While the varied Progarchists have every right to be as critical as each so desires about music, books about music, art, etc. on this site (after all, a world that seeks conformity is already a dead and failing world), I will freely admit my profound if not also extreme fanboy love for several current acts: Big Big Train, Neal Morse, Gazpacho, The Reasoning, Cosmograf, Tin Spirits, The Flower Kings, The Pineapple Thief, and Arjen A. Luccasen.
I happily add older (meaning pre-1992) acts such as Rush, Talk Talk, and The Cure to this list.
Catching up quickly for me: IZZ, Coralspin, and Roswell Six.
But, certainly among the best of the best stands The Fierce and the Dead and every project (solo or otherwise) of Matt Stevens. Prog magazine recently promoted Stevens as a future “prog god.” I would declare him, happily, already a member of the pantheon. But, of course, I remain a mere priest, having no power to change the inner workings of the heavens, only to declare who resides there!
I originally wrote the following article last May. If I changed it,I would only more descriptives and more praise of Matt. Happily, in the last several months, I’ve gotten to know Matt through correspondence a bit. I can assure the readers of Progarchy that Matt is every bit as kind and witty as he is piercingly talented.
Rumors from good sources abound that The Fierce and the Dead might make their way to North America in 2013. I can guarantee Matt, Kevin, Stuart, and Steve that Progarchy will do whatever it can to promote them to every North American possible. The New World not only welcomes you, Matt, it beckons with fulsome praise.
About a year ago, Facebook recommended that I “like” a progressive rock band called “The Fierce and the Dead.” Rarely do I follow such suggestions. A few months ago, I liked “Jesus,” then I had to defriend him, as the relationship got awkward very quickly. This Jesus kept claiming the words of St. Paul or St. James as his own, and I began to doubt this Jesus as a being of high moral character. Where I teach, a student can plagiarize twice before being set adrift, permanently, from the school. I actually gave this Jesus three chances. Then, he was gone.
Well, anyway, you get the drift.
But, when FB asked me to “like” The Fierce and the Dead, I did so out of curiosity. I immediately loved the name. The Fierce and the Dead (TFATD) reminded me of my saying the Creed throughout my life: “He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead,” a personal favorite use of language. I also thought of my hero Sam Gamgee, wielding the elven blade Sting against Shelob: no onslaught more fierce was ever seen, Tolkien wrote. Two wonderful associations for me. Whether the members of TFATD had either of these things in mind when coming up with the band name, I have no idea. They might not have a religious inkling in their blood. They might not even like Sam Gamgee!
The picture associated with the group on FB was an image of a lone tree out in the plains. It could’ve been taken anywhere near where I grew up. It might be a hanging tree. Regardless, at the moment I saw the picture, I’d assumed they were from my neck of the non-woods, somewhere near Kansas. As it turned out, I was off by several 1,000 miles.
Most importantly, the song, “Part I,” was a song out of a dream. Nineteen minutes of prog bliss–soaring, circling, hovering, and spacey guitars, moods and moods and moods, steady, hypnotic drumming, more moods, an aggressively supportive bass, and still more moodiness. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to the song over the past twelves months, but I’ve never grown tired of it, and it continues to reveal new things to me with each listen.
“Part I” is also just really inspiring. From this first song, the listener knows this band is out for art–real art–not commercialized and superficial art, but true and good and beautiful art.
Needless to write, from the name to the music, I was immediately taken with TFATD, and I knew that relationship would continue no matter what the band released.
I then found out that the leader of the band, Matt Stevens, was not only equally talented and gifted on his own, but that–through FB and Twitter–he was an incredibly nice, intelligent, and witty guy. Indeed, I’ve not only heard his playing, but I’ve seen his prose writing. I’ve also read his commentaries on commerce, art, and the unholy alliances that often go on in the music world. From everything I’ve seen, the man is terribly gifted! He’s also loaded with integrity, and, as a father and husband, he worries about being able to support his family. Yet, if I can be religious for a moment (not in the mocking way up above with FB Jesus), Matt Stevens was meant to be a guitarist and produce some of the most interesting art of our times. Yes, he was MEANT to do this.
I now proudly own the first three solo albums Matt made: “Echo,” “Ghost,” and “Relic.” Each is quite profound, variegated, and eccentric.
The first proper TFATD LP, “If it carries on like this. . .” is less spacey than the “Part 1,” but equally good. The more I listen to it, the more I think this must be some kind of supergroup. Imagine Robert Fripp and David Gilmour on guitar, Geddy Lee on bass, and Mike Joyce (from The Smiths) on drums. That’s what “If it carries on. . .” seems to be. A prog/post-New Wave supergroup, but without the pretensions of most supergroups. Needless to write, these four members of TFATD–Matt Stevens, Kevin Feazy, Stuart Marshall, and Steve Cleaton–play as one very tight unit.
In the last several months, TFATD released a new EP, “On VHS,” an excellent successor to their previous releases. Just as punctuated in its energy, “On VHS” hits the listener with a meaningful intensity from the first listen. While it’s obvious that these are the same guys who did everything else under the TFATD name, it’s equally obvious they want to keep their music moving in new directions. In this sense, they are progressive at that noble term’s best.
As the name of the title of the opening track, Six Six Six.Six, suggests, the introduction is deceptively spacey. For a few moments, the listener might well imagine a sequel to “Part I.” That spacey-ness ends as quickly as it begins, and the song drives deep into the eternal; guitars, drums, and bass each drilling with a logical madness toward some uncertain and illogical end. It is madness, but it is Ken Kesey-type of madness, appreciated and respected and perhaps more real than what we see around us at any moment of our lives.
The second song, “Hawaii,” is nearly as driving as the first track. While there’s an element of progressive surf music in this, the song is beautiful in its execution. This seems the most King Crimsonish of the songs (not that it’s in any way derivative; it’s original. Frankly, I can’t imagine Matt and gang doing anything that didn’t have meaning in and of itself).
The third song, “On VHS,” is probably my favorite of the EP (and, this is saying a lot, for all of the songs are excellent). While there’s still a King Crimsonish feel on the guitar work, the rest of the band could be playing a really great Smith’s instrumental. Indeed, the whole song feels a bit like a progressive version of a post-New Wave song by the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen or Simple Minds (before they went bad).
The final original song, “Part 3” is the longest on the LP. Grumbling bass becomes spacey and, at times, soaring guitar, awash in colors of sound. The drums hold everything together, as the listener floats and drifts away before a real determination emerges about two minutes into the song. As this point, I feel I could be enjoying a Tin Spirits song. There’s an American Western kind of feel to the middle section, especially. That is, I can envision Clint Eastwood or John Wayne slowly coming to the conclusion that justice must prevail. At a bit past the midpoint of the song, justice now rages, and evil is being taken out. The EP concludes with an immensely satisfying feeling of truth and goodness prevailing.
While I’m merely guessing, I would assume this final song is meant to be a sequel of some kind to “Part 1.” [And, yes, it is: Parts I, II, and III).
For those reading this review, I hope you’ll forgive me for the comparisons to other groups. TFATD is definitely its own band, and I can’t imagine them any other way. Their TFATD-ness is a huge part of what makes them lovable. It’s also what make the listener (dare I say the fan?) want to support them in anyway possible.
Matt and Co., please keep fighting the good fight for art with meaning and integrity. I’m already eagerly awaiting the followup.