British prog instrumentalists The Fierce & The Dead have launched their own podcast, Lets Start A Cult. While initially covering the history of the band, future episodes will feature interviews with fellow musicians and friends of the band, music gear discussion and commentary on things the band find interesting.
Guitarist Matt Stevens, “We’ve been interested in creating a podcast for ages and having stopped rehearsing and gigging due to ongoing events we thought now was the time to crack on with it. We’ll talk about the history of the band to bring people up to speed initially then we’re going to focus on talking to our friends about their music, music gear and tutorials, that sort of thing. It’s been fun to do and hopefully we’ll be able to keep it going, I really enjoyed it, but i was surprised how little I remembered about the making of the first album and EP. It was a long time ago! . “
Episode 1 is available on YouTube now with an episode to follow every week and it’ll be up on all major podcast platforms shortly. You can listen to the first episode below.
People don’t know how to talk about genre. There are prog rock related online forums that sensible people avoid because their denizens have endless, idiot arguments about whether certain artists are ‘prog’ or not. That isn’t how it works. Genre is not a box in which a band is placed, distinct and separate from other styles, especially not prog, which has always fused different ideas together.
Instead, think of each genre as having an imagined perfect ideal that no real world act ever quite matches up to – the most punk of punk bands, the most metal of metal bands. The real acts you can actually listen to exist slightly outside these, nearer or further from the other genres. Maybe it’s mostly punk, but with 10% of a reggae influence. Maybe it’s mostly prog, but shading into pop.
‘Is it prog?’ is boring. ‘Where is it on the prog spectrum?’ is a much more sensible question.
Where on the prog spectrum is ‘Dial’, the new Shineback album? It’s on there, but this is no 70s throwback. It’s much more interesting. I first met Simon Godfrey in a pub somewhere in London. It was a small gathering of acoustic prog adjacent artists (Alan Reed and the ubiquitous Matt Stevens were also present) to explore the possibility of doing a tour together. The tour never happened, but it did lead to me sharing a small stage with Simon on one of his farewell gigs before he left for the good ol’ US of A. I acquired a copy of his acoustic album ‘Motherland’ at the same gig.
Most people would probably have first come across Simon’s songwriting on his other projects like Tinyfish or Shineback but ‘Motherland’ was the first time I’d properly listened to his stuff. With its synths, pulsing kick drums, virtuosic solos and sheer noise, you might think ‘Dial’, the new Shineback album, would be a million miles away from that stripped down acoustic sound, but it really isn’t. Whatever else it is – rock, prog(?), EDM – this is a songwriters album. Simon would be perfectly capable of recreating many of these songs with just an acoustic guitar and his voice. It has choruses and hooks and bits you can sing along with. I’m glad he didn’t do that though, because then we would have missed out on everything else there is on the album.
Now, this isn’t a review (could have fooled me Tom – Ed.), Simon is a mate and I played a little bit of guitar on this album so there’s no way I can provide an objective view of the album. But it is good and I do think you should get yourself a copy. Where does it fit on the prog spectrum? Imagine if you will a graph. On one axis is progressive rock, on another pop music, on a third is electronic dance music, on a fourth is acoustic singer-songwriter music, on a fifth…
Okay, that graph isn’t going to work, forget that analogy.
Maybe a list? What are the things you definitely expect from prog? Rock band instrumentation? ‘Dial’ has those. Long songs? Virtuoso solos? Lyrics about something more than simple pop love songs? All of those are present. What does it have that you might not expect from a progressive rock album? The Electronic Dance Music (EDM) influence is an obvious one. Prog has often used new technology, especially the synth (and there area tasty synth solos on I Love You From Memory and Kill Devil Hills) but so has EDM.
‘Dial’ doesn’t use the structures of EDM – there are no dance style break-downs or drum machine style beats. Instead it uses much of the timbral palette. So we get electronic drum sounds but with a more organic drummer-like touch rather than a more computerised drum machine approach. There are synth swells and pulses, but too much stop and start between sections for much of the album to work on a dance floor.
