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The production on this record is a little thicker and fuzzier than on the last couple of albums, which is a nice change -- it's a perfect match for the hard-rock-influenced songs they're playing these days. The drums, too, are a little distant, but not in a bad way. I really like the way the vocals sound, also: they're not quite as up-front in the mix, giving the album an informal, off-the-cuff feel.
I loved Ape Uprising when it came out, but it's worn on me a bit since. This record, however, feels a lot more enduring. "The 95 Thesis" is probably the best metal song about Martin Luther ever, assuming there's another one; the interplay between the vocals and the guitar is top-notch. "Free Market Barbarian" reflects Scalzi's frustration with the empty sameness of metal today, and while I can't agree, his overwhelming disdain makes for an utterly convincing performance. The "Lycanthropic Fantasies"/"Ask the Casket"/"Heavyworlder" section is just plain amazing: the way these three songs slot together is nothing less than genius, as is the mid-paced, epic way they each unfold. Each is superficially similar, yet deeply unique, and the vocals -- the vocals! It's as if Slough Feg took the brilliance of "Tiger! Tiger!"/"The Sea Wolf" and made it last for twelve minutes, plus "Heavyworlder" is even space-themed; if I had to listen to this for the rest of my life I'd be well satisfied.
After that, just about anything would be a let-down, and I have to admit that I could do without the cover of "The Tell-Tale Heart". "Kon-Tiki" more than makes up for it, though, with quirky, rhythmic riffing and catchy vocals. I especially like the "so much for missionary gods..." section, good stuff! "Second Coming" and "Tactical Air War" are great, also, though they couldn't be more different. The former's deeply personal lyrics and bluesy guitar make the latter's frantic riffing and pounding pace hit even harder. The guest performance from Brocas Helm's Bob Wright is perfect, too.
I enjoyed the hell out of this record, obviously, but I can't help thinking that the band might benefit from slowing down a bit: an album with the best tracks from the last four albums might have been something to compete with Traveller, and that'd be special indeed. As it is, though, we've got more Slough Feg, so why complain? Highest recommendations.
Standout tracks: "The 95 Thesis", "Lycanthropic Fantasies", "Ask the Casket", "Heavyworlder"
Review by vorfeed: http://www.vorfeed.net
Slough Feg are one of those bands who deserve a lot more recognition that they have, eight full lengths of immaculate, classic heavy metal with a quirky manner and saturated with energy, there's really nothing to dislike about them. Toiling away in heavy metal's semi-underground ranks for the past twenty years now, Mike Scalzi has been around a bit, although you wouldn't think it as they sound just as fresh now as they did with the self titled fourteen years ago.
With The Animal Spirits now their eighth full length release and third in four years, they appear to be drawing from a freshly discovered pool of inspiration. I will admit I was slightly apprehensive as to the quality of material on this, as Hardworlder had a noticeable dip in quality to the previous material, and Ape Uprising wasn't a heap better, bar one or two outstanding tracks peppered here and there. Ever since they cut “The Lord Weird” from their name I felt there was slight decline in their music. As soon as the album had finished playing though, I felt the need to hit the repeat button straight away. This was the true Slough Feg I used to know.
It's not quite as immediate as their golden works, none of the songs jump right out and shout 'classic' like “Vargr Moon” or “Sky Chariots”, The Animal Spirits is a lot more subtle in it's execution with the grainy almost warm riffing taking time to pierce you with their doom tinted talons. Scalzi's vocals are as you'd expect them if you've heard Slough Feg before, his signature drawl with a slight nod to cult U.S. Metal hero Mark Shelton. It's primarily his unique vocals that set Slough Feg aside from everyone else, he's always been in a completely different league than most when it comes to his vocal abilities. Take for example the patterns he utilizes in “Second Coming” or even “Free Market Barbarian” with a chorus as good as such hasn't been heard in a while from these guys. But let's not just heap all the accolades and acclaim on their iconic frontman, Harry Cantwell's drumming is intricate yet not overpowering and complementing that 70's hard rocking groove created by Adrain Maestas' crude throbbing basslines and the guitarists Thin Lizzy-esque riffing. Song's such as “The 95 Thesis” and “Heavyworlder” both hark back to the days of Traveller yet at the same time have a unassailable uniqueness to them, an almost primal feel which is present throughout the whole album. Plus “Tactical Air War” has Bob Wright from Brocas Helm on vocals, one of the bands who has played the biggest part in Slough Feg's sound. How can you possibly beat that?
