Discography Review | Bigelf

As part of an ongoing New Year’s Resolution to expand the breadth of musical knowledge, I am listening to a discography of a band each month.

This is my entry for December.

My previous entry saw me take a look at Devin Townsed fronted extreme metallers Strapping Young Lad.

This time around I’ve for LA psychedelic, proggy retro rockers Bigelf.

Background: I briefly got into these guys when seeing them on a prog bill in Manchester around eight-ish years ago (a great gig that also featured Dream Theater, Opeth and Unexpect). Around that time, I picked up their album Cheat the Gallows. For whatever reason, I never fully explored their back catalogue, nor properly listened to their comeback album from 2014.

Note: The band brought out a six track EP in the 90s call Closer to Doom. It was later re-released with various amounts of ‘bonus’ tracks and some call this their debut album. I’m not counting this – it’s an EP to me.

money-machine– Money Machine
Their debut proper came out in 2000. Mostly, it’s a somewhat interesting mix of psychedelic pop and rock, with proggier elements. There’s definitely Beatles and King Crimson influences, along with maybe some Marc Bolan and Black Sabbath. There’s nothing overly wrong with the album, though I do think it lacks many kick ass tracks.

The opener is the title track and, while it’s not bad, it seems to have been needlessly stretched out to it’s seven minute plus run time. Sellout is fine, and Neuropsychopathic Eye is a bit better (the latter definitely a nod to 21st Century Schizoid Man era-King Crimson). Side Effects wouldn’t have ounded out of place in the 60s pop chart. It sort of sound like a lighter Sabbath riff, drenched in Beatles’ synths and with Marc Bolan on lyric duty. Not bad. The next few tracks are decent tunes with catchy choruses before a cover of Atomic Rooster’s Death Walks Behind You drops as the penultimate track (it’s pretty good). Bigelf save their best til last on this album – The Bitter End starts of as a slower, sort of chilled out space pop / rock tune that wouldn’t have felt out of place on a Bowie record. It’s very good, and the instrumental / guitar solo in the back half is beautifully done.

Overall [3]
A prefectly decent debut. It’s a bit derivative, but I don’t mind too much as it’s from an era that doesn’t get huge amount of mainstream play these days.

Best tracks:
The Bitter End, Death Walks Behind You.

Hex came out in 2003 and saw the band add Black Sabath / Ozzy and Pink Floyd to the bands they homaged. The former none more obvious than on the opening track, Madhatter.

The central tune is very Black Sabbath with added synths, and it has a neat intrsumental clip that recalls thr outro to Motorhead’s Ace of SpadesBats in the Belfry II is stylistically closer to the sound on Money Machine, if skewed towards the space rock end. It’s a decent album track, and probably better than the equivalents on the previous album. Pain Killers sees the band return to the heavier sound from the opening track. It has a pretty sweet riff that accompanies the chorus – good track. Disappear is a bit Pink Floydy. A mostly more restrained track, and the album is better for it. The change of pace and mood following Pain Killers works in its favour and is a good example of how track placement on an album can elevate the experience. I thought Rock & Roll Contract was a bit forgettable, but Sunshine Suicide is better (the riff is another nod to Sabbath, and the track wouldn’t sound amiss amongst a plethora of psychedelic stoner bands doing the rounds these days). Falling Bombs is pure filler, while Black Moth and Carry the Load are a bit better. From the song structure point of view, Burning Bridges sounds like a spritual sequel to Pain Killers (if sonically softer). Bats in the Belfry I is a longer, proggier take on the track that appeared earlier on, with some aspects of Pink Floyd dropped in for good measure. An interesting track, though II is catchier. Still, a solid closing track.

Overall [3.5]
Better than its predecessor, though the back end loses some steam.

Best tracks:
Madhatter, Pain Killers, Disappear

cheat-the-gallowsCheat the Gallows
Release in 2008, Cheat the Gallows saw the band refine their sound a little. Everything just sounds that bit more polished – this is their most professional output to date.

