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.
KingBathmat, now there’s a name for a Prog band if ever I’ve heard one, except they’re not really Prog, more hard-edged pyshchedelic/alternative rock but, there’s no getting away from it, it is a name that starts discussion and really sticks in the mind.
I’ve been a big fan of the band and the brains behind it, John Bassett, for a very long time and it’s been four long years since the release of their last masterpiece ‘Overcoming The Monster’ and it’s incredible songs. John has focused on his solo work under his own name, the Arcade Messiah moniker and, more recently, his great synth-wave project Sacred Ape.
So the time is ripe for the return of the seminal KingBathmat, albeit a slimmed down version. The band now consists of just John and drummer Bernie Smirnoff and 6-track mini-album ‘Dark Days’ was released on 30th June.
“KingBathmat now consists of only John Bassett & Drummer Bernie Smirnoff, tracks on the album were initially conceived in 2016 as a 2 piece side project, drums were recorded in Hastings Uk, and the rest of the music recorded and produced in Ireland over the last few months with John playing all the other instruments and fulfilling vocal duties.”
John Bassett says “It’s a darker, heavier album, but still with the melodic style that runs through most of the KingBathmat back catalogue. It wasn’t initially in my plans to make another KingBathmat record, but these songs just had that KingBathmat feel to them. Over the last few years I’ve had numerous messages asking for another KingBathmat album, so I thought why not. If the response is favourable this might be the start of a number of mini KingBathmat albums”
That’s a lot of KingBathmat but you won’t hear me complaining…
A special nod goes out to the excellent artwork which has always been a hallmark of KingBathmat albums.
The album opens with the short but meaningful title track. Dark Days has an insistent opening that is sparse and pared back before John’s distinctive vocal opens up. There’s a feeling of treading water, waiting for something importatnt to happen but, from the first note, it is undoubtedly KingBathmat and the years roll back. Bernie’s considered drums and an elegant guitar note then add real atmosphere and layers of intrigue. It’s a track that seems to effortlessly wend its way into your psyche with it’s air of mystery and suspense and an excellent opening to this new record.
Tis Pity She’s A Whore (nope, not the same title as a track from the last Bowie album but a reference to a play from the 17th century called ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ by John Ford) needs none of the previous tracks subtlety, it’s just a full on riff fest that starts with a piercing guitar note that could have come straight from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and then hits you right where it hurts with a sonically powerful riff and drums that could topple mountains. There’s a slight lull (not that it really matters) in the verse and then the monster chorus just takes it to yet another level of ferocity. This is what I was looking forward to, the dynamism, energy and sheer brutality of the music just takes your breath away but it’s done with intelligence and perception, psychedelic metal for the highbrow listener. KingBathmat are back!
We take a little step back again with Magnet To Pain, Bernie’s drums have a real energy to them but almost in a jazzy way and the bass playing in the background is superb. John’s vocal has a keening tone and, when the fuzzy riff kicks in, I’m transported to another decade. The guitar plying is very intense and heavy and yet seems slightly muted and in the background so as not to overwhelm everything. It’s a foot tapping, head nodding type of funky, intelligent heavy rock with psychedelic overtones, imagine The Red Hot Chilli Peppers jamming with Mastodon and you won’t be far off. How two guys can make a sound this big and expansive is beyond me.
The wistfully elegant guitar strumming at the start of Feathers gives the song a melancholy overtone and John’s vocal has a passion and devotion to it that adds a serious tone. Quite a sombre and downbeat track but one that has an fragile grace to it as well, the pensive, keening guitar just adding to that feel. This song puts me in a nostalgic and thoughtful mood, the music having a reflective and contemplative aura that draws you in. This shows the captivating and introspective side to KingBathmat’s music and songwriting, it is nine minutes of self retrospection and consideration and a superb track too.
The last track on this mini-album is Nihilist which opens with a mariachi style guitar, laid back, unhurried and undemanding and the song takes it’s cue from this. The vocals seem to wander into the song without a care in the world and it is Bernie’s drumming that gives the track some substance to build on. I like the chilled out atmosphere, almost ethereal in feel and the wistful air that seems to settle all around you. It’s a stylish and classy piece of music that seems to just meander across you aural synapses and the guitar playing is refined and tasteful. Half way through the pace increases and an almost frenetic note begins to seep into the drums and guitar as John and Bernie go into what seems to be an extended jam session, a bloody good one actually. They play off each other almost to the end of the track when John’s plaintive vocal returns and takes us to a thoughtful close.
