Light on the quirky difficulties, and big on maturity
I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Swedish retro-progressive rock act Beardfish’s work in the past, in a sense that I’ve always enjoyed their albums as a whole, but always found plenty of moments within their songs that I always found more than a little cheesy or goofy, or just downright awkward.
So with the release of Mammoth (the follow up to 2009’s Destined Solitaire, and the band’s sixth release overall), I wasn’t expecting much in the way of change from the four piece act but, to my complete surprise, Beardfish have altered their sound and direction a little this time around, which is a move that I’m sure is destined to be welcomed by many, and damned by the minority of diehard fans who felt that the band’s odd sounds and song writing technique was a large part of the band’s unique character.
The opening track The Platform reveals a slightly edgier and more guitar heavy sound from Beardfish, but not at the cost of their trademark keyboard heavy retro sound, which still maintains its presence throughout. But apart from a touch of extra guitar, what really stands out about The Platform is the song’s overall structure, which appears to be a little more thought out and hard rock in its basic design. Gone are the quirky parts that seemed to be added randomly in the past, with a greater streamlined approach to instrumental structures taking its place.
Despite some new ideas, fans needn’t fear that the band have abandoned their heavy ‘70’s progressive rock sound influences one bit, with the fifteen minute epic And the Stone Said: If I Could Speak, which is fairly typical of Beardfish’s works. The song is full of twists and turns, and features plenty of saxophone and Hammond organ to give the song a classic rock sound. But unlike some of their epics of the past, the song doesn’t have any moments where the differing passages sound out of place or ill-fitting. No, And the Stone Said: If I Could Speak is well a crafted (especially on the vocal front, where Sjöblom experiments more with some aggressively shouting and some doubled up vocal harmonies), catchy and engaging throughout.
The rather short Tightrope is an unexpected foray into mature pop-rock with a distinctly ‘60’s flavour mixed with a subtle hint of jazz, while Green Waves unveils a side rarely seen from the band, with the song coming across as quite aggressive and guitar driven, with Sjöblom again producing a much rawer and angry vocal performance to match.
After a brief piano intermission (Outside / Inside), the band delve into progressive/jazz territory with the saxophone enhanced instrumental Akakabotu, before finishing up the album with the infectious, upbeat and playful progressive-light/pop based Without Saying Anything (feat. Ventriloquist).
Mammoth is by far Beardfish’s most straightforward and thought out release to date, with the sometimes bizarre and jarring elements of their song writing kept to a bare minimum to allow for a far more enjoyable listen.
Overall, Mammoth is a hugely enjoyable album, and definitely for those who are looking for a starting point in the band’s vast discography. Highly recommended for fans of retro-prog rock in the vein of The Tangent, Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings.
(Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)