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.
“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…..