Tag Archives: The Fierce and The Dead

Acts announced for Ramblin Man 2016

Following an earlier announcment that included Procul Harum and Uriah Heep on the Prog stage, the Ramblin Man Fair have announced several more bands, inckuding The Fierce and the Dead, Lifesigns and The Von Hertzen Brothers.

Though the latter two have a dedicated following in prog circles, I find both of them rather overrated myself. But it will be good to see The Fierce and The Dead on a big stage.

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2015 Records of the Year – Not only but also…

My self-imposed rules for album of the year restricts the list to full-length albums of new material. That means it excludes live albums, unplugged records with new versions of existing songs, or EPs. So to keep you all waiting a bit longer for my Album of the Year, some mentions of records that my rules disqualify, but are too good to be ignored altogether.

Panic Room – Essence

Panic Room EssenceThe Kickstarter-funded unplugged album reworks favourites from the band’s first three albums into radically different forms, resulting in a beautiful record than emphasises Anne-Marie Helder’s remarkable vocal talent. Though it crosses the streams with the acoustic side-project Luna Rossa to some extent it’s still got more of a Panic Room vibe. It’s not entirely acoustic, since new guitarist Dave Foster cuts loose on electric a few times. There are a couple of new songs too, the classic Anne-Marie Helder ballad “Rain & Tears & Burgundy”, and “Denial”, the first time Panic Room have ever recorded a blues number.

Mostly Autumn – Box of Tears

Mostly Autumn Box of TearsA live recording of last year’s “Dressed in Voices”, an album regarded by many as their career defining masterpiece. Unlike their other recent live albums this one’s a single disk of the Dressed in Voices set rather than the whole show (Do we really need yet another live version of “Evergreen” or “Heroes”? I don’t think so). But like those other live albums it does capture the power and intensity of the Mostly Autumn’s live performances, the big sound of the seven-piece band at full tilt.

The Fierce and The Dead – Magnet

TFATD - MagnetMatt Stevens’ four-piece instrumental noise merchants could be described as a sort of punk version of King Crimson. Their latest EP sees a move away from the garage-rock feel of their last record. “Spooky Action”. Magnet is darker and denser, with more of a focus on the post-rock and electronica side of their music. Like all of their records, it has feet in many camps, defies simple categorisation, and makes a rewarding listen for anyone who wants to get out of their musical comfort zones.

Mantra Vega – Island

A taster from the forthcoming album “The Illusion’s Reckoning”, three songs with a strong 70s classic rock vibe with echoes of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. The lead song in particular is lovely, with Heather Findlay playing to her strengths as a vocalist, and features a short but very effective guitar break from Dave Kilminster.

Zero She Flies – The River

Zero She Flies - The RiverThe band formerly know as Mermaid Kiss return with a new singer in the shape of Maria Milewska and a new name. The four-track suite “The River” was originally slated to be part of a full-length album, but has mow been spun off as a separate EP on its own. It’s largely acoustic, piano and acoustic guitar based songs with woodwind and strings for colour, plus some touches of electronica, and Maria Milewska proves to be excellent singer. Highlights are the woodwinds meet trip-hop instrumental “The Undertow” and the gorgeously atmospheric closing number “Rivergirl”, but the whole EP is excellent.

Big Big Train – Wassail

Big Big Train WassailThis intermediate release filling the gap before their next full-length album eschews ambitious multi-part epics in favour of more straightforward songwriting. But most of the things we’ve come to expect from Big Big Train are present; big soaring melodies and rich layered arrangements that evoke the spirit of 70s pastoral progressive rock with lyrics steeped in English landscapes and history. The largely instrumental keyboard-heavy “Mudlarks” ticks a lot of classic prog-rock boxes, but with the woodwinds, violins and 12-string guitars there’s also an element of 70s electric folk-rock. It’s all delightfully retro in its use of vintage guitars and keyboard sounds, but that’s always been a major part of their appeal.

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The Fierce and the Dead – Magnet

TFATD - MagnetThough sometimes labelled as “post-rock” or the catch-all “alternative”, the instrumental four-piece The Fierce and the Dead are happy to describe themselves as a progressive rock band.