Gravest Show on Earth is a sort of full legnth intro to the whole album. There’s very much a proggy carnival feel that reminds me a bit of ELP, amongst others. The carnival feel contibues through to the catchy-yet-still-proggy seven minute Blackball. Whilst a (better) stripped back version appears as a bonus track on the previous album, the Floydian Money, It’s Pure Evil is still a great track. Somehow, they manage to top this with their greatest, most epic rock track to date with The Evils of Rock & Roll. The next coupel of tracks are decent filler (No Parachute better than The Game), before the band gives their first proper take on AC/DC or KISS-esque stadium rock. It comes off pretty well, and nice to see the band expanding their horizons a bit. Race With Time sort of sounds like what you’d expect a single for a Hollywood sci-fi sountrack to sound like these days. There’s certainly more Floydian licks here too. Hydra begins with a chuggy intro more reminiscent of Deep Purple or maybe Rainbow. Over the next few minutes, it morphs into it’s own proggy space rock beast. Speaking of proggy space rock beast, closing track Counting Sheep is an 11 minute behemoth. While it has some good parts is does sound lime it’s lnog for the sake of it. The outro bod to Sgt. Pepper’s is a nice tough though.

Overall [4]
Their strongest album to date. Like Hex is suffers some drop off in the back half of the album, but nowhere near as badly as that record. If you replaced the two or three poorer tracks from this with the better ones from Hex you’d probably have a classic.

Best tracks:
The Evils of Rock & Roll, Money, It’s Pure Evil, Blackball

into-the-maelstrom– Into the Maelstrom
Their most recent album. The space rock, pyschedelic and retro vibes remain, though we’ve moved a little more toward Bowie-delia than Beatle-delia by this point.

Incredible Time Machine is a sort of half intro, half song – it’s not bad. While it’s not really on a part with the best tracks from their previous effort, Hypersleep still is still a catchy track once it’s kicked in. Already Gone is a better song, and defintely ‘single release worthy’. Alien Frequency is a better quality album track, elevated by some interesting passages. The Professor & The Madman didn’ overly do much for me, yet it retained a sort of foot-tapping quality for the most part. Mr. Harry McQuhae  is an odd track that seemingly doesn’t know what it’s meant to be. I wasn’t fussed about Vertigod, but Control Freak was a step up and better than the last few tracks. High is a pretty tasty slab of prog -definitely one of the better offerings on the album. Edge of Oblivion is a more malevolent sounding song, that gets better as it goes along. Theater of Dreams is a very pleasant tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on something like Sgt. Peppers. ITM rounds things out with a pretty ambitious space rock opera. It’s better and more interesting that the equivalent on previous albums, and a solid closer.

Overall [3.5]
A pretty good album, though without the absolute standout tracks that Cheat the Gallows has. Still, there’s plenty here of interest.

Best tracks:
High, Already Gone, Theater of Dreams


That concludes this month (and year!). Looking back over the year, I’ve listened to some interesting artists and found some albums I genuinely really enjoyed.

For those interested, I’ve correlated the average scores of the discographies I checked out. You can see that list below:

3.6 / 5 Alice In Chains
3.5 / 5  Witchcaft, Reverend Baizarre, Rise Against, Ghost, Bigelf
3.42 / 5 Mastodon
3.38 / 5 The Darkness
3.1 / 5  Amplifier, Strapping Young Lad
3 / 5 The Mars Volta
2.7 / 5 Sum 41

I’ll likely do this again in 2017. If anyone has any suggestions for bads to check out, let me know!


Discography Review | Strapping Young Lad

As part of an ongoing New Year’s Resolution to expand the breadth of musical knowledge, I am listening to a discography of a band each month.

This is actually my entry for November, running a little late.

My previous entry saw we look at the back catalogue of the ascendant occult rockers Ghost.

This time around, I’ve gone for Canadian extreme metal band Strapping Young Lad.

