Earlier in 2016 I was finally introduced to the enjoyable wonders of Knifeworld via their latest album ‘Bottled Out Of Eden’. In the ensuing months it has been one of my most played albums and has inspired me to check out the other releases the band members have participated in. One such release is the engagingly obtuse ‘Assault On The Tyranny Of Reason’ from Knifeworld keyboardist Emmett Elvin. Happily just as unique and vibrant, it’s another album that I can’t seem to get enough of.
Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. I’m not going to attempt to assign this album into a particular genre or style, with an album this diverse it would be a ludicrous attempt at categorization. In 1968 The Amboy Dukes scored a hit single with a song called Journey To The Center Of The Mind, that title works better as a descriptor for ‘Assault On The Tyranny Of Reason’ than any preconceived genre tag would. It’s a singular, personal work of an artist freely expressing himself; the rest of the journey is up to the listener.
The album is beautifully balanced; it consists of satisfyingly diverse instrumentals with a few vocal tracks mixed in throughout. While the various pieces aren’t necessarily connected to one another and cover a wide swath of stylistic ground it nevertheless sounds like a cohesive album experience.
The playfully comic Boiling begins our journey and the impeccable quality of the arrangement and the production is immediately evident. The strummed acoustic guitar introduction (reminiscent of Time Flies by Porcupine Tree), the lap-steel (or possibly pedal steel) slide guitar motif that segues into a Zappa-esque mix of carnival piano and a vocal line that brings to mind the more tongue-in-cheek aspects of King Crimson ala Happy Family. Then the soundscape expands to include a sweeping string section and wordless vocal choir that conjures visions of mid-period Led Zeppelin, the full effect heard beautifully in the instrumental coda. While the influences are immediately evident, the resulting arrangement is wholly unique.
The use of orchestration (primarily strings and horns) is one of the most appealing elements of the album as a whole, whether used to add dramatic effect to a beautiful piano-driven instrumental piece like Dysnomia or fully integrated into a progressive rock workout like the thrilling, multi-layered Heartburster. So many bands use orchestration as aural wallpaper, just slathering it onto everything to help disguise the fact that not much is going on underneath, to hear it used so successfully, so musically, is joyous to behold.
It’s really an album best experienced as a whole entity, to be enjoyed in a one sitting without interruption. While there isn’t a weak track on the album and each piece can exist completely on its own, it really becomes greater than the sum of its parts when viewed as an extended work. There is such a variety of mood and instrumental texture; it remains completely gripping throughout the 50-minute running time.
Some of my favorite individual pieces are the darker, more menacing cuts like the eerie The Democracy They Deserve and the wonderfully heavy, almost doom-like dirge of The Plankton Suite. The second half of which hints at what a collaboration between King Crimson and Opeth might sound like. I’m also especially fond of the more textural, avant-garde pieces like The Curate’s Eggnog, the bonus track Sphere Of The Deceiver and the joyful insanity of the title track. Of the vocal tracks my favorite is the gonzo Dozy Phantoms which reminds me a little of Josh Homme’s work with Queens Of The Stone Age.
Overall each listener is going to experience something quite unique when listening to ‘Assault On The Tyranny Of Reason’; the associations I bring to it likely won’t mirror the ones you experience. That to me is one of the integral ingredients of great art, it’s not truly complete until the individual brings their own personality and experience to it. Emmett Elvin has crafted a beautifully complex yet still highly accessible work and he respects the intelligence of his audience enough to let us complete that journey toward it. I highly recommend the destination, however you get there.
Released 23rd September 2016