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Second Life Syndrome
2 stars Well, I'm at a loss on what to say about this new release from Bigelf. "Into the Maelstrom" is an interesting album with highs and lows, and plenty in between, too. Bigelf has something of a cult following, and it's been a long 5 years since their last album. So, I think the expectations and anticipation are pretty high, especially with Mike Portnoy stepping in to take over on drums.

I'm going to be honest. Maybe I just don't like Bigelf's style, or maybe it's just this album, but my first experience with them has been one of annoyance. "Into the Maelstrom" is annoying. It's boisterous. It's impossibly over the top, brick-walled, and devoted to fun. That may appeal to many out there, but it is a big turn off for me. I find the songs to be repetitive affairs that generally focus on sounding retro. I have no idea why this is labeled progressive at all, as they must barely ride the edge.

Their style is certainly influenced by Black Sabbath. Everything from the low, groovy guitars to the annoying vocals are taken straight from these metal masters. Bigelf adds just enough strangeness and eeriness to make a sound that is all their own, but the classic rock/metal underpinnings are definitely the foundation for everything else. Because of this, the instrumentals (very few) are rather predictable and sound like something I've heard a million times. This is especially true for the guitars and bass.

I do, however, really enjoy the keys. I found the mix of organs and atmospheric synth to be delightful and a huge elevation for the rest of the music. Portnoy does a decent job on this record, though his drumming is more or less by the numbers. There are few fills and such that I found really good, though. All in all, I found nothing special at all about the instrumentals or any of the performances.

The album is made up of a bunch of catchy songs. I was really surprised at this. Consequently, I find most of them disappointing, unsatisfying, and downright abrasive. "Control Freak" and "Edge of Oblivion" come to mind here, as they are big, pounding, shallow affairs. There are some good songs on here, but almost no great or excellent songs. I really like the track "Alien Frequency" with its interesting keys and its more complex structure. The rest of the songs? They're okay. Most of the tracks on "Into the Maelstrom" sound much the same, as I even kept checking because I thought that I might have hit the "repeat" button or something.

Is this a terrible album? No. Not really. It's just so darn irritating and boring. It sounds like an Ozzy Osbourne record sometimes. If that sounds good to you, then you'll enjoy this. If not, then stay far away from it.

Report this review (#1141726)
Posted Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Bigelf is unabashedly one of my favorite bands. Like many, I was introduced to them by Mike Portnoy's Progressive Nation 2009 tour. I was blown away by dominating showmanship and a completely heartfelt vintage sound that embodied many of my favorite early metal and progressive rock bands from the 1970s, along with a heavy dose of Beatles worship. While recent events have perhaps threatened their status as the "Evil Beatles", vocalist/organ player/songwriter/mastermind Damon Fox has joined forces with longtime Bigelf bassist Duffy Snowhill (Which is, as far as I can tell, not something he got out of a Scandinavian hobbit name generator) and longtime Bigelf fan and progressive rock nomad Mike Portnoy to put out release #5 in what's been a 24 year career.

So what of this offering? Into The Maelstrom is a decidedly different approach from the hell's circus-show of Cheat The Gallows, and even though that album was built as a send-off to the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers album, there's actually a stronger dose of Beatles influence on Into the Maelstrom. On top of that, there's still plenty of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, and Alice Cooper influences abounding. The album, like much of Bigelf's career, plays like a loving tribute to a bygone era.

This is also the first Bigelf album that is the result of a single creative vision. Previous efforts had always been collaborations between Damon Fox and whoever was in the band at the time, and in the case of Cheat The Gallows, that was just the result of the creative vision of the band's entire history. Damon on his own is less inclined to the excess and explosiveness that made Cheat The Gallows a jaw-dropping extravaganza, but that's not to say that these moments are entirely gone. The musical introduction of "Hypersleep", the guitar solo of "Already Gone", and the front end of the album's closer "ITM" are still rich in the bombastic DNA that makes the band great. Still, the songs are carried more by vocal melodies than in the past. The result is still phenomenal, if a little bit less distinct.

