front man he so obviously is. His exceptional vocal range and guitar playing, in tandem with Gavin Bushells guitar work, is one of the many highlights of this album, and tracks that they powered through live, like Open Your Eyes or Guilt are superb examples of the finest hard rock sounds, whilst on longer pieces like the excellent Everdrive, this is the sound of a band pushing themselves and moving forwards.
Godsticks live are an energetic and impressive prospect, on record they reinforce that opinion and to their credit have created an album that wholly reflects who they are as musicians, with what sounds to me like no compromises.
Based on the live show I saw I was expecting to enjoy this record, having heard it, I absolutely love it, and it has snuck in under the radar at the end of the year as what could be one of the top ten albums of 2017.
I once stole some coconut shampoo, I don’t know why, I didn’t have a coconut, however Bruce Soord has been getting away with Pineapple Thievery for over 18 years, and despite the gig being on a Sunday night, I was glad to finally see them on their latest musical jaunt, a worldwide tour de force promoting the latest long player ‘Your Wilderness’. In fact these dates were added later, as it seemed very odd when the tour was first announced that they bypassed the West Country entirely, and we can’t all afford to ship off over to that London for a gig
In fact this was the last gig of the tour, and practically a local one, as Bruce doesn’t live a million miles away, so it was almost a homecoming for him.
It’s always strange to go to a venue that is so intimate to see bands that you think should be playing such bigger venues, particularly when the venue is the Bierkeller, which is an odd little place. A cross between a traditional rock club and a German drinking haus, managing to not quite be one thing or t’other, and it’s also funny to go to the merch stand and see the latest release by the band being an audio/visual document of the show that you’re about to watch. (Where we Stood).
Support was by Welsh boys and K-Scope label mates Godsticks, whose set was made up of a majority of new material from their forthcoming album ‘Filled with Rage’, I had never heard of them before, and as I have probably said elsewhere one of my criteria for what makes a great gig is how good the support band are.
Godsticks are good, very good indeed, they have a wonderfully chunky sound, big riffs and big beats, and have that knack of turning up the amps but not losing the melody, whilst the set was bias towards the new record, ‘Faced with Rage’, which is out on October 13th, the older material from ‘Emergence’ fitted in superbly.
As a rock band go Godsticks are entertaining, musically adept and according to someone who was with me in the audience who had seem them before, they have come on leaps and bounds. All I know is they were a superb start to the show, and got the audience warmed up before the main event.
Last time I saw Bruce and the boys was on the ‘Magnolia‘ tour, back in The Fleece in Bristol in 2014, and then I thought they should be playing somewhere far bigger.
Now, with the addition of the busiest man of the night Godsticks guitarist and vocalist Darran Charles, who joined ThePineapple Thief live line-up, the amazing Gavin Harrison on drums, the Thief’s live sound is suddenly enhanced, and those simple tweaks helps take the burden of Bruce, so he can be the frontman he was always destined to be, and with Gavin on board this group of excellent musicians suddenly have raised their game even more.
There is a reason why the tickets say ThePineapple Thief with Gavin Harrison, and that is because Gavin is the contemporary musical equivalent to Bill Bruford, and is mesmerising to watch and hear as a drummer, astonishingly despite being a massive fan of his work, both solo and with bands like Porcupine Tree or King Crimson, this was the first time I have ever seen him live, and whilst I love The Pineapple Thief, and their latest album, seeing Gavin Harrison in action was something I couldn’t miss.
Being biased towards some of the later albums, and of course ‘Your Wilderness’, the entire album hits the stage at one point or another tonight, and songs like In Exile, Where We Stood and Tear you Up come across with power and intensity, the sound that a band confident in their ability can deliver with panache.
With Darran doing some of the heavy lifting, Bruce is like a man freed, playing to the audience and turning in some fine banter (‘forgetting’ to remember the album title of Godsticks new release being one of many exchanges), whilst material from ‘Magnolia’, including The One you left Behind (the strongest track from that album), absolutely rips the place apart with the power and skills of the band. With long term collaborators Steve Kitch on keys and Jon Sykes on bass, a lot of the focus is of course on the man in the corner of the stage. Every note is timed to perfection, every fill, every beat is on point, and nothing is superfluous, I feel a lot of prog drummers can get a lesson in how to do it from Gavin Harrison. Everything he does added so much to the songs that every so often I would get a great big grin on my face, as the whole sonic template meshed together to create an almighty sound.
