Into the future…with a blast from the past…
Sometimes bands that openly wear their influences on their sleeves are derided for being derivative and lacking in originality—retro is both cool and a dirty word, it just depends what you are applying the label to.
‘Bigelf’’s – ‘Into the Maelstrom’ is so openly retro in style that on the surface it appears an easy target to shoot down as a pastiche. Straight off the bat, they hit you hard with a massively distorted rock guitar riff, down and dirty from the Sabbath vaults. This is pure unadulterated 70’s heavy rock, well produced but not tweaked with any modern edge or given the Muse tune-up that came about from the late 90’s onward. It’s rough and gutsy, a sheer wall of noise which sounds like a handful of sweaty leather clad guys, albeit with an androgynous smudge of mascara, grinding out the album in one go. Analogue mixing with old tube amps–everything real, down to the beat up guitars and whisky bottles lying around the studio. The truth may be far from this picture but the image the music musters has that old fashioned honesty about it.
The riffs from guitarist Luis Maldonado are for the majority of the album full of Tony Iommi inspired muscle. They chug out mercilessly behind a relentless pounding Portnoy beat, and yes at times he is very much comparable to Ward himself.
It’s only rock n’ roll but I like it…
Lightening the mood from the dark, doomy Sabbath sound is a layering of glam and synth-laden progressive rock with American Psychedelic weirdness. The former of these is the flavour of the Bowie Glam era evident in the vocal from founder member and writer, Damon Fox.
Thematically it’s all rather space-edged in concept—something that was all the rage in the early 70’s as the space race came to the peak of its popularity. The material ignores all the modern elements of rock music and focuses on far off sci-fi conceptualisation in sounds like the fantastically bonkers opener ‘Incredible time machine’ or in ‘Hypersleep’ and ‘Edge of Oblivion’–tracks that would have sounded perfect on ‘Rainbow Rising’, ‘Heaven and Hell’, In Rock and a whole host of classic rock albums from the era, not forgetting of course Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
If these are albums that sit in your battered vinyl collection or still adorn your old patched up denim that sits in the back of your wardrobe then this is the album will make you put it on and air guitar in your bedroom once more. It has the ability to do that and in the process the last 30-40 years melt away.
Each track has the ability to grab you from from the first play with catchy hooks, memorable choruses with some effective harmonies which give way to traditional guitar solos that are still as relevant and vibrant in the 21st century as anything from Gorman or Tipton glory days. ‘Already gone’ is an good example of this in the closing third.
Mixing up the sound further is a number of other bands such as ELO in the form of the big Beatle sound they perfected. Present in the song, ‘Theater of Dreams’ is a big belting dose of Jeff Lynne with a good splash of Cockney Rebel added for good measure.
The progressive start to the last song ‘ITM’ has tinges of King Crimson at times before breaking into some more solid Glam infused progressive rock. In this track the gloves are off and the music gets about as proudly overblown as it can for the last eight minutes. It’s not hard to imagine this live in concert, the drummer would be 20 feet above the stage on a riser and below guitarists would windmill the last chords through the fizz and smoke of a barrage of pyrotechnics. Famous live albums would follow from on afterwards – Live in japan, in a gatefold double LP—a classic for all time. Yes they are most definitely from another time and space.
The future – 70’s style!
All this may sound a tad indulgent, to bask in glow of a 70’s sounding rock band, an echo of a bygone era, not even the real thing. Yet it serves as a reminder of when rock was good. Stripped down, it’s truthful and unashamed at it’s flairs and sideburns and it’s head-down, pot-headed scifi weirdness. The world has moved on and through its digital, clinicalness it has lost some ability to charm and mystify simply like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy over the rainbow. The feeling achieved from listening to ‘Into the Maelstrom’ can return you there and it’s a great reason to get this record. On vinyl of course!
Into the Maelstrom – Track Listing:
1. “Incredible Time Machine” 3:57
2. “Hypersleep” 5:38
3. “Already Gone” 3:29
4. “Alien Frequency” 4:15
5. “The Professor & The Madman” 6:00
6. “Mr. Harry McQuhae” 6:14
7. “Vertigod” 3:58
8. “Control Freak” 2:52
9. “High” 7:11
10. “Edge of Oblivion” 6:34
11. “Theater of Dreams” 4:02
12. “ITM” 8:10
• “I. Destination Unknown”
• “II. Harbinger of Death”
• “III. “Memories”
3 thoughts on “Review : ‘Bigelf’ — ‘Into the Maelstrom’”
I have really been enjoying this album. I have given it a couple of listens, and it seems so unlike anything I have heard before, but so similar to other things I have listened to. Good stuff.
I thought it was a real surprise of an album, I reckon it will make my top 10 this year without doubt!
Great review Eric – it’s a back to basics album. The world of music has IMO become overproduced and, in many cases, too perfect from a sound perspective (and I’m an audiophile!). Big Elf is a refreshing change in this respect. Their sound is raw and natural but still of excellent quality.
Overall I think the album is a bit ‘patchy’ but definitely worth purchasing