That old argument/discussion has raised its head again. Labelling music in different genres seems to be a sop to our ordered lives where everything must have a place but, labelling something ‘prog’ or ‘progressive’ seems to bring out the worst in people. A lot of people believe that calling something ‘prog’ describes it as an anachronistic dinosaur and is actually detrimental to the music, turning a lot of, generally younger, fans off.
If we try to look at the bigger picture, isn’t good music just exactly what it says on the tin ‘good music’? Should we not just get down to the basics of a good tune and/or great lyrics performed to the artist’s best abilities? To be honest, I am as bad as the next person, if something was described as ‘pop music’ to me, I probably wouldn’t want to listen to it and I would feel similar about dance, house or trance music. Could I be missing out? most probably but, that is just my prejudice I suppose.
What we need to do, and a mantra I shall try and follow this year, is to give all music a chance, forget how it is described and just take it on its own merits and, if I don’t like it, that is down to the music itself, not the genre it is shoe-horned into. Open your horizons my friends and, if you only do it just once, give something a listen that is out of your general comfort zone!
One rising force in the music world that already preaches that mantra is London’s own Bad Elephant Music, their roster of artists is eclectic and very different and C.E.O and general all round good egg David Elliott will take an artist into the BEM family based on merit not labels and, due in no small part to this attitude, this niche label is forging its own, successful furrow and turning heads as it goes about its business.
One of the latest acts to join BEM is AudioPlastik and, following on from my previous point, they are totally different to any other artist that BEM represents. Following a difficult gestation that saw members come and go and the band’s name go from Alpha Flood through Brave New Sky and become AudioPlastik, the band are finally ready to release their debut album ‘In the Head of a Maniac’ in February this year.
Combining the undoubted talents of Dec Burke (Darwin’s Radio, Frost* and established solo artist), Simon Andersson (Darkwater, Pain of Salvation) and Richard West (Threshold) the band claim to have produced an album that fuses metal and progressive music with a heavy dose of pop which, if true, could prove to be rather exciting indeed and has already got the music community salivating well before its official release.
Those that know me know I am a sucker for great album cover and the album art for ‘In the Head of a Maniac’ is quite exquisite, dark and brooding, almost like a movie poster. So an auspicious start already, let’s see where delving into the music takes us shall we?
Leave the World Behind is a short instrumental introduction that sets the scene with a clever use of tension that finds you holding your breath as it build to a climax and breaks directly into Tonight with a flourish. The introduction to this track is powerful and has the guitar, drums and keys all adding to the scene with a dramatic pop edge. Dec’s vocals begin earnestly, bleeding emotion and the build to the dynamic chorus is superb. There is a huge wall of sound as a background on which these musicians can paint their sonic canvas. Whilst having a definite mainstream rock feel to the song, the polished delivery and edginess that stays just out of sight give it a hell of a lot more and the piano and string effect towards the end is a masterstroke. The introduction to Bulletproof is staccato and edgy with incessant chords overlaying a crunching bass and drums to good effect. The vocals begin with a mysterious feel to them, patient before that frenetic instrumentation heralds another extremely catchy chorus where Dec’s vocal erupts into action. Hidden away in the background is a superb 80’s style bassline that Mark King would have been proud of, it’s little touches like this that abound and add another level of skill to the music. The harder edged instrumental sections are a nice foil to the stylish, pop led chorus and deliver another quality track.
It is already obvious that we are onto something pretty impressive here and Over Now does nothing to diminish that thought. A great guitar led introduction leads into a huge synth led riff that just blows you away. The vocal delivery is measured and deliberate with that crunching riff accompanying all the way. A more serious, sincere chorus adds to the feeling of anguish and sorrow that is at the heart of this track. Another intense instrumental interlude that pounds at the barriers of your mind along with some neat guitar interplay adds to the sober and reflective tone of the song. The mind blowing and extensive scope of AudioPlastik’s sound is rapidly becoming apparent and the heavy introduction to World of Wonder is another case in point. Like a sonic tidal wave it brushes all out of its path and Dec takes up the story with his highly emotive and distinctive vocal delivery, I could listen to this guy all day, especially on the highly expressive chorus which is becoming a key signature of this album. The tight, technical guitar playing and intelligent keyboards all add to the smorgasbord of aural delight that includes great vocal harmonies and interludes that just rack up the tensity. As another little pearl of wisdom there is a coruscating guitar solo thrown for your pleasure, like a little nugget of musical sophistication. That signature tight, compact yet weighty intro, like you are in the middle of a maelstrom, also leads in Sound of Isolation yet Dec’s delightful vocal takes you to a calmer place, his discerning emphasis enunciating every word with equal significance. I am getting spoilt by the thrilling chorus’ that these guys are producing, everything laid bare for your inspection with no unnecessary complexity. Another excursive and interlaced instrumental interlude leads a to a melodic guitar run that adds another layer of gloss to this already polished song and this album just keeps giving!
