Thursday, 15 May 2014

Jesters of Destiny – Fun at the Funeral (1986) / 95%


Tony's notes: This review concerns the remastered reissue that includes seven excellent bonus songs that would had been on the next album and a cool cover of Black Sabbath's Electric Funeral. It's the mandatory version, I would say.

The year: 1986. Many metal bands were releasing their magnum opuses and the genre really started to diversify and started to explore many different horizons, sometimes extreme, sometimes estranged ones. Jesters of Destiny were a beast that was way too adventurous for its time or at least were not commercial enough for a label like Metal Blade that dropped the band after its debut album. Due to today's genre specialization, they could perhaps find their crowd, albeit a limited one. I can live with this marginalization, not everyone is destined to like everything. This band is definitely something else. Something great!

This album was reissued by Ektro Records, hence catching my attention since I follow the deeds of this label very closely. Jussi Lehtisalo, the man behind Ektro must be a huge fan of this defunct band since Bruce Duff (bass, vocals) contributed to some of his projects like Pharaoh Overlord's Out of Darkness and the excellent Circle album Hollywood. Both men surely share a liking for intricate, unorthodox music and it's undeniable that Lehtisalo was influenced by the album's vision.

Many sources say that the band invented the so called “alternative metal” genre and while you can feel a similarity with bands like Primus or even Faith No More, I feel it's a bit misguided to use such tag. Their sound, even if I do fancy classification and I'm sometimes compulsive about it, is truly hard to pinpoint. There's many distinct stuff on here, there's instrumental tracks like the superb “Love Theme From Jesters on Parade” or the sample heavy closer “Ray's Theme”. The old school punk approach of “Incubus” is immediately followed by a poppy song called “Happy Times” that is as good as any of The Cure's strongest material and also reminds me of Dire Straits! That's certainly not for the young man who can't get enough of Masters of Puppets' apparent subtlety back in the day.

The diversity of the album has a rock solid direction, it's a true monument to songwriting. It has the efficacy of Tom Waits' greatest albums, an album like Rain Dogs  shines throughout its overture to musicality. Bruce Duff and Ray Violet (guitars, keyboards), the only two members that survived during the short existence of the band truly knew how to mix things up. Some glam here, some post punk/alternative rock there, some psychedelic kraut up your ass, some AOR and finally, the reason we're here: the heavy metal riffs and leads. All the components are all brothers and sisters on “Fun at the Funeral” and they all live in harmony.

Simply with the keyboard overture of the first track “Diggin' That Grave” and the heavy riff that follows, you immediately know how a psychedelic heavy metal band would sound. It's approaching a mix of the catchier side of NWOBHM mixed with psychedelia, it's almost as if The Flaming Lips decided to get drunk as fuck, stop their funny shenanigans and write metal songs.

The main element that makes this band so enjoyable is Bruce Duff's vocals. His delivery is pretty damn awesome and it has a wide appeal. He can play with his high voice like a theatre actor and he's interesting. He has a sort of classic rock flair and his choruses, sometimes idioyncratic like the self loathing “I Hate Bruce” or the genius “Crimson Umbrella”, are very catchy. Even though he's a clean vocalist with no roughness in his voice, it's not always quite accessible since he's using some weird vocal patterns mixed with the pop choruses.

Musically, it's pretty unique, they don't sound like anyone else. Nonetheless, you can spot some influences like Sabbath or Deep Purple but with the weirdness meter pushed to the maximum. They have a rich sound that is out of time and soft piano melodies are intertwined with hard rockin' heavy riffs. Loud bass, subtle riffs that don't always rely on their heavyness to mark the imagination, it's often about energy and fun. A sort of dark brooding attraction. It's not quite fast, not slow either, favoring a mid paced groovy approach. Judging by the bonus tracks like “House on the Hill”, they were going in a heavier direction.

Apparently Jesters of Destiny will release a new album soon, it will be quite interesting to see what they can do almost thirty years after this one. This is a classic album that everyone who's interested in unconventional music should check out.

Buy their stuff on Ektro Records.

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