I approached the debut release from The Animal State much as I do any release I know nothing about – by ignoring all that might be written about it, and just listening. The only thing I noted before I started listening were the track titles, which intrigued me as the first three appeared as if they might concern Greek myths and legends, while there was no obvious link to that within the following two. And given the title of the album, Talon seemed less likely to be the giant bronze automaton of Greek mythology than a reference to anatomy (even if ‘Talon’ is sometimes represented as a bull). So with no preconceptions, I began my journey.
Opening gambit, Bucephalus, begins like a typical post rock track. It’s nothing special, but still very nice, and I’m happy to settle back for what sounds like it will be an enjoyable ride. The first change occurs less than a minute in, when over the top of the post rock beat and jangling guitar comes an ominous wave of fuzzy distorted sludge, taking us into a stoner groove. I’m intrigued, and then surprised, when vocals appear. When I first heard this song, these vocals frustrated me, as this had until then sounded like an an instrumental release, and I wasn’t convinced that the vocals improved things. Although repeated listens have allowed me to enjoy them now, I still feel the vocals are far stronger in other songs. But at least the lyrics confirm this song is indeed about the famous horse that its title suggested. Later investigations into the Facebook and YouTube pages for The Animal State confirms that each song is represented by an animal.
Their Bandcamp page mentions King Crimson and Mastodon. I have to admit, I don’t ever really hear any King Crimson. There is definitely some Mastodon, but I’m surprised no mention is made of post rock as I get more of a post rock vibe than anything else, albeit a faster paced and more groovy post rock, but still post rock. There’s even some Doors-like psychedelia thrown into the mix – particularly when it comes to some of the keyboard parts. I’ll even add Iron Maiden to the list of what I hear at times – perhaps most notably in the galloping nature of Talon, which might have better suited Bucephalus. Indeed I was surprised to not hear such a galloping gait for a song about a famous horse.
And while, as aforementioned, the vocals might have almost seemed a little unnecessary in Bucephalus, they really shine in Talon. The chorus, particularly, is strong and compelling, and an irresistible ear worm which I’ve found myself humming or singing several times in recent days. Within these first two tracks, there are also some really neat guitar solos. I’m not normally one to get excited about widdly-widdly solos, but I definitely have a smile on my dial when The Animal State crank them out. Just to keep us on our toes (or maybe our talons?), one last change in the final minute or so, leaves Talon sounding almost like some classic Norwegian black metal.
Cerberus starts with an almost Rush-like vibe, which continues throughout, although becoming much darker, very quickly – perhaps Rush meets Black Sabbath? It’s irrelevant, really, because this is just damn fine music. Sit back and enjoy it. And I have to say, I really do enjoy Cerberus. It’s also, lyrically, a very clever allegory (clever because Cerberus himself is said to be an allegory). Indeed, the allegory presented here seems to be an overarching theme for the album as a whole, perhaps even encompassing the name of the band. The Animal State is most often used in literature as something that humans can transcend, yet there is a cognitive dissonance in rising above “the animal state” while recognising that it is more natural than what humans are doing to our world. Cerberus is a recognition that we will reap what we sow, and that eventually everything will return to the earth (which Cerberus himself represented).
But I’m making my own inferences here, so instead kick back and listen to another catchy chorus in Howl. Or not. Because the Bandcamp page does state that the concept of Genus deals with “mankind’s precarious relationship with the natural world.” I can’t help but think how deliberate the artwork must be. On the surface, the turtle is an obvious subject for the cover art, being a flagship animal for conservation efforts – but given the use of Greek legends and myths as allegory, I can’t help but also think of one of Aesop’s lesser known fables, about Zeus and the tortoise. Because, like that tortoise, we are all too comfortable in our shells, and rarely look beyond. This album asks us to do that. I could carry on and describe the final two tracks, but I don’t feel there is any need. They are both very good, just as the three preceding were very good. Genus is very good!
The true genius of this album in my mind, though, is how little it preaches. There are certain musicians out there whose music I find unlistenable, no matter how great it is, because of how much they preach within the lyrics. By couching the message more ambiguously, and in the form of allegory, The Animal State has made a remarkably listenable album. The message is there, if you want to hear it, but it’s not in your face, and that’s often the best way to get a message across. The concept aside, however, this is an incredibly enjoyable album, which is entirely the work on one man, Col Mullins. I can’t really emphasise enough how impressive I found Genus. I had left it on the back-burner for some time, in my to-listen-to pile. I urge you not to do the same. This is very good, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next!
01. Bucephalus (11:34)
02. Talon (9:36)
03. Cerberus (9:57)
04. Howl (9:17)
05. Fawn (10:59)
Total Time – 51:23
Col Mullins – All Instruments
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 8th May 2020