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Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Of Natural History CD (album) cover

OF NATURAL HISTORY

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.11 | 201 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

1800iareyay
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's debut was a shaky affair, but they really pulled things together with their sophomoric release, Of Natural History. SGM display all of their talents: good lyrics, excellent RIO composition, and custom made instruments that set them apart from everyone. The sheer complexity of this album gives Mr. Bungle and John Zorn a run for their money, and occasionally they surpass even those titans of metal in opposition. The album is conceptual and deals with mankind's ruination of the planet. Unlike most concept album, this doesn't follow a specific story (though there are several stories in the album). Rather, it present the theory of De-Evolution, created by a member of the original Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

The album opens with two songs that are interlinked as sort of a story. A Hymn to the Morning Star, which sets up the story as they reveal the true enemy of mankind is not Satan, but the Adversary, and that Christianity, Satanism, and any other religion are too dogmatic and false. The Adversary is SGM's version of Mother Nature, as it represents every plant and creature in the world. The music fits the title, sounding like a perverse church hymn with nice vocals from Nils that get interrupted by some sinister vocals. The Donkey-Headed Adversary of Humanity Opens the Discussion continues the lyrical thread by letting the Adversary detail how he will destroy the humans who have raped the planet of its beauty. This is a masterful song that blends RIO, metal, jazz, avant-garde, and some stuff nobody has ever or will ever assign a classification to.

Now, the album focuses on the Futurists, a group who favored quick progress regardless of the costs. Phthisis is supremely heavy tune that lets Carla take over the vocals while Nils growls underneath. The spoken segments reveal the Futurist ethos, and the lyrics have an amusing attack on the Futurist philosophy, noting that the future will one day become the past, thus making everything they've attained irrelevant in the face of new change. This seems to sum up the rapid expansion of man in terms of invention and ideas, if you look at how fast we've gone from cars to rockets. Bring Back the Apocalypse is one of my favorite tunes off the album with it's great opening bass riff, and this is where the custom instruments really enter. This song probably has the weakest lyrics (essentially chanting the title of the song), but they are delivered in such a way that makes me think the whole thing is intentional rather than poorly written. Musically, it's one of the strongest tracks.

We now turn our attention to the Unabomber, whose philosophy on the dangers of technology seems to impress SGM. He is the polar opposite of the Futurists, as he wishes to return to a time without technology. FC: The Freedom Club is an avant- garde epic that has gives us spoken segments that relate some of the Unabomber's warnings against such terrors as nuclear war. The best spoken segment on the album is when the Unabomber says "the human race with technology is like an alcoholic with a barrel of wine." Sends chills down my spine every time! The song opens softly with xylophone and the Unabomber's warnings before it becomes frantic and aggressive, almost like a Mr. Bungle or Zorn tune, yet it sounds totally original.

SGM moves things along by focusing specifically on the De-Evolution theory that the album revolves around. Gunday's Child is a downright brilliant anti-war song that focuses on a series of infants born at different times as war draws ever closer. When it hits, the baby born that day will incinerated. There is a haunting lullaby in the middle that brings the Adversary back into the mix as it details the Adversary attacking a little girl. The music builds perfectly from eerie to violent and frantic to match the coming of war. The 17-Year Cicada is a killer instrumental with tribal drums and a downright scary vibe. Don't listen to this song in the dark.

The Creature takes us back to Adversary, who has now assumed total control and is using our dependence on technology to cripple us. It has an amusing spoken part at the end featuring some Southern men. What Shall We Do Without Us? presents the band's view of heaven and it features some dazzling music, especially from the violin. Babydoctor builds ever, ever so slowly until it explodes into he second half. All in all it reminds me a lot of John Zorn. The lyrics deal with individuals who have proven that even amongst the filth of humanity, there are some diamonds in the rough. The album properly ends with Cockroach, a song that is steeped in irony. A human mocks a cockroach for being inferior, yet all the flaws he lists are mirrored in humanity (i.e. trashing a once-green "lawn" is clearly a metaphor for environmental destruction). It's incredibly funny to me since I love irony and satire. The Untitled Track officially ends the album with spoken segments. It all ends with the Adversary warning us to remember what you've heard.

For a more complete summary of the concept of the album, go to progressiveears.com to read Baribrotzer's review, which has been invaluable in the creation of mine, as he managed to decipher this album's cryptic message. SGM prove themselves masters of RIO, metal in opposition, rock against rock (the genre they invented) or whatever tag is thrown their way. Of Natural History takes its place beside Mr. Bungle's Disco Volante as a classic of modern avant-prog. The music is incredibly difficult to describe; think of Zorn's most avant moments, and you'll come close to SGM. No fan of RIO should be without this seminal release.

Grade: A

1800iareyay | 5/5 |

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