KingBathmat have returned with a glorious slab of psychedelic prog/metal that takes the sound that people have come to love and gives it a harder edge and incredible nuances to create something quite unique. A superb listening experience and one that leaves this reviewer wanting more, John Bassett is one of the most creative musicians we have and joining forces with his old partner in crime has given him something extra, highly recommended.
“I like a lot of the new synthwave music, the way they use the sounds from the 80s but with a modern production techniques such as sidechaining etc, also I like that you can use that retro setting to not be so afraid of using musical cliche’s, as with Arcade Messiah, I spend most of the time composing avoiding cliches, if you know what I mean?”
One man musical marvel John Bassett talking to me about his new Synthwave/Synthpop side project SΔCRED ΔPE (I have no idea why we have the Delta sign instead on an ‘A’ either so don’t ask…).
John Bassett is a colossus of the music world, maybe best known as the front man of powerful psychedelic rockers KingBathmat, this talented musician, producer and engineer is also the man behind the instrumental behemoth that is Arcade Messiah. He has also found time to release some rather more chilled and laid back solo acoustic music as well.
Not content with this, John decided to explore his love of 80’s synth music and the more modern ‘Darkwave’ and ‘Synthwave’ genres. Why? well it appears it was just because he could!
When I told John it made me feel as if I was going back to the 80’s he replied:
“…cool, that’s the idea, its a weird one for me as its probably the most personal album I’ve made and covers quite a few problems of late, yet a lot of it has a happy feel to it…”
The album opens with the driving synth of Horn, a dynamic and powerful instrumental that brings to mind Kraftwerk with touches of Jean-Michel Jarre. A swirling synthesiser corrals the troops before we head off on a hell for leather ride. It’s grin inducing and has an utterly addictive and carefree feel to it. Like a melting pop of all the electronic influences from the 70’s, through the 80’s and 90’s and landing in the noughties, my 49-year old ears are picking up all sorts of nuggets of brilliance. Mr Bassett has, once again, brought his magic to another musical style.
Asleep At The Wheel (Part 1) is a much more dark and brooding affair with John’s monotone vocal delivery giving a very dystopian sci-fi feel to the track. The music has a real methodical and relentless tempo, giving an alien tone and the ominous and darkly atmospheric aura created by the Delphian keyboards envelops everything. A mystical and deeply enigmatic three minutes of music indeed.
A pure nod to the 1980’s with it’s synthesier and drum machine brilliance, Birds Fall From The Sky is upbeat and dynamic and John lends his vocals to the mix once again. The catchy synth lines and addictive tempo have me hooked. It’s nostalgic and up-to-date at the same time and leaves me reminiscing abut days down the disco when I was in my 20’s and had hair (no laughing), this man is a musical genius. I found myself transfixed just letting the sepia tinged musical memories come flooding back but feeling that they are also of this time and place as well and that’s a very clever trick.
An eerily laid back synth note opens I Want To Go Back To The Happy House and this unassuming yet delectable piece of music saunters into view, like a lazy, hazy summers day brought to life by music. The keyboard tones are all late 70’s in feel and mood, like early Ultravox or Simple Minds before they discovered fame. It’s a chilled, easy going and lighthearted piece of music where every note passes in an undemanding and mellow vibe.
Season Of The Damned takes some of the John Bassett solo music and blends it artfully with this more synth-heavy style. John’s vocal is heartfelt and earnest and there’s a guitar note dripping with sincerity, matched by the haunting keyboards. As opposed to the other songs on this release, this is instantly recognisable as being from John, it couldn’t be anyone else. This track still feels as if it belongs on the album though, there is no disparity in the musical feel and tone as there is also no 70’s or 80’s influence.
Walking On Ice is like Depeche Mode and Gary Numan did a collaboration and I love it. The forceful synthesiser tone and drums give it a compelling and forceful edge while the rest of music paints soundscapes in your mind. The chorus brings to mind Flock Of Seagulls to this refugee of the 80’s but with modern production techniques everything has a gloss and patina of class and panache. Another track that just puts a huge grin on my face, it’s almost as if John wrote this song for my younger self, the memories come flooding back and I’m just lost in the reverie.
