So it’s not often we actually get the chance to sit down and review a largely independent album like this. So far we have been largely dedicated to reviewing golden oldies, interviewing emerging bands and reviewing gigs of established acts. However for us to stay true to our values here at Music Season, it’s about time we started interviewing some of YOUR music and promoting what we think is right, and furthering what we think has potential. With that said we are in for a great one today with a review of the newly released album ‘… And Set The Ray To Stun’ by A History Of Bad Men (one hell of a catchy mouthful eh). So would our first independent review be predominantly positive, or would it end in tears?
Well I can straightforwardly say that is definitely not the second option! I was incredibly impressed by this groups debut and really found a sense of originality and experimentation in what their act was pulling off (two traits I rank highest when reviewing). With sprinklings of Queens Of The Stone Age, a hint of Muse and even a tablespoon of Parisian Folk, I was enthralled by how the band weren’t afraid to vary things; a procedure very rare to see in an establishing act. What I liked most is how they didn’t play it safe. Many bands on their first outing typically create the same song 5 times, call it an EP and hope that one song sounds slightly more catchier than the others, these guys blew that ideology away. With sounds reminiscent of early Floyd and modern Red Fang, they combined the fluidity of classic rock with the grittiness of the new age of stoner rock; practically like a more raw Wolfmother. So now I’ll move on and dissect areas of this LP which gave me this overall feeling.
The album kicks off with the track ‘How To Hang Off A Rope’ (these guys sure know how to devise a title) and it immediately gave that QOTSA vibe. With a heavily, almost technically, distorted guitar, a running bass line and multiple tom orientated fills, the song really gives off that classic rock atmosphere of old. The vocals then come in with a very similar sound to that of Josh Homme/Jack White which complimented the track very well. The important thing with the vocals here is that it played it’s course homophonically; not getting lost in the murk of the accompaniment. However, I do think this song could of done with a big bridge, perhaps a solo maybe a break down of some form, it just would of elevated it that step further but I do recognise that this is a trio and that would be hard to replicate live.
The next tune (and my favourite off of the album) is ‘We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat’. With an unbelievably catchy riff paired with Ian’s catchy as hell hook; it remained stuck in my head for a good hour or so after listening to it. There are some parts of this song that really brought out the maturity in their sound, from the clever lyrics, to the seamless transitions; similar to ‘No One Knows’ by QOTSA but keeping it’s own individuality at the forefront. The song ends abruptly sure but that helps the album flow from one track to the other well; the first indication of variation.
The next song ‘High On The Hog’ intensifies that variation with a Sabbath like slow drum beat/fills which gives the album a new rhythm. With vivid lyrics, a huge chorus and a very alternate bridge, this song capitalises on that originality we talked about early. The only pointers I’d give at this point are mainly around production. The snare could do with a more piercing sound, the kick with a deeper bass and perhaps the lead guitar solo could of done with a better dual panning system to mix it into the track better (common issues when it comes to debut albums).
‘On The Wrong Side Of A Closing Door’ is a track that brings the circle back round to the start again with that distorted Muse sound thickening the guitar once again. The riff itself is like a slow Nu-Metal accompaniment to Ian’s very much haunting vocals. Stu on the bass also gets a chance to showcase himself in this track with a lovely whole bass tone emphasising the sweet bass progression he was playing underneath. I especially enjoyed the bridge in this track since it showed that mature sound again; it was unexpected yet worked so well. It would of been easier to just write a simple solo or let the beat continue carrying but this section ended up being a huge highlight since it gave a glimpse into what these guys could produce with the right amount of production. The song rounds off with a big ending which perhaps could of done with one more guitar track/maybe a synth track to thicken the texture up a little.
‘Murder In Mind’ follows next and I’m sort of undecided on the sound. I enjoyed the chordal progression, I like the Gypsy style bass playing, heck I even appreciated the chorus elevation, but something was slightly missing here. I think it may of been momentum based or perhaps the just the placement of it. The vocals went for a more Chris Rea tone/more of a deep south feel, it worked well in parts in correlation to the lyrical structure, but in some parts it didn’t quite hit. Again I must reiterate that I do appreciate the intention of varying stuff here but I think the output is highly subjective; if you like that type of music it will probably float your boat, but if you’re not necessarily into that sound, you’re gonna need a bigger boat… Sorry I’ll take my puns and leave.