Background: Ever since seeing him at Bloodstock Open Air 2010, I’ve slowly grown into being quite the an of Devin Townsend. Over the course of the past six years, I must have seen him live at least six times (that I can recall), including a brilliant acoustic request show at Corporation. Despite this, I’d rarely ventured into his Strapping Young Lad discography as, simply, the odd clip I’d heard sounded heavier than I was used to and it didn’t entirely sound for me. However, a number of friends over the years have asked/requested/suggested that I check the discography out. So, Paul, Joe and everyone else – here goes nothing!

Heavy As A Really Heavy ThingHeavy As A Really Heavy Thing.jpg
The slightly odd, agressive intro S.Y.L. gives way to In the Rainy Season. The pulsating and pounding riffs are catchy, without being anything special. The slightly more memorable Goat is then followed by one of the best tracks on the album in Cod Metal KingThough the synethesised drums date it, the sinister guitar tone makes this song. After Happy Camper (Carpe B.U.M.) comes a more interesting tune in Critic. Unremarkable at first, this grows into a interesting, catchy tune. None of the next three tracks did much for me and seemed like filler material to be honest, and we close things out with the totally silly Satan’s Ice Cream Truck. It doesn’t fit on the album at all, but it’s so totally Devin.

Overall: [2.5]
It’s interesting to be able to hear the kernels of Devin’s future sound throughout the album. Ultimately, it’s… fine. There’s a decent backbone of tracks bookended by okay efforts. Re-arrange the tracks and this is a solid EP with bonus tracks. This is probably more of a ‘listen once once you’ve gotten into them, then cherry pick the best songs in future’ than a must listen.

Best tracks:
Cod Metal King, Critic.

Intro track Velvet Kevorkian immediately confirms that we’ve had a welcome production upgrade. Musically, it also sounds a lot closer to Devin’s later works. All Hail the New Flesh and Oh My Fucking God have some really tasty riffs, and Detox ups the ante further! The main riffs sounds a little like old school Metallica meets the best of Testament, but with Townsend’s own spin added. Best track on the album and best track released by them to this point. The next few tracks are fine. Room 429 is an interesting cover that was chosen as the penultimate song. I wasn’t familiar with the original, but I enjoyed this. Closer Spirituality has the ‘big’ sound Devin has honed later in his career. A good denoument.

Overall: [3.5]

Comfortably better than Heavy as a Real Heavy Thing. It’s held back a little by the lyrics that can seem a bit juvenile / unrefined in places. 

Best tracks:
Detox, Room 429, Spirituality.

Strapping Young LadStrapping Young Lad.jpg
After the token intro track (Dire), thus begins a run of four perfectly-fine-if-not-overly-memorable songs. Thankfully, Aftermath is better!  Devour and Last Minute are both better than the tracks that preceed Aftermath, if not quite to the same standard. Force Fed and Dirt Pride are pure filler. Bring on the Young has a nice doomy, Candlemass-like vibe early on. One of the better tracks .

Overall: [2.5]
Disappointing and a bit bland when compared to City. I literally am struggling to write much more about this. 

Best tracks:
Aftermath, Bring on the Young.

The token intro track has become a mini-song by this release! Imperial is its name, as it’s pretty decent! The first ‘proper’ track is Skeksis. This is one of those odd tracks that I don’t think anyone will define it as a ‘classic’, but it’s very good and a step-up on everything from the previous release. Shitstorm only really gets going in the last minute or so, but things pick up again with Love?. While good, I don’t quite understand the adoration this track gets (I understand it’s up their with Detox as one of the ‘ultimate’ SYL tracks). Still, I may be nitpcking – I’m saying this is more top 10-15ish as opposed to top two in the whole SYL disography. Shine is pretty good, and We Ride is a better quality filler song. I didn’t get along with Possessions, but I liked the acoustic change of pace Two WeeksThalamus isn’t bad, though I prefered Zen out of all the tracks at the tail end of the album. Info Dump is 11 minutes of mostly spoken word and static.

Overall: [3]
A pretty solid album, with the first half is generally better than the second.  While I wouldn’t go out of my way to replay it a lot, I’d happily sit through more playings. 

