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Black Bonzo - Sound of the Apocalypse CD (album) cover


Black Bonzo


Heavy Prog

4.03 | 169 ratings

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3 stars - Dogs get fleas: fleas get poodles - (Scottish Proverb)

Three years after the Bonzo's debut album, this second helping of Prog Smorgasbord appeared and although it follows closely the same menu as it's predecessor, I am glad to report that the band have moved significantly forward insofar as concocting their own unique recipies goes.

Post Modern cheesy dip anyone?

Thorns Upon a Crown - A knowingly twee analogue synth intro parts the curtains (see No Earthly Connection) and just before you anticipate Seven Seas of Rye via the Queen harmonised guitar lick, the Bonzos suddenly about-turn and instead, embark on a naggingly addictive groove featuring some greasy chopped Hammond and counterpoint lead guitar. This is a very robust track with a complex and ever changing structure that never idles for long. Despite the competing meters of the arrangement, the melodic writing is also very accomplished and Magnus Lindgren has by now got his David Byron impersonation downpat. However, to be kind to Black Bonzo, it could be proffered that some of the lyrics lose much of their substance in translation from the Swedish?

- Jupiter and Mars satellites and stars - (Not a lot going on upstairs here methinks?)

A very bracing instrumental section follows replete with gutsy overdriven organ and a pretty damn nifty guitar solo that does regrettably owe a considerable debt to the life of one Brian (May sue?) A Jon Lord pastiche 'tremolo' organ excursion follows and it must be said that Nicklas ┼hlund has an uncanny gift of obtaining some truly bowel melting keyboard sounds be they from organ, synth, Tron or piano. The lad has obviously studied the past obsessively and his reward and ours, is a palette of textures that sounds simply glorious. The rejoinder back to the song section is beautifully paced and all things considered, this is a belter opening salvo from these precocious scandinavian pups.

Giant Games - I like the singer's voice during this very understated intro as it carries a faint echo of Neil Hannon from the Divine Comedy. Within his middle range, Mr Lindgren posseses a very endearing delivery that I much prefer to the more habitual 'rawk' histrionics of his upper register. Thereafter we encounter a bombastic transition segueing into the memorable vocal hook waiting patiently for us in the chorus. The guitar solo that follows strays inadvisably into the forbidden garden of 'widdley widdley' at this point but it does at least carry with it an unusual texture to mitigate the charge. Yep, this is one heavy mother prog buddies, and we encounter a dislocated and lurching unison section prior to returning to the spooky intro. There are more meter changes here than a Heathrow taxi rank and the sheer relentless intensity of the piece makes for a bumpy but exhilerating ride. There is also perhaps a nod to Gentle Giant in both the title and the use of the layering of vocal melody counterpoint. Sumptuous organ swells underneath the repeated chorus at a slightly slower tempo brings this coruscating number to a close.

Yesterdays Friends - Pastoral 'Italian school' flute confirmed by plaintive and lyrical slide guitar lulls us momentarily before Black Bonzo kick off their fluffy slippers and lurch unannounced into some visceral staccato instrumentation which cleverly contradicts the languid melody. Mikael Israelsson's martial snare simply reinforces the latent tension to unnerving effect. Once again alas, the band cannot be accused of having any literary pretensions?

- Why can't we be friends like we were yesterday sun was shining and you held my hand? -

The lyrics are cringeworthy throughout this album but the palliative of another memorable hook in the chorus soothes our vandalised ears for the time being. Unfortunately the repetition of the contradiction device in the subsequent verses just becomes clumsy and wearying. There is however a nice frisson created by a dischord from the organ under some faintly incongruous backing vocals. On this tune the singer betrays a trace of Robert Smith when they both get a bit angsty in the middle registers. Yesterdays Friends is clearly guilty of outstaying it's welcome and would have been very good with 3 minutes shaved off the end. Charming use of mellotron strings to the fade.

The Well - Fast paced 'chugger' with heaps of Uriah everywhere you look and some rapidfire rippling panned synth to elicit gasps of Is that your cellphone ringing? from your unwitting loved ones. A relatively straightforward beat but Israelsson injects same with many unusual and crafty fills which makes his playing a real treat on every track. The breakdown section is well controlled and the band illustrate a fine sense of spacial dynamics utilising some plangent echoed guitar timbres and subtle washes of mellotron. But again the whole thing is just too bloody long and despite an effective crescendo passage exploiting choir backing, the arrangement becomes impossibly top heavy with everything (including) the heavily modded Bb kitchen sink being hammered, plucked, blown AND sucked into overwrought submission. Over egging the puddy lads.... and be aware that the guitar solo is borderline parody of the aforementioned Brian May.

