Billow Observatory : II: Plains/Patterns

Billow Observatory exist on some ethereal plane. The music that Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb create has the feel of a constant, syrup-y flow through time and space. It’s no surprise as to the duo’s penchant for grandiose musical beats given their main gigs(Kolb is a member of Detroit, Michigan’s Auburn Lull and Munk is part of Denmark’s Causa Sui, as well as Manual, solo work, and with synth extraordinaire Ulrich Schnauss.) But within the warm embrace of Billow Observatory these two expand the sound into these vast swaths of  blanketed noise. Vast open space is something these two know a lot about, given the miles(and years) between their collaborations. Fortunately this transatlantic duo use the situation to their advantage, giving each plenty of room to stretch out and take their time getting to know the music.

After five years of collaborating and sending music files back and forth Kolb and Munk have finished their second album as Billow Observatory. II: Plains/Patterns is a cavernous beauty of an album, filled with ambient textures, shoegaze melancholy, and kosmische sensibilities. Floating in space never sounded so good.

Listening to this album it’s quite hard to describe what I’m hearing. It’s like describing the aurora borealis to someone who’s never experienced them. Sure, we’re all familiar with the night sky, colors, patterns, and shapes. But to accurately describe the northern lights to someone who’s never seen them so they can truly feel the emotional impact is a fool’s errand. Listening to a song like “Pulsus” or “Nulstil” is just as much a visceral experience as it is a listening experience. Both build an emotional center with rhythmic patterns and cavernous synth. I can tell you that there’s a real impact in these pieces. I think of Brian Eno, Popol Vuh, and Klaus Schulze as Billow Observatory runs through my ears. “Kercheval” is something quite different. I hear elements of Kevin Shields’ wall of guitar noise from Loveless in this track, even though the guitar in this track is swallowed up by cavernous reverb. There’s also an organic quality in this song. Movement and regeneration; a sense of new life growing from the soil.

Like I said, it’s hard to describe.

If there is a centerpiece, that would be “Plains”. This is a ten-minute epic that has the feel of circuitry buzzing and square waves dancing across small blue screens. It’s future ambient techno. An explosion of ideas and spatial motifs that pays off at every turn.

Elsewhere, “Montcalir” sounds like last breaths before that big reveal at the end of it all. Quiet, resolute, and beautiful. “Vex” bubbles and beeps like morse code from deep space before a ping ponging rhythm takes shape. “Plum” is just gorgeous. You’re overtaken by a bouncing synth and little guitar swells that feel like tiny revelations forming. From start to finish, this record is a journey.

With II: Plains/Patterns, Billow Observatory have honed their sound down from the endless, reverberating decay of their 2012 debut. Where on that album there seemed to be an endless drift into the dark(albeit a beautifully ornamented drift), Plains/Patterns has brought the expanse into something much more attainable. Something you can truly touch and feel. There’s an overwhelming sense of destination on this far out journey.

8.4 out of 10

Causa Sui : Live In Copenhagen

So one day last week I arrived home from work to see a cardboard box waiting for me on the front porch. When I went to pick it up I thought at first that someone had sent me a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas from Denmark as this thing was heavy. Like, really heavy. After further examination it dawned on me that I was holding Causa Sui’s Live In Copenhagen and dropped everything in my hands and made a bee line for the turntable.

It’s been a few weeks since the preorder went up for this mammoth 3-LP set, but we’ve made the most of it(Petty once said the waiting was the hardest part. He must preorder albums, too.) I went back and revisited some Causa Sui LPs I thought you good people should definitely check out if you hadn’t already. It was a swift reminder for me that these musicians from Denmark have done some major expansion in their sound since those early days. From stoner fuzz rock to experimental and expansive, the quartet known as Causa Sui have opened their brains and let some freaky sh*t get in, which is all the better for you and me. And with the studio wizardry getting better so has their live set. Live In Copenhagen shows the band in 2013 and in 2016. LP 1 is live at the Jazzhouse for the Return To Sky release show, while LPs 2 and 3 are live at Dragens Hule for the album release of Empori Tide. Both sets are on fire and show a band hungry to spread their gospel to as many ears as they can. Highlights? You want highlights? Well okay then.

