Review Summary: Beardfish push the boundaries of progressive rock delivering their most hard-edged and ominous record to date.
It's difficult to imagine the current progressive rock scene without Beardfish. The Swedish quartet, fronted by extremely talented Rikard Sjöblom, have gained deserved popularity among the fans of the genre releasing six note-worthy records over the course of the last ten years. Their vintage style might have clearly derived from such titans as King Crimson, Frank Zappa and Gentle Giant in the beginning, yet they've managed to establish their own identity throughout their career with music that has always seemed more melodic and playful when likened to their contemporaries. The breakthrough for the group came with last year's Mammoth
which has been the most consistent display of the band's style to date, while even further emphasizing the fact that their conspicuous success lies in boundless eclecticism.
pushes the stylistic boundaries to the new limits. The heaviness that was hinted on the previous disc shows significant expansion. Aside from relying on exclusively raw production, the band turns up the amps and builds their sonic assault on distorted riffs to remarkably intense, ravishing effect. After a brief spoken word prologue, “Voluntary Slavery” kicks off with frenetic heavy metal guitar play, thumping bass lines, thunderous drum fills and enticing vocal harmonies. The track soars in its grandiose chorus giving Sjöblom an opportunity to show off his routinely great vocal skills. While also undeniably heavy, “Turn To Gravel” is another beast altogether with its chugging lead riff, sludgy shredding in the verse and throbbing bass providing the track with some tasteful dissonance. Elsewhere, the technicality of progressive metal is particularly noticeable in heady “This Matter Of Mine” which revolves around plenty of wonderfully quirky transitions.
As the title suggests, The Void
is thematically concerned about the subject of loss and the struggle to heal emotional wounds. Not only is this grim subject matter expressed in metallic songs, but also it makes its presence felt in blues-inspired ones. Unlike many outfits, Beardfish realize that blues has an evil power when appropriately arranged and thus they superbly implement it into their sound in order to create the brooding atmosphere of darkness in the second half of the disc. Southern groove along with Hammond organs propel “He Already Lives In You,” an oddly compelling account of murder and the feeling of guilt that's caused by it. Following suit “Where The Lights Are Low” is a blues-soaked lament that marks the biggest departure from the foursome's signature sound.
Despite all these stylistic excursions, Beardfish don't really abandon their own refined style. The foreboding vibe may be prevailing, but on the expansive 70-minute album there's still plenty of time for the band to pursue their well-trodden path of sublime progressive rock. In fact, several songs on here rank among the quartet's most instantly engaging work. Keys-laden “They Whisper” is a beautifully textured composition that effectively builds to its mesmerizing climax referencing the likes of Gentle Giant and King Crimson in the process, whereas instrumental “Seventeen Again” would be an excellent soundtrack for any silent movie due to its conveniently playful nature. The song bursts with theatricality that also can be found in “Note,” a 16-minute-long epic that touches upon the multitude of styles with unabashed grandeur.
Overall, The Void
is a multi-faceted endeavour that strikes a perfect balance between boisterous and elaborate, which is the chief reason of its tremendous appeal. Its broadly implied progressiveness stems from sheer spontaneity rather than calculation or self-indulgence. That's why, Beardfish are head and shoulders above their copious peers and their new release is prone to rank sky high on many year-end lists.