Saturday, April 11, 2009

Preying Mantis

UMPHREY’S MCGEE – “Mantis” CD ’09 (SCI Fidelity, US) – You ever go to some theme park and in order to board a ride, have to step onto one of those moving sidewalks? For the first few seconds or so, you kinda lose your equilibrium? A little disorienting, eh? That’s where I’ve come into things with Chicago’s (formerly Indiana’s) UMPHREY’S MCGEE. See my prog-rawk bowling buddy Rick had mentioned their name a few months back, but in all the flotsam floating around in my brain, I quickly forgot it. Maybe ‘cause it sounds silly as shit, maybe ‘cause I can’t remember my own Social Security # either. Thing is, I was sitting there at the kitchen table, thumbing thru the City Paper last Saturday just minding my own business and turning a page I saw: Ram’s Head Live, UMPHREY’S MCGEE, Saturday night 7:45 PM. The ticket price was $30 and I’m not made of bucks but with nothing to do that night, my wife having plans with her friends and babysitter in place I figured why the fuck not? So, I tooled downtown in the trusty Town & Country (thank God I’m not trying to pick up women anymore) and after being directed to the ONE remaining parking spot (up on level 6) by the biker dude at the gate, I stepped into the world of UMPHREY’S MCGEE. Here’s where the moving sidewalk hit me. The place, not exactly tiny, was freakin’ packed!!! Featuring a mix of those from college drunks to ‘70’s freaks to non-descript guys like me to grunge chicks that my 18 year old might date, this band’s got a following! And, I saw why. Coming on with little fanfare, they proceeded to impress the living shit out of me. Live they sported a wild combination of hard prog mixed that then stretched into long, exploratory jams. Dang, I was taken in…especially by the guitar work of Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger. Heck, these cats could really play…not just soloing but intertwining melody lines & snaky little riffs, all the while handing down some vocals as well. The cover of The Stones “Can You Hear Me Knocking” had was the final straw. Had to make it to the merch stand and pick up their latest, no choice, you know? And so, we have “Mantis…”

I have to say that on my first run though this disc, I was a little nonplussed after having seen UMPHREY’S live. Most of the songs were in the 5 or so minute range, maybe a 7:00, and the long jams of that night faded into oblivion. But then I listened again…and again…and again…and then I immediately deleted the first thing I could find off my I pod so this sumbitch could go on instead. Sure I know this bunch can go off into deep space in the concert venue but with the talent to write songs and arrange shit that’s as good as the stuff on “Mantis,” I’m glad they made this into the much more coherent statement that it is. When you listen to this record, the first thing you become aware of is the kind of creative force you have going on with these cats. Right off the proverbial bat, with “Made To Measure,” you not only feel a deep connection to the very beginnings of ‘70’s progressive rock but they also somehow manage to fuse that with Beatle-esque melodies and the kind of feel I USED to love with the indie rock of the ‘80’s. The song “Mantis” is something to behold early on in the record. This is a fantastic, grandiose piece that has me pining for those halcyon days when Peter Gabriel fronted Genesis wearing phallic headgear and all was right with the world. “Cemetary Walk,” broken into 2 sections, is another work that manages to evoke the words “sprawling” and “concise” all in one…how the hell do you do that?! I don’t know, but UMPHREY’S does. Crazily, the 2nd portion of this one sees the band suddenly shift into what could only be called a ‘70’s disco beat for a moment and yet…horror of horrors…it works! Famously! “Spires” could only be called Gentle Giant meets “Pet Sounds” and “Red Tape” in some way marries Peter Banks (ex-Yes) guitars to the Dave Clark Five.

More than a couple years back the old trail we used to call Enlightened Chaos Mag ‘round these parts, I once described the debut Psychotic Waltz disc as the aural equivalent of chewing up about 50 Altoids then taking an ice cold drink of soda behind it. That’s seriously damn refreshing and so is this fantastic new album by UMPHREY’S MCGEE. 10.0
NOTE: I’ve come to understand that “Mantis” is this band’s 8th album. I’ll be needing to get them all!