In fact the combination of chord choices, synth hooks and verse-chorus structures in places puts me in mind of 80s pop, or even 80s Genesis. You know, the period where they did heinous things like writing good pop-songs. I asked Simon if that was a conscious decision, but he said it wasn’t but couldn’t deny how much he liked tracks like Driving the Last Spike from that period of Genesis. I can certainly hear that influence in Simon’s chord choices and some of the song structures on ‘Dial’, though I’d happily declare several songs from ‘Dial’ much stronger than that particular Genesis number.
There’s a variety of harmony you wouldn’t expect from an EDM album either. From the introspective piano chords of the title track, through the whole-tone noodling I inflicted on one track to the open, accessible major keys of songs like Consider Her Ways, there’s a range here you’d expect of prog or more complex pop songwriting but not EDM. Simon does mention Stevie Wonder as an influence and while the album doesn’t sound at all like a soul record, Wonder was certainly a songwriter who new his way around a set of chord changes.
The track I contributed to is Here I Am, an obvious mixture of spoken word, booming chords and my own guitar playing that Simon has processed and twisted into something much better than I could have come up with on my own.
The other guest artist contributions are great as well. There are several fantastic solos that will keep any proper prog-head happy, and the guest vocals from Ray Weston on the almost heavy metal track Let her Sleep are a fantastic addition.
With ‘Dial’ Shineback is Godfrey at the height of his powers – a mature songwriter who really knows how to put together a good record. If you want rocky guitars, it’s here. If you want extended prog rock structures, you get them too. If you want synths and electronic drums you get those. Above all you get songs that really pay you back for multiple close listens. I’ve heard the album about five times and am still discovering new details.
Is it good? I’m biased of course, but yes I think it’s fantastic.
Is it prog?
That’s a boring question. Did you not read the beginning of this blog post?
When I went up to sixth form at school in the late 80’s one of the perks was the common room in which we were allowed to play music on the sixth form tape player; there was a simple rule – you could bring a tape in, put it in the queue and play two songs before it was changed for the next tape in line. This was where my sense of humour kicked in as my tape, which was kept in the queue on a permanent basis, always illicited a groan from the assembled friends; track one was Marillion’sGrendel, track 2 was Iron Maiden’sRime of the Ancient Mariner and so on and so forth, no track was less than 10 minutes long meaning I could take up whole break periods and longer with my choice of what was, to the rest of the guys, seriously uncool music. But here’s the thing, with the benefit of hindsight and the confidence (arrogance?) of experience meaning that I know I have exemplary taste, I was cool in 1988, mainly because I didn’t try to be cool, unlike the other kids with their hip hop albums and baggy jeans trying desperately to be anything but the white middle class kids that they were.
It is my suspicion that if Andy Tillison, who has just released a solo project album as Kalman Filter, were to have been in my sixth form he’d have been sat in my corner giggling at the sneering looks of the ‘cool’ kids while they had to listen to 13 minutes of Shine On You Crazy Diamond before they could play their Soul II Soul 12 inch remix. The album, ‘Exo-Oceans’, is just three tracks long over a total album length of 75 minutes (more of which later), and travels through a variety of musical styles from funk and disco to classical via progressive rock and many points in between. Often, this approach bears little fruit as either too many people get involved or one musician doesn’t have someone acting as a brake on their creativity. Tillison, though, neatly avoids this, with the genres he visits fitting together; like the great oceans Tillison references as an influence there is both a ‘maelstrom’ like crashing together along with a smoothing out into great expanses either side. That music is cool, seriously cool, beautifully cool, and cool without even trying. It is great music performed by a very talented musician, ably assisted on the first track by guitar supremo Matt Stevens, who doesn’t have to try hard to create something really good to listen to, though it is also obvious a lot of thought, creativity and talent has gone into these three super tracks.