There's one thing you can always count on the 'Feg for, and thats the outlandish and ridiculous lyrical themes, here we have song's about vampire love, shameless puns on religion and Mike even has time for a brief spot of reminiscence in “Second Coming”. Unfortunately there isn't anything about canine space ship pilots. Maybe next time eh? The Celtic influence is even greater this time round and a major factor in the improvement in the quality of the material on this release, this is their 'softest' release yet, for want of a better word and has more in common with the celtic icons Thin Lizzy than anyone else really. At times it remains refined yet bewitching, and others saunters on in a hazy drunken swagger. This is right up there with Down Among the Deadmen and Traveller, and if you thought the previous two were a bit drab, sweep them under the carpet and buy this!
Having been around 20 years, Slough Feg's productivity has only accelerated recently, with The Animal Spirits following right on the heels of Ape Uprising. And, just like in the '80s when bands used to put out great records year on year, this is absolutely brilliant, top of the range heavy metal and one of probably the best two or three albums available this year.
Scalzi's random writing process keeps the album really fresh and diverse. I hear sounds carried over from Hardworlder and Ape Uprising particularly, but the Feg seem to have sloughed off some of the bombastic or theatrical tendencies which had crept in. I'd say its less elaborate than songs like 'White Cousin' from Ape Uprising, and there are no ten minute epics like the title track from that album. In fact, with some of the punchy folk of Atavism, this record reminds me structurally of the band's debut, with its compact nature and direct, guitar-based sound.
The guitar work of Scalzi on the album is on a par with his strange, wavering singing, which sounds better than ever. The snaking guitar riff on 'Lycanthropic Fantasies' is incredible, once you've heard this it will pin itself into your synapses for all time. Like so many other songs on this record this song just makes me really fucking happy, it has a joy of life that sits so comfortably with its creepy lyrics. 'Ask the Casket' is wonderful. I've never heard a song about becoming a vampire that's so wry, so tongue-in-cheek in delivery, with the cheeky riff, chirpy little leads and carefree vocals. 'Free Market Barbarian' is all them big rock riffs, chugging bass guitar and huge wobbly vocals. The instrumental 'Materia Prima' is placed right up at track 3, and it's a great, grooving little guitar workout. Best instrumental of the year.
The Alan Parsons cover 'The Tell Tale Heart' doesn't have the same crashing, Floydian drum solos through the verses that the original did, but overall it's better, a little faster, more driving and cohesive. Yup, better than the original. 'Kon-Tiki' is a funny little story about a Norwegian explorer, and I wish I could read the lyrics because they sound fantastic. However, only the amusing pun-heavy lyrics for 'Trick the Vicar' are included.
I know that in years to come these melodies will drift unexpectedly into my mind, and I'll pull this album out. As for 'Second Coming', it's the most beautiful song I've heard this year, even more emotionally grabbing than The Final Frontier's luscious epics. Everyone should hear this before they die. If I was on Death Row, I'd request to listen to this as I walked to the gallows.
I once saw an interview with Scalzi where he name dropped, amongst more expected choices like Sabbath, Black Flag and Vitus and so on, favourite albums by Billy Joel and Corrosion of Conformity as well as the soundtrack to Camelot on Broadway. Since I'm not familiar with the latter three I can't hear these influences coming through, I just know that the excellent and wide-ranging mind of Michael Scalzi affords this album a vivacious colour and energy that makes the fairly straightforward compositions truly special. You like rock and roll? Heavy metal? Folk? Iron Maiden? Punk? '80s classic metal? Any music that's generally above and beyond in terms of quality, albeit totally underrated and criminally unheard? You need this album.
Scalzi claimed the band will probably be around in another 20 years too, if he lives that long, otherwise he would get "bored". Fine by me. The Animal Spirits is boss.
Slough Feg (or The Lord Weird Slough Feg) is a well-known metal band, but their latest album Animal Spirits is my first exposure to them. And it's left a good impression.