Let’s start with Live at the Jazzhouse from April 29th, 2016. This set opens with “Rip Tide”, a fiery explosion of cry baby wah, drums being beaten into submission, and organ that sounds like it’s on fire with wailing saxophone joining the cacophony of noise. Imagine Jimi Hendrix and the Experience, with special guests Ken Hensley on organ and John Coltrane freaking out on acid. That’s the scene going on here. I can only imagine the faces melting in the audience. This Summer Sessions Vol.2 track never burned and smoldered quite like this before. Return To Sky’s “Mondo Buzzo” sounds like an ancient tribal incantation used to bring the Gods of Rock back from their eternal slumber(which started right after the release of Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.) Munk, Kahr, Rasmussen, and Skott pull this one off beautifully. If there was a 90s album that I feel Causa Sui channel it’s Soundgarden’s Superunknown. That record’s ferocity and visceral slap in the face is alive and well with Causa Sui, and this live version of “Mondo Buzzo” is sonic gut punch for sure. The breezy vibe of Euporie Tide’s “Ju-Ju Blues” is a welcome respite from the massive crunch we experienced up to this point. It has an almost Doors-y vibe with Rasmussen’s organ and Skott’s jazzy drumming. But in this version Krieger was replaced by Jeff Beck. Pretty soon the earth is cracking open and molten lava is spraying everywhere. This is an epic 10-minute banger, people.

Face. Melted.

When we move to LP 2 we step back in time to August 9th, 2013 at the release show of Euporie Tide. This was the album I was introduced to Causa Sui by, but it took the Pewt’r Sessions to pull me in completely. That’s not to say Euporie didn’t impress me. It did. In fact, they play an amazing version of that album’s “Eternal Flow” at the start of LP 2. It’s amazing the volume four guys can get on such a small stage. They could be at Red Rocks by the sound of this. Then they jump into a brain-melting version of “El Paraiso” that would delight fans of anything from Santana to Graveyard. It’s both a balls out rocker and a psychedelic journey. Side D sports “Portixeddu/Tropic Of Capricorn”. It’s over 15 minutes of psyche-melting noise. Put on some headphones, drop the needle, and you’re welcome.

LP 3 opens with a great cover of Agitation Free’s “First Communication”, followed by a powerful “Homage” from Euporie Tide. “Red Valley” ends side E on a high note with one of Causa Sui’s most doomy tracks in their repertoire. You can almost see the stage morph into some post-apocalyptic desert scene as the song blows into a Sleep-like dirge. Side F is taken up by a Causa Sui-approved version of John Coltrane’s masterpiece “A Love Supreme”. The band welcome Johan Riedenlow back to the stage to sit in for the legendary Coltrane and they take the jazz epic on a ride through 50 years of music history. Instead of attempting a “paint-by-numbers” version of the piece, Causa Sui and Riedenlow open the song up into a psychedelic jam session. It’s a massive piece that pays homage to a legend while still maintaining the essence of these four lads from Odense(don’t worry, you can still chant “Love Supreme, Love Supreme” right along with it.)

I was never a big fan of live LPs. I think something is lost in the translation from stage to stereo. You may get an accurate take on a band’s work, but the sweat, aura, and buzzing heat of that magical space is lost. There have been a few live sets that I’m glad to have in my collection as they do have the ability to pull you into that evening, even if you’re just buzzed on the couch at home. Wilco’s Kicking Television, The Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, Television’s Live At The Old Waldorf, and now Causa Sui’s Live In Copenhagen. There’s a few other great live LPs, but these are the handful I swear by. Causa Sui’s other live album, Live At Freak Valley is well worth your time, but sonically Live In Copenhagen is just amazing. It shows just how much of a force these guys are live.

Put this one in your ears.

9.3 out of 10

Want to hear this but you’re not into antiquated forms of music delivery? No problem, you can download this over at El Paraiso Records in MP3 or FLAC form. There’s extra tracks as well that aren’t included in the vinyl version. So go get it.

 

Real Estate : In Mind

Real Estate have always come across as indifferent to the world around them. They seem to be completely aware of the what’s going on, but despite the good and bad that comes crashing down all around they breezily strum and sing their songs of nostalgic navel gazing and pining for something they may never get. 2011s Days felt like the moment where the New Jersey crew came into their own. Melancholy jams with an east coast jangle that seemed to pay tribute to both Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, and the Feelies all in the course of a single song. 2014s Atlas solidified Real Estate as the kings of bleary-eyed jangle, taking their worldview of early 20-somethings looking for the next kegger and wanting to impress that unattainable childhood crush to almost 30 and wondering where do you go from here? Martin Courtney, Alex Bleeker, and Matt Mondanile all followed their muses to solo projects but always found their way back to those summertime New Jersey barbecues and late night rooftop ponderings that Real Estate turned into stoned meditations on suburban upbringings.