We all have our favourites and they can differ, It Matters So Much is, in my opinion, one of the cherries on the cake, just raising its head further above the parapet than the rest of these absorbing tracks. The forceful, relentless introduction is delivered in an expansive style demanding your attention which you freely give and await the delights to come. A sincere, gentle vocal draws you into its spell before it breaks away into an all encompassing chorus that really reaches the heights. This continues as the delicate verse brings you earthwards before that incredibly catchy chorus flings you towards the heavens once again. The considered instrumental section that follows is, without doubt, genius and had me on the edge of my seat as it played with my emotions moving from cryptic clues to ‘in your face’ brazenness. A spiralling off kilter guitar solo that just leaves you slack jawed crowns this musical gem and leaves you sated. Leave Me Here turns the lights down low and ratchets the intensity down a notch without losing any emotion. Taking the album slightly down the ballad route with a gently emotive introduction that stirs the soul and leaves a warm feeling in your soul. The mellow, benign guitar and keys mirror Dec’s tender vocal before the desire and passion are ignited into a powerful chorus that burrows deep into your psyche. These topsy-turvy emotings are carried through the whole song, moments of meaningful sorrow that list up and effloresce into a hugely compelling outpouring of feelings. The subdued section that runs towards the end with a genial piano note and fragile vocal overlay is a thing of beauty, an oasis of calm perception in a turbulent musical sea that leaves you in a contemplative frame of mind. Traveller is a short instrumental that, at first, brought a wry smile to my face and will to any fans of Channel 4’s Countdown with the intro being very reminiscent of the sound to the one minute timer on the show. Once the sullen, enigmatic keyboards join in any brevity is swiftly banished as the suspense is almost painful, a smart and astute piece of music that lays the scene for the percussive intro into to Star. There is a darker feel to this track, the industrial edge leads you into the blacker recesses of your mind, even the chorus has a definite austerity to it, leaving behind the joyous feel of before. The sombre and grave atmosphere is compounded by the solo which is has a severe note to it, jarring slightly, as it seeps insidiously into your soul. A somewhat haunting track that leaves you looking worriedly over your metaphorical shoulder as it comes to a close.
Another favourite of mine and the first track released from the record, Now has another monstrously enigmatic introduction to it which is followed by a yearning, forceful vocal from Dec which leads into the most recognisable chorus on the album, if you don’t find yourself getting funny looks singing this walking down the aisle in the supermarket or halted at the traffic lights in your car then you don’t have a musical bone in your body. You just know when songwriting has hit the spot and this track is another perfect example of what this album delivers in spades. That fretful verse blends superbly into the chorus before a circuitous instrumental interlude adds a note of gravity to proceedings, it is that hugely expansive and thrilling chorus that steals the scenes here though. John Doe has an urgency to it that drags you along in its wake, a feeling of something not quite right as the conundrum is presented at your feet. Smooth and calculated vocals lead you along their chosen route as you rush to keep up, an incisive chorus aiding your search. A fast paced complicated track that leaves you breathless at the close. This singular musical journey draws to a close with one more stand out track. Distant Skies has a title that speaks of vastness and openness and you are not left short changed. The introduction is mellow and laid back in complete contrast to the hard hitting style that has accompanied the majority of the rest of the songs, as if it is building up to something gargantuan. A graceful vocal carries your soul along in blissful ignorance before the tumult begins and a momentous chorus opens out before you. Thoughtful yet with a tinge of sadness behind it, the song entrances you with its wisdom and inspiration and leaves you in a reflective state of mind. A simple yet inspiring guitar solo only adds to the pensive, thoughtful feeling. The seriously deep and slightly chaotic instrumental section that follows is a clever touch and the song comes to a close with a wistful ending that leaves you in a state of fugue.
You can’t tag this album with any labels or place it in any genre as that would be to take away from the brilliance of it. Commercial yet with its own independence, there are things here that will appeal to many disparate souls. An amalgam of musical styles that blend together to produce what is just a glorious piece of music from three extremely talented individuals, AudioPlastik may have had a difficult gestation but, when the outcome is as seriously good as this, surely it was worth it?