Best tracks:
Skeksis, Love?, Zen

The New BlackThe New Black.jpg
Casting off with intro tracks entirely, we open up SYL’s final studio album with the pretty darned good DecimatorYou Suck has silly lyrics, but is very catchy. Antiproduct is quite an odd track (one that’s sure to divide listeners), but I really enjoyed it. Monument‘s main riff was used in later year for the bridge in Lucky Animals. This is a good, catchy track in its own right. Wrong Side is fantastically bonkers. There must be four or so distinct melodies throughout it’s three and a half minute run time, including a section that sounds so similar to what the Norweigan Shining are currently doing that it must have been an influence of sorts. I’m not sure how well Hope would work as a stand alone song, but it sits nicely here with its slow, down-tuned, chuggy guitars and Devin’s brilliantly malevolent vocals. Far Beyond Metal is AMAZING. It’s like Devin decided he was going to write some epic classic heavy metal, whilst binging on european melodic metal. It’s so over the top. You can hear the windmilling and imagine the air guitaring. I suspect those those that got into SYL for the angsty OTT heaviness may not like how cheesy this sounds, but each to their own. I love this and it’s probably my favourite track. Sonically, Fucker sounds like it should be on Addicited rather than an SYL album. Good track though. Almost Again also sounds much close to a later era Devin track – there’s a great empasis on melody in general on this album and this makes three tracks in a row where that is quite obvious. Polyphony is really an extended intro to the closing song, The New Black. A little low key compared to the mid-section of this album, it is still a sort of fitting closure to an interesting discography.

Overall: [4]
Controversial opinion time – I think this is their best album! It has the most catchy songs, the least filler and the most diversity. There’s also going to be a personal element to this as it by far most closely resembles Devin’s later output. It’s the album I’m mostly likely to play again in full.

Best tracks:
Far Beyond Metal, Wrong Side, Monument

YOF #55-66 | Midnight Special, The Survivalist, Dog Day Afternoon, Trash Humpers, ARQ, The Propaganda Game, Inferno, Hush, Goodnight Mommy, Doctor Strange, The Invitation, The Dead Zone

Wow, it’s been a while since posted about the Year of Film list! As such here’s a whopper of a update.

Midnight Special
Blu Ray

This is another example of too many films I want to see coming out at the cinema at the same time. In the end, I picked this up on blu-ray after re-reading the strong reviews.

Briefly, Midnight Special is about a boy who has some kind of supernatural abilities, and he is being hunted down by both the the US government, as well as some kind of cult.

I thought it was a pretty enjoyable film. Cursiously, you sort of pick things up with them already on the run, and the audience is left to piece together bits of the story as the they go.

The acting is pretty solid throughout. The only gripe some may have is that, it is a little understated to be a thriller (it’s marketed more as a mystery, which is sort of more accurate). [3.5]

The Survivalist
Blu Ray

You can read my review of The Survivalist over at Fake Geeks. [4]

Dog Day Afternoon

I’ve had the DVD for a fair while now, and never gotten around to watching it. Thankfully, I have now rectified this.

Dog Day Afternoon is based on true events. When a bank robbery goes awry, the couple of perpetrators end up finding themselves int an impromptu hostage situation.

The tone is an odd one – it’s sort of played off as a black comedy – but it works really well. Al Pacino is brilliant (and the support cast is good too). A cracking film that I’d heartily recommend. [4.5]

Trash Humpers

According to wikipedia, Trash Humpers is an “experimental black comedy-drama horror”. What I can tell you is, it is atrocious and probably the worst film I’ve ever seen.

