Into the Maelstrom
5/12/2014 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
When these eccentric, semi-progressive, semi-metal merchants first came to my attention via England's Classic Rock magazine, I was definitely not sold on them. Frontman Damon Fox was one of those guys who, in just about every photo of them I saw, just gave off the overwhelming impression that the music played second fiddle in his world to his fairly ridiculous top hat-centered image. Samplings of the band's music I heard at the time didn't help to dispel that prejudice either, with my impression being that the band were musically competent but ultimately pretty unremarkable. The fact that half of the band's last lineup has been replaced, with displaced Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy joining on a session basis, seemed like it could be a mixed blessing. But for whatever reason, I'm liking this album much more than past Bigelf material I've heard.
Not sure what did the trick, but I'm finding much of this album a pleasant surprise. Opener "The Incredible Time Machine" sports a rather cheesy title and ridiculously dramatized repetition of the title words (and little else) on the chorus, but even that somehow doesn't bother me all that much. Fox still sounds a bit pretentious in places, with his somewhat nasal falsetto being used in a slightly annoying fashion on songs like "Alien Frequency," and everything still has a touch of the ridiculous that has always seemed to be a key element of this band. This time, however, I get this vague sense of there being a greater sense of purpose to the theatricality, nasal vocals and other eccentricities of the band--they come across as something with substance, rather than mere gimmicks.
With a monster percussion technician like Portnoy on board, listeners could understandably come to expect this album to boast a greater amount of musical flare and flash. And while it's far from math metal territory, there does seem to be a little more verve to the music--not necessarily increased technicality, but rather a subtle but significant upping of the ante in terms of composition and the amount of effort that seems to have been put into the songs and the playing. I mean, "Mr. Harry McQuhae" definitely has more Bowie than Black Clouds and Silver Linings, but there is a bit of melodic exoticism in the song's middle section that reminds me of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."
Overall, the addition of Portnoy (and new guitarist Luis Maldonato) doesn't seem to have changed Bigelf's musical agenda, but something, perhaps one or both of these personnel changes, seems to have added new creative life to an act that previously struck me as something of a novelty. Maybe it's just the fact that I didn't have a favorable first impression of the band, but this album does seem to show something of a rejuvenation, perhaps driven by a new-found sense of purpose. (Possibly relevant note: Fox had apparently considered calling it quits until talking to Portnoy, who had recently undergone a very public and dramatic split with Dream Theater.)
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