“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, Sanctuary is 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.
Released 25th November 2016.