It’s meant to play like an old VHS cassette that you may have found discarded. And, well, I’ll give ’em credit – it does. However, it isn’t a compelling film, and the non-/anti- narrative structure makes it difficult to follow or care. [0]


You can read my review fo ARQ at Fake Geeks. [4]

The Propaganda Game

You can read my review of The Propaganda Game at Fake Geeks. [3.5]


You can read my review of Inferno at Fake Geeks. [3]


You can read my review of Hush at Fake Geeks. [4]

Goodnight Mommy
Amazon Prime

You can rea my review of Goodnight Mommy at Fake Geeks. [4.5]

Doctor Strange
Cinema (IMAX 3D)

The latest Marvel Studios entry is definitely one of their better offerings. Whilst not quite in the realm of Guardians of the Galaxy or Winter Soldier, there’s certainly a good argument to be made for it being the leader of the chasing pack.

The cast is really good; it’s probably the strongest support cast of any Marvel film to date. The story is solid, as is the script, and the visual effects are sublime (definitely go and watch this in IMAX 3D if you have the opportunity).

There’s only a few niggles. Odd bits of humour seem t ohave been crowbarred in (it mostly works, but there are a few scenes where the lines could have been delivered in a more serious tone). Also, while Rachel McAdams’ character shows some promise, she’s a little too absent from the back end of the film for my liking. Still, she gets quite a bit from the role. [4]

The Invitation

You can read my review of The Invitation at Fake Geeks. [4]

The Dead Zone

You can read my review of The Dead Zone at Fake Geeks. [4]

Discography Review | Ghost

As part of an ongoing New Year’s Resolution to expand the breadth of musical knowledge, I am listening to a discography of a band each month.

This post is going up a little late, but I did actually complete the listening and notes in September – it’s only now that I’ve gotte naround to posting them.

Last month, I posted my thoughts on Amplifier. For September, I have chosen to go with Swedish occult themed rockers Ghost.

Background: When they first came on the scene, I definitely checked out their debut Opus Eponymous in preparation for seeing them at Download festival. I’ve also seen them live a few times since then, though not for a few years now. I didn’t listen to their 2nd and 3rd albums much besides the singles that got airplay.

opus-eponymousOpus Eponymous
Deus Culpa is an intro track comprised mostly of organ-like keyboards. They set the mood well before Con Clavi Con Dio kicks in. The keyboard style remains, and is joined by the haunting vocals of Papa Emeritus. The main riff is quite catchy, driving the song along. Ritual is the song that got me into the band. A great track, with some nice mid-paced punchy guitars. The next couple of tracks are pretty good too, if not quite on the same excellent level. The back half (or B side) of the album is less interesting, though Prime Mover isn’t bad at all and Genesis is a darn good closing instrumental.

Thoughts: Ritual aside, there’s no actual killer tunes, but the first half of the album is pretty darn good. Quality drops off toward the end, though I really like Genesis.
Best tracks: Ritual, Genesis

The title track is really an intro into Per Aspera ad Inferi. Oddly, the latter comes across like an extended intro to the album as a whole. I’m not sure why, but it just does. Secular Haze very memorable (thanks, in part, to the creepy fairrground ride theme) – only a shade or two behind their absolute best tracks. After a decent album track (Jigolo Har Megiddo), we then get to the cracking Ghuleh/Zombie Queen. The former section is piano driven, while the latter is a more traditional sounding Ghost track. By the end of the track, the two choruses have merged to form a sort of super chorus. Great stuff. Year Zero is another great track, and exceptionally catchy – you can see why it was chosen to the be the second single. The last four tracks range from decent filler (Depth of Satan’s Eyes) through to pretty darn good (Monstrance ClockIdolatrine).

Thoughts: One the whole, a stronger album than the debut. The weakest tracks are better than the weakest tracks from Opus Eponymous, an the best tracks here come close to that which came before.
Best tracks: Secular HazeGhuleh/Zombie QueenYear Zero.

