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(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/)
Whenever the term avant-garde metal gets brought up, it usually sounds like some already known genre, usually progressive metal but with a few changes like different instruments being played or several songs that are all different styles. Enter Toby Driver, one of the most prominent musicians in the genre. He gets some guys (and at least one girl) together and starts Maudlin of the Well, a band that has generated quite a lot of buzz despite having all their albums out of print for a while now. Let's have a crack at My Fruit Psychobells...A Seed Combustible (which must have been a name picked while Toby was playing Scrabble drunk) and see what Toby's interpretation of avant-garde music sounds like.
What we have here is a whole lot of progressive post rock with some breaths of sludge metal. At times, it seems like the band attempts to play death metal as well, most notably on "A Conception Pathetic", but it's a rather third rate version of death metal that isn't going to trump any big names in that genre. So, I guess the metal populace has agreed to put all that under the umbrella term "avant-garde metal". In fact, I'd put this album on the same boat as the works of Isis or Cult of Luna.
And sludge metal is how this album first introduces itself in "Ferocious Weights" with some Souls at Zero era Neurosis flavored playing mixed with trumpet. There's some female vocals here as well brought about by Maria-Stella Fountoulakis eventually joined by a male vocalist. At about the halfway point, they break into death metal mode playing faster with some furious soloing going on. Following that, the post rock shows itself with clam sounding guitar, keys, and Maria's voice.
"A Conception Pathetic" is one of the weaker pieces on here, sticking a lot to the aforementioned third rate death metal flavor. It does have the post rock vibe to it still, but it just isn't very interesting. I really don't care for the ragtime piano piece that finishes up the song. After that song though, the album's best songs come forth. "Undine and Underwater Flowers" keeps itself more exclusive to the post rock side of things and actually is quite nice to have after "A Conception Pathetic". "The Ocean, the Kingdom, and the Temptation" is probably my favorite of the bunch here. It has the best combination of the post rock and sludge metal flavors on this album. Then comes "Pondering a Wall" a weaker song with more of that mediocre death metal flavor hanging in there. "Catharsis of Sea-Sleep and Dreaming Shrines" is a better one that follows "The Ocean..."'s lead with the post rock and sludge metal combination. The last song, "Blight of River Systems" is definitely the worst song here with its giddy sing-along style vocal delivery which is really annoying and weaker iteration of the post rock style.
It seems that fans of Maudlin of the Well and Toby Driver's other big project Kayo Dot have a problem with people calling Toby's work unfocused, but that's what My Fruit Psychobells... is. It doesn't stick to one main style. It flip flops first in sludge metal in one song, then introduces death metal in the next, then a mostly post rock piece, etc. After listening to "Catharsis...", I went back to "Ferocious Weights" and thought, "Huh, the album actually sounded like this at one point?" Lack of focus isn't that big of a beef though as there are some good tracks here, but there are bad ones as well.
So, is My Fruit Psychobells...A Seed Combustable enjoyable? Yeah, it is, but I wouldn't make it the first thing I'd listen to if I ever allowed onto my iPod. What Maudlin of the Well needs is more songs like "Ferocious Weights", "The Ocean, the Kingdom, and the Temptation", and "Catharsis of Sea-Sleep and Dreaming Shrines" with less pieces like "A Conception Pathetic", "Pondering a Wall", and "Blight of River Systems". But Toby went ahead and found other ways to make an album weaker than it could have been in Bath, but that's a review for a different day.
A band whose worst album gets a 95 has got to be one hell of a band, and make no mistake, it is. The members of Maudlin of the Well are clearly overflowing with ideas and the only reason the album loses some marks are because of inexperience. The production isn’t the best you’ll find and the arrangements are a little confused. They aren’t that sure about how they want it to come out but know for a fact that this release won’t be a true indication of their immense talent. Sure enough, they got the other two perfect and that’s what matters.