The musical style is incredibly unique. It has been called Thin Lizzy on steroids, which isn't too far off the mark. In one sense, it's similar to early Danzig, in that the music is a very stripped-down hard rock/heavy metal that allows the vocalist to take the forefront. Some of the chords are Danzig-like (see the cover "The Tell-Tale Heart"). Many songs have a Maiden-esque galloping rhythm (see "The 95 Thesis" or "Free Market Barbarian"), and the bass is prominent enough in the mix to draw comparisons to Rush, at least on instrumental "Materia Prima". But it also has a distinct folk flavor to it, and even though the band is from San Francisco it's definitely Irish. (Many of their lyrics relate to Celtic mythology as well.) Even Mike Scalzi's vocals bear a strong resemblance to Primordials Nemtheanga. The vocals here are definitely the star, as Scalzi has an emotional delivery and creates memorable vocal hooks.
There is also a good deal of variety to be had. It's all grounded in folk-influenced rock/metal, but it ranges from the upbeat ("Tactical Air War") to the sad ("Ask the Casket"). "Second Coming" has acoustic rhythm guitar with compelling blues-rock guitar leads throughout, and "Kon-Tiki" turns briefly into a sea shanty. The only misstep is "Heavyworlder", whose riff is, frankly, goofy.
The Verdict: Slough Feg is a one-of-a-kind band worth checking out regardless of your taste. It could appeal to just about anyone.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Hmmm. Yup. It’s been a year! It’s time for another Slough Feg album. I don’t care if it hasn’t been long enough yet since the last one; just put one out. This kind of attitude would normally be rather detrimental to the quality of a band’s record, but Slough Feg, this time at least, seem to have hit it right on the nose. The Animal Spirits is a wonderful album in every way.
It’s an exercise in pounding, anthemic metal with a tribal bent and some seriously old school Thin Lizzy styled leads to boot…and it is also seriously awesome. It’s hard to pinpoint one reason why these songs are good. They’re just well written, with masterfully placed hooks that get stuck in your head hours after playing it even once – seriously, this album is so catchy that songs just randomly start playing in my head at any given time, and it isn’t just one or two songs; no – it’s any of them on the entire album. Tonight it’s “Materia Prima” and “Kon Tiki,” for example.
There’s something very natural and organic about the sound of The Animal Spirits, with its jangling guitars and earthy bass tone and scratchy drums. It’s certainly not a heavy album like some of their previous ones, but you really get to hear everything in full, naked color, and the clarity really brings out the best in this band – the infectious riffs, the intricate drumming and the idiosyncratic vocals. Every song is short and sweet, lending to multiple plays in the same afternoon without any regrets. These tracks just never sound any longer or shorter than they should be – that’s the mark of a talented band right there.
Lyrics are not presented in the booklet, which is a great shame, as from what I can discern they’re more fine Slough Feg fare, revolving around vampires, werewolves and human misery, among other things…yes, even though “Ask the Casket” is about a vampire, it blends seamlessly into “Heavyworlder,” which is more about dealing with life problems. It doesn’t make very much sense, but then, I don’t think Slough Feg really give a crap about making any kind of sense. Mike Scalzi is in top form here with probably his most varied and eclectic performance to date, all the way from a high wine down to a deep, dark intonation. Frankly, he’s never sounded better.
Really what it just comes down to is that this album has great songs. From the quick, visceral one-two punch of “Trick the Vicar” and the more calculated “The 95 Thesis” to the noodly werewolf epic “Lycanthropic Fantasies” to the Alan Parsons Project cover “The Tell-Tale Heart,” done splendidly here, Slough Feg have whipped out some of their best tunes in years. I think my favorites have to be “Kon Tiki,” with its marching tribal rhythms and soaring vocals lending themselves to a newfound Slough Feg classic, and “Second Coming,” which is an ode to disappointment, broken promises and life-affirming revelations alike. One of the most honest, beautiful songs in their entire catalog.
Oh yeah, and the last track has the singer from Brocas Helm! That’s just cool. Slough Feg has turned out a masterpiece in 2010 that is among their best works ever. I don’t want to sound like I’m just some raving fanboy but…hell, this is just a great friggin’ album. Go check it out. Go now!
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com