The third album opens up a little different, as there is no ‘intro track’ in sight. Spirit is not bad, and the vibe/sound of the guitars invokes the feel of their debut album. Almost jarringly, From the Pinnacle to the Pit is next. This is much more sinister in sound, with crunchier guitars. It’s a little repetative, but catchy. After the Meliora’s second single, we get it’s first (and far superior) in Cirice. It’s catchy, moodym sinister and pretty special. After the pleasant, short instrumental (Spöksonat (Ghost Sonata)), we get He Is. Interestingly, this is more like a mid-paced psuedo-ballad. This is the first of this kind of track that we’ve come across so far. It’s a really good tune and one of their best to date. There’s a little lull after this, with Mummy Dust being fine (though it does have a kick ass solo) and Majesty being a little of a move away from their traditional sound (in parts sounding quite Deep Purple-esque, like at the mini-solo 2 minutes in). Devil Church is just another short instrumental, and probably should have been packaged with the track after as a medley like Ghuleh and Zombie Queen were on thr previous album. Absolution is a nother track that resides closer in sound and tone to Opus Epyonous, though with a bit more bite. Good intrumental work throughout. Deus in Absentia picks things back up to close us out – it’s big, theatrical and sounds something out of a Halloween-inspired musical or something. It has a really catchy chorus and is a great closing track.

Thoughts: Almost as good as Infestissumam. This sounds like the band are really finding their niche now, while branching out a little at the same time. The 80s style proggy elements are a welcome addition, as is the addition of the psuedo-ballad and the acoustic guitars. If you merge this with their 2nd alnum, you’d probably get the perfect host album.
Best tracks: He IsDeus in Absentia.

YOF #50-54 | Eye in the Sky, London to Brighton, A Beautiful Mind, Zootropolis, Kubo and the Two Strings

I’ve seen some flipping good films lately…

Eye in the Sky
Blu Ray

You can read my review of Eye in the Sky over at Fake Geeks. [4]

London to Brighton

I was lent this DVD years ago but only just recently gotten around to watching it. For those who don’t know it, it is a British crime thriller from 2006. It follows the story of Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) and Joanne (Georgia Groome) who on the run from some pretty despicable London mobsters.

It’s a great little film that never outstays it’s welcome (it’s only 80 odd minute and the pacing is spot on). The acting is impressive and naturalistic, and I liked how the gangsters weren’t the stereotypical kind seen in thing like Lock, Stock… etc. [4]

A Beautiful Mind

Another film that was lent to me some time ago that I’ve only just gotten around to watching. How did I manage to go the best part of 15 years without seeing this amazing film?

Pretty much everything is spot on, and Russell Crowe’s performance is near-flawless. [5]

Blu Ray via Lovefilm

On the whole, a really enjoyable animation from Disney. While the social commentary was a little on the nose at times, it was nice that there was a relatively interesting and relevant subtext to what is otherwise kids entertainment. It held my attention throughout, and had a handful of hilarious gags (particularly in the final third). A strong entry, on another year, this could have been in contention for animation of the year… [4]

Kubo and the Two Strings

Simon pretty much hit the nail on the head with his lengthy review over at Fake Geeks. I liked that this was more like a folktale than a run-of-the-mill schmaltz fest that animations sometimes end up as. All of the actions had realistic (in terms of the narrative) consequences. The voice acting is spot on, the animation is beautiful, the pacing is near-perfect (as is the tone). Laika seemed to have carved a niche for themselves, sitting somewhere on the spectrum in between Ghibli and Disney (with a dash of Tim Burton lurking nearby), and are all the better for it. The animation of the year, and a genuine film of the year contender. [4.5]


YOF #46 – 49 | Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Shallows, A Bigger Splash, Hell or High Water

Kiki’s Delivery Service
Blu Ray

After being very impressed with The Tale of Princess Kaguya, I resolved to make my way through the entire Studio Ghibli filmography over time. Up to this point, I have also seen Spirited AwayWhen Marnie Was There as well as the first half of Ponyo.

I recently purchased blu-rays of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (not an official release, I know, but I think it makes sense to be included), Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro. But before my girlfriend and I make our way through those, my fellow Geeketeer Mike kindly lent me Kiki’s Delivery Service for me to check out. It’s one of his favourites.

