Bigelf – Into The Maelstrom
Bigelf – Into the Maelstrom (2014)
Written by Mark Nagy
“Most of the earth has been scorched and burned, it looks bleak to survive the genocide
Now all our lives, are spent counting time, the secrets align, until we die
Oh my God what can it be? It’s the end of eternity. Oh my God what have we done? We’ve reached the Edge Of Oblivion”
Bigelf is unabashedly one of my favorite bands. Like many, I was introduced to them by Mike Portnoy’s Progressive Nation 2009 tour. I was blown away by dominating showmanship and a completely heartfelt vintage sound that embodied many of my favorite early metal and progressive rock bands from the 1970s, along with a heavy dose of Beatles worship. While recent events have perhaps threatened their status as the “Evil Beatles”, vocalist/organ player/songwriter/mastermind Damon Fox has joined forces with longtime Bigelf bassist Duffy Snowhill (Which is, as far as I can tell, not something he got out of a Scandinavian hobbit name generator) and longtime Bigelf fan and progressive rock nomad Mike Portnoy to put out release #5 in what’s been a 24 year career.
So what of this offering? Into The Maelstrom is a decidedly different approach from the hell’s circus-show of Cheat The Gallows, and even though that album was built as a send-off to the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers album, there’s actually a stronger dose of Beatles influence on Into the Maelstrom. On top of that, there’s still plenty of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, and Alice Cooper influences abounding. The album, like much of Bigelf’s career, plays like a loving tribute to a bygone era.
This is also the first Bigelf album that is the result of a single creative vision. Previous efforts had always been collaborations between Damon Fox and whoever was in the band at the time, and in the case of Cheat The Gallows, that was just the result of the creative vision of the band’s entire history. Damon on his own is less inclined to the excess and explosiveness that made Cheat The Gallows a jaw-dropping extravaganza, but that’s not to say that these moments are entirely gone. The musical introduction of “Hypersleep”, the guitar solo of “Already Gone”, and the front end of the album’s closer “ITM” are still rich in the bombastic DNA that makes the band great. Still, the songs are carried more by vocal melodies than in the past. The result is still phenomenal, if a little bit less distinct.
In addition to Mike Portnoy behind the drum kit, Into The Maelstrom welcomes Luis Carlos Maldonado onto guitars for the solos. Maldonado is certainly talented, and when given the opportunity, as on “Edge of Oblivion”, “Control Freak”, “Mr. Harry McQuahae”, and “Already Gone”, he can lay down some really impressive guitar solos that reek of sentimentality and swagger. Still, I can’t point to a single instance where the whole song seems to stop for an awe-inspiring solo like on “Money” or It’s Pure Evil”. In fact, on “Already Gone,” Maldonado puts on his most impressive solo of the album, only to be sung over.
Still, the songwriting of Damon Fox is as superb as ever. “Alien Frequency” sounds like nothing the band has ever done before, and it has a chorus that’s absolutely stunning. “Control Freak”, while dubious as a choice for a lead single, functions wonderfully within the album, shifting the tone to a darker direction. “High” is the seemingly obligatory Sabotage-era Black Sabbath tribute, which has always been one of my favorite attributes of the band. “Edge Of Oblivion” is really where it all comes together though. For someone whose favorite Bigelf track was “The Evils Of Rock And Roll”, this was the track that really tied everything together for me. It’s got lyrics worthy of the legacy Fox crafted on “The Gravest Show On Earth”, and Portnoy’s fills and solos are completely stunning. I was actually quite worried about how Portnoy’s style would mesh with the band over the course of this new album, especially since I was a huge fan of the style of the band’s long-time drummer Steve Frothingham, AKA Froth. Much to my satisfaction, Portnoy adjusted his style to fit the needs of the band wonderfully.
For the vintage-minded progressive rock fan, Into The Maelstrom is essential listening. While Bigelf is often accused of derivative songwriting and leaning too strongly on its influences, I see a much different picture. While the sound can so obviously be traced to that bygone era, rich with hammond organs and the almighty mellotron, Bigelf completely inhabits their niche.
4.5 // 5