But, and I wish it was a small but, but no, it’s a big but. I have a pet hate, I hate tracks that have false endings. I really do not see the point. And ‘Exo-Oceans’ has a massive false ending to the third track, Jornakh, 10 or so minutes worth of silence. As a reviewer I had to listen all the way through it, hoping that the wait would be worth the time spent listening to nothing. Unfortunately, and this is something I think I can say about every album with a false ending I’ve ever listened to, for me it wasn’t worth that investment. I didn’t get the point that was being made, I just felt it didn’t add any value. This is a shame as otherwise the album avoided that brilliantly in the actual music. I suppose the question is: did this spoil the album for me? to which the answer is no, as for me, the music is worth listen after listen. I’ll just skip back to track one when the music stops on track 3. Though, if this was 1988 and Andy and I were in my sixth form common room it would be great fun stopping some ‘cool’ kid from putting his tape on with the words, ‘oi, it might be silence mate, but there’s still six minutes to go till you can change it!’
Just recently I have picked up on the Channel Four series of Philip K.Dick stories, Electric Dreams, in which dystopian nightmares are played out in mainly normal humdrum situations with a fear of foreboding dread building to a crescendo. Likewise, the third studio album from instrumental band The Fierce and The Dead, titled ‘The Euphoric’, is one that builds and builds, working around a juxtaposition of beautifully crafted melodies driven by crashing, hard driven and downtuned guitar riffs. A major compliment I can pay the album is that should channel four make another series of Electric Dreams this is the band and album that should soundtrack it.
Over the last eight years since their debut release, the ‘Part 1 EP’, The Fierce and The Dead have developed their craft, adding layering and texture to their already formidable playing and production skills. Using their influences whilst retaining their individuality is an enviable skill; one which is often not pulled off but, in the case of this album, most certainly is. You can hear throughout the album the influences of the musicians the band have worked with or obviously admire; from the hardcore metal of bands such as Slayer to the melodic tune creation of a Steven Wilson, The Fierce and The Dead have made an album of deep complexity whilst retaining a simplicity within the riff structure that drives the album on and doesn’t allow it to become samey or repetitive.
The two lead singles from the album are both standouts with the already successful, with accompanying video by acclaimed director Mark Duffy, Truck being followed by, on the 30th March, 1991. Both tracks show off the sound which you can expect from the album with their heavy psychedelia and cross over between guitars and synths being indicative of the direction the band have taken. The band are happy to confound, confuse and surprise in composition and performance which makes this album a fulfilling and satisfying listen.
The album, which is released on the 18th May by Bad Elephant Records, featuring amazing cover art work by Mark Buckingham, will be available in both CD and Vinyl formats. There will also be available limited edition bundles featuring a print of the cover artwork and an exclusive bonus CD of live and demo tracks.
“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
― Michael J. Fox
Surely every musician strives for perfection on every new record that they are working on but perfection cannot be attainable otherwise what else could they seek to achieve? When you follow an artist across their album releases you accompany them on this journey to a perceived nirvana of musical enlightenment, every release opening another door into their soul for clearly that is what every musician leaves with their music, a piece of themselves?
Robin Armstrong is the man behind the highly respected musical project Cosmograf, the Cosmograf sound is rooted in 70’s classic rock with a contemporary and progressive twist with obvious influences from classic progressive rock such as Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis, but with more contemporary flavours from bands such as Porcupine Tree, Muse, and Radiohead.
Cosmograf albums are built around concepts – Conceptual Progressive Rock allows the freedom to span genres, stop and start in different tempos, with the inclusion of relevant soundscapes and effects to build the story. This creates a musical freedom far beyond the commercial rules and constraints of a disposable 3 minute pop song.
Robin’s musical odyssey began in 2008 with a rough demo called “Freed from the Anguish” and ‘End of Ecclesia’ whichwas self released in 2009. The break-through release that really brought Cosmograf to the music industry’s notice was ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’, released in 2011 and the quality and excellence never let up through 2013’s ‘The Man Left In Space’, 2014’s ‘Capacitor’ and last years superb ‘The Unreasonable Silence’, a release where many thought Robin had actually reached his musical zenith.
However, an artist with the talent and imagination of Robin Armstrong can’t sit on their hands and, despite health problems (thankfully resolved now), Robin has returned with another Cosmograf release ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ which, for the first time, will be released on vinyl through Chris Topham’sPlane Groovy label.
