The first time I heard material from London progressive metal band The Safety Fire’s new album was one of those rare and treasurable moments where something on the radio stops you in your tracks and you find yourself furiously waiting for the DJ to announce who you’ve been listening to, or in this case repeatedly jabbing at the info button on my digital radio and cursing Team Rock for not having this function up and running yet!
It was on Phil Wilding’s surprisingly good prog metal show one Sunday and once he gave me the skinny I vowed to track down the bands new album. I say ‘surprisingly’ good as I’m not traditionally a fan of much prog or math rock – and we’ll get to that in a minute.
Anyway, as luck would have it, TINAS had been sent “Mouth of Swords” to review, so despite my being out of my depth in the glittering, architecturally challenging plunge pool of prog metal I decided to give it a listen and share my thoughts with you.
Firstly, here’s some of what I don’t like about a lot of progressive metal – 1. It doesn’t swing. 2. The vocals are either all too clean or are deliberately at the far ends of both the harsh and clean with no middle ground. Basically I feel the bands are showing off, shouting:
“Listen to this bit, we sound like a totally different band to the bit just now! We’re crazy! We’re so diverse! We laugh at your one dimensional genre music, fools…”
When actually the opposite is equally true as all those bands end up in a genre of their own, and the genre is pretentious , smart-arse, soulless, wankery. 3. Often song craft is forgotten in an attempt to create pieces of enormous diversity and skill. Nothing wrong with diversity and skill but when everything becomes one long show-reel of muso accomplishment it becomes utterly charmless to me.
Where The Safety Fire get it right is that rarely do these sometimes quite long songs disappear up their own fundament. There is focus and purpose to many of the songs here and vocalist Sean McWeeny‘s new found vocal range never sounds forced, the changes of style fit comfortably within the tune rather than deliberately grating.
The guitar playing is excellent throughout although predictably there is very little credence given to the ‘less is more’ school of thought. Occasionally, such as on opener and title track ‘Mouth Of Swords’ you do wish they’d just stop showing off and let the track breathe. They can do it: ‘Wise Hands’ benefits from laid back and tasteful playing which you keep expecting them to ruin by careening off into a huge jagged solo but thankfully they don’t, instead settling for some Gojira-esque strafing as the track leads straight into ‘The Ghosts That Wait For Spring’ ( that captivating tune I heard on the radio).
Gojira are an admitted influence on these guys and being a fan of those French ear-basher’s it is the heavier tracks where they sound most like them that appeal to me most. The impressive ‘Yellowism’ features a plummeting riff so indebted to the Duplantier sound that I went rushing back to “L’Enfant Sauvage” swearing blind they’d pinched it wholesale. ‘Yellowism’ is the first of a run of three heavy tracks on the album that really seal it’s quality to me. ‘Beware The Leopard (Jagwar)’ and ‘Red Hatchet’ are full of crushing riffs, strong melodies and obscure but strangely compelling lyrics. Tommy Rogers of musical soulmates Between The Buried and Me lends some brief, blood curdling vocals to ‘Beware The Leopard (Jagwar)’ and for me, prove that McWeeny is right to move towards singing a cleaner style on this album. He can do the pitched screaming style, but mixing it up much better complements the bands new material. Tommy Rogers is, quite frankly, a much more convincing full-on screamer!
I like this album, and I like it more with each listen, the nature of this type of music being that it is a slow reveal. So dense is it with musical incident and drama that I feel I’ll be listening and liking “Mouth Of Swords” for a long time to come.