At the peak of their power in the late 1970s, Queen released News Of The Day (EMI/Elektra) to only solid reviews at the time. The band was riding high on a string of mid-70s chart-topping albums, with already some of the biggest hits of all time, that established them as one of the biggest bands in the world. Becoming of those bands changed Queen, a group of highly accomplished master musicians and live performers. Their concerts were already the stuff of legend since they were the first band in the world to book sold-out gigs at sports stadiums worldwide when arenas could not contain the scope of their shows. So as a response, the band began writing with the crowd in mind even more, creating entire passages meant for audience participation, not just the choruses. Critics at the time dissed them for this, but in hindsight, they presaged Metallica, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Guns ‘N Roses, Judas Priest, Queens Of The Stone Age, Muse and just about every other arena rock band since in this regard. Continue reading
It’s possible to believe that the boys of Virginian powerhouse Inter Arma gave themselves an impossible mountain to climb, given the superlative-exhausting greatness of 2014’s single-track opus The Cavern (Relapse Records). The hubbub generated in anticipation of new album Paradise Gallows (Relapse Records) shows the rapidly gained reputation the band’s output has gathered, and it’s an excitement that proves well-founded.
From the mournful acoustic beauty of opener ‘Nomini’, expanding to some incredibly affecting dual lead soloing which reappears alongside heartbreaking piano to devastating effect in the molten melodies of ‘Potomac’, it’s obvious that the unit’s collective desire to elicit emotion with powerful statements is still impossible to contain. TJ Childers’ gargantuan drumming is also to the fore and it is this, combined with growling riffs and Mike Paparo’s spacey, resonant roars, that governs the monstrous first shot in earnest ‘An Archer in the Emptiness’.
The echoing might carry into the following ‘Transfiguration’ and the chaotic, punishing Prog of the aptly named ‘Violent Constellations’: the quickened passages still implosive, the coruscating roars rebounding across the ages. Indeed, it seems the band now has more in common with the so-called ‘Caveman Doom’ of Conan than their Blackened roots, yet there’s a sense of grandeur and invention that the Liverpudlians can only dream of; a storytelling wonder which makes its lengthy tracks breeze by. The opening riffs of the future classic ‘Primordial Wound’, staccato yet oscillating and crushing, create a wall of sound, whilst Paparo’s fearful chants dwarf those of Charlton Heston’s Moses, hollering from atop Mount Sinai. ‘The Summer Drones’, meanwhile, still trampled by the footsteps of a colossus, sees a Jim Morrison-esque clean vocal soar through the skies on the back of monolithic, pregnant rhythms which grow with a fulminating tension, the middle section a dream of rampant Doors-like atmospheres yet crashing with the brutal euphoria of the Gods at war.
The title track begins with lazy Lounge airs, the undeniably sinister feel coated in a relaxed warmth. So the explosion is unexpected when it should be anything but, whilst still retaining torch-song sensibilities and more of that exquisite, Floydesque solo work easing the path of the pummeling body. Closer ‘Where the Earth Meets the Sky’ returns to the ethereal yet powerful beauty, a tragic Country lament given magnificence by echoing harmonies and that mesmerising strength, here sparing yet marvellously effective.
It’s evident that The Cavern set the template for Inter Arma’s future. Their Black elements almost gone, save the frequent obsidian rasps, the band nevertheless stand apart in making such epic-sounding, ferocious yet moving music; in turn reaffirming their status as one of the Metal scene’s most important outfits. That impossible mountain? Scaled, and some.
People love a great comeback story. Anything that shows a triumph against some kind of adversity, especially if you created it yourself, they will lap that up all day long. Some musical acts leave at the top of their game, while others split just in time before fizzing out creatively. When it came to Faith No More’s acrimonious split in the late 90s, it felt like it might have been coming for a while. The band certainly did not burn out their creative spark, nor did they wear out their welcome with fans. They were so prolific, so versatile, and so smart, you knew there would never be another act quite like them. When they came back in 2009 as a live act, they opened their shows with ‘Reunited’, the soft R&B song from 70’s duo Peaches and Herb, as a nod to the fans. After testing the waters with each other, the band decided they could stick together and make new music. Well the long wait is over and Sol Invictus (Reclamation Recordings/Ipecac) is here to put to rest any doubts you may have had about their comeback.
Opening with the title track, the band picks up basically where they left off with 1997’s Album of The Year (Slash). The track sounds right at home with their past, yet has some interesting elements on its own. Gradually easing in like a foot in a fuzzy slipper, it’s an “ah yes…” moment you get to have with yourself as the track envelopes you. Recurring lyrical themes on the album about regeneration, reinvention and that other “re” word we spoke of already begin popping up here too. ‘Superhero’ reminds one that despite being remembered for big commercial hits, at their most accessible they were never a true singles band that was pappy and easily digestible. ‘Sunny Side Up’ is an angsty ballad with great lyrical grist. Most of the tracks have a sonic kinship of the beloved King For A Day…Fool For A Lifetime (Slash) album too: hidden meanings, lyrical twists, massive piano and bass driven songs as a foil for Mike Patton’s emotive soulfulness and rubbery larynx.
‘Separation Anxiety’ is the heaviest track on Sol Invictus and certainly if you are the type of person that pines for the first three FNM albums, this is the song that will resonate with you the most. ‘Cone of Shame’ is wildly dynamic and strange, but also driving and melodious. Patton shows off the most of his insane vocal ability here too. The perfect blend of all of the rollicking elements of the band you want in one track.
Although Billy Gould, who produced the album (except for Patton’s vocals) is always seen as a driving force of the band and definitive mouthpiece, Roddy Bottum’s keyboards dominate this album. All of his weird 80s synth-pop craziness, mixed with his deft jazzbo piano stylings are ever-present in songs such as the torchy ‘Rise of the Fall’, the sinister yet beautiful ‘Matador’, and elsewhere.
‘Black Friday’ is a vampy Cramps-style number, complete with slapback guitars and whipping beats. This is also the track where guitar stands out the most, lending to the idea that without being the heavy guitar driven band of their youth, there is room for all of the parts of the monster to flourish properly. ‘Motherfucker’ is a conundrum of a song. You intrinsically laugh at the notion of a clever pop song as a massive ‘fuck you’ to those in power. Mike Patton as a new-age politicized Beat Poet? Why not! However, the song is undeniably subversive and smart, as is all the best material this band has put out. The build up to the chorus is glorious, Patton’s notes held like the vibrato of a well-bowed cello, hitting you where you live.
‘Back From the Dead’ may sound like a 60s slice of pop, right down to its jangly guitar and churchy “ahs” and “oohs” backing vocals. However the sentiment of “Welcome home my friend…’ in the lyrics could totally be a very meta, and self-referencing. After all; resurrection may be for those who got it wrong the first time, but the same cannot be said of Faith No More whose return is a welcome and worthy one. Let’s hope it lasts as long as it can.