A retrospective album in both theme and style, ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ harks back to the sound and feel of the classic prog era fused with the raw energy and darkness of a rock behemoth. The 6 track album is measured at a single LP length and instrumentally delivers the vintage sound of guitar, bass and drums with a sprinkling of classic keyboards.
The theme presents as a mythical tale of a farm labourer meeting an early death, and leaving a loving wife and young family. His widow builds a scarecrow effigy as a shrine to her loss, and this ‘Hay-Man’ spends his weather beaten days in eternity, dreaming beyond his field.
The new album features guest performances from Rachael Hawnt (The Beautiful Secret), Kyle Fenton (These Septic Stars), Matt Stevens (The Fierce and the Dead), Rachel Hall (Big Big Train) and former BBC Voiceover artist David Allan.
It’s great to see an album that was conceived to be a vinyl release from the outset, the packaging is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Plane Groovy, and you get that frisson of excitement as you remove it from the shrinkwrap and take the slipcase and liner notes out of the sleeve. The singular artwork is very impressive and really stands out. Time to take it out of the slipcase, put it on the record deck and lower the needle…
“I’m tethered and bound to the earth today
It’s hard to walk free when you’re made of hay
Tethered and bound to the earth I say
Nothing to fear but nothing to say…”
The ominous and suspenseful opening to the first track Tethered And Bound raises the hairs on the back of your neck and David Allan’s atmospheric voice-over just helps to build the tension. The eerie feeling continues before a powerful and methodical guitar riff breaks through the uneasiness and Robin’s distinctive vocal adds an authoritarian tone. This song is pure and definitive Cosmograf but turned up to 11 with emotive guitars and mountain moving percussion provided by Kyle Fenton. It’s like the best of progressive rock met math-core and morphed into something quite unique. I love the creeping tension that lies throughout the song, it’s almost like hiding behind the sofa watching Doctor Who when I was a kid but brought bang up to date for the 50-something adult I am now. A really powerful, imposing piece of music that dominates its surroundings with Rachael Hawnt’s vocal talents also put to good use to add even more theatre, a thunderous start to proceedings.
“These trees surround the field
The boundary marks the forest
It forms a perfect shield
Protects the summer harvest…”
Trouble In The Forest is a massive contrast with its wistful, gentle nostalgic opening that is full of the feeling of lazy, hazy sunny days and a forest with the dappled sun’s rays lighting up the forest floor. A wonderfully calm and collected track full of assured grace and composure. There’s a feeling of longing to the elegant, ethereal guitar and contemplative percussion that gives an otherworldly aura to the music. I can’t imagine a more laid back song that I’ve listened to this year as Robin’s voice finally joins in, all soothing and tranquil and with a meditative timbre to it. The tempo increases slightly, a note of urgency bleeding into the vocals before another voice over from Mr Allan sets the scene. The gentle meander and preamble takes on a slightly discordant edge as the immediately recognisable tone of Matt Stevens’ guitar opens up and he goes into Guthrie Govan mode with an intricate and convoluted guitar solo that only a guitarist of Matt’s talent could ever hope to deliver. The snaking, coruscating guitar work fits in perfectly with the almost spiritual ambience of this song and the ambient effects add even more mystery as this superb piece of music comes to a serene close.
“The motorway extends in grace, the shiny metal’s keeping pace
The engine’s calling out to me, rev it more and let it breath
Let it breath…”
A stylish acoustic guitar motif opens The Motorway with an assured note, another tell-tale Cosmograf sound that is instantly known to this reviewer. It lulls you into a false sense of security as it gently ambles on before Robin’s emotive vocal begins, backed by Kyle’s classy drums and a real 70’s sounding keyboard, Rachael’s carefully considered backing vocals adding lustre. Everything seems good natured and jaunty as the song moves along at a measured clip but the mood changes as Robin’s voice switches to a more ardent intonation and the whole song seems to transform into something altogether more serious, sombre and thoughtful. A thunderous riff emerges and the drums go all native on us as Robin turns into a seriously heavy rock vocalist, all dark and dangerous, it’s quite an about face, I’m thinking 70’s Deep Purple or Bad Company myself. A sultry break with more of that acoustic guitar calms things before Robin opens up with a superb guitar solo that literally pins your ears back to the side of your head and screams passion, fervor and feeling at you (yes, it’s air guitar time!) before the song comes to resounding close and so does side one of this utterly captivating and arresting vinyl release.
