Over the years, the Lord of the Rings trilogy has been a fairly popular inspiration for concept albums. Even before Peter Jackson’s world dominating, award winning film adaptations, rock bands were looking to Tolkien for lyrical themes. Magnum‘s Bob Catley released an entire album of Middle Earth based songs back at the turn of the millennium; Blind Guardian released a full album of Tolkien tales two years previously. It could be said that many prog, power metal and battle metal bands are obsessed, but few have taken Tolkien to heavier places than Barrow Wight.
Formed in 2007 around the talents of drummer/producer Daniel Flores and vocalist Angelica Rylin, The Murder of My Sweet is a symphonic metal band based in Sweden. Their third album, 2015’s ‘Beth Out of Hell’ is a ridiculously grand affair straddling a fairly typical symphonic metal sound with huge elements pulled from musical theatre. Those who enjoy Within Temptation, Nightwish et al might glean some listening enjoyment, but to say its bombast is both one-paced and predictable would be an understatement.
Delivering four songs in approximately 47 minutes, the 2014 release from London-based doom/dark psych rockers Transmaniacon is not for the faint of heart. Housed in a sleeve depicting a desolate post-apocalyptic horizon dominated by robots (expertly conceived by artist Ian Miller), part epic hard rock, part concept album, ‘The Darkening Plain’ is a both a frightening and frighteningly grand work, especially aimed at those who love things from the fuzzier and (occasionally) less heavy end of the doom rock spectrum.
Following a release of a handful of digital onIy singles released throughout 2013, Wax Fang pull out all the stops on this full-length offering – five tracks, forty-plus minutes and the disastrous tale of “an astronaut separated from his craft and swallowed by a black hole”. In the hands of some, a concept album can be fabulous, in others, it’s the worst kind of self-indulgence not far from career suicide. Thankfully, for Wax Fang, ‘The Astronaut’ and its grand scale works well, the directness of parts of their music overshadowing most of the potential for grandiose meandering. This sprawling opus has one main aim: to grab the listener and sonically melt them with the push and pull between hard rock grooves and sonic textres. Various influences drift in and out – from Hawkwind, Muse, tiny nods to Mars Volta, ambient, Krautrock and touches of stoner – though none ever quite take a dominant hold, meaning Wax Fang’s odd menagerie of noise-making isn’t always too predictable.
The Silver Seas 2010 album ‘Chateau Revenge!’ not only raised the bar in terms of what they were capable as a band, but the release also came with a strong sense of cult adoration, with the UK’s Danny Baker becoming one of the band’s most outspoken supporters. For those who were there, the band’s September 2011 performance in front of a select but fiercely loyal London crowd – just prior to an appearance on the BBC’s prestigious ‘Later…With Jools Holland’- remains something of a watershed moment. Riding the wave further and coming up with an album that was not only equal, but better than ‘Chateau Revenge!’ was always going to be tough. So, like Fleetwood Mac following the hugely palatable ‘Rumours’ with the over indulgent ‘Tusk’, with 2013’s ‘Alaska’, The Silver Seas have wisely chosen not to try and top previous achievements, but instead take a side-step and – at lease on the surface – offer their loyal fans something different. …But fear not, it’s not so different…at least not in a frankly paranoid, coked-out and bonkers ‘Tusk’ sense.