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.


hexHex
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.

CityCity.jpg
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.

AlienAlien.jpg
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