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Beautiful Bedlam - Beautiful Bedlam CD (album) cover


Beautiful Bedlam


Heavy Prog

3.92 | 63 ratings

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5 stars As I was collecting records and 8-tracks in my youth through the 70's, I was always excited by the albums that had a lot of variety on them. It seems, back then, that many bands explored different styles in their music and nobody seemed to complain about it. One of the main examples of this was what was one of my favorite bands back then, Queen. It seemed that they could go from one genre to another with hardly a blink. Their album "News of the World" is one of my favorites. One minute they are playing anthem rock, then next is punk, then they could do a broadway- style song, industrial and alternative, and make it all sound believable, yet their albums were still cohesive. It seems that in the last 3 decades that variety has been frowned upon with critics saying that when a band explores several genres and styles that they don't have any focus. In some cases, this is true as it needs to be believable or it just sounds hokey.

I say all this to introduce a new band called "Beautiful Bedlam". This band, though new by name, is not new to the world of progressive music. It was founded by the Ancell brothers; Luke on guitar and Scott on drums. They were previously members of the band "A Lonely Crowd" which has been in the PA database for a while and had received several accolades from the members that reviewed their albums almost a decade ago. One thing that is similar in these two bands is in the seemingly contrasting names and that is on purpose. What I mean is, how can a crowd by lonely and how can bedlam be beautiful? This contrast reflects, in a way, the music that is created, and, after hearing Beautiful Bedlam's self-title debut album, completely feasible. The bedlam is absolutely beautiful here.

When I think of bedlam, I usually think of a chaotic mess. Well, this music is far from chaotic, but it is definitely original and sometimes quite experimental. But all in a very enjoyable way. You can tell that the musicians involved in this band are all accomplished musicians, and you can feel the strong camaraderie in the way they play their music. The core group is made up of the Ancel brothers, but also James Van Strien on bass and vocalist/keyboardist Ross Taylor. These four musicians prove time and time again through the album that they are certainly capable, that they take their music seriously and that they can easily hold your attention through each and every track. However, this was not enough for them. This album is loaded with special guests that mostly come from their native Australia. Many of the guests are vocalists that take the lead on many of the songs here, which is another reason why the variety meter is set on high for this album. But don't worry! Every time the music veers off in another direction, it is done believably and excellently. Just know, when you go into this album, that you are going to be treated to high quality musicianship and a lot of differing styles. Not only that, you get high quality progressive style all the way through the album. The music is laced with jazz, alternative, straightforward rock and blues, heavy (almost extreme) metal and even classical, all of this tied together with a strong progressive foundation. However, the band is overall, none of these, except for progressive. So, why isn't this listed under Eclectic? Well, the progressive style is more heavy than anything, but it isn't metal (at least most of the time), and the outbursts (on 3 of the tracks) of some of the vocals might be a bit too extreme for some. But, the important thing is to take this album as a whole, as that is how it works best.

"Flaking Paint" gives you a great overview of what to expect. There is a jazz-funk feel to the guitar at first, but bursts of heaviness come in and out like it all belongs there. Then there is the cool synth sound that comes in giving it all an almost neo-prog sound. The complexity of the melody line is something you can easily get used to, and also expect to hear through the album. Excellent opener. "Breather" then mellows things out a bit, but not in the progressive sense as it remains complex, but the biggest surprise here is the female vocal lead by Xen Havales. It's one you could say is airy and thick at the same time. There are some nice riff runs that follow a progressive jazz scale and the vocal harmonies use some nice chord structures. There is a lot of great stuff going on in this one including changing styles and meters. "Life Death & Cheers" takes the smooth jazz route, this time veering more into a neo-prog sound. It's a surprisingly happy sounding track with just a touch of heaviness in the guitars from time to time just to keep things real. This track is paired with "Slow Creepin'" which is more ominous final statement to the previous track. Interesting percussive sounds and a low synth bass make the chimes on the top seem sinister.

"Two Thirds" feels a bit darker than the previous track and continues with a somewhat complex melody line. The darker feel continues even when the instrumentation gets more minimal, then a creepier vocal sneaks its way into the mix. This one also has a more alternative feel to it, but the progressive style is still 100 percent there with some nice jazz chord changes that don't always come at the places you expect. This all flows into "Cocktail Crime Scene" that mixes a fast-paced lounge jazz feel with a bit of heavy guitar and synth alternating back and forth and at times playing together. It's a dynamic instrumental that will keep you guessing all the way through its 5 minute run time. "Black World" features guest Paul Cooper on the lead vocals. There is something sinister in his vocals that lies under the surface in the restrained sections, but gets to come out more in the heavier chorus. Again, the music takes you through so many moods that it's hard to pinpoint what the style is other than progressive.

"Open World" features some very cool vocal harmonics right from the beginning, plus you get a nice unpredictable structure that is prevalent through the track. The appearance of the piano is a nice touch that doesn't distract from the heavy progressive passages. Again things alternate from a neo-prog feel to a much heavier feel throughout the song. And get ready for the harsh outbursts in the 2nd half with some pretty impressive vocal screaming. This track is paired with "Apparitions" which takes the track to a more experimental and industrial sounding weirdness. "I, Adore" has the lead vocal talents of Markus Saastamoinen which really comes at you full force when the vocal gets multi-tracked into a wall of harmonic heaviness. The track might seem rather unassuming in the beginning, but it will definitely stand out to you by the time its over. "Dog's Breakfast" is a really interesting and somewhat kooky quasi- instrumental (kooky when the background spoken vocals come in which sounds like a crazy lady talking to her dog). This odd middle part is bookended by some crazy guitar work.

"Sweet Oblivion" features Richard Jeffrey on lead vocals. His vocals are also quite dynamic which matches the changing style of the track. There seems to be a marked increase in the heaviness on this track which actually increases through the rest of the album. It's not all about the heaviness though as there are still some nice jazzy passages still mixed in there, especially the nice keyboard solo in the instrumental break of this track. "Silent to the End" is a bit of false advertising as this album refuses at this point to be silent at all. Michael Minehan has the guest vocal spot on this one and it seems that he is more of an extreme singer, though the track itself doesn't sound like it's starting that way. Wait until he goes into the bridge and listen to that impressive growl. And the ending is quite a mind blower. The real blast is saved for the last track "Pigment" though with guest vocalist Matt Belleville. Starting with a sinister piano and some spooky sound effects, this one will put you on edge. This vocalist also sounds like an extreme singer, but this time, once the growling starts, it doesn't let up very much. The band definitely wanted to leave you with an impression, and it does. The track isn't all about noise though, it still has times to weave in and out of styles and even builds to quite the explosive climatic ending.

The fact that the band uses many different guests was no accident, nor is it a one time thing as they plan to use all of the guests in their upcoming concerts and also incorporate guests on future albums. I know this much though, that if they continue on in the same way that they have in this album, I will definitely be keeping a close eye (and ear) on them. This is one of the most enjoyable, entertaining and diverse albums I have heard in 2021 and is on joining my list for top albums of the year. There is definitely something for everyone on this album, but hopefully the entire album will be as intriguing and exciting to you as it is to me. It's a very impressive debut album. 5 glowing stars!

TCat | 5/5 |


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