Intermission:Revelation Song - Jethro Tull for Dummies: a piece of cod 'folk' worn over some very roomy tights.

Ageless Door - Restive and elusive rhythm that teases then shies away from mutating into the anticipated shuffle. This arrangement never sits still for long but just remember that shedloads of compositional ideas are no substitute for a few inspired ones. Nice injection of strings for the chorus - Genesis organ a la the Knife is overlaid with yet more Brian May guitar and we appear to catch a fleeting glimpse of a traditional celtic jig? The 'spacey' section does precisely what it was designed to i.e fill up space

Iscariot - Almost unremittingly awful, like witnessing your one true love at the height of their chicken pox virus (not a spectator sport). This might just also be the skinny chicken pumped full of air you buy at the supermarket. (at the risk of labouring the poultry metaphors a tad) Despite a beautiful short organ solo and some Wishbone Ash style medieval jesting, nothing presented here will even endure the longevity of a soap bubble. The stop/start unison writing is overdone and ends up just sounding contrived and disjointed. Shame really, as the intro is decent but rather undermined by a risibly jaunty and stirring verse the effect of which I am convinced is not unwittingly comedic.

Sound of the Apocalypse - Very effective chord progression stated on unadorned piano with martial snare eventually being joined by muted vocals. They do however milk this thematic material until the cows might just refuse to ever come home again and the intended gradual layering of intensity gets delivered as a rather heavy handed 'overwrought by instalments' instead.

Were the scriptures delivered by these post-modern Swedes, then the Book of Revelations might be considered about as harrowing as the sight of yesterday's abandoned blancmange. I suspect that as promising and ripe as these musical ideas are, someone like Porcupine Tree would have handled said materials with far greater weight and economy. (see Gravity Eyelids)

Thank god, circa 6 minutes in the unrelenting relents and we mutate into a fast paced instrumental section with some inspired unison playing and yummy analogue synth weirdness - for the first time there is a flavour of jazz from the Bonzos (can you hear a sax/brass in there?) - very exhilarating take on jazz rock/fusion in places and this writing is much more chromatic and adventurous than most of what preceded it. The opening harmonies return but are imbued with a double time feel via some inspired ostinato bass from Anthon Johansson. The central departure of this track just might represent a side of Black Bonzo I could grow to love but this style of composition is all too rare on this album. Mere repetition does not imbue a composition with epic status, it only serves to push up the tab on the fare.

Ten Feet Away - Strumalonga Led Zep - Achilles naps between battles.

Losing Faith - Lovely 6/8 type loping groove with a whiff of Fred Merc in the tonsil dept, and extra toppings of Uriah Heep, Atomic Rooster, Deep Purple and Queen (delete as applicable) Lovely creepy piano passage worthy of the late Vincent Crane reinforced by electric guitar arpeggios. We meet here one of the highpoints of the record as the perceived accellerando occurs not due to an increase in tempo but that of the guitarist transitioning between smaller and smaller note lengths. This is brilliantly done and is often a technique under-exploited in the heavier end of the rock spectrum. Howay the lads.

Black Bonzo are extremely accomplished musicians with a keen ear for the sounds and textures of the heavy prog of the 70's but they have come to resemble XTC in the practice of their art i.e they know their chosen genre just TOO well and can replicate and mimic with insouciant ease any manner of past masters of this music. Perhaps this canine needs some DISobedience classes before they finally shake off the yoke of the past and land a big wet brown one on their master's lap. Right on Mucky Pup!

Sound of the Apocalypse is significantly more original than the debut, but at this rate, it will take the Bonzos into their buspass dotage to come up with anything approaching a groundbreaking or innovative creation. Those of you that are at all receptive to the promptings of Uriah Heep, Queen, Deep Purple, Atomic Rooster or cheesy AOR e.g. Kansas, Styx, Boston, etc will find much to enjoy with this album.

For the remainder, we would prefer to save our freshly minted chocolate coins than trade in these used counterfeit notes.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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