Thursday, November 6, 2008

Natural High

AGAINST NATURE – “Natural Blue” CD ’08 (Bland Hand, US) – I’m a sports fan besides being this irritating guy who keeps reminding you that “The Raysrealm site has been updated!” When I say “a sports fan,” I mean it. I’m not talking about people like my dad, who for 70-odd years has liked ‘dem O’s and Johnny U. No, I’m the kind who can sit up till 1:00 AM watching the Dolphins play the Raiders. That being so, one of my favourite radio shows is “Mike & Mike In The Morning” on ESPN. On that show, when either of the protagonists has had a certain affinity for a particular player, they are raked over the embarrassment coals by getting a special “love song” played every time they mention said player. For instance, Mike Greenberg used to have to suffer through Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” every time he made a mention of ex-Jets QB Chad Pennington. (Hmm…Whitney Houston, wasn’t she found in the woods behind a rehab clinic being raised by wolves or something?) Any way, I’m beginning to wonder if someone isn’t going to start playing some cringe-inducing ditty every time I mention AGAINST NATURE, REVELATION or the names John Brenner, Bert Hall, Jr. or Steve Branagan. See I know that they’ve been getting some of the absolute most top-notch reviews around these parts over the last year or so but, God damn it…well, just play me some Celine Dion and be done with it, ‘cause you see where this is headed, ya know?! Quickly, for the uninitiated, at this point in their histories, AGAINST NATURE and REVELATION are the same 3 cats (mentioned above). While ‘08’s earlier REVELATION release “Release” (not a typo!) was simply the flat-out best doom metal disc in quite awhile, AGAINST NATURE is a horse of a different colour (but not before the cart…sorry John!). See, with AN these three architects of sonic delight work on a much wider palette. The band’s “Anxiety Of Influence” (my top album of 2007, by the way) saw them explore the possibilities of the extended song format. Including 2 tracks topping 20 minutes each, what it brought to the table was a world-class study in how to put together a very long song without it seeming such. Simply put, I have to really stretch for the last time I heard a record comprised of two 20 minute songs that I wanted to hear again & again, so rich was the songwriting and playing versatility. On “Natural Blue,” AGAINST NATURE have once again re-invented themselves and the results are scintillating. This time the boys have opted to construct a series of much shorter songs that veer in many directions but do so without making the listener’s head flop back & forth like he/she was watching a tennis match. Ironically, the variety here serves to draw the album together into a spectacular whole. Opener “Sonic Tonic” stresses doomy riffs and would actually not feel out of place on a REVELATION record. “Moonshine And Mead” rocks along on a mid-paced upbeat hard rock riff, not unlike Bang, complete with a nasty early solo by John that could make Leslie West blanch in it’s Gibson bite. Suddenly just after mid-song, the tune morphs into a momentary jazzy interlude before AN throw the throttle down and race headlong to the conclusion, John soloing like a madman over top and the entire band cooking like your best friend Ollie’s grill at a Raven’s tailgate. And, it goes on all throughout this muthafucka of an album, each song bringing something new. Amazingly, it all fits together just perfectly. The pastoral and bluesy plaintiveness of “Bottom Of The Hill,” the back-porch country vibe of “Natchel Blue” (complete with additional vocals by Vickie Walters that would could make Patsy Cline take notice), the riff-monger (and album’s longest cut) “Lemongrass” with it’s jazzy Santana-like coda. Of special note (I know I’ve harped on this before in previous reviews, but it bears repeating) is John Brenner’s ever-widening guitar prowess. Seriously, John is rapidly turning into one of the most inventive tone-masters I’ve heard, constantly experimenting and getting more different and aurally stimulating lead & rhythm sounds out of his axes than anybody around. Kudos go as well to Bert Hall (bass) & Steve Branagan (drums) for their emergence as “organic” personified. You can put them right up there with Butler/Ward & Jones/Bonham in that category and I’m quite serious. I’m also quite serious about this album being simply as good as one can get in the heavy rock genre. So go ahead and cue up some Toni Braxton song for me, why don’t’cha, cause AGAINST NATURE are godly! 10.0

NOTE: As an added “cool thing,” the 90-edition printing of this disc features some breathtaking cover art by John Brenner.

1 comment:

Michael said...

AGREED 100%. This is a spectacular record that gets me thinking about dozens of classic 70's rockers (your BANG comparison is spot on). But it's all done so subtly that it never sounds retro, never nostalgic. I esp. love when the lead gtr cuts in - those are moments when AGAINST NATURE really fuckin' soars. As you point out this is as great as Anxiety of Influence, only coming at things from a more discreet, song-form perspective.

IMO these guys are THE BEST modern rock has to offer in 2008. No lie.