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Beardfish - Mammoth CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.95 | 657 ratings

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4 stars The Swedish band, Beardfish, is one of the modern age's most beloved prog bands. Though they're previous four albums had been released successively year after year, here we have the band releasing their sixth album, Mammoth, two years after their last. Even though this is my first experience with Beardfish, I really enjoyed Mammoth, and it's one of the best of 2011 that I've heard so far.

One of the only things I knew about Beardfish going into Mammoth is that they have a reputation for being a retro prog band. While I don't like to lump bands into such broad groups as that, it's really something that Beardfish can't get away from on this album. The production values and range of keyboards used give a very 70s feel, though this is countered by a heavier side to the music that approaches metal at times. Regardless of what era this is evocative of doesn't matter that much in the end, because that's not what makes Mammoth such a good album.

What does make it a success is the strength of the instrumentation, and the composition. The range of instruments is not very wide, with the most exotic being saxophone on two tracks, and the others covering the basics of prog. It's how they're used, however, that keep the album interesting all the way through. The handful of longer instrumental sections are great, featuring exciting interplay between guitar and organ, fast guitar solos, and the occasional screaming sax. Every instrument is used pretty evenly, and each one has its fair share of highlights, with the rarer sax being my personal favorite. What pushes it to the next level though, is that the instrumentation is kept interesting at all times. During vocal sections, the harmonies underneath are constantly making subtle changes, with the bass in particular always being a treat to listen to. This is especially effective during sections that would normally be so-so, but are made fun and held my attention by little organ runs in the background, or bass lines reprising earlier melodies.

The composition, in addition to the strength of the instruments, is also very well done, with the 15 minute epic being particularly strong. It has a great main melody, and an extremely exciting five minute introduction. The rest of the song weaves through verses and short breaks, until a very satisfactory reprise of the theme to close it out. While this is the strongest song on the album, the shorter songs hold their own as well. The less complex ones are, again, entertaining for small instrumental touches, and there are a couple short but very dense songs. They cover a range of sounds from soft and whimsical, to heavy and evil sounding. The number of tracks and length of the album overall are perfect, and by the time it ends you're left wanting just a bit more. It also helps that the final trio of songs all lead into one another, and rise in intensity, making for a pretty satisfying conclusion.

While everything to do with the instruments is usually quite strong, the vocals are really the only major blemish. Sung in English with a slight accent, they are generally pretty hit or miss. They never reach amazing heights or awful lows, but rather swim around in between. The softer sung sections are generally more pleasant to listen to, but the more intense vocals get a little shrill and annoying. If the singing had been stronger, every song would be bumped up in quality a little bit, but as it stands, they mostly provide a changeup from the instrumental sections and give you something to wait for. The transitions into and out of vocal sections are notable, however, and are usually pretty impressive for how smoothly everything happens.

Even with vocals that are just OK, every song is compelling, and there are very little low points along the way. The strength of every instrument coming together is more than enough to compensate, and evens everything out in the end. While it's not perfect nor the most original sounding album, Mammoth is a great release this year, and how could you say no to that sad guy on the cover?

m2thek | 4/5 |


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