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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Recording review - The Fierce and the Dead, On VHS (2012)

Now even Fiercer, TFATD's progressive exploration gets extreme

Every musician in a good band surrenders some element of control over his musical vision. Even strong willed players like Frank Zappa and Robert Fripp found new musical avenues opened by the other players they collected. Experimental loop wizard Matt Stevens walked the same path with the Fierce and the Dead. The trio pushed his more reflective sound into post-rock/progressive spaces on their first album together. Stevens comfortably embraced the sound and the songs carried a lively spark of excitement and surprise

With On VHS, the trio has added Steve Cleaton on guitar and keys, stepping into even wilder territory. The four tracks on the EP still offer strong dynamic shifts, but the big sections venture into crunchier prog with veins of metal.

The opening cut, 666...6, fades in with an ambient loop that lulls the listener into a loose trancy feel. It doesn't last, though, as the driving guitar riff stomps in and takes control. The song has a Frankenstein's monster aspect, with mismatched parts spliced together. Unlike the Monster, 666...6 captures the sense of disparate parts melding into a cyborg whole. The hobnail boot guitars, cool crystalline pattern skin, and broad melodic bass shoulders meld with the calm mind of the opening loop to achieve a unity of purpose. The last thrash of wild guitar is exultant.

Hawaii dusts off TFATD's King Crimson roots, along with touches of reverb soaked post punk elements. The thrashing metal rhythm guitar and distorted bass line contrast with the structure formed by the intricate interlocking parts. Offering power and promise, the sound is like watching an island form from the steamy mix of seawater and hot lava.

The title track gets closest to the sound of the band's first album. Kev Feazey's bassline defines the song, stalking confidently forward through a landscape of guitar patterns. Stuart Marshall's kick heavy drum work meshes perfectly to pave the way for the bass. The balance between the order of the rhythm section and the increasingly abstract guitars shifts to embrace an invigorating chaos.

On VHS closes with Part 3. The bass sets the stage for Stevens' sparse Sleepwalk guitar lines. The regular repetition of the bassline creates a sense of security. The guitar continues even after the bass drops out, setting the stage for a transition into a more active section. Part 3 breathes, with calming inhalation and stronger exhales. Each exhalation builds in intensity. A fuzzed out guitar joins the bass line while wild psychedelic echoes of guitar lurk at the blackout edges. Sweet anarchy.

The Fierce and the Dead promise a new album this summer that should expand on their sound here. Cleaton's influence on the band is promising, so I'm looking forward to more exciting music. On VHS is available as a "name your price" download from the band's Bandcamp page. Be generous and help fund the next chapter of this great band.

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