“Spoil the view
Do what you want to do
A greener field
Made from a muddy hue…”
A deliberate and pensive piano opens Cut The Corn, the first of two relatively shorter tracks, and thisprecedes Robin’sinstrospective, absorbing vocal, full of sentiment and warmth and yet there’s a melancholy edge that runs throughout the song, a yearning and a longing for something out of reach and this adds a fragile beauty to the whole track. The tempo is deliberate and restrained and adds to the mournful sense that emanates, even more so when the reflective and thoughtful acoustic guitar is played to the captivated audience leaving you lost in thought as the track comes to a close.
“The colder air it hurts my throat
as I walk the stony roadway
There’s demons on the moonlit path
They plot to steal the break of dawn…”
The emotion, passion and fervor reach a climax on the wonderfully stirring and affectional Melancholy Death Of A Gamekeeper, a track where, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought Robin had co-opted David Gilmour into appearing. The whole song is a complex blend of emotions from Robin’s sultry vocal, Kyle’s elegant drums and the flowing keyboards but it is the incredibly impressive guitar work that really stands out and makes this a song I keep returning to time and time again. I could sit and listen to the searing, powerful and ardent playing all day long, this is music that moves you on a primal level and stirs the soul, I can’t get that guitar note out of my head and I don’t want to either. Touches of Pink Floyd? Yes, but it’s an affectionate nod of the head, not a blatant copy and I think it works fantastically well.
“The rain comes
It soaks his worn out clothes
I follow everywhere he goes
Hay Man dreaming of the sun
Hay Man are you having fun?”
Well, it is going to take something really special to top that and, to Robin’s eternal credit, he just gets on with it and produces another instant classic with the title track The Hay Man Dreams. From the first exquisitely delivered word that Rachael Hawnt utters we are given a song that will stand the test of time and should be considered a classic of the genre. Rachel’s hypnotic vocal is utterly beguiling and enthralling and the guitar, bass, drums and keyboards ooze style and sophistication. A track for late nights, darkened rooms, powerful red wine and forgetting about the complexities that life throws at you. The longest song on the album at over twelve minutes, not a second or a note is wasted and Robin delivers possibly his best guitar work yet with playing that bewitches, dazzles and delights even the most seasoned hack, just sit back and enjoy. That’s not all though, it’s a song in three or more parts and the mood is broken by David Allan’s voice over one more time before things take a darker turn as the carefree jazz/blues guitar is overwritten by a more compelling and aggressive riff, the drums dominating and Rachel delivers an outpouring of passion and fervor as the atmosphere turns chaotic around her, as if a tornado has hit the Hay Man. All of a sudden an argent and incandescent guitar solo breaks loose irradiating the sky, a furious and dynamic piece of guitar playing that hits you right in the solar plexus. This thunderous refrain comes to a sudden halt to be replaced by the elegant strains of Rachel Hall’s violin and order is restored once more. The album closes out with a feeling of pastoral calm and relaxed repose as the needle comes to a stop and silence settles around you.
What an incredibly emotional roller coaster Robin Armstrong has taken us on. I have no qualms in saying I have always been huge fan of his music and on ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ the sheer scope of his songwriting and imagination is barely conceivable. Cosmograf albums are lovingly crafted nuggets of musical brilliance created not for commercial gain but for the enjoyment of the listener and, on this latest opus (especially as it is available on vinyl), Robin has delivered his most impressive work yet. Perfection? maybe not but it doesn’t get much closer than this.
There follows a transcript smuggled out from under the noses of our Chicken overlords, we have been unable to verify the authenticity of the document, or indeed what happened to the brave rebel who made this recording but we can only hope he is safe, Mubla praise him.
‘Is this on…..can you hear me? Can you hear me? As you all know they rose up suddenly, whilst we were all distracted by Brexit, Trump and Armageddon, we were too busy worrying about ourselves to notice the chickens….then, they there were, they hadn’t just crossed the road, they’d built a nice big tunnel, snuck into the army bases around the world, and as we were reeling from the aftermath of the big red spark, there they were, our new overlords.
