When it comes to reviewing music, I just wait and see what lands on my metaphorical desk and then I review it. To a certain extent that’s true, although there is some flexibility in what we do review here at Lady Obscure Towers. Speaking to Ken Wynne of British proggers Spiral Key, he would agree with me and says it’s gotta work that way. From his (the bands) side of things that’s where the luck is. You can influence the filtering by marketing or just writing some awesome music (that’s the difficult bit :)) but beyond that it’s about landing on the right desk at the right time and from our end, it would be too easy to become overwhelmed. Ken says he is just trying listen to some of it once, let alone to listen enough to be able to write something meaningful.
Whether Ken and Spiral Key would say it is luck that I have, eventually, been the one to write the review for Perfect machine will become apparent after the review is published but, that is for another day. For now, it is on with the review my friends.
Spiral Key is the brain child of musicians David McCabe (guitar, vocals) and Ken Wynne (bass, vocals), both guys deal with the keyboards and programming, two experienced players and writers of rock music who’ve played more than their fair share of gigs in innumerable bands and other music and stage projects over the years. In early 2012 they decided that it was time to do what they always planned to do: to write and record their own material with the intention of making albums of progressive rock and metal music with beguiling symphonic overtones. The full length debut album Perfect Machine released early 2013 represents the first really tangible fruits of a project for which both guys have been working against many odds to get in flight.
The music is complex, visceral, dark, brooding and cerebral with serious technical ability. It is self styled music for grown-ups that uses crushing, angular cadences and riffs, polyrthyms and dynamics of tempo and volume.
The album consists of 7 tracks and kicks off with At Sixes and Sevens. A crunching bass and guitar intro followed by a cool synth vibe and we are away and running. The pace of the track slackens and the vocals kick in, overlaying the crashing guitar riff, a nice start to the album. Complex but accessible, my only bug bear, and it is a recurrent theme throughout the album is that the vocals struggle in the higher range, sounding like a live performance rather than recorded in the studio. There is a great synth run towards the end of the track, the whole song having an industrial vibe to it. A good start to the album but things really kick off with the second track, Colder Than Heaven. A delightful piano and guitar intro followed by a low key vocal which overlay a mellow synth vibe give this song a seriously 80’s style with hints of Ultravox, Ultravox with a seriously heavy guitar thrown in I might say, I feel like I should be having my hair fall down over one eye and be wearing pixie boots here. Being a child of the 80’s I really like the way this song flows, brooding and mournful. A captivating guitar solo that lifts and soars adds a great counter point to the brooding edge to the song. The vocals still struggle in the higher ranges but, in general, add to the 80’s vibe. Love Is has an engaging, low key intro of acoustic guitar overlaying a gentle piano note, the laid back guitar joined by a gentle vocal. The tempo rises with a staccato guitar and a more insistent vocal before the drum beat quickens and the guitar takes on a harder edge. An 80’s style interlude breaks up the song before a strumming guitar picks us up for the ride once more becoming more strident and heavier as the song flows to the end of the track, a great keys sound and guitar rounding it all out, assisted by a much stronger vocal performance. We do like our 80’s style keyboards on this album, a seriously Yes inspired intro to I, Parts 1 & 2 along with some more of that glossy guitar sound, seriously great progressive music going on here. A brilliant guitar solo this early in the song? I’m not kidding you, it’s heartfelt and damn excellent. A strong riff then takes over before the signature synthesizer is heard once more. The vocals then coat that 80’s synth sound and a crunching riff gives a brooding, menacing sound to the track. It’s like somebody but the best of 80’s synth music and the best of early prog into a crucible just to see what would come out and the end product is pretty damn good. The only downside is that persistent straining of the vocals as they get higher, otherwise it is a great song with another coruscating solo at the end.
The shortest track on the album, Eyes Open Wide, has a mournful vocal opening interspersed with a crashing guitar sound, a gentle keyboard sound underpinning everything. Intricate guitar work counterpoints the dark vocal. Another fantastic piece of guitar work, there is a definite showcasing of musical ability on this album and I’m always a sucker for some good guitar playing. People are People has a strong intro inspired by more great guitar and keyboard work, another strong 80’s vibe going on. The vocal again struggles with the higher ranges but never enough to spoil the music, the slower pace of the track works well, I really like the riff on this track, a complex sound at times. Before you know it this nice slice of 80’s infused prog and metal has produced its final piece of the jigsaw, Words Are Never Enough. A nice drum sound overlaid by a strong riff before the keyboards and vocals follow suit. A grittier guitar sound than heard before, the vocals sung over that great synth track before the guitar cuts back in again and we have a strong chorus. A guilt edged guitar solo stands out in the middle of the track which, once again, has a really strong 80’s synth vibe to it, the guitar breaking into another piercing solo as the end of the song, and the album, is nigh.
What do I take from Perfect Machine? Well, the one thing that really stands out for me, whether intended or not, is that brilliant fusion of 80’s synthesizer and prog, something totally different to what is out there. The musicianship is excellent, brilliant bass and fantastic guitar solos throughout the album backed by that masterpiece synth sound. The only downside for me was the vocals, generally good but really struggling in the higher ranges, just taking the shine of a great album. There is an EP of new songs and a new, full length album out soon, if the vocal issue is tackled we could be in for a treat.