It is nearly four years since Bristol’s Turbowolf exploded into my life with their self-titled debut album. Exploded is the right word, the band being a volatile mixture of punk energy, retro, proggy synths and muscular metal aggression, all wrapped up in day-glo ethnic trappings and a Frank Zappa moustache.
What I loved about that début was that despite the definite influences on show the band sounded like no one else on the planet whilst not trying too hard to be experimental. Turbowolf are mavericks and magpies, they create a delightful offshoot rather than an outlandish mutation of hard rock. Still, it is those differences that make them so appealing; the junk shop wobbly synths, the love of ancient tribal rhythms and a touch of hippy-ish femininity in their make-up.
That femininity is now physically represented in new bassist Lianna Lee Davies, whose presence adds several of the best moments here; the silky backing vocals and thumping fuzzy basslines on the excellent singles, the complex ‘Rich Gift’ and the super-catchy ‘Nine Lives’.
When the bands punky influences come to the fore, as on ‘American Mirrors’, the vibe is rollicking but unremarkable and for me, the more weirdness they let pervade into their sound, the better. A fine example is early single ‘Solid Gold’ with its quasi-mystical chorus, banging beats and sampled sped-up chants, it creates an air of exotica rarely heard in modern hard rock.
Those elements were mostly in place on their début, but lyrically the band have changed tack significantly and “Two Hands” has ditched the metal imagery of the likes of ‘Seven Severed Heads’ for tunes chock full of positivity. Tracks such as ‘Good Hand’, ‘Nine Lives’ and ‘Pale Horse’ find the band urging people to persevere and live life to the full. On ‘Good Hand’ Chris Georgiadis is joined on vocals by Tom Hudson of Pulled Apart by Horses, on which he raucously reaffirms every line Chris throws out. It’s one the most infectious, celebratory pieces of rock music I’ve heard all year. The lyrics seem trite written down but in these good hands the whole thing is elevated to a position where the message is unquestionably well received.
I don’t know upon which ancient philosophy the awesome ‘Twelve Houses’ is based but by the time the song breaks down only to rise to the repeated line “We built this house of cards to knock it down” you can’t wait for the banging chorus to re-emerge. Once again the band combine positivity, the strange and arcane with modern rock and electronica on the utterly thrilling ‘Rich Gift’. If I tell you it mixes native American style whoops, Sabbath-esque riffs, a percussive breakdown, an appearance from Medusa and Lianna seductively informing you “Remember, the world is ours” you’d likely be imagining a musical mess, an over ambitious folly. You’d be wrong of course and it proves me right in my belief that Turbowolf are at their best when really pushing the envelope.
Closer ‘Pale Horse’ is less frantic by comparison and acts as a shoulder rub, during which the band can once again whisper their encouragements into your ear. The song builds triumphantly, the riff picks up speed and then drops down to a gentle closing strum in the manner of one last caress.
This is rock music for the mind, body and soul and in “Two Hands” Turbowolf have proven they are in possession of big brains and a bigger rock n’ roll heart.