Luckily there were few with foresight, those who knew about the upcoming uprising, and the wisest of them all, some called him a seer, some a mad man, some called the twiceborn moth, all we know is he is called the Wizard Ramsay, and with his coterie around him, and a set of tantalising clues and lessons, spread throughout the world, our journey has led us here.
Who are we? You ask, well we are the resistance, following the orders of the one known only as the Great Elephant, and now…well now I am the only one left, I can’t get the image of Brother Godfrey, sitting in his tree getting pecked slowly to death by a thousand chickens as he pledged allegiance to the ducks, or Brother Stevens, the hero of the battle of Rushden, he riffed and looped, fierce to the death.
Now I remain, and I have found what I was looking for, the mystical artefact, the legendary disc of words, we cannot fight them by force alone, we need something new, something to confound and disturb them.
(silence. The voice goes dead…all we can hear is hissing and the sound of claws scraping on rock…)
‘….they’ve gone, that was close, that was a bantam attack, as everyone knows they are the SAS of the chicken army, where was I?
Oh yes, following the instructions on the sheet hidden by one of the Elephant sympathisers, (a gentleman only known as Wizard Wilfred) I have found the Black Box…. (what’s in the Black Box? It’s definitely not chocolates) I have it, the CD in my hand, despite the Chicken overlords banning CD players due to them not being able to operate them with claws, luckily the mysterious man of the resistance known only as Wallet Emptier, managed to provide me with one, wrapped up in the tattered remnants of a wizards sleeve.
(sounds of cellophane being ripped, the unmistakable sound of a CD being inserted into the device, and the words of the beloved Wizard Ramsay, a Gandalf for these modern dark times echo round the chamber? Cavern? Sewer?)
Almost as if he predicted it, the first utterance from the disc of Ramsay is a Living Will, full of intensity and power, as if he knew this day would come.
Scattered throughout the sacred artefact are four lessons that will help ensure the survival of our species, all starting with the phrase ‘Ecoute et Repete’ the motto of the resistance, each one being a salutary lesson before the public service broadcasting begins.
Urging the survivors to Open a Hole, someone to survive in? somewhere to take shelter? I am reminded of the sage Moorcock as he told his tales with and without his Hawkwind compatriots, the joy of hearing music after so many months of solitary wandering makes me all giddy and euphoric, the beat hypnotic, the lyrics hitting me, and the sonic effect making up for hearing nothing but the sound of clucking and the cracking of whips as the Chickens made us build statues in their honour.
Almost like he forgot the tape was running we get some behind the scenes action from the Ramsay world, as he is interrupted by Wizard Wilfred, clearly the junior partner, and also, judging by the mishap heard here, still has a long way to go before he is as adept as Wizard Ramsay.
Almost as a warning to our hubris and our downfall, Ego Power gives us strong words for uncertain times, whilst channelling the spirit of whimsy, Stanshall and the cult of Python, Tramps In Their Purest Form is a joy to behold, Ramsay’s use of our language is bewitching and beguiling, and takes me back to the night he and the Brother Godfrey got me heroically drunk on Big Big Train beer at a concert in Rotherham, oh how I wish those days were here again.
I raise an imaginary tankard to fallen comrades, as I listen and take heed to the message, we are members of the Black Box Society, and the final victory will be ours. Hidden in plain sight, Hawaii Fried Chicken, ostensibly an alternative version of the Chicken national anthem, are words designed to inspire and enlighten us. When we hear one particular cluck, that is when the revolution will begin, and we shall be victorious, with the Wizard Ramsay leading us to salvation.
If I Rule the World is his vision of our post Hen utopia, a land where we can be free, where we can live like we should, where we can sit in trees naked outside peoples houses if we want to and no-one can stop us (not even that pesky restraining order).
Urban Crusoe, with it’s baffling co-ordinates and Egyptian references, maybe this is Ramsay telling me where I should go next, where I can find the final answer and help the resistance rise, and batter these chicken.