The plot is pretty simple – Kiki is a trainee witch, and this is a coming-of-age tale about her finding her way in the wide world. Following familial tradition, she strikes out on her own at age thirteen with just her talking cat jiji for company. Trainee witches are expected to find their place in the world as part of their maturation, and the title refers to the line of business Kiki ends up in. The story chronicles the ups-and-downs she experiences.

Some may find it a little lightweight, but I don’t see that as a negative attribute. The film is shockingly and pleasantly simple, written well and paced to near perfection. [4]


Updated League Table of Ghibli:
01. The Tale of Princess Kaguya
02. Kiki’s Delivery Service
03. When Marnie Was There
04. Spirited Away
05. Ponyo


The Shallows

You can read my review of this at Fake Geeks. [3.5]


A Bigger Splash
Blue Ray via Lovefilm

It is a remake of 1969 Italian-French film La Piscine and, having read up on it, it seems very similar in theme and execution. The plot basically revolves around Marianne (Tilda Swinton). She is a Bowie-esque rockstar that is recovering from throat surgery. Matthias Shoenaerts plays her partner Paul, Ralph Fiennes plays long time ex Harry and Dakota Johnson plays Harry’s daughter Penelope.

Well, this was a frustrating watch. I don’t think there are any bad performances, and Fiennes is pretty great as an insufferable over-talkative oaf. However, the story moves along as such a sedate pace that you’ll be clock watching before the midway point. There’s a little drama/intrigue in the final chapter that’s handled quite well, but the outcome of the event takes longer than one would expect to conclude.

On the technical sides of things, the direction is fine and the cinematography is of a pretty high standard. Basically, this is pointless, poorly paced remake that happens to look quite pretty and has one notable central performance. One strictly for fans of the genre (psychological adult drama, apparently), or specifically the cast. [2.5]

Hell or High Water

Now this is more like it! Mike has pretty much summed up my thoughts exactly over at Fake Geeks. [4.5]

Discography Review | Amplifier

As part of an ongoing New Year’s Resolution to expand the breadth of musical knowledge, I am listening to a discography of a band each month.

Previous entries I have posted directly to my Facebook. Those entries were for Witchcraft (January), Mastodon (February), The Mars Volta (March), The Darkness (April), Reverend Bizarre (also April), Sum 41 (May), Rise Against (June) and Alice in Chains (July).

For August, I accepted the suggestion of Amplifier.

Background: A had very little knowledge of the band prior to this listen through. I recall seeing them once, years ago, on a show like Later With Jules Holland (or something similar) and not being frightfully impressed. Still, they fall squarely across some genres/sub-genres I can quite get into (I do like some prog, space rock and a few others that they are described as covering).

– Amplifier
Motorhead is a good opener. Reminds me of Alice in Chains had a warmer, fuzzier guitar tone. It has a nice catchy riff, and is a good first track. Airborne continues the good quality, while Panzer plods a little but had a tasty brooding tone to the whole thing. Old Movies is fine, but the next few tracks are total filler material. Things pick up again part way through On/OffThe Consultancy and One Great Summer aren’t bad. The album treads water a bit until the very good/catchy Half Life. Last couple of tracks are fine, though not overly memorable.

Overall: A good debut, if a little bloated. They could easily have cut 3-4 tracks from the mid-section.
Best tracks: Motorhead, Half Life

– Insider
Gustav’s Arrival is a good instrumental opening (very tasty opening riff). O Fortuna is a good, relatively heavy track. Insider is of a similar quality (and, for some reason, reminds me of Opeth). Next couple of tracks are filler. Strange Seas of Thought is better and has some excellent guitar work. The entire back half of the album can be categorised as ‘fine, with the odd standout moment, but nothing overly memorable as a whole’.

