Black Heart, London, UK - 25/2
Cheat The Gallows
Written by: GR on 04/11/2009 01:21:52
Right then, time for another review that should have been posted long ago. The name Bigelf is probably familiar to most people with an interest in all things progressive, as they recently gained wider exposure supporting Dream Theater as part of their 'Progressive Nation' tour. I didn't make it to any of the shows, so I can't comment on what Bigelf are like as a live act (although friends' reactions were mostly positive), and I've not heard any of their back catalogue, bar a single song I downloaded on the recommendation of Classic Rock magazine a few years ago - so the thoughts contained herein are free from any sort of expectation or preconception. Ok, sure, I did know that the Californian quartet were a prog band before listening to 4th album "Cheat The Gallows", a genre tag that might have some running for the hills fearing 20-minute guitar solos and concept albums, but it's a genre that has experienced something of a boom in recent years and is coloured by many different sounding bands.
So, what do Bigelf sound like? Well, that's by no means a simple question to answer but words that spring to mind include bombastic, eccentric, ambitious, excessive, glossy, massive and grandiose. There are no alienating Porcupine Tree type soundscapes on offer here; no, this is a full-on prog rock tour-de-force conjuring up the over-blown and, it has to be said, pretentious glories of the 1970s. I'm sure there are retro-alarm bells ringing right now for some of you, weary of another band retreading the past and offering little new, but while Bigelf's influences are firmly rooted in that bygone musical era they never sound dated, tired or stale. In fact, this might just be one of the most invigorating rock listens of the year, providing you're prepared for plenty of pomp and a multitude of sounds.
Album opener "Gravest Show On Earth" sets the tone with a very short recorded-backwards-sounding organ passage before launching into some hugely theatrical orchestration and a crunching riff. The track is layered with stirring brass and string instrumentation, cheering crowds, the odd space rock sound effect and a freaky circus drug-casualty refrain. It really comes across as a big show-tune, welcoming you to the Bigelf world with everything thrown at it, conjuring up images of decadent grand spectacles in packed out psychedelic stadiums. If that sounds vaguely odd - and it sure as hell does to me - then that's because it is; a term that can also be applied to the album as a whole, in a good way. No matter how many times I listen to this first song, and most of the others for that matter, I keep hearing new elements and subtle nuances hidden in the sound and each repeated listen has made me realised just how well produced, and well written, this album is.
The strong song writing continues throughout and makes for tracks that are catchy and memorable despite having many different influences piled into their sound, the band pulling off their rock opera-like prog vision where lesser bands may have seems disjointed and over-ambitious. Now, I have to admit that I'm no prog or 70s expert, but I think most people would recognise the strong Pink Floyd influence running through the album - and maybe I'm getting a little over-excited here, but parts of what Bigelf have produced are approaching the genius of that legendary band. Aside from Pink Floyd there are plenty of other classic acts brought to mind, sometimes many in a single song - at times I've been reminded of Queen (particularly with regards to the vocal harmonies and overall production values), Deep Purple, Budgie, Kiss (specifically on the stadium-rocking "Superstar"), Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, The Doors and others which I can't quite put my finger on. From research it seems the band also have a big Beatles influence, but I really don't know much of The Beatles output besides the obvious hit songs - although Bigelf's sense of melody and experimentation seem to fit that bill. T
There is so much going on within "Cheat The Gallows" that this review could get rather lengthy if I were to try to encapsulate all of it, but if you like the sound of over-blown prog rock with a real shine and gloss to it then this album comes highly recommended. On the strength of this, Bigelf appear to be a supremely talented and severely underrated band and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on them in the future.
Download: Gravest Shown On Earth, Blackball, Money It's Pure Evil
For the fans of: Pink Floyd, Queen, 70s excess
Release date: 07.09.09