But unlike some bands under that banner, their mission is to make music in the spirit of 70s progressive rock rather than copying the sound. Their heroes include Voivod, Hüsker Dü and The Mahavishnu Orchestra rather the Pink Floyd, Genesis or Yes. The resulting noise could be described as “A punk version of King Crimson”, although that doesn’t really do them justice. Over the course of several EPs, one full-length album, and some pummelling live shows they’ve built a reputation as a band willing to take progressive rock into interesting new places.

The new EP “Magnet” is their first release since 2013′s “Spooky Action”. It starts with a bang with the big dirty riff of “Magnet In Your Face”, an explosion of rock’n'roll energy which packs a lot of music into less than two minutes. It’s Spooky Action on steroids. But from then on it chances tack. “Palm Trees” is slower but crushingly heavy, until the big wall of guitar gives way to a delicate middle section. “Flint” marries electronic effects and a dub-like bass riff with delicate chiming guitar. “Part 6 (The Eight Circuit)” begins with bass drones and effects-laden guitar until percussion loops appear.

The EP ends with rehearsal recordings of two numbers from “Spooky Action”, “Let’s Start a Cult” and the title track; there’s something of Alex Lifeson in the guitar playing on the latter at one point. There’s quite a contrast between these two numbers and the newer material that precedes them.

The Fierce and The Dead are not a band to stand still and repeat themselves. If Spooky Action had something of a punky, garage-rock vibe, Magnet is darker and denser, with more of a focus on the post-rock and electronica side of their music. Like all of their records, it has feet in many camps, defies simple categorisation, and makes a rewarding listen for anyone who wants to get out of their musical comfort zones.

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The Fierce and The Dead announce Magnet

TFATD - Magnet The Fierce and the Dead have just announced on Twitter that they will be taking pre-ordered for a new EP, titled “Magnet” this coming Friday, July 17th.

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Matt Stevens asks for help

On Matt Stevens’ Facebook page:

I’m not moaning, but sometimes it’s a challenge making music that doesn’t fit in. Promoters etc want to fit you into easy boxes. If it’s not “traditional prog” or “straight post rock” (as some one described their taste in music to me) or something else that it’s easy to define then it makes it difficult.

I think me and the band are lucky to have an audience at all and in the UK at least through hard gigging and shaking hands it’s kind of worked. But on paper if you’ve not seen us it can be a “hard sell”, no vocals etc

I’ve previously described Matt’s band The Fierce and the Dead as “A punk version of King Crimson”, which I know doesn’t really do them justice, but was the best I could come up with at the time. His own solo material is more varied and touches a lot more bases, especally on his most recent album.

Being difficult to pigeonhole is a double-edged sword. It can be harder for promoters to get a handle on them, but it also gives opportunities to have feet in multiple camps. For example, TFATD’s occasional partners in crime Trojan Horse played a prog festival, and the next week announced they’d be supporting The Fall. A more generic neo-prog or post-punk act would not be able to do that.

The next thing is to get gigs outside the UK, without losing lots of money. That’s the challenge. How hard can it be?

Any suggestion? Matt built up his audience in Britain by doing a lot of supports, where his solo instrumental act was something a bit different from the typical acoustic singer-songwriter, and by tirelessly flyering the queues for just about every prog gig in London. What would work over a wider geographical area?

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Resonance Festival, Balham

Resonance Festival

The Resonance Festival held at the very beginning of August was a four-day charity event held in The Bedford in Balham, featuring bands from all aspects of the contemporary progressive rock scene, everything from the traditional and the neo to the avant garde. I couldn’t get to the first two days, the evening only events featuring Mostly Autumn, Also Eden and Lifesigns. But I did attend the all-day events of Saturday and Sunday where the three rooms played host to a wide variety of bands.

The biggest room, the magnificent circular Globe was booked for a comedy night on the Saturday, but it was still available during the afternoon. So that became the acoustic stage for the day. First up was looping guitar maestro Matt Stevens, conjuring tapestries of sound from a battered acoustic guitar and an array of looping pedals. He’s a familiar sight on the prog circuit having opened for just about everyone, but he’s still an entertaining performer no matter how many times you’ve seen him.