Overall: More of the same. I kind of wish they’d do 40 minute albums instead of 50+ as I don’t find there’s is enough interesting things happening to keep my undivided attention. Not quite as good their eponymous debut.
Best tracks: Gustav’s Arrival, O Fortuna

– The Octopus (double album)
Disc 1:
The Runner is a quirky, otherworldly intro track. Sound effects are mixed into the tune – they are nicely ambiguous as to whether they are meant to be space or oceanic based as they flit between the two. This track gives away to best songs on the whole album, Minion’s Song and Interglacial Spell. While not on the same level, the run of tracks from The Wave to Planet of Insects is all pretty good! The title track may seem less exciting to the casual listener, but it has some great, subtle, subdued riffs lurking.  White Horses at Sea // Utopian Daydream is probably the weakest track on disc 1. The piano outro is really sweet though. Closing track Trading Dark Matter on the Stock 
Disc 2:
The Sick Rose is a pleasant, if unmemorable opener. Interstellar is probably the best track on the second disc – much more old school space rocky (which you’d probably expect with such a name). The Emperor is frustratingly semi-interesting, as is Golden RatioFall of the Empire signals a darker mood, with the guitars a smidge closer to stoner/doom. Nice use of psychedelic effects. I’m not sure how memorable Bloodtest will be in the long run. Oscar Night // Embyro is an odd one, and the back half of it is quite dull. Forever and More is a decent denouement.

Overall: Their most ambitious album to date. First disc is the best thing they’ve done to date, sort of in the 4/5 range. Disc 2 is less interesting on the whole and in places threatens to show the band up as a poor man’s Porcupine Tree/Katatonia.
Best tracks: Minion’s Song, Interglacial Spell

– Echo Street
Matmos has a warm guitar tone and is a pleasant, sort of uplifting opener. A little lacking in bombast for an opening track. Next couple of track do not stand out, both sort of laid back and with a mesmerising quality. Where the River Goes is the first track on this album that I nodded my head/tapped my foot to. It’s not a bad tune, with a some nice guitarwork in the back half. Paris in Spring is like the second and third tracks – pleasant but without any standout quality. Between Today and Yesterday is a pretty decent stripped down acoustic effort. I could see it working well live as a pause for breath between more bombastic efforts. The title track is in the better half of tracks on the album, but – by this point – that isn’t actually saying much. Mary Rose starts off a bit like everything else on the album (easy on the ear, but unoriginal). However, it gets little bit of a kick half way through and it becomes something more. An uplifiting more radio friendly track – a better effort.

Overall: Despite me saying most (if not all) of the tracks are ‘pleasant’ and ‘nice’ this was a slog to sit through. Very little variety and it all felt a bit lightweight. It was almost like they wrote an EPs worth of material and decided to stretch it to an album. Even then, the better tracks aren’t up to the standard of the best on their previous releases.
Best tracks: Where the River Goes, Between Today and Yesterday.

– Mystoria
Magic Carpet is a cracking opening track, with more tasty riffs in the first 90 seconds than was on the entire previous album. Black Rainbow continues the nice riffage, even if the song itself is just fine. Named After Rocky is a good album track, with a slightly doomier stoner vibe to it. Cat’s Cradle is difficult to describe as it is sort of pop-rock but not. It’s fine enough. Bride and Open Up are middling. OMG is what I’d expect a space rock playing homage to Sabbath to sound like. A significant step up from the previous two tracks and one I genuinely like. The Meaning of If is the better kind of short, foot tap worthy filler track. While a little bland to start with, I enjoyed the instrumental work (with whale song!) of Crystal Mountain. Crystal Anthem is a decent, catchy closer.

Overall: The gits! I was ready to round off my thought on the band as being one I could appreciate, but probably not overly seek out/enjoy after the debacle of Echo Street, but then they drop this! A very enjoyable album, and the shorter, heavier tracks seem to suit them much better.
Best tacks: OMG, Magic Carpet

Final thoughts:
Definitely a band that’s better when dropping more diverse albums. Personally, I think they pull off the heavier, doomier, grungier side of their sound better than the sort of Porcupine Tree-esque prog/post-metal that they do a fair bit of. Critically, their best disc of music is probably Disc 1 of The Octopus, though I found Mystoria more accessible, enjoyable and to my taste.

My order of preference:
01 Mystoria (most accessible/likable)
02 The Octopus
03 Amplifier
04 Insider
05 Echo Street