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
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.
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.
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 Spades. Bats 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.
Better than its predecessor, though the back end loses some steam.
Madhatter, Pain Killers, Disappear
– Cheat 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.
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.
The Evils of Rock & Roll, Money, It’s Pure Evil, Blackball
– 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.
A pretty good album, though without the absolute standout tracks that Cheat the Gallows has. Still, there’s plenty here of interest.
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!