For years, it felt like The Fierce And The Dead were a band that few people knew or talked about. Then, at some point prior to the release of their ‘Magnet’ EP in 2015, they started getting semi-regular coverage in Prog Magazine. This helped them to become a cult band in the truest sense, though it still seems odd that they’ve been so embraced by the prog crowd. They’re far beyond the Genesis, Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater clones that so much of the Prog audience seem to hold so dear. Their previous releases have had a progressive bent, it’s true, but their artier side has taken in elements of Fugazi and other angular noise-makers that would normally make your average prog fan run for the (Solsbury) hills. There’s a tale that suggests, apparently, at one indoor prog rock event, The Fierce And The Dead managed to half empty a room. For all the talk, some prog fans are anything but progressive in their tastes.
Following the release of ‘Magnet’, the band’s star continued to ascend thanks to more festival appearances. The beginning of 2018 brought a sold out London headline appearance and an invite to appear at a Hawkwind headlined weekend. Their next album could be make or break.
That eagerly awaited album ‘The Euphoric’, as always, is a work that could divide opinion. They’ve always been a “marmite” band, but their 2018 epic takes more musical detours than ever before. In fact, the opening track and lead single ‘Truck’ is perhaps more melodic than a lot of their previous work. It has a familiar fuzz bass and occasional tinkling guitar that’s very obviously the work of loop master Matt Stevens, but the rest of the track focuses far more on a retro melody. A heavy-ish riff is instantly catchy, but its a world away from prog or prog metal; instead, it comes with the fuzzed out edge of a stoner rock classic, more in keeping with Fu Manchu and MissingMile. Contrasting that with cleaner guitar sounds and a jagged mid section that pushes a measured drum part to the fore, and there’s more than enough to keep your ears busy. Turning quickly on its heels, the intro to ‘1991’ at first moves away from metallic sounds and lends choppy guitar riffs to a punchy arrangement that hinges firmly upon Kev Feazey’s bass. Again, there’s plenty of fuzziness – it’s a sound that never gets old – but there’s a huge wave of melody too. Matt’s guitar work drops in and out with arty glee, teasing with shimmering sounds that owe as much to early 90s dream pop and goth as any hard or progressive rock. Moving forward, the bass still dominates, but a multi-layered sound brings looped jazz noodlings and eventually a slightly atonal Sonic Youth inspired riff, before settling into a really catchy rock groove. It might come across like four or five musical sketches hanging off a great bass part, but by sheer balls and guts, it works brilliantly. A definite highlight.
Moving further away from the Fierce/Dead sound, ‘Verbose’ throws itself into a world of art-rock, with Kev’s bass sounding as if its hit upon a heavily overdriven Bauhaus riff while Steve and Matt indulge in angular, disjointed shapes. Behind the kit, drummer Stuart hits upon a solid rhythm and it’s the simplicity in his mechanised playing that allows this track to work as well as it does. Filling space, Stevens throws in clean guitar sounds – echoing, beautiful, always contrasting with the fat bass groove – before everyone comes together for a gloriously heavy finish. It’s unlikely you ever thought they’d be a place in the world for a mash-up that sounds like a collaboration between The Jesus Lizard and Sevendust, but whether you wanted it or not, TFATD are happy to oblige. A A number that’s been part of the live set prior to this release, ‘Dancing Robots’ begins with a lovely guitar melody that almost sounds like a piece of music from the Freddie Phillips score for Trumpton or Chigley, but this is soon swept aside for a disjointed neo-funky riff that grooves and rattles in equal measure. While the rhythm is of utmost importance, it’s the presence of a few heavy riffs that take precedence: one, in particular, sounds like an old Breeders riff replayed by a stoner rock band, and with extended droning chords used to derail the middle of the track, the band’s love of stoner and desert sounds becomes even more impossible to ignore. Throw in a solid, heavy melody that’s one of the most focused of the entire record, given time, this could wind up being a favourite.
An even bigger surprise, ’48K’ kicks off with a riff that seems to be one part early Iron Maiden (specifically the slow bit from the middle of ‘Phantom of The Opera’) and two parts Piltdown Man section from Mike Oldfield’s over indulgent ‘Tubular Bells’, but beefed up. With a coda featuring the voice of one-time Tinyfish “audience frightner” Rob Ramsay, it’s quirky, but not necessarily the album’s most immediate offering, while the title track teases with a gothic synth pop style, before very distorted guitar drones and lend more of a post-rock aspect. With the push and pull between styles, this is ‘The Euphoric’s most interesting track; the increased use of keyboards and guitar effects are seemingly on hand to whisk you down a rabbit hole to Christ knows where, while the heavy riffs are set to create doomy rumbles as if from a post-apocalyptic soundtrack.
Also soundtrack-like, ‘Dug Town’ has something at its core that sounds like late 70s Tangerine Dream. There’s a coldness that’s almost inhuman, yet it manages to be very appealing. The quieter parts of the track show another side to TFATD, before a heavy riff moves into a doomy but melodic metal style, linked somewhere en route by some very old school twin lead work. In the hands of most bands, the melding of these three styles would be enough, but here, there’s even room for some spacious tinkling, more akin to something from one of Matt’s solo discs. It seems inconceivable that so much has been squeezed into just four minutes. ‘Cadet Opal’, meanwhile, uses a rigid beat to set a pace and groove that’s more robotic than ‘Robot Dance’, more akin to alternative synth pop. Although not much more than an interlude, it’ll certainly irk some of the less adventurous fans, although being almost a kindred spirit to parts of ‘Dug Town’, it never feels out of place. If the band were to experiment with more synths in future, that might be interesting…
At this point, you’re probably thinking “but what of the ongoing numbers concept thing”? Fear not: ‘The Euphoric’ ends suitably with two more segments – in this case ‘Part 7’ and ‘Part 8’. Throughout the course of these seven minutes, there are all manner of twists: Stuart begins by hammering out an almost industrial anger via his kit, before keeping an unshakable rhythm behind some meaty riffery, while Matt and Steve trade off wildly differing guitar parts ranging from shimmering and ethereal to unavoidably aggressive. Despite ‘Part 7’ starting out like three or four musical sketches and some carefully applied Bostik, ‘Part 8’ is smooth and lovingly retro. There’s a bass part that sounds like ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ era Floyd and some delicate guitar work that harks back to a bygone era which will certainly appeal to those less demanding listeners. Never content with making anything like a quiet exit, though, The Fierce And The Dead choose to bow out with a simple but heavy riff – possibly even ‘The Euphoric’s heaviest. All things considered, this double whammy is a fine way to end. It covers at least half of the band’s repertoire of styles, but perhaps gives those longer serving fans something a little more familiar.
This album is so obviously the work of The Fierce And The Dead and yet parts of it sound like nothing the band have attempted before. Always pushing forward – true progression – it’s a very satisfying listening experience. It’s more like “The Quizzical” than ‘The Euphoric’ in places [though it’s suspected the choice of title is a tongue in cheek reference to Dream Theater’s humourless and self-aggrandising ‘The Astonishing’] – but it’s great. As always, be prepared to work hard to reap the best rewards, but with better production values and an audience now waiting to be thrilled and bewildered in equal measure, it could just be the best Fierce/Dead record to date.
Read a review of ‘Magnet’ here.