Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Electric Mud Generator - To the Disdain of Polyhymnia (2008) / 95%

The Union Jack Prog/Psych Metal pt. V: Eloquence

Tony's notes: Polyhymnia was the muse of poetry, eloquence, dance and agriculture in Greek Mythology. Now, I don't know what this band did to deserve her disdain but I'm pretty sure it's undeserved as this album is truly magniloquent and refined in its heaviness.

Electric Mud Generator can be considered as the band before A Forest of Stars, as the three members of this British project evolved towards that psychedelic multi-member troop. Instead of the weird circus atmospheric black metal sound of their younger brother, EMG plays a very interesting kind of progressive music intertwined with stoner and doom elements.

The songs are very long, approximately fifteen minutes each for more than seventy minutes of music and there's nothing wasted since I think that everything on the record has its purpose and we can't say that often for long albums. The structure of the album reminds me of Opeth's classic record Morningrise with its full-fledged sinuous epics. The quality of the compositions, the appropriation of the lengthy songs to their advantage and the use of acoustic guitars and keys can also be compared to the Swedish giants. Considering Åkerfeldt's baby is perhaps my favourite band, consider me flabbergasted by the degree of excellence demonstrated by the Englishmen on this record.

The vocals of Duncan Evans can recall the soothing side of modern Anathema, but make no mistake, this is still pretty damn metal. I think there's also a slight hint of grunge here, or at least a drop of Alice in Chains. It's weird since it reminds me of Jerry Cantrell's two latest albums both released after Polyhymnia, but eh, the metal world is magic! Maybe it's only the vocal sensibilities mixed with the hard hittin' riffing since there's nothing intrinsically progressive found in grunge.

Electric Mud Generator are undeniably English in essence, even though the influences are really not easy to pinpoint. Nonetheless, you can feel the classic side of the British sound. The progressive side seems to be minimally influenced by bands like Gentle Giant or even the 70s glory days of Rush. They're certainly all over the place musically and that's a joy to hear since it's sharply cohesive. That's perhaps the biggest strength showcased by the trio. It's hard to really classify them, there's no real links to the stoner genre apart from the groovy guitars found here and there. The line between doom and stoner here is pretty thin but you can hear the influence of Solstice (UK of course) in the epic fabric of their identity, there's a similarity in the dichotomy found in the mix of epic, clean vocals and the acoustic parts with the doom metal riffs not unlike in Rich Walker's songwriting. It's not so much an influence on the sound of EMG but rather in the structural identification. The solos such as the ones in the fabulous opening track “Galatea” are refined and can be linked to heavy metal and even, to a lesser degree, the hey days of 90s English doom/death.

The riffs can be melodic such as the groovy six minute track “She Wore Thorns”, but most of the guitar parts are emotional and driven by long instrumental sections that really go somewhere, often supported by psychedelic keys. I know some people will think they have no direction whatsoever but to hell with them! They couldn't sit through the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings movies either. This is grandiose music and the scope is ambitious but it works due to the songwriting skills of the composers.

Evans (vocals, guitars) always had an interest in the softer side of music, he even released a good dark folk album in 2013 and while this release is rooted in metal riffs consolidated with progressive/psychedelic rock, you can still feel the folk side underneath all these tasty rock shattering riffs. The twenty-two minute masterpiece that is “Five Elegies” starts with this calm introduction including some enchanting female vocals and during its lengthy journey, it explores so many musical aspects that it's hard to find the way after only one spin. Helped by the rich, deep instrumentation composed of acoustic guitars, keyboards and other unorthodox elements usually not part of metal bands, this song is a good embodiment of the album has a whole since it has all the elements of their sound. Rest assured, this is nowhere near a cheese fest and it's much more interesting and actually has a solid intellectual background opposed to many bands adding acoustic elements to their sound without really knowing why and how.

I'll not underestimate the influence of the two other members of this band. Both Jon Cumiskey (bass) and Richard Blakelock (drums) are in The Water Witch, a band also composed of members of A Forest of Stars, evolving in the progressive black/folk spectrum. I think the combination of musical vision really helped this band to achieve this original and memorable sound. The amount of subtle complexity this record has is just too much for three guys that aren't Lee, Lifeson and Peart to handle! I'm sure they're fine live but with obvious tweaks to their compositions and what do I know, it's possible to play both guitar and piano if you have really flexible feet.

It's quite rare to hear such poetic distinction in metal and it has to be regarded as an important feat. Their lyrics are smart and the overall artistic approach of the band is pure class. Of course, if you value simplicity, speedy riffs and a simpleton approach to metal, you're simply reading the wrong review and I have no idea why you're still here.

To the Disdain of Polyhymnia is one of the best progressive metal of its decade. Sadly it's been overlooked by the formation of A Forest of Stars, a band I'm not terribly fond of. The three members have been concentrating their efforts on other projects but I know they were planning to do another Electric Mud Generator release. I hope it's not too late! It's always a bit sad (and selfish admittedly) to dislike the direction taken by musicians that you admire but I do feel this way about them. I'm just gonna tell myself that everything they had to say about this particular style (with many roots and branches) has been said and that they couldn't top this album. Ah! I feel better already!
Mixing stoner/doom metal with folk, symphonic, progressive & psychedelic rock has never been this successful even though it's not a genre that has been tried much. EMG were able to craft a release rooted in modernity but at the same time it's coming to terms with the past in a slight yet reassuring embrace.

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