After The Far Meadow, whose competent neo-prog was spoiled by terrible sound, it was back to The Globe for a beautiful set from Luna Rossa, the acoustic duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards of Panic Room. They’re not “Panic Room unplugged”, but a completely separate side-project playing their own material rather than Panic Room songs. With Jon on piano and Anne-Marie adding some acoustic guitar and flute, their beautiful set featured songs from the album “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”, a couple of interestingly-reworked covers, and one new number offering a tantalising glimpse of their second album that they’re currently part-way through recording.

Anna Phoebe and her band were the first all-instrumental act of the weekend. With lead instruments of violin and acoustic guitar for much of the set, they were the missing link between rock and gypsy jazz. Anne Phoebe is a stunning virtuoso musician with a dramatic stage presence to match.

Matt Stevens celebrated his birthday by returning to the stage a second time, this time in electric mode with a full band in the shape of The Fierce and The Dead. They’re not an easy band to describe, but their instrumental sound driven by interlocking guitars with a raw sound comes over as a kind of punk version of King Crimson. It was intense and Earth-shatteringly loud, and the audience staggered out of the room wondering exactly what had hit them.

Saturday ended with the symphonic majesty of The Enid. Much like their performance at HRH Prog back in March, the set mixed older favourites with newer material from “Invictia”, ending with a mesmerising “Dark Hydraulic” and a version of Barclay James Harvest’s “Mockingbird”. There is nobody else remotely like The Enid, and they, perhaps more than any other band embody the spirit of everything progressive rock is about.

So ended the first day, and that was just the highlights; there are also honourable mentions to Unto Us, who bravely playing their set with a laptop replacing their ailing drummer, and the avant-noise of Trojan Horse, a band with feet in enough different camps they do supports for the likes of post-punk veterans The Fall.

Sunday’s bill was a day of clashes between the various stages, made worse by timings going awry which made it easier to wander from stage to stage seeing what sounded interesting rather than planning things too much in advance. Early bands included Rat Face Lewey, a very young power trio, at times verging on punk, at others playing some more melodic guitar lines, and Hekz with their strongly song-focussed prog-metal. Vocals are often the weak link in prog-metal, but Hekz’ Matt Young had quite a remarkable voice.

Maschine were the first band on the main stage, now in its rightful place in The Globe, and started late because of technical problems. Although to some extent they’re a vehicle for Luke Machin’s virtuoso guitar playing, there’s some solid composition behind all the flash. They’re the missing link between prog-metal and jazz-fusion. Quite a bit of their entertaining set was new, as yet unrecorded material alongside highlights from their début “Rubidium”. They’re not quite the same without Georgia, though.

King Bathmat were actually three-quarters of King Bathmat, since they were without their keyboard player and played as a power trio. In such a stripped-down form they sounded like a completely different band than they do on record, but nevertheless did make a strong impression, dominated by John Bassett’s psychedelic lead guitar. Because the two sets clashed I only caught the end of Synaesthesia’s set, but what little I heard it seemed like their set was something special indeed, a remarkable combination of youthful enthusiasm and compositional maturity well beyond their years.

Mr So and So turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the weekend, with a really powerful performance. They’re a band representing the song-centric side of things with distinctive use of dual male-female lead vocals. Their set was tight and intense with both guitar crunch and soaring melodies, with Charlotte Evans giving a very strong vocal performance, and some tremendous shredding from Dave Foster.

Former Enid guitarist Frances Lickerish threw a complete curveball and had to be the strangest act of the weekend. He started out playing some solo instrumental pieces on, of all things a lute, before being joined by vocalist Hilary Palmer for some genuine medieval songs. It seemed like folk’s revenge for Prog taking over Cropredy this year, and made Blackmore’s Night look like the Dungeons and Dragons parody it is. He even played a few bars of Smoke on the Water. On a lute.