But now with their newest album In Mind, Mondanile packed up and moved away from the neighborhood for good, leaving Courtney and Bleeker to keep that porch light on for us to find our way through the fog of memories. Along with Jackson Pollis, Matt Kallman, and Mondanile replacement Julian Lynch, Real Estate have made their best record yet.

I think there has always been a progressive side to Real Estate. Not in a 2112, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway sort of way, but in the way Courtney and company used the themes of growing up, dropping out, and wondering what it all means as a narrative throughout their albums. And musically, however breezy and pleasant the band comes across, there’s something very meticulous and forward thinking in their guitars and melodies. Lead single “Darling” is instantly recognizable with those pristine guitar lines and clean drumming, but with the addition of synths that hang over the song it feels like a step into new territory for these guys. Courtney has the most pleasant voice in modern rock and roll. He could sing directly from a phone book and there would be something mildly existential about it. This song is no different. They’ve set phaser(pedals) to stunning. “Serve The Song” has some distorted guitar opening the track before we sink into pining for childhood haunts and a pleasant dip into electric piano 70s lull. “Stained Glass” sounds like the Byrds, but without that southern California shine. It’s more like hungover melodies for the regretful morning after.

Timing has always been Real Estate’s biggest strength. Sure, the crystalline and chiming guitars, sweetly melancholy vocals, and overall dreamy aspect of their songs are great. But how they lock into each other as musicians is one of their biggest strong points. There’s a heft to this music that in other band’s hands might come off more twee. Maybe it’s that New Jersey upbringing. Take a track like “After The Moon”. There’s a certain sway in it that without that Real Estate magic might come across too soft rock, or a poor man’s Band Of Horses(as if a rich man’s BOH is any better.) In the hands of these guys quiet moments like this become almost existential. As good as each of their solo projects are, together is where the magic truly is.

Elsewhere “Two Arrows” blossoms over the course of nearly seven minutes, revealing chiming guitars, longing vocals, and an almost tome-like feel. “Holding Pattern” moves along on an early 80s feel, complete with icy synths, jazzy chord structures, and groovy drumming. It’s part Alan Parsons Project and part Motels. “Time” is completely new and engaging, with a space-y bossa nova feel and breathy keys. “Same Sun” shimmies like a midnight stroll home, while “Saturday” is the definitive period at the end of album.

Real Estate continue to move along in interesting musical directions. In Mind captures a group of guys at their best. A snapshot of “good old days” pondering, but never in a pretentious way. Real Estate are the guys at the corner bar happy to drink a beer or two with you and talk about the old times. They’ll even buy the next round. In Mind is an open invitation and a testament to that.

8.1 out of 10

 

Spoon : Hot Thoughts

It’s been over 20 years since their debut album Telephono was released in 1996, and they have done nothing but look forward ever since. I have no problem saying that Spoon have released some of my generations best rock records, and they’ve done it continually on their own terms. Through a major label fumble that would have broke a lesser band, Spoon have built their sound on a steady diet of Wire, The Jam, the Kinks, the Pixies, and Brill Building pop. The result is something completely, well, Spoon.

Girls Can Tell was the album that, for me, officially started what would be their winning streak and Kill The Moonlight was the defining indie rock album of the 2000s. Britt Daniel’s white boy soul vocals and sparse, angular guitar work combined with Jim Eno’s powerful, clean drumming created a magic that producer Mike McCarthy harnessed in the studio.

From there the world was Spoon’s oyster.

Each album that followed redefined and honed their sound. Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference, and They Want My Soul all had something to offer and built on what came before. One thing each of these records have in common is a gradual lean into groovier territory. “I Turn My Camera On” and “My Mathematical Mind” to “Don’t You Evah” and “Eddie’s Ragga” to “Who Makes Your Money” and “Nobody Gets Me But You”, all of these tracks showed a much more groove-centric Spoon giving their dancier tendencies some play time. With 2014s They Want My Soul there was a push to mix the indie rock heartbreak of earlier records with a much more polished sound. The result was one of their most acclaimed albums yet. Now with the release of Spoon’s ninth album, the excellent Hot Thoughts, there seems to be no reason to believe Spoon can’t conquer the world at large.

