Review Summary: A great fun old school prog album from a very overlooked band.
Every once in a while I stumble across a complete gem of a band that almost nobody seems have heard of. Progressive metal outfit Threshold are one of these, along with power metal band Savatage. Bigelf, it seems, also fits nicely into this category. If you called them an “underground” band you would be perfectly correct, but in reality Bigelf deserves far more attention and respect then their given – hence the purpose of this review.
First off then, before we take a dive into the album, some general background info. The origins of Bigelf date back to as early as 1989 where they had written a handful of songs that turned out to be the blueprint for their style(s) to come. One of those songs was “Falling Bombs” – included on this album a whole 14 years later, but we’ll get to that later. As of 2010, they have released 4 studio albums. Even though they’ve had numerous line-up changes, in 2003 Bigelf were:
Damon Fox – Vocals, keyboards
Ace Mark – Guitar
Duffy Snowhill - Bass
Steve “Froth” Frothingham – Drums
In terms of sound, Bigelf play 60s/70s influenced progressive rock, with hints of old school heavy metal and psychedelic rock. The band’s sound and lyrics are obviously heavily influenced by bands such as King Crimson, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd.
OK then, with that out of the way, let’s have a crack at the album.
The album begins with vocalist Damon Fox yelling “I’m the mad hatter!!” and straight away this tells us the kind of crazy journeys this album takes us on. This is one of the more upbeat songs on the album and it’s great fun to listen to. The main guitar line sounds somewhat similar to some of those on King’s Crimson’s classic “In the Court of the Crimson King” and the lyrics are amusing and mad to listen to. Should have been on the soundtrack to Alice in Wonderland!
2) Bats in the Belfry II
A synthy electronic keyboard sound reminiscent to some of Pink Floyd’s music opens the song. It’s a lot more melodic and acts as a sort of break of pace after the energetic opening song. The song is very 70s in style with some truly strange vocal effects entering about 1/3 of the way though and some great organ & piano sounds throughout. It’s a more progressive song then the opener but clocking in at 3:31 it’s easy to digest. Definetly a highlight for me.
3) Pain Killers
The one word that immediately comes into my mind when listening to this song is “fun”. It’s such an entertaining song to listen to and this is mainly due to the lyrics: “Here come the men in the white suits / They’re coming to take me away from the Paaaain!!” and “Lately baby, I feel strange / I’m a head case / And maybe, baby, I need to get away”. On the surface the lyrics basically personify painkillers, which coupled with a great hard rock style guitar line and a solid solo show that Bigelf definetly know how to have fun. The only downside is that it can be slightly repetitive on occasion, but at its short running time that doesn’t really damage the song.
Another slower song now, but this time it doesn’t work as well. Has a great base line throughout. It all sounds very classic rock in approach with hints of Zeppelin appearing more than once. Overall it’s an ok song, but it’s a bit too slow paced and repetitive with un-captivating lyrics and the running time of 6:31 could have done with 2 mins being trimmed off, although the last minute is a good listen.
5) Rock and Roll Contract 4/5
On the surface its pretty obvious almost straight away that this song is about bands ‘selling out’, with lyrics such as “Sell your soul to reach the goal the label’s got in mind” and “Now that you smell the greed / Do you still want a rock and roll contract?”. Saying that, it’s an interesting song to listen to if you hate it when bands commercialise their sound for sales and it does have a great piano undertone throughout the song giving it a somewhat jazzy and ‘rock and roll’ sound. Very enjoyable.
6) Sunshine Suicide
Quite a simple song and if there was going to be a single off the album, this song would have probably been that. It’s not bad song due to that reason mind, it’s just there’s nothing that really stands out and it’s basically the same chorus repeated for 4 minutes. Then again, it is really catchy in parts and it does pick up during the last 30 seconds with an interesting solo. Also has a “classic rock” feel throughout, which is never a bad thing.
7) Falling Bombs
The song starts out with a haunting counting and air raid siren, then some eerie vocals for the first minute about bombs being dropped. Then in typical Bigelf fashion, a funky guitar sound enters and we’re into the song. What make this song so interesting are the eerie breaks in sound between the throbbing progressive guitar sections. In one particular instance the sound stops and all we hear is a piano, some static and vocals saying “Mother’s cooking in the kitchen, she looks up to the sky / She sees a fighter pilot’s mission, and she wonder’s why.” In the context of the song, this is very effective in creating mood. Other than that there are some very progressive guitar and piano tones, ending up a great song.
8) Black Moth
I’m not sure what the lyrics mean in this song, but I can say that it suffers from the same problem that ‘Disappear’ had. It’s 6 mins long but there is not enough variation or energy in the riffs. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind long songs. I love ‘Echoes’ by Pink Floyd and any of Dream Theater’s epics, but even at only a fraction longer than the rest (6:00 isn’t THAT long) it still drags a bit. On the other hand it does have a nice baseline and some interesting sounds, but it’s still not quite there.
9) Carry The Load
The opening riff to this song screams ‘heavy metal’, and in essence this song is probably the ‘heaviest’ on the album, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any progressive or groovy licks, even though they aren’t in the forefront. Again, I’m not sure what the lyrics mean, maybe something about someone wrongly imprisoned and has to carry someone else’s burden (“It’s so dark in here…”, “I’m biding my time / I’m plotting a scheme….”)? Anyway, the heavier edge is a nice change from all the prog, and it’s a fairly entertaining song.
10) Burning Bridges 5/5
Next up is ‘Burning Bridges’, another melodic song in a similar vein to ‘Bats in the Belfry II’ and is also very progressive and Pink Floyd-esque. Some of the sounds in this song will really please old school prog fans with synthy electric keyboard/organ – a great example of this is at 3:18 where there’s a lovely solo. The song is the second longest on the CD, but this time doesn’t drag as much due to the great harmonic melody it has.
11) Bats in the Belfry I
A funky intro opens this song then into a suave sounding guitar part. There are some great lyrics on top of the crazy guitar sounds and time signatures: “Against the wall – you’re ready to fall / Cause all and all you don’t know what to do”, for example. The song is a lot trippier than its sequel and has some really out there sounds in it. Probably the most ‘spacey’ song on the record.
‘$’, the shortest song on the album sticks to only a piano and vocals for the entire song. There’s not much to say about the song. The lyrics focus on the evils of money: “Money, it’s pure evil / It changes, changes people / Money, it’s your best friend / ‘Till it leads you to the bitter end” and the piano stays that same throughout most of the song. It’s a decent song, and one that would be re-recorded with the full band on their next release, “Cheat the Gallows”.
Bats in the Belfry II: 5/5
Pain Killers: 5/5
Rock and Roll Contract: 4/5
Sunshine Suicide: 3.5/5
Falling Bombs: 4.5/5
Black Moth: 3/5
Carry the Load: 4/5
Burning Bridges: 5/5
Bats in the Belfry I: 4.5/5
I honestly think that this is a great album and a good place to start for new fans. It may even be Bigelf’s best, but I need more time listening to the others to make a proper judgement. If you like the music from the 70s, you may get a kick out of this, I certainly did.
Recommended: Bats in the Belfry II, Pain Killers, Burning Bridges.