But anyway, coming to why I think these guys are amazing, well, for one, there’s no shortage of variety. No other band will experiment with so many guitar tones, vocal styles, genres, instruments and time signatures. There are growls, clean vocals, female vocals, spoken words, chants… everything! The louder sections can be best described as ‘organized chaos’ while the lighter ones sound like (ok this might sound weird) what ‘Death’ would be if they played post rock with their characteristic transitions, complex riffing and melodic tones. They usually comprise inhuman drum shuffles and perpetually fresh melodies. I guess the best example would be the 11 minute The Ocean, The Kingdom, And The Temptation.
This post rocky ambiance and beauty can be found for most of the parts and it somehow manages to be unaffected by the growls and all the other changes going around. Can you imagine one of those science fiction films of the future, where so many impressive tasks are being performed continuously but our main character is in a world of his own and manages to keep the spotlight on his mundane thoughts and activities? You know, that sort of charm is here on every single song.
I held off for a while on getting into this band because I thought they were silly. But that was a silly thing to do. They are a very creative bunch and their music on this album is extremely unique. The closest thing I can think of when I listen to this is Devin Townsend’s ocean machine, which is still much different from this. This album contains male vocals (clean and growling), crisp clear female vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, and even clarinet and trumpet. Its production is definitely on the low end, but that adds a certain eccentric, nostalgic feeling. Bad production is part of the album, it adds to the overall feeling and atmosphere. I’m sure better production would sound, well, better, but it’s not horrible like this. Their growling vocals aren’t too great either, but they are actually quite sparse. When I first got this album, the things I was hearing sounded like I’ve had it for a long time, which was very odd, and never really happened with anything else. It wasn’t like “oh, I’ve heard this before, it sounds exactly like this other bands song” – no, not like that. This was weird. It was kind of like I’ve had the album for many years and it was bringing back memories, or I knew it would be a classic in my collection someday. We’ll see about that. I’ve only had it for about 3 months so far. And this is my first MotW album (don’t have Kayo Dot either), so I don’t have anything to compare it to but I will probably scoop up the rest of their discography pretty soon.
Anyways, on to the music... They certainly have the strangest song titles I’ve ever seen.
“Ferocious Weights” starts off calmly, eventually adding trumpets and then female vocals, the vocals are nice and smooth and soaring. Then the clean male vocals come, and shortly after that the song starts going crazy fast and all over the place. Then it suddenly gets very calm with some female vocals which is a good part. The clean guitar part just has that unique feeling on this album. The last part is a little heavier and closes the first song well. This is probably my second favorite song. “A Conception Pathetic” starts off with some psychotic growling for a while, later having some more unforgettable clean guitar parts, and keeps going back and forth. The melody at the end of this is almost evil-carnival sounding. “Undine and Underwater Flowers” starts off slow with awesome melodies and very soft, flimsy male singing. Then when this song gains more of a full sound, it is very strange, almost painting an alien landscape in my head with lovers swimming underwater gathering flowers on another planet. I promise I don’t do any drugs, this band probably does though. “The Ocean, the Kingdom, and the Temptation” starts off calmly once again with an atmospheric feeling and then later has some heavier growling parts. This song is the longest and the last 3 minutes or so is an ambient experimentation. The first 2 minutes of “Pondering a Wall” is pretty heavy, and then it goes into some softer parts with female vocals, then it gets heavier with female vocals... “Catharsis of Sea Sleep and Dreaming Shrines” is my favorite song here. The clean guitar parts are just amazing, with calm growling (yes) on top it... I am really having a hard time explaining this music well, it is just too weird. You really have to hear it. “Blight of River Systems” is more of a laid-back song containing a duet at the end, and a very good solo. Probably my third favorite.
Well, if you think you’d like Astral-progressive-Avant-garde-experimental Metal with Trumpets, this is what you’re looking for, although it is definitely an acquired taste, not nearly everyone is going to like this.