“Hot Thoughts” was the first single released and it’s this opening salvo that seems to mix everything we’ve come to love about this Austin band, which includes Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, as well as Rob Pope and Alex Fischel. Dance-y rhythms with a touch of Stones-y flair all covered with an air of urgency. Daniel’s vocals seem to only get better year after year, and this year is no different. “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” is keyboard heavy, but in a 80s drama kind of way. There is guitar on this album, but it’s used sparsely and when engaged to great effect. There are some heavy Divine Fits vibes here, too. With the addition of Alex Fischel, that band’s keyboard player and Daniels’ bandmate, the comparison is not without its merits. This is not a bad thing, either. “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” is the most fun I’ve heard Spoon have on record in a long time, and it doesn’t hurt that the piano melody is pretty similar to Gimme Fiction’s “The Beast And Dragon, Adored”. “First Caress” is another dance-y number that gives you bonus points for indie rock and dance floor cred. “Pink Up” is a beautifully ornamented track that is pushed more by the music than vocals. It’s space-y vibes and jazzy tendencies is a new sound for Spoon and it works well.

The album is produced by Dave Fridmann, who sat in on a few songs with the guys on They Want My Soul. Here, his presence is known but his “in the red” production style doesn’t define the sound of Hot Thoughts. If anything, the guys just use it as a new color to fill in the lines of their already stellar songs. This seems like a great fit for all.

“Can I Sit Next To You” is a full-on come on in song form. Daniel puts his come hither falsetto to good use here, while “I Ain’t The One” feels like a theme for complete heartbreak(it’s use in the season closer for Shameless was damn near perfect). It helps I’m a sucker for that Wurlitzer sound(and I might have a man crush on Britt Daniel.) “Tear It Down” could’ve been a b-side from the Gimme Fiction days. It’s sorta perfect. “Shotgun” sounds like Spoon got onto a “disco Kiss” kick for an afternoon. The result is this tight leather pants-wearing groove fest of a track. The album ends on a space-y jazz instrumental, which is again kind of a genius move.

Is Hot Thoughts Spoon’s best album? Not by a country mile. But guess what? 20 years in and Daniel and Eno are still redefining themselves each time out. They’ve got this tight knit crew after all these years that seem to have found the right amount of slick, weird, heartfelt, and funky that “get it”. Head back in the wayback machine to 1996. Look around the scene and find the music tastemakers at that time, then head back to 2017. Of that musical might, who’s still moving forward? Who’s still pushing and still vital? It’s a small group, and Spoon are at the forefront.

8. 3 out of 10

 

 

Blanck Mass : World Eater

Benjamin John Power’s Blanck Mass is the kind of musical project that is unforgiving in its need to evolve. He pushes the boundaries of what you thought electronic music was supposed to be. Much like Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never, Power takes the canvas of electronic and experimental music and pushes the boundaries; painting on the floor, walls, ceiling, and whatever surface he can find. In 2015 Power curated a project as Blanck Mass called Blanck Mass Presents The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears. On it, he along with several other electronic and experimental artists reimagined the soundtrack to the 2013 giallo film of the same name. It’s an uncompromising piece of work, and one that opened my eyes to what Power could do on such a large scale.

On his third full-length as Blanck Mass, titled World Eater, Power explodes his sound into a technicolor affair that goes from mind-altering noise expanses to more restrained and cultivated sounds. It goes from eye-opening world music vibes to industrial crush in the course of a song. It might just be the best Blanck Mass yet.

Let’s start with “Please”, which arrives three songs in. Oneohtrix Point Never comes to mind at first, but there’s no aping anyone’s sound going on. The use of vocals and big synth tones brings to mind Lopatin’s big turn on 2015s Garden Of Delete, but Blanck Mass have a sound all their own, and it meshes well with the world music vibes on this stellar track. “Rhesus Negative”, the song that preceds “Please”, is a teeth-rattling noise bomb of industrial proportion. It’s like Wax Trax! meets Creation Records in a beautiful explosion of violence and beauty. “The Rat” sounds like Pretty Hate Machine as a marching band competition piece. There’s something triumphant and regal about this song, which makes you want to crank it and march proudly through the neighborhood. “Minnesota/Eas Fors/Naked” is buzzing noise and plotting tension. It sounds like static coming through some chrome-covered receiver as something slowly rises from underneath all of it. It’s reminiscent of the work he did on the Strange Colour soundtrack at the beginning. Slowly things begin to clear up to reveal twinkling synths and an end that sounds like some aged 80s synth pop track. “Hive Mind” sounds like a huge club track, but done up in Power’s liquid production. It’s a stunning finish to a stunning album.

