Founded in 2004 and led by the talented and broody Justin Grieves, the band has had many collaborators over the years and a number of line-up changes, all contributing to a clutch of significant critically acclaimed releases.
Justin has made it no secret that he has been battling severe depression over the years and, while last year’s 6-track EP Horrific Honorifics was a tip of the hat to bands like The Swans and Magnolia Electric Co, there is no hiding the fact the dark shadows are never far away and can be like a blanket that he feels most comfortable pulling over him.
You Brought it Upon Yourselves starts the album off, an extended version of Wish You Were Here radio commentary. Not a song at all but words and sentences from broadcasters of long ago, mixed and transposed over a layer of dark and atmospheric synthesizers that slowly build up to the echoing guitars of To You I Give, the first music track of the album.
I have to mention the Pink Floyd influence again. It was the first thing that came to mind as the song opened up on all eight cylinders. If you can’t hear Dave Gilmour’s trademark sound here you need to see an audiologist. There is not even a hint of an effort to try to hide the impact and homage that Grieves has for one of the greatest bands of all time. A stirring track and, after a few listens, one of the best on the album.
The current line up is an extensive one with Justin Greaves – drums and percussion, guitars, bass, samples, saw, backing vocals; Ben Wilsker – drums; Daniel Änghede - guitar, backing vocals; Jonas Stålhammar – guitar; Tom Greenway – bass; Mark Furnevall – synthesizers; Hammond, backing vocals; Helen Stanley - grand piano, synthesizer, backing vocals, trumpet; Belinda Kordic – vocals, percussion.
I felt compelled to list them and the instruments they play so you can get a sense of the layers of sound here, and yet many of the tracks offer a space you can only really find in the greater cosmos. They have also enjoyed much applause as an act not to be missed live, however the stage would need to be pretty expansive to fit this entourage on.
A small interlude follows with Uncivil War, a short instrumental that has the drums and beat of men heading off to war to somewhere unknown and is the scene setter for the heavy and dark Madman. A gentler sounding Marilyn Manson, the track has some of his dark traits, with wonderful wondering lyrics that are quite hypnotic.
Singing duties are shared from time to time with Belinda Kordic, which freshens up the album and gives it a slightly intriguing dimension. Rain Black, Reign Heavy sounds like something that could come from the gothic period as Kordic’s vocals seem more to be fused into the music rather than sitting delicately on top. That said, it kind of works.
There are some lengthy tracks and times when the level of self indulgence can be just a little too much to bear even for the most hardened prog rock follower.
Times They Are A-Raging is a case in point. It could easily have been two or even three songs, and changes gear too many times to ensure the continuity you would want.
As we head into the later end of the album, Las Diabolicas gives us the best hint of those demons I mentioned earlier. Sounding like someone trying to escape the asylum, the driving bass is a highlight here.
Great Escape Pt1 and Pt2 are the bookends to the album, going for some 20 minutes collectively the band slips back into the shadows of their major influence and works really well.
There is space and softness in Pt1 and the haunting single guitar, with choir-like vocals initially leading us into to a false sense of security, is quite special. However the pace is kicked up a gear with a driving beat and brass horns and that really makes this song the pick for me.
Pt2 really is a journey into outer space and, while engaging and uplifting at times, it left me feeling a little sad. Most likely, upon reflection, this might be exactly what they were hoping for.
Great Escape is not for the happy clappy clan of music lovers, but it is an album that is a great introduction to a band not frightened to show their underbelly and a perfect companion to a stormy Sunday afternoon.
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Released: 14 Sep 2018