GUILLOTINE – “Blood Money” CD ’08 (Pulverised, Swe) – I’m going to let you in on a little secret. People who’s idea of thrash metal is Metallica’s “Fuel” are not going to like this CD. And that’s ok. Really, it is. Because, you see, people who still worship dog-eared vinyl with titles like “Pleasure To Kill” & “Infernal Overkill” are going to cream their jeans over “Blood Money.” What GUILLOTINE do is jack up the raw, nasty, virulent thrash produced by ‘80’s kids called Mille & Angel Ripper and inject it with an updated, steroid-laden production. Are the riffs in “Dying World” & “Insane Oppression” going to have you calling Daniel Sundbom the next Satriani? No. Are the lyrics to the title song going to make you chuck your Black 47 records in the bin? Core snot. And that’s ok. Really, it is. Because GUILLOTINE stomps ass.
NOTE: Can it be a coincidence that the cover artwork, on a glance has the same colour scheme as “Bonded By Blood?” Perhaps not, and it’s a nice tribute.

MINOTAUR – “God May Show You Mercy…We Will Not” CD ’09 (I Hate, Ger) – Not stomping so much ass, unfortunately, are Germany’s MINOTAUR. Plying the same basic trade of ‘80’s Euro-thrash, these guys fall short on lots of fronts. The thing is, when you’re going to come at me with titles like “It’s War” and “Rather Die,” you’d better have riffs like machine guns, a singer who sounds half nuts and production like a freight train tying it all together (see GUILLOTINE review). MINOTAUR, on the other hand has riffs you’ve heard a million times (possibly on this very same album), vocals that sound like my grandmother and production as flat as a witch’s tit. It all reaches an embarrassing conclusion with the closing cover of W.A.S.P.’s “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast).” Whereas, in the hands of Mr. Lawless, this was a bad-assed rock anthem, here it has every ounce of it’s addictive melody sucked out like dust mice by a Dyson vacuum. No mercy for lovers of good European thrash here. 3.0

FORSAKEN – “After The Fall” CD ’09 (I Hate, Malta) – Well, well, well. This is more like the quality of releases I’m used to getting from I Hate Records. First off, I remember these FORSAKEN dudes from way-back. After all, even when you do a music zine it’s not ever day you get a package from Malta. I still have that CD EP they mailed me then, a kinda rawly produced and yet definitely memorable brand of melodic doom. Apparently, while I’ve been here frittering away my time at the keyboard over the last several years FORSAKEN has been busy, issuing no less than 3 more records, this one being their debut for I Hate. Seems the boys have grown up, as first off, the production here is strictly major league. Especially nice is the guitar sound, doom as hell and yet with a decidedly wailing tone that reminds me of the old days with a wah-wah pedal stuck in the “up” position. I love that! But how would I describe the overall feel of “After The Fall?” Here’s the skinny: If you the first 3 Candlemass records you simply cannot go wrong here. Visions of tracks like “Samarithan” run through my mind during the lengthy numbers present, especially the brilliant “Armida’s Kiss” and “Metatron And The Mibor Mythos” (say that 3 times fast!) each filled with several flowing changes. Thundering iron-clad riffs, caustic Iommi-ish leads, and epic “Messiah”-styled vocals with lyrics involving words like “Sins,” “The Lord,” “Father” and “Tempter” abound throughout these 49 minutes. And, in truth, that may be the only problem I hear with this record not being a classic. There really isn’t a fancy-lot here that distinguishes it from being the long-lost Candlemass album between “Epicus” & “Nightfall.” But for pure listening enjoyment, that’s not such a bad thing, now is it? Doom on! 8.0

ASG – “Win Us Over” CD ’07 (Volcom, US) – For some odd reason, I very recently received a package in the mail with this one…running a little slow there with an ’07 release, but anyway…. ASG does what we’ve come to know as good ol’ stoner rock and they do it ok. Drawing heavily from the Monster Magnet school of thought and coupling that with a bit of southern rock they lumber through cuts like “Palm Springs,” “Gallop Song” and “The Dull Blade.” Trouble is, they come across an awful lot of times like just that, a dull blade. You see, in an area of music so bloated over the years, you’ve really gotta do something to stand out. Granted, Jason Shi’s voice may be better than some doing this style in that he’s actually got ‘70’s rock pipes but the music too often falls flat. For stoner complete-ists only. 4.0

No comments: