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Free Salamander Exhibit


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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl & Eclectic Team
5 stars It seems like an eternity since Sleepytime Gorilla Museum folded and there has been an aching hole in the music scene begging for an angry experimental avant-metal band. Finally emerging from the ashes comes Free Salamander Exhibit, featuring 4 members of SGM and really only missing Carla's violin & vocals, there is now worthy successor to the SGM legacy. To be clear, this is not SGM, but this is a fully formed band releasing a monster of an album that would happily stack up with the best experimental avant metal bands out there. It's great to see Nils & the guys back playing this kind of music. I was a bit worried that it wouldn't meet expectations but this is a stone cold classic.
Report this review (#1670740)
Posted Thursday, December 22, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars Twisted and eccentric - and highly unique: 9/10

(Brief note to myself and to readers: the reviewing approach, in this case, digresses from what is common for me to do because assuming this is an album with few reviews I must be as pragmatic and utilitarian as possible. I would also appreciate feedback! If you notice poorly constructed sentences, phrases without significance, weird things, or you have suggestions that might help me improve, feel free to PM. I'm always willing to ameliorate)

FREE SALAMANDER EXHIBIT is, before anything, deranged. It is the offspring of SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM, a revered underground avant-garde band, and it sounds REALLY similar to its progenitor. Their stuff is... weird, even for avant-garde standards. So much so they're Avant-prog. Heck, I don't see much difference between these two names, but since anything with the prog suffix equals a more paradigmatic work, then it's fair to put it on them. No, you won't hear grumpy screams or dissonant drums and flutes, not THIS type of paradigmatic, but instead, the absolutely-unique type. For this reason, I felt it was fair to give them a truly high rating, because not only their music is enjoyable but also unlike other metal styles I have heard (and I'm not that unfamiliar to RIO).

UNDESTROYED can best be approximated as experimental death metal with glimpses of post-rock, although the Avant-prog name should suffice to warn that it can't be entirely labeled as such - doing so is not only an offense but also a severe mistake. It is nowhere as speedy or destructive as the image of death metal genre conjures; what it does is feature a dark, uneasy atmosphere, typical to both mentioned genres. The oscillation between soft and hardness confers a fluidity to the album, and are, respectively, unnervingly calm and creative (with many blends and influences, featuring different instruments [also, here's a challenge for ya: If you can spot the Theremin in any music, PM me. Seriously, I'm curious], with special regard to the effing killer flute) whereas the second is not brutal, but instead, evil, angered. What really glorifies FREE SALAMANDER EXHIBIT is that their heavy style cannot be sufficiently named "x" or "y". It is, at best, a dystopic, angered expression of madman's creativity. Creativity articulated through the low-effort wet snarling vocals, intended to sound beastly , and through the rather unpredictable arrangements and compositions, which almost paradoxically feature a lack of deeper technical complexity - the inconsistent structure exists not due to intricate mathematics, but instead, because that's how the band prefers it to be. Visualize this as freedom of composition and not as proposal of deconstruction.

Worth mentioning is that the album has a solidly abrasive metallic foundation but it doesn't mean all songs are like that. Here's the fun of Avant-prog: the tracks are stylistically individual, with very little similarities between them aside most fundamental unconscious level (the inclination of adjectives that each song provokes; in this case, crazy and darkness). FREE SALAMANDER EXHIBIT makes it implicitly clear that they are not proposing a common concept, so the tracks are highly unattached among themselves.

Lyrics are cynical, sometimes humorous, sometimes revolted, but unanimously acidic and sarcastic. The topics covered are approached in a unique fashion, with FLE's own twisted interpretation. They seem to be the type of band that uses music as a form of expression over a form of art; so they're less methodical with things such as beauty and shape. This is reflected in the lyrics that do seem unorganized and which wordplay is rather confusing (there are some German words here and there, for instance), and in the structures, that sometimes makes no damn sense. Not a complaint.

Unreliable Narrator, featuring a common structure (verse-chorus-verse-chorus) begins blasting in the powerful guitar and maddened vocals. Lyrics are focused on the unreliability of religion, as well as the premise of "one true faith" and of trusting the gods because let's be honest almost all gods of almost all religions did some really horrible things. The riffs are simple and even catchy, but the structure, as I mentioned, is iffy. In general, it can be characterized as AGGRESSIVE, SLOW, and PHILOSOPHICAL. (9/10)

We're then presented to The Keep. A construction that provides safety from whatever is there in the outside world, which, on FSE's world, is highly willing to destroy you. Not any lighter from any other track aside the lack of growled vocals, however, the clear singing substitutes its guttural counterpart as aggressively. Probably the best flute demonstration in the entire album. You can think of it as GLOOMY, ATMOSPHERIC and FIERCE. (7/10)

The Gift is a ferocious anti-modern rant against contemporaneous technology such as smartphones, going to so forth as calling the Silicon Valley visionaries "Utopian-cyber hippie" (we can all agree that's an unique way of describing Steve Jobs) who gave a revolutionary tool comparable to Prometheus giving humans fire, but also to opening the Pandora box and unleashing unfathomable evil: now the masses are robotized and live in virtual realities. The vocals are perversely angered, barely distinguishable growls (as usual), and there's an overdose of humor and cynicism, going so forth as breaking the fourth wall in two different fashions. It begins with a high-pitched guitar bridge, proceeded by an absolutely orgasmic guitar introduction to the main riff. The gentler midsection showcases the grandiose flute accompanying the sung vocals, which does sound so mystical and perverse. It is also the prime moment to observe FSE's dadaist composition style, because, frankly, this song is hardly coherent. In my opinion, it is solidly the high point of the album, being VIOLENT, HUMOROUS, and incomparably UNPREDICTABLE. (9/10)

Time Master is the most jocular track of them all. Under many approaches it is divergent to the whole: sane, old-school influenced sonority (as opposed to the post-rock homogeneity), atmospherically light - especially the vocals - and uses comical brass instruments and vocal passages. FREE SALAMANDER jokes with the concept of time: treated as a commodity, but simultaneously, it is vital to us as it is non-renewable, and how do we use our time to enjoy or to waste it, selling it to the Time Masters so we can feed our family - at the expense of not living at all. HUMOROUS, COMPLEX and ANOMALOUSLY LIGHT. (8/10)

Undestroyed begins caroler (world's cutest instrument, glockenspiel, accompanied by flutes), antithetical to the preceding hoarse, tense vocals and deeply dysphoric lyrics that corrupts the song to a drums-led transition, the pathway to, finally, the second half. Angered, sometimes clear sometimes growled singing is initially led by industrial, periodical metal riffs, but as the singer announces he is undestroyed, the mood quickly destabilizes into nonsensical guitar distortions scrapes, randomized sayings, and a return of the Jolly glockenspiel, which progressively sweeps the maddened anarchy beneath its soothing, delicate sound. GENTLE (glockenspiel intro), TWISTED and BLASTING. (7/10)

Glockenspiel meets us for a second ride, Atheists' Potluck. We have learned a lesson, though: we can't trust FREE SALAMANDER EXHIBIT with a glockenspiel. So it will anticipate something evil, right? Not... really. At most, it predicts a beautiful although terrified song, with dark non-distorted riffs, followed by even darker but distorted riffs. There's tension in the air and your gut feelings make you go uneasy... the clear, indisputable influence of post- rock becomes pristine, which is why I thought it would be fair to claim on the beginning their leaning towards this genre. It sounds kinda like Nirvana-dark or Alice-In-Chains-heavy, maybe? I don't know, I'm not good with post-rock. Nonetheless, a GLOOMY and rather DEPRESSING (I think those are synonyms, but still, you know what they say: redundancy means emphasis) track. (8/10)

Military trumpeting and the sound of horses' cavalcade preludes Oxen of the Sun a counter-intuitive 6/4 intro arrangement. Seems simple, but... it doesn't SOUND really that simple. Reminds me of Proclamation by GENTLE GIANT (bold to compare FSE to those gods, eh?). Growling dives into downright death metal guttural. The music develops into a crushing section with high complexity and unforeseen weight, mildly death metal; on the verses, especially. An eerie commodity is brought in the midsection: a shredding guitar solo, technical to the brim, which sounds SO spectacular especially for its scarcity. It announces an unexpected twist to pure technical death violence (including the typical blast beat), especially on the vicinities of the solo. Following a few overwhelming riffs and squeals (and return to normality), the song and album are over. (9/10)

UNDESTROYED... the cover is introspective, with the seemingly twisted canids (or are those rabbits?) and the eccentric coated chick. Twisted and eccentric. Is there any better way to describe to FREE SALAMANDER EXHIBIT?

Report this review (#1737634)
Posted Sunday, June 25, 2017 | Review Permalink
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
5 stars After almost 10 years with no more 'Sleepytime Gorilla Museum', and what is this? A new band with a similar name, 'Free Salamander Exhibit' . . . hmmm sounds interesting. That's how I stumbled across this band in Prog Archives, and imagine my delight to find out that 4 of the 5 SGM members are in this band. FSE is only missing Carla Kihlstedt, which is a shame, but I had to find this album. Well find it I did. And I am happy to have the eclectic, wild music of 'Idiot Flesh' and SGM once again.

So far, Free Salamander Exhibit has only released this one album, but hopefully there will be more to come. If you have heard the previous incarnations of this band, then you know what to expect. The music is correctly placed under the RIO/Avant Prog category, but it also has elements of Progressive Metal, but with the effective use of dynamics. It is closer to the music of SGM than Idiot Flesh, in that it is heavier, but if you don't like the heaviness of metal, you shouldn't shy away from this. There is nothing like this music out there, it is complex, heavy, funny, and brilliant. The other difference from Prog Metal is the fact that it is totally unpredictable, and has a very complex sound with changing meters, non-standard structures, and the use of various instruments not found in Prog Metal.

This starts out with 'Unreliable Narrator' which begins with a dirty, somewhat growly vocal, which you will get once in a while. It is heavy, so be warned. But also know, I am usually turned off from these kinds of vocals unless the music is interesting enough that the vocals don't diminish the quality of the instrumental parts. But you will notice that the vocals are more melodic in the 2nd track 'The Keep' and you will also notice the complexity and the absolutely unique song structure which makes this a heavy avant-prog production.

'The Gift' continues this complexity as this song stretches to 10 minutes, and in this one you will get both dirty and clean vocals, but you will also notice that the vocals are also dramatic and sometimes quite crazy. It's because the songs are more story-like than what you normally hear in heavier music. The complexity of the music and the lyrics is what makes this music so excellent. The different vocalists also create different characters in each track.

'Time Master' moves away from the heaviness a bit, but continues with the lunacy. The guitars are more jangly in this one, there is some cowbell, and some brass in there too. This is also a lighter track, but not in complexity, more in tone, with a comedic edge to it. It is more similar to the Idiot Flesh sound, but with the dark and dissonant harmonics of SGM. There is some similarity to the oddness of some of Frank Zappa's more eclectic music.

'Undestroyed' is the 10 + minute title track. It starts out in a pastoral mood with bells, bass and flute. You actually think there might be some sanity in this music, that is until vocals start, sung softly but in a high register, and sounding quite paranoid. The vocals become more normal and the pastoral sound continues, but becomes more intense. Both singing and spoken vocals continue, then a nice flute/reed melody plays over the nervous vocals. The 6/8 meter is the most conventional meter played on this entire album, and also the most consistent, since in all the other tracks the meter is always changing. Things get more intense as it continues and vocals get harsher. Then at 7 minutes, the inevitable happens, the consistency of the song falls apart as it gets more progressive and heavier. A minute later, it finally falls into a standard 4/4 meter, but by this time, everything has gone nutty, so it doesn't matter. Then we return to the pastoral beginning, but somehow, everything isn't okay anymore.

'Athiests' Potluck' is a great instrumental, that starts out sounding like it might be accessible, but as it continues, it becomes more progressive.

'Oxen of the Sun' is the closer of the album and it goes over 9 minutes. Distant sounds of horses and an army trumpet starts off, but is quickly interrupted by dissonant power chords. The track is carried by a slower tempo, but with an odd meter. Crazy, nervous vocals start along with some strange guitar effects. There is a great progressive riff that pops up every so often as the unconventional singing continues. A sudden change in tempo at around 3:30 turns the song quite frantic. Several different vocal styles are present, some growling, some more dramatic. Then a wild guitar solo starts at 5:30. Awesomeness follows with some extreme prog.

Ahhhh it's so great to have these guys back again. I do miss the influence that Carla had on the band, but the complexity, the avant-proginess, the drama, the insanity is all still there. I just love this music, it is so unique, so dynamic and so untraditional. You just have to hear it to believe it. I only expected maybe a four star debut for this new incarnation of SGM, but the music is just as great as before. Easily a 5 star album. I can't believe they are not as popular on this site as they should be.

Report this review (#2078766)
Posted Monday, November 26, 2018 | Review Permalink

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