In addition to Mike Portnoy behind the drum kit, Into The Maelstrom welcomes Luis Carlos Maldonado onto guitars for the solos. Maldonado is certainly talented, and when given the opportunity, as on "Edge of Oblivion", "Control Freak", "Mr. Harry McQuahae", and "Already Gone", he can lay down some really impressive guitar solos that reek of sentimentality and swagger. Still, I can't point to a single instance where the whole song seems to stop for an awe-inspiring solo like on "Money" or It's Pure Evil". In fact, on "Already Gone," Maldonado puts on his most impressive solo of the album, only to be sung over.

Still, the songwriting of Damon Fox is as superb as ever. "Alien Frequency" sounds like nothing the band has ever done before, and it has a chorus that's absolutely stunning. "Control Freak", while dubious as a choice for a lead single, functions wonderfully within the album, shifting the tone to a darker direction. "High" is the seemingly obligatory Sabotage- era Black Sabbath tribute, which has always been one of my favorite attributes of the band. "Edge Of Oblivion" is really where it all comes together though. For someone whose favorite Bigelf track was "The Evils Of Rock And Roll", this was the track that really tied everything together for me. It's got lyrics worthy of the legacy Fox crafted on "The Gravest Show On Earth", and Portnoy's fills and solos are completely stunning. I was actually quite worried about how Portnoy's style would mesh with the band over the course of this new album, especially since I was a huge fan of the style of the band's long-time drummer Steve Frothingham, AKA Froth. Much to my satisfaction, Portnoy adjusted his style to fit the needs of the band wonderfully.

For the vintage-minded progressive rock fan, Into The Maelstrom is essential listening. While Bigelf is often accused of derivative songwriting and leaning too strongly on its influences, I see a much different picture. While the sound can so obviously be traced to that bygone era, rich with hammond organs and the almighty mellotron, Bigelf completely inhabits their niche.

4.5 // 5 (Originally posted at, check it out for this and other great progressive and power metal reviews)

Report this review (#1145189)
Posted Monday, March 10, 2014 | Review Permalink
Heavy, RPI, Symph, JR/F Canterbury Teams
4 stars I had my first introduction to this band a couple of years ago but i didn't take the time to listen properly to their music. But this time i did and i am glad because this cd is really something special. Their music is a original combination of hard-rock, psychedelic and prog rock. The band use vintage sounds and instruments and wear some influences from the psychedelic era of The Beatles with a singer that can take the tone voice of John Lennon, but other times it changes in something more evil depending on where the style of music is going. Some hard rock riffs are very similar to Black Sabbath. You can feel a little dose of insanity in they way the band use many tempo changes while keeping the melody intact. The vocals are very effective by delivering plenty of nuances.

The band has succeed to create a very good cd, that is keeping the momentum in the second part of the cd with even more progressive elements and more space allowed to the keyboards. I don't know if this is their best cd, maybe i have missed something before, i will check that later. A nice addition to your progressive collection!

Report this review (#1146138)
Posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars After the long wait from 2008 when Bigelf released the excellent album "Cheat the Gallows", there was a bit of disruption from members of the band and Damon Fox, the frontman of the band, was debating whether to continue in music. Mike Portnoy, the ex-drummer from Dream Theatre, convinced Damon to continue on, and so a new Bigelf album suddenly appeared after the long break with Portnoy as the band's new drummer.

So, was there much of a change from the previous sound? Not really much, but that is a great thing when it comes to the retro-inspired heavy prog rock style of Bigelf. With the new album, you get the shot in the arm from the great drumming talent of Portnoy, but you also still get the amazing and infectious hard guitar hooks, excellent organ and mellotron in abundance as before, and the obvious influences of Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Queen and The Beatles. The band wears their influences on their sleeve, and believe me, they deserve to be raised up on the high standard that their influences are on. The music is retro, yet it is original and specific to the band. This album does tend to be a little thicker in atmosphere than the previous albums, but not enough to turn anyone that is familiar with their sound against them at all. The rhythms are ever changing, the tracks have multiple themes and prog elements running rampant through each song.