At this point things started to go really pear-shaped. Swedish proggers Änglagård, making a very rare UK appearance were due on the main stage at 6:30. But despite already being allocated a two-hour setup time, they were nowhere near being ready to go at the scheduled time, and were ultimately well over an hour late, throwing the rest of the timings into disarray. I appreciate that a band relying so much on temperemental vintage gear (including two Mellotrons) might suffer from technical problems. But I was told the exact same thing happened last year at Night of the Prog at Loreley, which makes we wonder if a band like this should really be playing festivals at all.

The delay did give the chance to check out the other two stages, with some in-your-face metal from Jupiter Falls, and an entertaining unplugged set from 70s veterans Gnidrolog. Änglagård finally did hit the stage very, very late with their largely instrumental and very retro classic prog sound. It was a swirling mix of flute, Hammond, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, saxes and an array of percussion instruments including a massive gong. All very heady stuff, although there was always the nagging doubt at the back of the mind that this was all a Spinal Tap style parody of prog excess.

Headliners Bigelf came on very late, and played a truncated set despite the hastily extended curfew. But it all proved worth the wait, and they blew everyone away, sounding like a cross between The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and early Queen. Few people in the prog world have such a magnetic stage presence as frontman and keyboard player Damon Fox. He completely dominates the stage, playing a Hammond B3 with one hand and a Mellotron with the other while singing lead at the same time. With a setlist drawn heavily from “Cheat the Gallows” and “Into the Maelstrom” they bought the festival to a spectacular if somewhat belated close.

Resonance was an entertaining festival, and the variety of acts covered almost all corners of progressive rock’s increasingly large tent. The only failing was that the whole thing was probably a little over-ambitious with three stages and far too many bands to be able to see everyone. One thing that amused me was the way the bar kept running out of real ale; did nobody tell them what prog fans drink?

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Stage times for the Resonance Rock Festival

Resonance Festival

The Resonance Rock Festival have published the stage times on the festival Facebook page.

Here are the final, definitive running times for Resonance. PLEASE NOTE: We now have an Acoustic Stage on Saturday 2nd August, as well as the Prog and Synergy stages. Luna Rossa are now playing on Saturday on that stage, NOT on Sunday 3rd/ Synergy stage. Due to unforeseen circumstances outside their control, both Parallax Faction and Mothers Ruin will no longer be playing. We wish them well, and they return the blessing!

Thursday 31st July – Prog Stage (only)
Doors @ 6pm

Kalamus – 7pm / 7.45pm
Robert Webb Masterclass – 8.15pm / 9pm
Mostly Autumn – 9.30pm / 11pm

Friday 1st August – All 3 Stages
Doors @ 6pm (All Stages)

Prog Stage (Globe)

John Mitchell – 6.45pm / 7.30pm
Lifesigns – 8pm / 9pm
Nosound – 9.30pm / 11pm

Synergy Stage (BallRoom)

Moheir – 7pm / 8pm
Fuzzy Nautilus – 8.30pm / 9.30pm
Thumpermonkey – 10pm / 11pm+

Jack Daniels Stage (Tavistock)

Stella+ – 7pm / 8pm
Red Letters – 8.30pm / 9.30pm
Also Eden – 10pm / 11pm +

Saturday 2nd August – 3 Stages (Prog, Synergy and Acoustic)

Acoustic Stage (Globe) – Doors @ Noon

Matt Stevens – 12.30pm / 1.00pm (Unplugged set)
Jack Arthurs – 1.15pm / 1.45pm (Unplugged set)
Guy Manning – 2.00pm / 2.45pm (Unplugged set)
Luna Rossa – 3.00pm / 3.45pm +

Prog Stage (BallRoom)– Doors @ 1pm

Halo Tora – 2.00pm / 2.45pm
The Tirith – 3.15pm / 4.00pm
Anna Phoebe – 4.30pm / 5.45pm

