(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

CD review - Big Bang, Sin renuncia a la esperanza (2010)

Spanish rockers mix up modern and alternative influences

Big Bang from Barcelona may share a name with bands from Norway and South Korea, but their sound is a unique mix of alternative and modern rock along with a metallic aftertaste. Hearing Sin renuncia a la esperanza, it's easy to imagine the band growing up on a weird mix of Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, and Frank Zappa veterans like Steve Vai and Mike Keneally. That Zappa-inspired modern rock is a fundamental part of Big Bang's iconic sound, but it's always leavened by a hard rock edge. It's a seamless transition that exercises both the inner headbanger and appreciation of what Zappa called "stunt guitar".

Take a song like Hay sueƱos: the initial groove is a jazzy laid back jam, rooted in an exercise of whammy bar guitar chords, a la Mike Keneally . The vocal is appropriately restrained, almost spoken. The bass accents add a nice counter rhythm. Then, with a short drum count, the song abandons the relaxed vibe and erupts into a Rage Against the Machine grind. A thick, throaty guitar tone drives the heavy metal sound of this section.

The beauty is in the effortless transition. That drum count and a touch of choppy guitar chord make it seem natural. Even better, Big Bang finishes out the heavy section and uses a stutter beat drum fill to take us back into the original groove. The see-saw shift between the sections creates a wonderful tension. During one of the softer sections, the band throws in a brilliant Vai style solo. Evocative and moody, the fine phrasing shows off technical chops ranging from speedy runs and whammy dives.

While each song finds its own path, that balance between these musical approaches is present on most the tracks. While the guitar parts emphasize the sonic differences, the strong drum and bass work are key to the transitions.

On No fue por error, the pattern is similar. Once again, the track starts off with a spiky, angular guitar, this time reminiscent of Adrian Belew's work. We get some lyrics, but the hard rock drive creeps in, with a sound like Head Like a Hole (Nine Inch Nails). The solo resurrects the Belew style guitar, complete with singing harmonics, whammy bar tricks, and bits of chaos. This slips into a funky bass line accompanied by a Latin percussion groove. Within a handful of measures, the song subsides back into the chorus grind. This time, instead of a see-saw, it's like a whirlwind tour.

The music on Sin renuncia a la esperanza is so impressive, that I don't mind the Spanish lyrics. I can follow occasional phrases and the lyrical flow is smooth, but I know I'm missing a facet of Big Bang's performance. Regardless, Big Bang is worth the listen.

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