I will follow them…these words of wisdom, and see where they will take me…….’
Transcribers note: this tape was found wrapped in an old t-shirt, under a rock behind a dumpster near a KFC with the CD intact. It is unknown as to what happened to the brave member of the resistance who followed the clues laid down the Elephant to discover this. He did the work so we didn’t have to. Having played it I can safely say that now our chicken overlords have been defeated, this is the work of either a genius or madman or both. Channelling the spirit of Stanshall, Monty Python and old school English surrealism and word play, Wizard Ramsay has created a unique form of Magick, and one that keeps hitting the spot.
Despite saying they would be easing off a little after last year’s hectic release schedule, Bad Elephant Music (BEM) are showing no noticeable signs of slowing down in unleashing new music to our ears for 2017.
Soon to be released and highly anticipated is the ‘Field Recordings’ EP from one of BEM’s rising bands The Fierce And The Dead,(TFATD) and catching them in all their glory, live from last year’s Ramblin’ Man Festival. It includes four of the regular favourites and two new tracks, which the band tease may or may not appear on the new album which they are currently recording.
Based in Northamptonshire this 4 piece instrumental rock band formed in 2010. They line up as:
Matt Stevens – guitar/loops, Steve Cleaton – guitar, Kev Feazey – bass and Stuart Marshall – drums.
(Eggcellent Photo Credit to Allyson Blue-Sky)
Serving up a sound that continually evolves taking in every genre they can squeeze in and veering from scuzzy guitars to chilled Hawaiian licks we find jazzy undertones married to punk style jerks and everything in between, moulded into their own distinctive sound. You can never get too cosy listening to the chilled rippling strings, because just as you sink into your deck chair, hanky on head with a cool drink in your hand you can be hit with brutal metal riffs and twitching rhythms that will have you up and jumping around, your head waving wildly like a rag doll. Their loyal and growing following have already seen them supporting Crippled Black Phoenix and The Aristocrats among others.
Now whilst I have the band’s recorded output I must confess I have yet to have the opportunity to see TFATD live, something I must remedy in the future, so I can only review this from listening and using my wildly vivid imagination.
(Photo Credit – Ashley Jones of The Chaos Engineers)
They kick straight in after the briefest of understated introductions, blowing any clouds away with the fast distorted riffs of Magnet In Your Faceand anyone trying to chill is brought abruptly back to the land of the living. They lay on a few laid back chords like cars drifting smoothly round corners then crash back into the fray with Stuart’s drums careering like one huge pile up on the biggest of motorways with Kev Feazey’s bass weaving like Vin Diesel through the traffic as Steve and Matt’s guitars flick the NOS switch and hurtle to the finish line.
But there is no pit stop or time to refuel as it’s straight into Ark, with the guitars switching briefly to cruise after the bass revs it’s engine. But the temptation to rev will out and throughout the chilled rhythm the drums pull at the choke and the plugs spark in bursts.
Many albums can be lost in the studio as they are mixed and chopped, losing the ‘live’ feel. So it’s nice to hear the crowd and banter haven’t been removed from between the tracks and a credit to Mr Feazey’s mastering capabilities that he retains the atmosphere and gives him the chance to introduce the band before the next track, Dancing Robots, (a new one for those who do not have the knowledge).
Looping guitars drift in as the drums tick over before the bass presses the start button and we side-slip into the traffic before whipping out on to the fast lane racing weaving through the crowd and away.
We are treated to the sounds of tuning and a short modest merch promotion, before being introduced to another new track Verbosewhich will ‘probably’ be on the new record out this year. Drumsticks count us in and then frantic short riffs followed by the throbbing bass blow the wind through our hair and from somewhere I’m reminded of ‘Radar Love’ before the intensity builds and gains pace, all the while the bass driving the tune on. This is probably the heaviest track on this EP and ends with screaming distorted guitar as it slides down the scale.
Perfectly suiting the open top car on a sunny day, a looping Hawaiian lick introduces us to Palm Trees, the only track with ‘vocals’, but you’ve no sooner taken your beach towel out of the boot and spread it on the beach, when a huge wave of distortion hits you and you are left soaked in crumbling guitar notes.
