Esoteric Antenna 2014
The cover says it all: standing out in his field, English guitarist reaches for the smoldering horizon. What it doesn’t show is the color of it all.
Slightly left-field in THE FIERCE AND THE DEAD, a band that grew up from Matt Stevens’ experiments, the six-stringer has all the rights to tone down his low-burning tonal aggression but not his might on solo records, and his fourth album makes this point as transparent as its title suggests. Here, running from electric charge to acoustic reverie, the guitarist defies the perception of him as an art-minded player and goes for full-blooded strokes to paint a series of tuneful pictures. So, surrounded by a coterie of prominent proggers, including Pat Mastelotto on “The Ascent” which lifts up his filigree dexterity, Stevens doesn’t take long to punch the listener with a power chord, an abomination to many a progressive auteur, yet not for nothing the riff’s carrier is titled “Oxymoron”: any improbability gets real in such a harmonically rich, and deliciously heavy, context – up to Matt resolving “The Bridge” in a rock ‘n’ roll swirl.
Guitars layered throughout, albeit their stack thins out sometimes to either create a trance-like ripple as it does in “Flow” where the coda sounds dangerously thunderous, or chime orientally like on “The Other Side” until percussion abates and a soundscape unfurls. Elegance is exerted across the tracks, too, be it on the flamenco-tinctured “Kea” or metallic “Unsettled” bearing an imprint of CRIMSON on its grooves. The “Red” influence feels even more, almost quote-like, pronounced in the aforementioned “The Bridge” which clocks in about 12 minutes, each one of orchestral grandiosity – sans orchestra – while the title cut invites the spill of melodious noise, and “Street And Circus” and “Coulrophobia” send their inner clowns into a folk-fogged bliss in the most serious manner. But “A Boy” wraps a finale of it all in a light gauze as if welcoming back the wide-eyed innocence that feeds this shiny experience to show that black and white are merely colors containing the whole world in their infinity.