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Raw Material - Time Is... CD (album) cover


Raw Material


Eclectic Prog

3.46 | 65 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars Test Tube Baby + Time Served Glazier = Hour Glass Figure

(Two and a Half Stars Really)

Even a casual glance at the music blogs that proliferate on the web nowadays is more than sufficient cause for we nay-sayers to intuit the discovery of a very badly hidden Zirconium Mine of 'lost gems' lying discarded in piles along its many rusting conveyor belts. Such hitherto unheralded masterpieces of psyche/prog rock are invariably all the audible evidence anyone should ever need that controlled substances and recording equipment be stored in separate locations. This would also include PCs, as how else can we explain the incoherent babbling of hirsute plankton and the torture inflicted on unsuspecting K-Mart guitars described to us in breathless prose by those blogging tour guides for Gullibles Travels?

Time Is by Raw Material is often cited as just such an example of an overlooked and dumpy plain jane who grew into a beautiful swan with dimples to die for. (Do swans have dimples?) Regardless, let's get some healthy cynical perspective into play here and appraise this worthwhile but deeply flawed album.

Ice Queen - Not a paean to a gay Eskimo alas, but a very resilient construction of several thematic ideas skilfully arranged for sax, guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. The instrumental textures are quite intriguing and conjure up reference points from Atomic Rooster, 'riffy' Colosseum, Uriah Heep and given that the opening riff is but a semi detached quaver away from that of Killer, VDGG. However, there is no need for the writs to start flying as the song has sufficient originality to carry this cribbed inspiration and is easily the strongest offering here. I like how the bass of Phil Gunn cleverly contradicts the common garden 'rawk' chords and implies some darker and ambiguous hues to spice up heavy prog's habitual and limiting palette of primary colours. Colin Catt's vocals will probably polarize opinion about this band and I have to confess that I find his feisty sandpaper holler a tad wearying after a while.

Empty Houses - Redolent of Argus era Wishbone Ash if the latter had deployed a one man brass section and possibly Deke Leonard on guitar. The music throughout is very fine indeed but Catt's caterwaul pitched so far above his comfortable range is just a war crime against silence. However, in mitigation we are led to perhaps the only sure-fire 24 carat hook on the record:

You and me can have some fun Empty houses one by one

There is a very entertaining central instrumental section featuring Catt's huge organ chords over which Mike Fletcher weaves a wonderful strand of breathy sax which seems to imitate a snake charmer enticing a huge cobra from a basket. After several delightful minutes of this delicious anticipatory teasing, it is somewhat crushing to discover that the reptile in question turns out to be about as threatening as a muzzled gecko. Gunn's busy bass which I praised on the first track simply smothers much of the detail on the second and it is clear that our Phil had yet to learn when 'less is more'. He is clearly an excellent player but never seems to interact dynamically with Paul Young's drums which lends the rhythm section a disconnected and unfocused sound as a result. All things considered this ain't too shabby at all.

Insolent Lady - This employs that endearing conceit coined by early Crimson where short sections of tenuously related music are shoehorned together in the creation of a pseudo 'suite' e.g.

The Indivisibility of the Cosmos (Part One) including Dance of the Randomly Chosen Short Mythical Creatures etc

You get the idea. This starts with Bye the Way, a pleasant enough but rather twee medieval ballad in the style of a troubadour madrigal. In places the twittering fondant flutey Crimson critter can be easily coaxed out of hiding. Thereafter we encounter a rather incongruous and angular chromatic section played in unison which carries a feint echo of Do You Like It Here Now Are You Settling In? era Man. The climax is an effective and powerful strummed acoustic progression which does alas, outstay its welcome as Catt is once again guilty of simply repeating the one melodic idea ad infinitum.

Miracle Worker - A distinctly ordinary 'plodder' albeit with a good melody cut cruelly short for an interminable instrumental work out plagiarized from Dave Brubeck's Take Five. Mercifully we return to the song section briefly before the end but Raw Material must surely wish they had omitted the unconvincing noodle orgy in the middle.

Religion - A one chord jam with no redeeming features whatsoever. Perhaps a punning and unwitting critique of the subject alluded to in the title? Invite everyone you hate to your cremation and use this as your exiting soundtrack to the infernal region.

Sun King - Yet more nested sub-plots so beloved of prog with the token Awakening - Realisation - Worship artifice of conceptual rigour. The first section is genuinely moving as it contains a very memorable harmonic vehicle which Catt for once rewards with a haunting melody sung gently and plaintively from his lower register. Yep, a very impressive section boasting some beautiful and tasteful slide playing from the hitherto understated and mainly supportive guitar of Cliff Harewood. Even the inevitable crunchy conclusion is enjoyable here as the band seem at their most assured when nailing insistent riffs into their listener's heads and Catt's rasping snarl can be borderline infectious. We briefly return to the sublime opening thematic material before the lads send us on our way with a completely over the top finale replete with pious oohing and aaahing massed choir which always brings a smile to my lips (even though it's really Spinal Tap I'm thinking about)

So in summation, there is much to value here and even more to postpone that trip to Bargepoles 'R Us for the time being. I think the main flaws on Time Is are that Raw Material have clearly overreached themselves in the creation of song suites, and are much better suited to shorter riff based compositions. Phil Gunn spends way too much time above the 5th fret on his bass and the engine room pulse of the music suffers commensurately. Young's kit is rather buried under the four string avalanche, and his fills sound dangerously sloppy on occasion. Production wise, I suspect the engineer was a young 'un, as evidenced by the common beginner's mistake of adding too much reverb to the mix (Yes, it makes things in isolation sound hugely other-worldly, but in Toto, the dynamics and detail of the performance is drowned in a woolly and unfocused mush)

However, I like the attitude of this band and they do sound convincingly ballsy and sincere, so they get an extra half star for that alone.

PS Mrs L wishes me to apologise unreservedly for what she sees as a cheap gag at the expense of tundra dwelling homosexuals everywhere. No offence nose rubbers.

ExittheLemming | 2/5 |


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