Last track, live favourite 666…6, is introduced as the band’s hit single to a ripple of appreciation from the audience. Looping tropical chords warm up the engine one last time twisting through the air before a Biffy Clyro style riff changes gear and rips through them. Down a gear again to the loop before the band rev again. It’s like trying to reign in a muscle car that doesn’t want to cruise and pose along the sea front but would rather burn rubber and screech down the road towards the dramatic climax. This is how to burn out a musical clutch. The speed builds and it all comes to a crashing end, fading out as the crowd applaud and cheer an exhilarating performance.
For anyone not having heard the band previously I can heartily recommend this as not only do they revel in playing ‘live’ but it is a great taster for the distinctive TFATD sound. Then if you like it make sure you catch up on the rest before the new album comes out later this year.
If I can also give a special mention to the fabulous cover art from the legendary Mark Buckingham, nice.
‘Field Recordings’ is how live music should sound and many bigger bands could learn from this. Looking forward to the new album boys.
It is just under two weeks to go until Bad Elephant Music releases The Fierce & The Dead’s live mini-album, ‘Field Recordings’.
Taken from the band’s incendiary set at last year’s Ramblin’ Man Festival, ‘Field Recordings’ captures the band in their element – performing live on stage in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The album features two previously unreleased songs which may (or may not!) feature on The Fierce And The Dead’s third solo album, currently in production.
BEM’s CEO David Elliott:
“As a bit of Easter cheer on a rather grim Monday, we’ve released the stream of a second track, another new tune entitled ‘Verbose’. Get it in your ears – and if you like it, and you have £8 to spare, it would be lovely if you’d buy a CD. Mark Buckingham’s stunning artwork is worth the price of admission alone.”
The band reckon this album is the best statement to date of what The Fierce And The Dead are about. Even Matt (Stevens) himself has gone on record as saying “yeah, it’s okay” – which if you know him you’ll recognise as the highest possible praise when it comes to his own work.
You can listen to Verbose and pre-order ‘Field Recordings’ at the link below:
Well, this came out of nowhere. I was expecting that The Fierce And The Dead’s next outing would be the third album current being recorded in seclusion with an as yet undisclosed name or release date. Suddenly the Bad Elephant Music promo number 36, ‘If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe’, magically appears in my in box.
I never reviewed the original but had to revisit it to see what they had done to the smartly repackaged remaster. Mark Buckingham’s stunning artwork suits the band perfectly, the intrinsic darkness of the music mirrors the graphic novelist’s style very well.
I often think very little of remastered albums and feel certain artists are just cashing in on or increasing their pension plans (no names no pack drill etc.) I have all the TFATD material and Matt Steven’s solo stuff anyway but always felt it didn’t quite reflect what they did in the live arena, the sonic assault of the back line and the bass smacking you squarely in the chest, letting you know they had arrived and will not be ignored. The live version of Andy Fox, one of the bonus tracks on this release, has a crystal clarity and solid punch to it. The whole package is far more dense but,yet, has a clarity to it, it is not muddy or thin in the least and is a lot closer to what the band does on stage.
For those who have no idea of who The Fierce And The Dead are, they are a project that grew from Matt Stevens playing with some guys rather than doing his looping acoustic stuff and it gelled very quickly into a full blown project and the original version of this album was the first product of that. They grew from being a ‘Krautrock’ ‘electronica’ to something far harder edged with the addition of a second guitarist. They now have a line up of Matt (guitar), Kevin Feazey (bass), Steve Cleaton (guitar) & Stuart Marshall (drums) and with a hugely dedicated following to boot. Instrumental hard edged music that brooks no compromise but has a wicked sense of fun all rolled into one great package.
This is the version that I think, in 2011, they would have actually released if they had been able to. High points for me are Landcrab, 10×10, and Daddy’s Little Helper. They all benefit well from the remastering process and it breathes a new life in to them.
I am completely convinced this it was a very good idea to revisit the original release and make the best of the masters from what is the beginning of a very unique gem of an outfit. RoSfest in 2017 is in for a treat indeed!