Elliott, the wizened great-great-great-grandson of Frankenstein has created a new monster. This he achieved by scraping some DNA from the purloined plectrums of Roy Harper and Nick Saloman, then mixing those strands together in a draught concocted from the musk of six saintly shrouded men, the stings of seven gypsy cuckoo bumblebees, and the spittle of Beezlebub and Bill Bailey. This vile brew was then left way down in the dank atramentous depths of Wookey Hole for exactly seventeen days, three hours and sixpence-halfpenny, whereupon Elliott returns to the potion and weaves his dark magic. There be a-stirring and a a-grunting, and afore ye know it, there stands before his creator a swivel-eyed loon babbling in a semi-coherent fashion about creatures escaping from laboratories, and men growing fins..."Where's me supper, master?"
Bbbbrrrringgg...bloody alarm...Meanwhile, back in the real world, Londoner Tom Slatter is a composer of songs, some rhyme, some ching, most of them are clockwork...am I still dreaming? Quite a few of these tunes, though not all by any means take a lyrical dalliance with steampunk themes to, well "conclusions" is probably too definite a word, but they take them somewhere suitably strange. Me, I know less than zero about steampunk...does His Dark Materials count?...so I'll just stick to the crazy-paving impressions that Tom's music has made on my auditory cortex, if you will indulge me further.
Fit The Fourth, possibly taking its title from the fourth episode of the first Hitchhiker's Guide radio series, is unsurprisingly Tom's fourth full-length album since his debut in 2009 with Spinning The Compass. It is also the first thing I've heard by this quintessentially English eccentric-in-the-making. Describing his music as "...Nick Cave...writing songs with Genesis after watching too many episodes of Dr Who", the resultant aural stew is a heady affair, with touches of prog, acid rock, folk troubadour, and indie all put through a retro-futuristic turbo-charged blender.
The album opens with the aforementioned tale of creatures escaping from laboratories, infecting the world with their spores. It is followed with a musically grandiose and Gothic-themed tale of the trial of "Seven Bells John", a steampunk character whose story is told through earlier albums, leading up to the denouement on the 20-minute epic that ends this album. Tom's imagination is a rampant beast of a thing that heads off into dark corners only to come back with gory tales of post-apocalyptic dystopia, souls in torment, alien insect creatures and fish-men, and his music is not exactly straightforward, as you might expect.
Playing nearly everything himself, the album shows that Tom knows his way around an arrangement, as for the most part it all hangs together rather well. The music matches the sweeping cinematic vistas of the lyrics, especially in the closing epic. Seven Bells Redeemed is a progtastic affair that runs the gamut of complex mathrock blended with snatches of sympho-rock that thankfully for once never fall back on the dreaded Tony Banks synth patch, that being a grating trait of many modern prog bands. "Neo" this definitely ain't. An early impression is of Van der Graaf-like epicness with less emphasis on keyboards and added meaty guitar chording and intricate sympatico soloing, all driven along by Tom's beefy one man rhythm section. Tom might be the first to admit that he can't sing in the recognised sense, but makes up for it with an individuality that is certainly distinctive, much like my early reference, Nick Saloman.
If you read my nonsense with any regularity, you will know that I have little time for the modern prog epic, as most seem to be instantly forgettable and simply long for the sake of it, but Seven Bells Redeemed is somewhat different. Although not making much of an impression after the first couple of spins (do mp3s spin?), I find myself increasingly lost in its sticky web following repeated plays, helped along by the highly imaginative lyrics. This guy should write a book! I won't reveal the whole tale of this sprawling and labyrinthine burst of musical and lyrical derring-do, you'll just have to get the album for yourself when it comes out on June 1st (pre-order link on the Bandcamp page, link below).
With more than a touch of the baroque, and most definitely beserk, Tom
Slatter is an electrified steampunk Roy Harper for the delectation of
the modern antiquarian.
1. Some Of The Creatures Have Broken The Locks On The Door To Lab 558 (7:29)
2. The Steam Engine Murders And The Trial Of Seven Bells John (10:22)
3. Men Of The World (7:14)
4. So Far From The Shore (8:57)
5. Seven Bells Redeemed (20:22)
I. Flight from Black Water
II. Gods in alleyways
III. Hope for the Damned
V. Breath slow
VI. Clamouring Crowds
VII. The Papers Say
VIII. Seven Bells John Confesses
IX. Gods in Alleyways
Total running time - 54:25
Tom Slatter - everything, apart from...
Jordan Brown - Bass guitar, tracks 1 & 4
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