THE MUTE GODS
The Mute Gods are back with album number two. Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson; Steve Hackett... and Kajagoogoo, of course), Roger King (Steve Hackett) and Marco Minnemann (Joe Satriani; The Aristocrats; et al) are the trio of uber talented musicians responsible for this most engaging of works. And it's engaging on many different levels. Beyond the adeptly composed and performed suite of innovatively composed songs, it also offers a cognitively provocative experience for those who also wish to engage with its narratives, messages, cautionary tales and stark forewarnings.
A tardigrade is defined by "any microscopic, chiefly herbivorous invertebrate of the phylum Tardigrada, living in water, on mosses, lichens" and Beggs says of the title track, and album title: "If humanity continues down the path of extinction, they may well be the next dominant species." A bleak contemplation, and the album, in its entirety, is fairly bleak in thematic tone and sonic realisation, with only fleeting moments of a more optimistic outlook; predominantly on closer 'Stranger Than Fiction'. From stark cautionary narratives such as in 'We Can't Carry On' and 'Window onto the Sun', to a speculative interpretation of fish prophesising the end of humankind in 'The Singing Fish of Batticaloa', it's all very gloomy, almost chilling, stuff, and the music reflects the lyrical themes to perfection.
As a whole, it states in press blurb that The Mute Gods' sophomore effort is an "examination of societal control mechanisms, and looks at the inevitable outcomes should we continue down dark, dogmatic pathways." So, in one sense, I guess we're talking Althusserian Marxism here... our supposed interpellation as subjects in a web of contemporary rhetoric and tried-and-tested ideology. The Mute Gods are indubitably pissed off with the world, and frustrated by the lack of realisation of what they seem to assert as humanity's inevitable annihilation. The album occupies that space where polemic meets aesthetic; an explosively potent melding of observational provocations and provocative art. And, here, it's primed to trigger contemplations of civilisational fragility and how we're supposed to exist and conform within unquestioned ideological norms, and the pernicious consequences of such an existence.
Based on press blurb, 'Tardigrades...' is being marketed as an album with a "more metal-oriented focus" than the band's debut. While some tracks are characterised by a heavier, riff-based dynamic, there are as many moments of free-flowing, natural progressions of quirky, wistful, and introspective innovations, across all kinds of stylistic divergences. So, it'd be fallacious to regard this solely, or even predominantly, as a metal record. Metal is but one element of The Mute Gods' sonic arsenal. In fact, it's fairly impossible to apply any kind of genre labelling to 'Tardigrades...', albeit there are those who will proclaim this to be prog. Sure, it's progressive, but not in a generic sense. The innovations here are never forced or affiliated with the notion of prog as a genre. The progressions in the music are far more natural than that.
While rooted in its contemporary conception, it has, at the same time, retro-based flavours, with more than a few nods to 70s and 80s stylings (check out the title track for some 80s-styled synth parts, that Beggs has no doubt carried over from his musical roots). And the many dark sounding passages of forlorn-fuelled, brooding melancholy have been interwoven with a sporadicity of lighter, more optimistic moments, so there are little glimpses of hope amidst all the despair, which is what ultimately prevents the album from wallowing too much in its foreboding anxieties. These contrasts are a fundamental part of its success.
Performance-wise, the musicianship is of an incredibly high standard. All three men deliver on so many levels here - their playing, both individually and collectively, is emotionally profound; virtuosic in execution; and wide in stylistic expression. Minnemann 's drumming is quite astounding with some truly dynamic playing - incredible accents, fills, crescendos and decrescendos... some great flourishes of sticksmanship. It's no wonder he made it to the final four in the Dream Theater auditions for Mike Portnoy's replacement. Beggs' bass work is magnificent, too, as is his control of the Chapman Stick... he's come a long way since 'Too Shy'! And his voice is great, with a range of deliveries and emotions to express songs' themes. He also contributes keyboards, guitars and programming; as does Roger King. So many different elements from these super talented multi-instrumentalists, but it all gels so well. And King's production is fantastic, with a warm, analogue sound. I imagine this sounds beautiful on vinyl.
All in all, 'Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth' is not the best album I've heard this year, thus far, but it's certainly the most intellectually stimulating one. For those who like to be provoked into pondering over the potentially chilling consequences of an ideologically interpellated contemporary civilisation, as much as enjoying the artistic benefits the music can offer, this is most definitely for you.
TARDIGRADES WILL INHERIT THE EARTH
Review by Mark Holmes
24th February 2017
1) Saltatio Mortis
2) Animal Army
3) We Can't Carry On
4) The Dumbing of the Stupid
5) Early Warning
6) Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
7) Window Onto The Sun
9) The Singing Fish of Batticaloa
10) The Andromeda Strain
11) Stranger Than Fiction
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"The album occupies that space where polemic meets aesthetic; an explosively potent melding of observational provocations and provocative art."