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The Fierce and the Dead: "Part 1"

img  Tobias

Some may consider it chaotic, but allowing things to get out of hand is really just a different approach to keeping control. When Matt Stevens unsuspectingly invited long-time collaborators Kevin Feasey and Stuart Marshall for a session in November of last year, the idea was simply to record an experimental one-off for his upcoming second solo album „Ghost“. Choosing the venue for its intimate character and „strangely great sounding“ acoustic properties, the trio set up their gear at the tiny live room of the Pinna Studios in London, a place so small that Stevens' head almost touched the ceiling when playing his parts standing upright. Everything pointed to business as usual, but as soon as the formation hit the first note, it became clear that they were scraping at something unique, whose dimensions immediately transcended the narrow confinements of the studio. Their interaction washed them away to far-away shores, where the limitations of a basic rock-band-setup were sublimated into a telepathic riff machine and the shapes, sounds and structures of traditional formats were blown to pieces in a moonwalking sonic fever dream. On this day, a group which had been playing together on and off for a decade found a vocabulary completely their own – The Fierce and the Dead were born.

It's not as if they had struck upon an entirely new kind of music. But right from the beginning, Stevens, Feasey and Marshall held a decisive advantage over some of their peers: They not only knew their history, but were unafraid of owning up to it. Even though they've now generally been labeled „post rock“, inspirations to their epic excursions are actually far more colourful and reach back a lot further into the past – to a time when the song format was considered radically more flexible and could encompass lucid improvisations, extensive instrumental sections and various, seamlessly connected parts. You can hear traces of Kraut-, Progressive-, Desert-, Space- and Shoegazer-Rock in their exchanges, detect a fine sensibility for Jazz and electronic music and an equal empathy for the epic and intimate: As the Guitar takes the melodic imperative, the rhythm duo of Drums and Bass lay down a tight and utterly hypnotic groove to create a furious yet fragile, raw yet refined and extremely dynamic sound constantly pushing itself to the brink.

Quite clearly, it's not the dark ends of the 90s which are serving as points of reference here, but the spiritual highs of the 70s, a time when genres like Rock and Jazz were converging. For no longer than the blink of an eye, experimental and mainstream culture were overlapping in the most fruitful way and bands were creating something huge from the most basic parameters, embarking on daring journeys into the unknown on the strength of nothing but instinct. An almost twenty-minute-long trip, „Part 1“ opens with a simple, but deadly effectice Bass line, a groove and a melodic idea. Over the course of the next eight minutes, Stevens swirling Guitar lines will not just merely keep the tension between these elements simmering, but kindle a diabolic spirit hiding in their crevices and release it in sudden eruptions of psychedelic fury, burning scales and riveting melodic inventions. Just when the piece has hit its acme, the band abruptly change direction, leading the action straight into a repetitive section of a piercing drone and anthemic melody underpinned by a machinal beat mimicking the gestures and feeling of Electronica. In the ensuing coda, this moment of majestic and meditative splendour gives way to a downwardly bending bass lick gradually growing into a tenderly fatalistic vortex of crunching power and fine thematic observations.

It is a kind of music that experimental rock bands would occasionally add as an instrumental appendix to a song – only this time, the song has been cut out completely. With the framing safety of familiar territory in limbo, the individual qualities of the instrumentalists move to the fore: Feaseys harsh, metalically ringing Bass, with its connotations to hard Funk and Metal. Marshalls attentive swing. And Stevens inimitable Guitar-style, which can no longer be attributed to a single source of inspiration. More of a warrior than a bard and equipped with a passionate realism, his licks are like combustible one-sentence haikus, which may seem uncorrelated on a smaller scale, but magically begin to rhyme within the cinematic framework of this trip. Ideas are reprised at the most unexpected moments, returning as fluorescent ghosts in a different context. Rather than feeding from technical virtuosity, lyricism of tone or melodic geniality, his performance is fueled by the alluring promise that underneath this tonal root canal treatment, some form of breathtaking truth will be revealed.

To a lot of people, it already has. Judging by the enthusiastic response from listeners and bloggers alike, the will of this band to transcend the limitations of traditional forms clearly satisfies a deep craving for Rock music to be much more than just three chords and a melody again. Tapdancing at the border of control and chaos, The Fierce and the Dead have clearly allowed things to get out of hand at the right time.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: The Fierce and the Dead

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