Review Summary: A lively and admirably diverse retro-prog album that revolves around top-notch songcraft rather than gimmicky technicality.
Hailing from Sweden, Beardfish have already proven that they are a renowned brand when it comes to eclectic prog genre. Their albums have always come as highly regarded among the restricted, yet hectic crowd of progsters. The key to success in their case seems to be the uncanny ability to combine a varied plethora of influences into the music that sounds familiar in a non-archaic manner. Their style clearly derives from numerous progressive acts being at their prime in the good old days of the 1970s. Still, there have been some faults inherent in their full-length releases that amidst some solidly crafted material contained excessively long compositions that failed to cohere. Their newest album "Mammoth" comes to the rescue presenting a significant shift in the band's direction.
First of all, the disc is way more focused than their previous releases. Beardfish have finally recorded an album that flows rather effortlessly by opting for way more focused as well as concise, often hook-driven songwriting. However, there are no apparent changes in the style of music to which they have been faithful throughout their whole almost 10-year career. As a result, "Mammoth" is both relatively accessible and intricate relying on constant alternations of time signatures, motives and moods. While the references to prog rock juggernauts such as King Crimson and Gentle Giant might be overly apparent at times, the album has its own specific atmosphere that warrants its longevity.
The musicianship seems to improve with every subsequent release of theirs. "Mammoth" serves as a proof by showcasing a more vibrant hard rock approach. The guitar shredding is heavier than ever and totally audible bass sections play an indispensable part in the band's admirably layered compositions making them far groovier. Still, the infectious melodies are very prominent thanks to the imaginative instrumentation as well as fitting vocals of Rikard Sioblom who often surprises with his range; for instance, by delivering an unexpectedly harsh hard rock performance in the album's standout composition "Green Waves" which comes as an epic hard rock anthem. In fact, Beardfish are at their best when their music is edgier and heavier as in the mighty opener "The Platform" which blends various mood changes seamlessly.
What especially distinguishes "Mammoth" from other similar releases is its diversity. Capitalizing on a hard rockish approach, the album still holds a healthy dose of surprises. "Akakabotu" is a jazz-inspired freakout of a track that makes a splendid use of saxophone, whereas melancholic ballad "Tightrope" works as a delightful send-up to psychedelic rock of the 1960s. On the other hand, 15-minute-long "And The Stone Said If I Could Speak" is hardly unusual for them, yet it's conceived with such a strong sense of imagination and melody that it ranks among their most accomplished epics. The same statement could easily be applied to far mellower "Without Saying Anything" that ends the album on a playful note.
All in all, "Mammoth" feels like a breakthrough album for Beardfish who approach their blend of fairly derivative retro-prog with well-structured, cohesive compositions that revolve around superb melodies. That's the excellent way to whet the current fans' appetite for the next album garnering some well deserved recognition in the process.