‘All Teeth No Tongue’ is perhaps my second favourite song off of the LP since it reminds me of my own style of riffing. Back when I first took up guitar and got into alt rock, I always made riffs along this vein but never succeeded in pulling parts together; these guys clearly proved there is a way. The riff is dissonant, perhaps dis-functional, but I like that a tone, it’s catchy as all hell. The chorus reminded me of that age old WWE Core music which I used to listen to a ton when I was younger, it’s aggressive and wild and I can really get behind that type of stuff. The bridge has small little transitions exchanged between the bass, guitar and drums over the rhythm of the verse riff. I thought it was clever and perhaps with more post production these parts could of been milked further.
Next on the playlist is more of a vocal interlude. If you’ve read my earlier articles you can already tell what I think of interludes and not too much changes here. It might of brought the albums concept out and played it off more as a musical soundtrack piece but meh I have no stance on it.
‘You Can’t Lose You Never Had’ the title track and the magnum opus to the albums dark side. It’s really full of that stoner rock vibe; very Alice And Chains. It’s slow building, almost lurking and it really brings another tone out of the album. The rest of the tracks are a bit more fun loving up to this point and this one brings out that eerie Sabbath sound I hinted at earlier. It’s nice to have a bit of darkness come into play when listening to a rock group since really that is what rock music should be about; letting the dark, angry side out. It has the EQ of a modern Alt Rock track yet plays a very 70s rhythm which is a fusion that I have never heard before but would love to hear more often. Chris on drums shows off some great tom work in this track almost replicating some great Bill Ward-esque sequences. The outro is a little psychedelic which fits the 70s style well but perhaps could do with a bit of clarity just so that the instruments still sound refined. Wait did I say outro?! They caught me off guard with the false ending and then suddenly the track picks up tenfold again. With fast guitar licks, thunderous drum routines it sets up the final song nicely. A 7 minute long classic alt progs dream.
The edgy album titled ‘…And Set The Ray To Stun’ is somewhat of a black sheep on the album. It’s a short, very short, very very short punk song that literally came out of nowhere. It sounded like the Ramones meet the Gallows and though I liked it as a standalone song, I can’t tell whether it really worked on an album like this. It was a good bit of fun but seemed very out of place on the playlist. Muy extraño.
The perhaps inappropriately titled ‘End Song’ comes back and sums up the formula of this album very well. It’s brutal alt rock at it’s finest with crash orientated choruses, Matt Belamy-esque vocals and a phat bass line (concentrate on the ‘ph’ there). It ends with a post production type interlude and the type I actually enjoy! One that keeps some form of significance on the album and plays into the concepts mentioned well. It’s spooky, 2 spooky 4 me. But nevertheless it rounds the tracks off well. Did I say round the track off? BAM, they hit me with another false ending again, two in one album you cheeky buggars. The riff I overall like but it seems to fall off the metronome in certain parts sounding a little disconnected but it recovers itself with another big-ass chorus, with another guitar part this final chorus could of been an absolute triumph. The double kick pattern in this part is mouth watering and it ends the whopping 8 minute track brilliantly. Almost expected another false ending at the end you have me
‘Of All Those Yesterdays’ ends the album with a more progressive ballad. It doesn’t quite work for me since I really began to dig these efforts into alt prog rock but again that’s preference. It pulls together the album softly which sure is a typically could ending and the song itself is a well constructed composition, but I would of perhaps dug a gritty big number to end with a massive final chorus. A little Floyd-y in parts but overall another meh as I was riding high off of a great rock tune before it. Another subjective song that half of the listeners will love to hear and chant live to bring together a good set, and the other half wait for that hard rock encore.
So all in all, a brilliant debut from an independent act. The quality for the most part in sound was pretty excellent, the sound was mature, the playlist was varied and the band surprised me with each track. The positives are too many to number and the only real issues have are with the post production mixing (common with independent acts yet in this case is barely noticeable) and some of the slower beats. I realise that songs need to counter fast tunes with slow ones to keep the tempos balanced but preference rears its ugly head when it comes to my taste. As for the post production, it’s just simple touches like a heavier kick slap/deeper kick noise, some slight reverb on the hi-hats, a more piercing snare and more intricate panning (all of these are even predominant in professional music so it’s little to no worry). Since it is an independent LP I will rate it along those borders too in comparison to others.
GAP Rating: 7/10 – One of the more interesting rock albums to come out last year.
IAP Rating: 8/10 – A ruddy good listen with some anthemic alt rock tracks which, in the future, will get that extra tiny bit of polishing it deserves.
(Also as an afterword, the album itself as a physical presentation is great for an unsigned band and looks brilliant on the shelf!)
A History Of Bad Men Website: http://www.ahistoryofbadmen.com/
A History Bad Men Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/A-History-of-Bad-Men-214707365275480/