Wonderfully nostalgic in feel and delicate in tone, Asleep At The Wheel (Part 2) makes your emotions well up with its beautiful simplicity and ethereal quality. John’s vocal is ghostly and sublime and the music has an otherworldly ambience to it, especially the haunting nature of the piano but then everything comes to a halt and the song segues into something much more enigmatic, dark and primal in its ambience. The music becomes a dominant force, John’s vocals assertive and commanding and you feel compelled to follow wherever it may lead, a great end to the song and the album.
John Bassett never stands still when it comes to the music he creates and he is never afraid to explore new avenues or take influences from the past or current musical scenes and he’s never let me down yet. With SΔCRED ΔPE John has done it again and created music that just hits the spot on every level. As nostalgia it works perfectly, taking you back through the decades on a wonderful sonic mystery tour and yet it is also bang up to date with the current synth inspired generation. I, for one, just wonder where this musical magicians mind is going to take us next and I can’t wait to find out!
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
― Steve Jobs
“The most complicated skill is to be simple.”
― Dejan Stojanovic
Imagine, if you will, a school of excellence for the mixing, mastering and production of music, Progwarts for the progressive music world maybe? (I’ll get my coat eh?), where engineers like the renowned Rob Aubrey, the revered Steven Wilson and the talented Daniel Bowles learned the dark arts and black magic that is stock in trade for such an establishment. I haven’t got a clue how they take the raw elements of music and wondrously turn them into the refined and polished product that us end users get to hear.
However, there is such a thing as an over-engineered piece of music and one where the engineer and/or recording artists just can’t help having that final tinker around to produce something with an almost unnatural sound.
So, taking things a step further, what if former star pupil John Bassett turned his back on the venerated establishment and went on a perilous journey into the deep, dark wilds of Ireland and recorded in a derelict Byre in County Sligo on December 29th 2016? Recorded in one take with three microphones, one for vocals, one for guitar and one for ambient sounds such as the birds nesting in the roof, the wind outside and the door continually creaking.
Well, you’d have ‘Live From The Byre’, the latest solo E.P. from this well respected English multi-instrumentalist and producer. It follows 2014’s full length ‘Unearth’ and the ‘Aperture’ E.P. released last year.
(Picture credit Tamsin Bassett)
The songs featured on this back-to-basics, pared back recording are:
1. Unearth (from John Bassett“Unearth”)
2. Nothing Sacred (from John Bassett“Unearth”)
3. Murder in a Small Town (from KingBathmat“Blue Sea, Black Heart”)
4. Brand New Crucifix (this song is about 20 years old and I don’t think its ever been available anywhere?)
John had this to say his latest recording:
“I hope you enjoy this release, I’ve always wanted to create something that has an intimate atmosphere and was created spontaneously, and this certainly wasn’t what I had planned on doing.”
Unearth opens with a really moody feel, subdued guitar and John’s hesitant, pared back vocal to give a really intimate atmosphere to the song. I can imagine myself in the byre listening to this earnest musician recording this track live. It may be a simple set up but that doesn’t mean you get less from the music. There are plenty of nuances and empty spaces for the sound to fill. It is almost edge-of-seat stuff, quite intense in the way it leaves you nervously apprehensive as the guitar builds up to quite a powerful close to the song. A dynamic track that proves less can always be more…
There is a jaunty repose to the opening of Nothing Sacred as the guitar strums along nicely and the vocals have a halting edge to them. The song builds up to the chorus, the guitar increasing pace and John’s voice becoming more influential. I listened to this song with headphones on for the first time and I really got the impression of being in an intimate acoustic gig in some small basement club somewhere, time and life forgotten in the moment. That is the essence of this E.P., it is music you can lose yourself in and gets right to the basics of why we listen to it in the first place.
Murder In A Small Town takes on a more melancholy note, a wistful sorrow in the vocals and the delicate guitar tone. This is a tale of sorrow and woe and has that almost pensive folk like feel to it. Stories from the backwoods brought to life by the brilliant musician in front of you. To my ears, the most pared back of all four of the songs and yet there is a real substance to it as John gives his heart and soul to the music. It is quite spellbinding in its own way and left me transfixed as it came to its sombre close.