Every single track has it's own surprises and personalities. There are heavy tracks and others that are softer, at least in parts because the music is always changing. It is dramatic music, never really going over the top in pompousness, but it is there in enough quantity to keep things fun and interesting. There is enough in each track to keep things interesting for several years worth of listening, just like their other albums. There are some amazing noteworthy tracks, namely the complex "Mr. Harry McQuhae" and the strange yet original sounding "Alien Frequency". If there were more tracks like these two, then this would have been a 5 star album because of their progressiveness beyond what the band has previously done. There is the powerful and completely proggish multi movement work "ITM" which clocks in at over 8 minutes and then there are the shorter, yet not at all diminished in creativity, tracks like "Already Gone" and "Control Freak", which even in their brevity, still contain some great ingenuity and even have room for impressive soloing.

The music is heavy, but not without quieter breaks in the action. The music has a certain level of flamboyance, which is to be expected considering their influences. This album takes the sound of the prog bands that were popular in the 70's and moves them a step further. If the prog sound of the 70s was allowed to continue on without the influence of the New Wave sound of the 80s without so many prog bands trying to adjust their sound to fit in with that sounds, then this album is the logical progressive sequence that we could have expected, the same instruments used by those bands taken to the next progressive level, yes including the mellotron, and plenty of it. This is music that shouldn't be ignored in prog circles, especially those that yearn for great bands that continue the true legacy of 70s progressive rock.

I gave a 5 star rating to "Cheat the Gallows" which I stand by. There wasn't a lot of progression evident from that album to this album, and like I said before, that is not a bad thing and that by no means signifies that this is a lesser album. But with progressive rock, I come to expect a little more of a progression in the overall sound of each album, and this one, other than being a little denser, is not much different in sound from the previous album. I still recommend this album but not as an essential album as the previous one because of that reason. It's still great music that I enjoy immensely, but not different enough from before, so it can't really be considered essential. But I can easily give it 4 strong stars, and who knows, I may even change my mind as time proves it's ability to continue to be interesting.

Report this review (#1430147)
Posted Wednesday, June 24, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Up to a point.

Of all Mike Portnoy's post DT collaborations, his teaming up with Damon Fox for Bigelf's ambitious 2014 album Into The Maelstrom is the least celebrated. Portnoy adds solid drumming without showboating and this album is really Fox's show. Indeed, Fox plays all instruments on most of the tracks sans drums. That itself is not a problem as Fox is a proficient multi instrumentalist.

What is a problem is Fox's adoration for classic prog and metal groups that spans the gamut from 10cc, Alice Cooper, ELO and Black Sabbath with Fox wearing these influences proudly on his sleeves.

ITM is a vague concept album about time travel and it's travails. Musically, the swooshing sound of Fox being transported from one time to another, compliments of a time traveling machine, naturally, has the familiar synth sounds associated with space travel from groups like Hawkwind. So, this is fun prog. The song Incredible Time Machine starts the listener off on his journey with the afore noted synths, with Fox's multi tracked vocals warped, at times, beyond recognition. The riff happy Alien Frequency might just be the best song Alice Cooper never recorded, with its anthem-like chorus and driving rhythms. Great stuff, but soon the comparisons start to overtake the listener, especially one who is long in the tooth and knows his way around seventies progressive and hard rock/metal and eighties AOR material.

By the fifth song, The Professor And The Madman, Fox's rants and riffs start to sound stale. I don't know where Fox will go from here, but I hope he forgoes Bigelf in favor of something more Himself. Pun intended. 3 stars.

Report this review (#1456602)
Posted Wednesday, August 26, 2015 | Review Permalink

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