Break

Henry Fool – 7.45pm / 9pm
The Enid – 9-30 pm / 11pm

Synergy Stage(Tavistock) – Doors @ 1pm

The Far Meadow –1.30pm / 2.15pm
Triage – 2-45pm/ 3.30pm
Unto Us – 4pm / 5pm

Break

Trojan Horse – 7.00pm / 8.00pm
The Fierce And The Dead – 8.30pm / 9.30pm

Sunday 3rd August

Prog Stage (Globe) -Doors @ Noon

Maschine – 12.30pm /1.30pm
Synaesthesia – 2pm/ 3pm
The Gift – 3.30pm / 4.30pm

Break

Angalagard – 6.30pm / 8.00pm
Big Elf – 9pm / 10.30pm

Synergy Stage (Ball Room)– Doors @ Noon

Rat Face Lewey –12.30pm / 1.15pm
Kingbathmat – 1.45pm /3pm

Break

A Formal Horse – 4pm / 4.45pm
Francis Lickerish – 5.15pm / 6.15pm

Break

I Am Your Autopilot – 8pm /8.45pm
X Ray Quartet – 9.15pm

Jack Daniels Stage (Tavistock)– Doors @ Noon

HekZ – 1pm / 1.45pm
Babajack – 2.15pm / 3 pm
Mr So & So – 3.30pm / 4.30pm

Break

Jupiter Falls – 6 pm / 7pm
Aeon Zen – 7.30pm / 9pm

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2013 Albums of the Year – Part One

It’s end-of-year list time again, when every music blogger is compelled to go back through the year’s record releases and try to pick out the best of them,

Let’s get the obvious disclaimers out of the way first. This is not intended to be a definitive list of the very best albums released in the year. For starters all preferences are personal and subjective. And secondly and more importantly, it’s restricted to those records I’ve actually had the chance to hear. There are no doubt a great many awesome releases I haven’t heard yet.

After many repeated listens I’ve managed to whittle the list down to 21 (Why 21? Why not?). The fact that it turned out to be very hard to restrict it to just 21 speaks volumes about how great a year it’s been. One or two big names ended up not making the cut.

So, without further ago, here’s the first half of my list,  Had I not abandoned trying to sort them all into meaningful order as an impossible task, they would be 21 down 11. As it is, they’re sorted alphabetically.

Big Big Train English Electric Part Two

English Electric Part 2The second half of English Electric follows in a similar vein to the first, with their very evocative and very English brand of pastoral progressive rock. The storytelling lyrical focus shifts to northern England and the twentieth century with tales of railwaymen, coal miners and shipbuilders, and it all sounds far more authentic than much 80s-style neo-prog.

Black Sabbath13

Black Sabbath 13Neither quite the masterpiece some hoped for nor the trainwreck some feared, the reunion of Ozzy Osborne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still delivers a very solid piece of work that proves they still have something to say after all these years. If this does prove to be their final album, it’s a worthy addition to their legacy.

The Computers Love Triangles, Hate Squares

The Computers Love Triangles Hate SquaresThe best no-nonsense old-fashioned rock and roll record I’ve heard all year, by a band who sound as as though they have one foot in 1958 and one in 2013, full of short and punchy tunes that hit you right between the eyes. The end result somehow ends up reminding me of some aspects of very early Blue Öyster Cult.

CosmografThe Man Left In Space

Cosmograf - The Man Left In SpaceAn evocative and atmospheric album from multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Robin Armstrong. Though there are guest appearances from Matt Stevens and Nick D’Virgilio amongst others, Robin plays most of the instrumentation from guitars to drums to keys. The haunting title track is a standout, perhaps one of the songs of the year, and there’s a lot to like across the rest of the album.

The Fierce and The DeadSpooky Action

Spooky ActionMatt Stevens and his band in full electric mode mixing progressive rock, post-punk, indie/alternative and metal resulting in the instrumental record of the year. Narrow genre definitions cannot contain this record; it’s the sort of thing that ought to have a huge crossover appeal way beyond the narrow confines of the Prog world.

King BathmatOvercoming the Monster

KingBathmat - Overcoming The MonsterA powerful combination of grungy guitar riffs with progressive rock textures and melodies, sounding like what you might get if you combined Black Sabbath with Spock’s Beard. The end result is a record with a very contemporary feel despite its use of organic 70s sounds, old-school progressive rock reinvented for the 21st Century.