Blanck Mass live by the “go big or go home” motto. Each time out Benjamin John Power pushes the sonic edges of his music to incorporate something new while bending it to his will. While his work with Fuck Buttons was similar in pushing their sound, Power seems to move a little smoother and with more ease when he’s wearing the Blanck Mass hat. World Eater is his best record yet, opening the sound up and letting in a bit of house, techno, industrial, experimental, and pretty much you name it. Benjamin John Power brings you right into Blanck Mass’ world, and it’s a visceral experience.

8.1 out of 10

Thundercat : Drunk

Driving home from picking up my son at school the other day we were listening to Flying Lotus’ Until The Quiet Comes. I looked over to my son and said “What I love about this music is that it’s a perfect mix of woozy trip hop, groovy hip hop, and complex jazz chord structures.” My son said “So, what’s for dinner?” Anyways, I bring this up because I’m listening to the new album by Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, called Drunk. If you’re at all familiar with Flying Lotus then you will be familiar with Thundercat. His cleanly soulful vocals and fluid, prodigious bass lines are all over Flying Lotus’ albums. He’s also played with artists as diverse as Suicidal Tendencies, Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Childish Gambino, and too many more to list here. Drunk is Thundercat’s third album under his own name, and I think his best. While his previous records dabbled in soul, funk, jazz, and elements of hip hop throughout, Drunk comes together as a personal narrative about love and loneliness. It’s still all over the place, but there’s a focus here that makes the album that much more special.

Drunk plays like a creative mind stuck in the cycle of life, trying to dull the angst with video games, sex, music, and getting stoned. Bruner is spending time in Japan buying anime and Dragon Ball Z wrist slap bracelets, trying to get out of the “friend zone”, and leaving his wallet in the club. Thundercat is equal parts Parliament, Prince, Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan, with his own special brand of freakiness thrown in for good measure. The songs here are more fleshed out than previous records, with a focus on personal tales. But it’s still funky.

Songs on Drunk are short and sweet. Album opener “Rabbot Ho” is 38 seconds. The sound of crickets accompany a mean falsetto, keys and bass before we jump into “Captain Stupido”, a frantic mix of jazz chord progressions while Bruner sings “I feel weird, comb your beard brush your teeth”. It’s a bizarro world version of soul and funk. “Uh Uh” is a massive jazz fusion jam that is part Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and part Fishbone manic episode. “Bus In The Streets” sounds like something you would’ve heard on a Sesame Street segment. It’s a gleeful mix of childhood whimsy and 60s flower power, but with some serious bass playing. “A Fan’s Mail(Tron Song Suite II) is too smooth, even with the meowing at the beginning of the song. And that bass, man.

Musically there’s some serious sophistication. Sonically it’s tight and on-point with everything coming together perfectly. Then you listen a little closer to the lyrics and they bring things down to earth. You feel like you’re hearing thoughts coming from the mind of a shy, introverted dude. Someone who loves video games, hip hop, and fart jokes. That’s not a bad thing. It makes all the sophistication and prodigious playing seem more human.

“Lava Lamp” is a total love lorn slow jam, full of groove and melancholy. There’s also nods to sophisticated rock of the 70s. “Show You The Way” lays on the Steely Dan vibes pretty thick, complete with vocals by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. “Walk On By” features Kendrick Lamar, another artist that seems to be leading the charge for a new wave of important, forward-thinking artists. “Jameel’s Space Ride” sounds like a chip tune jingle that covers police brutality and aliens in just over a minute.

I could spend a few more paragraphs going over all the territory Thundercat covers on Drunk, but there is no point. You just need put Drunk in your ears and experience it for yourself. It’s a next-level kind of record.

8.3 out of 10

 

“I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest.”

Summer of 1987.

This was the summer where I discovered metal. Speed metal, that is. I’d done the classics by the time I’d hit the 7th grade. Made my way through the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and Hendrix. AC/DC were in my collection, as well as a good chunk of hair metal. Most of 7th grade was consumed by Poison, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Dokken and Great White. But when summer rolled around, my brother introduced me to speed metal. Speed, thrash, whatever you want to call it. Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Overkill, Metal Church,…my eyes and ears had been opened to the double kick drum, lightning fast guitar riffs, the pained howl vocals, and lyrics that ranged from drug addiction, politics, and devil worship; to teen angst, witchcraft, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. It was the perfect place to land before heading back into Warsaw Middle School to start my 8th grade year.