I said before when I saw them at The Fleece a few years ago how I couldn’t understand why they aren’t playing bigger venues, and ironically the Bierkeller is slightly smaller than the Fleece, and I wish I could fathom why a band this powerful, with songs this melodic, this intelligent and this epic aren’t selling out and playing to the sort of crowds that bland wallpaper peddlers like Coldplay are doing. There is more musical intelligence in one of Bruce’s riffs or one of Gavin’s fills than there is in Coldplay’s recorded output for the last 5 years, and music this big and this powerful and emotional deserves a bigger platform. I guess that the benefit for us is that we get stadium-sized performances in smaller venues and to hear this music, this close is something we should all be thankful. If, and I say if, Gavin Harrison is still playing with The Pineapple Thief next time they tour then you owe it to yourself to go see them. If not, then we’ll always have ‘Where We Stood’, and the Bristol Bierkeller.
Darran Charles, Steve Kitch, Jon Sykes, Gavin Harrison and, of course, Bruce Soord are the current touring version of The Pineapple Thief. On the 11th February 2017 they played the Islington Assembly Rooms, touring in support of their ‘Your Wilderness’ album. It was a packed audience and was a much anticipated tour and album.
The set list for the night was:
Tear You Up
The one you left to Die
No Man’s Land
Alone At Sea
Take Your Shot
Show a little love
Fend For Yourself
Simple as that
Final Thing on my mind
Encores Snow drops / Nothing at best.
The show was recorded and will be released in various packages on the 6th October as ‘Where We Stood’.
First the limitations. I had no access to the package in itself with the multitude of mixes and vinyl stuff which Kscope have produced as a rather excellent showcase of a live band in full flow in front of a passionate audience. I will review what I have seen which is the concert DVD footage and the documentary footage. After all, this is the actual product they are selling in its many forms.
I am a music fan and believe the arena of the stage and live presentation is often the best judge of what a band is capable of in the purest form. A band can live or die on what it does on stage and putting out a DVD of a stage set is a brave thing to do for any band but it seems to be a common thing to do these days.
The set is mainly drawn from the recent album and shows the music in a new light with an additional dimension to the material. The band is completely together in this and are a very slick and tight outfit putting on a show worthy of a much larger stage and audience.
Visually it is a delight and it is also of a very high quality sound (which is available as a standalone live album). It comes as close to letting you be there during the actual performance as any DVD can. The band as individuals get fair shares of shots and it lingers on key musical moments like solos, licks or breaks. High points for me are, obviously, Snow Drops and Take Your Shot but Exilesand the opening tracks Tear You Up and The One You left To Die also deserve special mention. The set flows like water and is a fine surrogate for those who missed the tour and also as a souvenir for those who have seen this line up recently.
Bravely the new album fills the set list but has a different tone and quality to the studio version. Gavin brings a new feel to the older songs and adds to the live versions. Bruce is a great front man and connects to the audience well. This brings me to a couple of frustrations which I hope can be resolved with the DVD menu manipulations. The show is interspersed with interviews with the guys which ruins the flow of the concert. They could as easily been dropped into the additional 15 minute documentary of the back stage, pre and post show scenes. Instead I would have let the whole gig play and get the interactions of the band with the audience. I want to feel like I am at the gig and that gets broken up. Having said that it is relatively minor gripe for what is a great visual presentation of a great band in full flow.
For fans it is an essential purchase but also if you have even a slight interest in good intelligent music then buy it and see what ‘good’ looks like as well as sounds like.
About fifteen years ago I was rooting through a ‘bargain’ box of CD’s and came across one called ‘Jet Set Radio’, by Vulgar Unicorn, intrigued by the name and attracted by the price it found a place in my growing collection.
Then there was a time I collected my children for an all too rare visit from their Mum’s in Yeovil, a place full of history but devastated by modernity. As I wound up a hill toward their dingy council estate, I passed a theatre on the side of which a poster advertised a band, The Pineapple Thief (TPT). Again intrigued by the name I sought out what information I could and acquired ‘137’ and ‘Variations on a Dream’, and to this day they have remained my favourite two CDs of this band’s output; until this day…..
I still marvel how I came across this band and the fact I never realised the link between Vulgar Unicorn and TPT until a number of years later whilst browsing the sleeve notes to find the name Bruce Soord appeared on both. Now an established and sought after producer, dabbling in Wisdom of Crowds (with Katatonia’sJonas Renkse) and with a solo album under his belt that appears to have rejuvenated his musical intent he returns with the 11th studio offering under the TPT monicker, ‘Your Wilderness’.