MaschineRubidium

Maschine - RubidiumThe long-awaited début from Luke Machin’s band combines some stunning instrumental virtuosity with a very mature approach to composition. Their complex and ambitious songs are a seamless blend of metal, jazz and rock into, with great use of dynamics and an ear for a good melody. This is the sound of a band from whom we can probably expect great things over the coming years.

Mr So and SoTruth & Half Lies

Mr So and So - Truth and Half LiesThe fruit of a successful Pledge Music project, Mr So and So’s fourth album is by far their most impressive to date. It’s a hugely varied record with some strong songwriting that uses their distinctive dual male/female lead vocals to great effect, and the harder-edged guitar-driven sound strongly captures the power and energy of their live performances.

RiversideShrine of the New Generation Slaves

Riverside - Shrine of the New Generation SlavesRiverside have always been one of Poland’s finest bands, and with the combination of 70s Deep Purple style hard rock riffs and Porcupine Tree style atmospherics they have delivered what might be their best album to date. They may wear their influences on their sleeves to some extent, but they have more than enough creativity of there own to be any kind of pastiche.

Rob Cottingham Captain Blue

Rob Cottingham - Captain BlueA solo album from Touchstone’s keyboard player, aided and abetted by a strong supporting cast including Touchstone guitarist Adam Hodgson and former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay. It’s a concept album with a Gerry Anderson flavour, with music reminiscent of Touchstone’s early days, plus the occasional excursion into disco-pop.

Thea GilmoreRegardless

Thea Gilmore – RegardlessAn album of Americana-tinged songs with stripped-down arrangements that emphasise the fragile beauty of the Thea Gilmore’s heartfelt vocals, enhanced this time by a string section to add some extra colour.

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The Fierce And The Dead – Spooky Action

Spooky ActionWhile there are probably plenty of rock musicians who would rather not work with an Axl Rose, a Tarja or a Mark E Smith, fully instrumental rock bands rock bands remain extremely rare. Even those artists known for instrumental virtuosity and extended jams tend to incorporate at least some vocals into their music. Which makes London four-piece The Fierce and The Dead one of a very rare breed.

After the successful “Stabbing a Dead Horse” tour with Trojan Horse and Knifeworld at the end of 2012, the band have now recorded their second full-length album “Spooky Action”.

From the opener “Part 4″ onwards, one thing soon becomes clear; this is an album of instrumental compositions rather than a showcase for instrumental chops. Most of the eleven tracks clock in at no more than three or four minutes yet seem to pack in a lot of music in a short time. Despite the lack of vocals the tracks feel closer to songs that to most bands’ typical token instrumental numbers.

There’s little in the way of conventional soloing; the guitar lines vary between repeating circular patterns and thrashing riffs, with the occasional ambient interlude. There are times where the music centres on a massive dirty-sounding bass riff as around which the twin guitars orbit. In other places it feels like Matt Stevens’ solo work write large, arranged for a full electric band rather than looped acoustic guitar, but there are all kinds of other things in there. The interlocking guitars of Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton sometimes recall the mid-70s and early 80s incarnations of King Crimson. The rhythm section of Kevin Feazey and Stuart Marshall often evokes a punky feel, compounded by a raw and live-sounding production that gives the whole thing a lot of energy. Although few punk bands ever attempted the sort of time signatures found on this record.

This is not an easy record to categorise. There are elements of progressive rock, post-punk, indie/alternative and metal in the music, resulting in a record that is both all of those things and none of them. But this a record that has feet in many camps rather than one that risks falling between stools. If you’re looking for genuinely adventurous music that’s not willing to conform to the conventions or clichés of any one genre, then Spooky Action is a record that’s well worth paying some attention.

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Pre-order for Spooky Action

Post-rock/contemporary prog instrumental four-piece The Fierce and The Dead have announced a pre-order for their new album Spooky Action.

The single “Ark” is available for download now; you can order the full album as a download from Bad Elephant Music, or as an old-fashioned CD from The Merch Desk.

Give the single a listen, and if you like what you hear, go and order the album. You know you want to!

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