Into The Maelstrom is the fourth album from Los Angeles’ Bigelf and their first release after signing for InsideOut last year. Following their well-received 2008 release, Cheat The Gallows, the band drifted apart and main-man, Damon Fox, found himself without a clear idea on how to get things moving again. Nevertheless, after coming up with some new songs he turned to the Mike Portnoy with whom he had formed a friendship during their time together during the 2009 Progressive Nation tours. Mike was very positive about the material and helped provide Damon with the motivation to bring the band back together, while recruiting Mike as a session drummer for the recording at the same time. Damon is provides the lead vocals, keyboards and is also credited for bass and guitar for a few tracks, although most bass is by long-time collaborator Duffy Snowhill and guitars are supplemented with new band member and long-time friend, Luis Maldonado.
The press release describes the music as “melodic prog-doom” and who can disagree with that as for the most part it’s moderately paced, laced with distortion on the majority of the instruments and has catchy anthemic choruses all over the place; one would also have to add psychedelic in to the mix along with a touch of glam. These aren’t genres I have a great deal of experience with and the overriding impression I had on first hearing the album was like a rough version of Transatlantic – although no doubt this is influenced by Mike’s distinctive, if somewhat more restrained than usual, drumming. I hasten to add that for the first two weeks of listening I didn’t realise that it was Mike playing on the album, but once I found this out it was rather obvious.
Other bands that spring to mind are ELO and The Beatles, actually, now I think about it both Transatlantic and ELO are massively Beatles influenced, so I guess it all goes back to the Liverpudlian quartet. Imagine, if you would, if the fab four had made a psychedelic-doom-prog album, well here it is! There’s also some early Who clearly visible, a sprinkle of Flower Kings and the final track on the main CD, ITM, has a solo that could have come from the 70s glam-proggers Be-Bop Deluxe; it has classic Bill Nelson written all over it both in tone as well as note selection.
Adding to the retro feel are Damon’s keys with washes of bombastic Mellotrons providing drama, bombastic and doom elements. Piano takes more prominence on the more melodic sections and there’s Moog for extra bass and some special effects. The Mellotrons are particularly interesting for prog lovers with Fox using a wide range of interesting sounds clearly passing them through various effects as well as applying a lot of performance controls – to good effect it must be said (pun intended). Damon’s singing is a cross between John Lennon and Jeff Lynne with production to accentuate the similarities.
According to Fox, Into The Maelstrom is not a concept album, but contains lyrically linked themes, hmmm, isn’t that a concept album? Well despite what Mr Fox says it certainly looks and quacks like one, so to all intents and purposes… As for the lyrics themselves, well they’re very straight-forward, even rather twee and childish: “No more cats, no more dogs, no more dreaming in the fog. No more seas, no more trees, no more laughing in the breeze” – it’s not booker prize material, that’s for sure, but to be fair it fits in with the general tone of the album; frivolous and a little silly.
The music itself is mostly an in-your-face/wall-of-sound affair – quite reminiscent of Devin Townsend’s style in that respects. Distorted guitars, fuzzed bass, overdriven keyboards, heavy reverb on the voice and dirty sounding drums; it’s quite frenetic and tiring to boot. Fortunately half of the tracks run under five minutes and the longest, ITM, is only just over eight, so they don’t outlast their welcome too much. On occasion they lapse into a singer-songwriter mode with an overwhelming psychedelic pop feel, almost like a very early Pink Floyd – when they had a “The” in front and some bloke called Syd. The singer-songwriter element comes across very strongly on the bonus disc; this is a collection of remixes – which aren’t very interesting and four demos which are well worth the listen with Alien Frequency, Hypersleep, Mr. Harry Mcquhae and Theater Of Dreams sounding respectively like John Lennon, David Bowie, Todd Rundgren and Jeff Lynne. All very telling I think.
Surely Theater Of Dreams is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Mike Portnoy, it has to be, no? I also wonder if Control Freak is a little insider joke too, given Mike’s much documented OCD with his various projects. As always though, Mike’s drumming is superb and very much in keeping with the music. He shows some of his chops, but generally keeps things quite straight. I do wonder if Mike will stay with Bigelf and tour with them, because he seems to fit in very well and from my limited experience with the band’s earlier material there is indeed a lot more energy in this release, which was one of the goals of the recording.
This is a fun album and I have nothing like it in my collection. If you don’t mind the slightly daft lyrics and armageddon sci-fi approach then don your favourite kaftan, slip on your purple John Lennon specs and turn up the volume!
01. Incredible Time Machine (3:58)
02. Hypersleep (5:37)
03. Already Gone (3:28)
04. Alien Frequency (4:14)
05. The Professor & The Madman (5:59)
06. Mr. Harry McQuhae (6:13)
07. Vertigod (3:58)
08. Control Freak (2:51)
09. High (7:10)
10. Edge Of Oblivion (6:33)
11. Theater Of Dreams (4:01)
12. ITM (8:09)
I. Destination Unknown
II. Harbinger Of Death
13. Control Freak (freak mix) (3:11)
14. Control Freak (remix) (2:50)
15. Alien Frequency (4:14)
16. Hypersleep (demo) (2:45)
17. Mr. Harry McQuhae (3:23)
18. Alien Frequency (demo) (3:21)
19. Theater Of Dreams (demo) (2:49)
Damon Fox – Vocals, Keyboard, & Guitar
Luis Maldonado – Vocals & Guitar
Duffy Snowhill – Bass
Mike Portnoy – Drums
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Year Of Release: 2014
Closer To Doom (1996)
Money Machine (2000)
Cheat The Gallows (2008)
Into The Maelstrom (2014)