Like with anything, you’ve got your good and bad metal bands. Most of what I came across I liked. I wasn’t all that picky. One afternoon my mom took me to Butterfly Records in downtown Warsaw and I had some money burning a hole in my pocket so bought Fates Warning’s No Exit. To be honest, I’m not sure why I bought this album. I may have read a review in Metal Edge or Circus. Or quite possibly my older brother may have mentioned them. In order to one up said older brother I may have bought the album before he had a chance. So I left Butterfly Records with No Exit on cassette and headed off to a guitar lesson. On the ride home I popped the cassette tape into the cassette player of my mom and dad’s 1984 Honda Accord and was impressed. It had twin guitar attack, impressive drumming, and banshee-like vocals with doom-laden lyrics. What more could a 14 year old kid as for?

Fates Warning were an east coast metal band that formed in 1983 out of Connecticut. No Exit was the fourth album and their first with a line up change that included new singer Ray Alder. After experimenting with progressive rock tendencies the band really jumped head first into the progressive/art rock vibe on No Exit. There were acoustic interludes, lyrics about anarchy, death, silent cries, and even a whole side, 21 minute suite called “The Ivory Gate of Dreams”. When their next album dropped the next year in 1989 called Perfect Symmetry they had gone full progressive and were more in line with bands like Queensryche with that Q Prime management vibe; including heady music videos and more expensive hair products. But No Exit still possessed a sense of danger to it. There was still a darkness in the dissonant guitar lines and Alder’s operatic howls. They never hit the drug-fueled doldrums of say Megadeth, or the speed metal delights of Metallica or Slayer, or even the hardcore charms of Anthrax, but it was a great album for an 8th grader to shake his fist to quietly in his bedroom.

On a recent trip to Neat Neat Neat Records I found a super clean copy of No Exit for $10 and instantly nostalgia got the better of me. After about ten minutes of mulling around the store I made my way back to the “F” section of the metal albums and grabbed Fates Warning. I also snagged a copy of Fogg’s High Testament(we’ll talk about that one later.) Was it all warm fuzzies and harkening back to the heyday of my teen speed metal years? No, not really.

Sometimes nostalgia can give you a nice surprise. Recent purchases of albums like Cinderella’s Night Songs, Dokken’s Tooth and Nail, and even older grabs like Van Halen’s Fair Warning and Diver Down showed that I wasn’t all that bad at finding good music to listen to in my pre-teen and teen years. Sadly though, sometimes records don’t age all that well. No Exit, while still probably exactly as it was in 1988, just isn’t that memorable of a record. It’s a sort of paint-by-numbers affair as far as metal albums go.

So basically you’ve got your chugging metal riffs, the galloping metal riffs, and the occasional spritz of thrash thrown in with Fates Warning. Album opener “No Exit” is 41 seconds of sorrowful, dissonant guitars as singer Ray Alder basks in some serious doomy vocals. When I was a teenager it probably sounded a lot better. Now it just sounds out of tune(God, I’m old.) “Anarchy Divine” goes in hard with some decent thrash moments and some nice tempo changes. Alder, to me, sounds like a poor man’s Joey Belladonna. He hits those high notes well enough, but there’s no heft there. Even Geoff Tate had some color behind his wailing. “Silent Cries” hints at a more progressive sound the band would dig into with their next album, Perfect Symmetry. It’s not bad, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no “oomph”. “In A Word” is the obligatory acoustic number all metal bands felt they needed to include back in the 80s. I guess it’s supposed to show off the soulful side of the band. Meh. I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest. “Shades Of Heavenly Death” has some nice early Anthrax vibes, but man those vocals just kind of bring everything down. I just can’t get into that wailing. “The Ivory Gates of Dreams” is the nearly 22-minute opus and works the best here. Alder keeps his vocals controlled here, and the band does a nice job of tempo changes and mixing up the art rock vibe with straight up speed metal. This takes up all of side B and I could see what I saw in these guys in the first place.

By 1989 the rough edges that were present on No Exit were mostly shaved off. In their place was arty, Rush-inspired progressive rock. It was a little more Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime and less Mercyful Fate’s Melissa. Fates Warning is still a quality progressive rock band, but No Exit won’t be spun again any time soon. Sometimes the past just needs to stay in the past I suppose. Let those sleeping dogs lie. Or those old rock records continue to collect dust in my memory.