Fresh from watching their stunning performance at Be Prog My Friend festival in Spain,as headliners on the Friday evening, (report available here on Progradar), I had mixed emotions about reviewing this. I have always really liked this band and rate them alongside Porcupine Tree (PT), though I have never agreed with the comparisons in music style that some seem to find.
That said, whilst brilliantly produced and lovingly packaged, I had felt the last couple of albums, despite credible reviews, had an air of frustration and the feeling of treading water. I had feared that as have others, their ascendency and Bruce’s rising popularity in the industry may turn them into mediocrity and (the only comparison I will draw) that they may fade and disappear like PT. You stupid boy, Thompson!
The cover picture could be interpreted as being in a wilderness and facing a difficult summit to climb, but I should have more faith……
A drum beat introduction leads in to Bruce’s distinct vocals as he berates being In Exileand the one line repeated chorus of “Don’t be afraid to miss me” ensures from the offset this album is not going to go amiss. As the music swells and the guitar riffs in identifiable TPT style dig in to your mind the song ends with notes from stalwart Steve Kitch‘s keyboards ricocheting into a distant canyon at the beginning of this musical pilgrimage.
Beautiful acoustic strumming and the inimitable airy vocals from Bruce take up the journey into No Man’s Land, and are joined by Steve’s piano for the ride. Slight pause for effect then the percussive rolls of guest drummer Gavin Harrison, (I know, Porcupine Tree, but still no comparisons) kick in redefining the sound, with Bruce’s cries floating over the top as further guest Darran Charles’ (Godsticks) guitars burst in with spine tingling energy and the bass playing of third man in the core trio, Jon Sykes, more than ably drives the engine of this vehicle through the canyon of music.
It has to be said that not having a permanent drummer at the moment does not detract. In fact, whilst bringing their own individual skills to the table, all the guest artists knit neatly into the TPT signature sound, adding a refreshing impetus.
Acoustic chords and a burst of electric guitar shoot out and Bruce advises he cannot Tear You Up, before the guitar flashes a short burst again and leaves way to the piano and vocals before crashing in with a heavy riff adding more energy to the drive and it definitely begins to feel like all these currents run to you, as it ends abruptly on those words.
The rhythms and riffs weave in and out returning at intervals on this album, linking tracks and connecting to the whole pathway of the album.
A gentler electronic sound with rhythm loops, like the breeze stirring desert sands along a dried up river, drifting across That Shore that once teemed with life. As the layered harmonizing echoes round a moonlit sky and you pull in for a rest, contemplating the aural massage of notes soothing your brow as you watch the sunrise.
As the orb rises in the sky, light guitar chords spread across the track and the bass heats up, Bruce encourages it’s time to make your move. You had best get under-way andTake Your Shot at the listening journey ahead as you are carried on another racing track, kicking dust in the face of non believers as you hurtle down the gravel road in search of musical pastures ahead and your tail-lights disappear into the early morning haze.
A feeling of calm guides you on acoustic guitar, keys and dreamy soundscapes as you wind down the car window and a cool breeze of clarinet from John Helliwell (Supertramp) gently ruffles the balmy air. You are all alone no one around in this wide expanse and you must Fend For Yourselfif you wish to discover what lies ahead. Calmly you make your way fingers drumming on the wheel to the gentle rhythm of the engine and a feeling of contentment with Bruce’s vocals imparting the details of where you are heading, to the woodwind.
Looping guitar chords fuel the drums as you make your way and Bruce urges you not to forget The Final Thing on Your Mind as the heat of the the music swells carrying you on, with orchestral lines guiding you down the straight track. The keyboards plot the course on the penultimate longest track, regret in Bruce’s restrained vocals at a broken relationship gone cold. Hurrying strings set the pace, the guitar solo points you toward your destination and the ticking of your engine sees this out.
As early evening approaches acoustic guitar shows you a coast coming into view, the familiar lights of a city flickering on as the sun drops away, almost there and Bruce reminds us of Where We Stoodat the start, a warm but fading memory. The echoing guitar and final piano refrain guides us smoothly home.
You can stand in the musical desert, you can blink at the sun and not want to go anywhere, or wish you were back where it all started. On this album, for me, the band seem to have regained focus and direction, overtaking their recent output and whilst I look back to the grand canyons they have journeyed before, I am more than happy to take a ride with them and see what lies ahead. Join us if you wish, there’s plenty of room and the ride is sweet.
All bands pics – credit Rob Monk.
Released 12th August 2016 (19th August in France).