Spooky Action is the second album from Matt Stevens’ band The Fierce and the Dead and comes after the band recently signed to Bad Elephant Music. It’s a bit of a departure from previous efforts, and some might question whether it’s truly progressive rock, but let’s think about that for a moment—what is progressive rock if not music that might be construed as “a bit odd”, experimental, and not fitting in with the mainstream music scene? Well this album certainly makes no attempt to adhere to any expectations of “more of the same”, heads off in some totally unexpected directions, and certainly isn’t mainstream. Sounds like the very definition of modern progressive music to me!
It opens with Part 4, part of a series of tracks continuing a convention from previous recordings. There are layered guitars setting the eerie scene for an album inspired by the occult, with a heavy and almost grungy noodling creating an unsettling feeling that is present in many of the tracks.
Ark, the single from the album, was released a while back, and features as the second track on the album. It’s a punky track with a melodic twist featuring a full-on, catchy theme interspersed with heavier punk. This is a theme present on a few of the tracks, including the next one Let’s Start a Cult, which ends with a Post-Rock–style climax.
Following, with a funky bass line, Pyramid Hat is the fourth track on the album and introduces us to the sounds of unnerved paranoia. It’s almost as if something is being held back, like we’re on the edge of something awful—a harbinger of disaster perhaps—but maybe it’s in our own paranoid imaginations? With rolling bass, and noodling guitar, this track really paints a picture of nervousness and instils a slight bit of discomfort.
We hear hints of King Crimson starting with I like it, I’m into it with a running guitar theme overlaid by a dominating bass thundering over the relative quietness of the main theme. Here we see recollections of earlier tracks with a revisited guitar riff tying in previous themes of the album.
By the time we get to Intermission 3 we’re expecting more heavy and grungy tracks, but this isn’t one of them. As the name suggests, it’s a respite in the middle of the thunder, an eerie, almost creepy Post Rock interlude with sounds almost akin to the earlier Space Rock of Pink Floyd. With a whale song quality to it, this track is easily the most relaxed on the album, but don’t let it fool you, we’re only half way through.
The title track is up next, and features a strong opening with good, heavy bass. A sudden stop, and there’s melodic guitar, and an unexpectedly pleasant theme emerges. This is countered by the unsettling bass riff, which uses minor notes that sound somewhat wrong against the prevailing and positive overtones of the melody.
And the Bandit is the only track on the album where I really wanted some vocals. Compared to the other tracks, it seems somewhat lacking. It reminds me of Magnification-era Yes, and I soon began to imagine Jon Anderson style lyrics soaring above the guitar melody, but was soon pulled back into my chair by the sudden grungy interlude, which was entirely unexpected. Following that, it carries on in a Yes fashion, albeit with a heavier overtone than before, closing with a coda, in the true Prog style of an enlightening guitar emerging from beyond the gloom.
Another beat-led Post Punk track is next, before leading into Part 5 the next part of the series. This is again a departure from previous tracks, with sounds like a bustling city of a bygone time. It reminds me of the soundtrack to an industrious commute on the 1950s.
The album closes with Chief, a vaguely Porcupine Tree styled track. This is a well constructed and thoughtfully created closer to the album, that sounds almost like the soundtrack to a dark thriller. Towards the end we get more of the heavy, foreboding sound that is dominant through the album, which rounds it off nicely.
Overall, this album is quite a change from everything else that The Fierce and the Dead have put out before, and very different from Matt Stevens’ solo work, but if you like music that combine classic Progressive Rock and Punk, with Post Rock overtones, then you’ll almost certainly enjoy this latest offering.
Electric Freedom rating: four out of five
Spooky Action is available now.
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