There is a touch of old style 50’s Rock & Roll at the heart of Brand New Crucifix with the subdued guitar playing and its really deep resonance and John’s stylishly restrained vocal delivery. This could have been a Johnny Cash song in his heyday and it really resonates with its restrained and controlled feeling of fury. There is an increase in tempo towards the end, an intense and turbulent finish to the song that leaves you almost breathless.
Now I’ve been a fan of John Bassett through KingBathmat,Arcade Messiah and all his solo work and his incredible ‘Wall Of Sound’ has always blown me away but here he really shows that you can strip things all the way back to basics and deliver music that is true to his heart and soul and has a purity that you just won’t find anywhere else. Everybody should listen to this E.P. at least once and remember what music really is all about, this is a Brexit that actually did work.
“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…..
Mention the Sussex coastal town of Hastings and what comes to mind? Well, there was 1066 and the great battle I suppose but I had to dig deeper to find out much more….
“Historically, Hastings can claim fame from the Battle of Hastings, and later because it became one of the medieval Cinque Ports. Hastings was, for centuries, an important fishing port; although nowadays less important, it still has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in Europe. The town became a popular spot for ‘taking the waters’ (therapeutic bathing in the sea) in the 1760s, and then, with the coming of the railway, a seaside resort.”
More recently, well for me at least, it has been for the music of John Bassett (he of KingBathmat and Arcade Messiah fame) so, when I was approached by a young gentleman called Spencer Bassett about his musical project Flicker Rate,I put two and two together and actually came up with four for once!
Yes, young Spencer is actually the son of the celebrated Hastings’ musician John, could we be looking at a chip of the old block? Had some of his musical pizzazz worn off on his offspring? I was very interested to find out…
“Flicker Rate is a instrumental atmospheric post/math rock based solo project formed by 16 year old multi-instrumentalist, Spencer Bassett, all music is mixed and mastered produced and composed by Spencer Bassett.”
So says the bandcamp site where you can purchase the eponymous 4-track debut E.P. and it sounded very interesting so it was time to dive in and see what we had in store for us…
The first track is Valhalla and it starts in a very ominous frame of mind with low down guitars and stylish drumming imparting a vision of a post-apocalyptic landscape with a pensive aftertaste. The music seems to dance caustically across your synapses leaving a sharp jolt with every note. Yes, there are paternal hints but this young man definitely stamps his own style on proceedings. A first-rate introduction to the post-rock/progressive instrumental musings of Spencer Bassett.
Evident adds a definitive harder edge to proceedings with an opening riff that can fell giants and decimate mountains. A slow paced, ponderous leviathan of a track that seems to pulverize your organs with every beat and, you know what, I’m loving it! Call me a musical masochist if you must but the sheer ferocity and weight of the music just blows me away in the best sense of the word. It powers in to the realm of chaos towards the end and becomes a monstrous, malevolent thing of wonder, this guy has the musical chops way beyond his tender years.
Two minutes of intense musical virtuosity, that is what you get from Small Sun with a chugging riff and persistent drum beat that literally drag you along in their impressive wake. The track opens up with a further edgy riff that hits you with its metronomic fluency and the whole song just exudes class from the first note all the way through its too short one minute and fifty-five minute running time.
The most relaxing track and a great way to close out this mini-musical fest is Elusive Rain. A really classy strummed riff overlays some intricate and stylish drumming. At the heart of it all is a plaintive guitar note that seems to be crying out for attention. the gentle feel is blown away by a huge riff that appears, stage left, like a sonic tidal wave and lifts this sonerous smorgasbord onto a higher plane. Music that seems to tear through your very fabric of being to leave lasting reminder of what has gone before.
Wow, I’m left in stunned silence by that twelve minutes of seriously impressive music. It is one of those E.Ps where you will simply keep pressing play to listen to it again. I’ll pull no punches, John Bassett’s influence is there, no denying it, in fact, what John himself had to say was,
“…..the boys done well, i’ve given him a few tips, especially with promoting himself, other than that i’ve pretty much left him to it.”
What Spencer has done though is mould it into his own creation and it is something of which he should be very proud. Keep an eye out for Flicker Rate, this is a musical project that is definitely going places.
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.