Five Star Prison Cell’s first album, the slyly-titled The Complete First Season, was released in 2005 into a “math-metal” landscape sorely in need of some fresh scenery. Many a band had sprung up in the wake of carnage The (ever-evolving, ever-compelling) Dillinger Escape Plan had left, but for this fan at least, none of the pretenders to this particular throne could even hold a candle to this most trail-blazing of acts. So who in the hell would’a thunk that Melbourne, Australia, of all bloody places, would produce a band finally worthy of those all-too-frequently dropped Dillinger comparisons? Not I, that’s for damn sure…
Sure, that first album wore its inspirations quite blatantly on its sleeve, and those who were aware of vocalist Adam Glynn’s past output in the entertaining but less genre-busting Frankenbok – which I wasn’t, at the time – were perhaps not surprised to hear a full-length record with at least some passing resemblance to Dillinger’s Mike Patton-fronted Irony Is A Dead Scene EP. The production was in any case staggering for a debut album, with a world of carefully layered detail – especially in the vocal department – which made it the kind of album one almost MUST experience on headphones (or at least an exceptionally well-separated stereo system)!
Their second album, 2007’s Slaves Of Virgo, disappointingly saw them “lose the plot” somewhat on a record anything BUT lacking in ideas; an album where the problem was, indeed, a ridiculous OVERABUNDANCE of said ideas, leading to tracks so obesely-layered as to be downright bemusing for much of its running time. Repeated plays would, to be sure, ultimately reward the loyal listener with some degree of joy and comprehension, but if ever someone were to ask me what is meant when one says a record is “over-produced”, I’d save myself the breath and just put this album on! ‘Nuff said.
So it is with exquisite pleasure that I announce that Five Star’s third album is an almost-perfect consolidation of their previous two long-players, and a thoroughly triumphant fulfilment of the promise they have shown since their inception. It’s an album which sees them come far more “into their own” than the somewhat derivative (if otherwise excellent) Complete First Season, and cram in just as much aural innovation as Slaves Of Virgo with far more cohesion than that gloriously over-ripe product.
Entitled Matriarch, and loosely (though not exclusively) based around the themes of femininity and male/female relationships suggested therein, this is easily their most lyrically-intriguing effort to date. From opener “I Curse This Vessel” (“I curse this vessel of the flesh…in which contains thy futile frustrations of lust”) to closer “Lamia” (“Vagina, you’re the vampire…no I’m not a misogynist, it’s just all women are Satan”), the lyrics to this one should have frustrated, spiritually-castrated males everywhere nodding their heads in silent agreement. Then there’s tracks like the simply batty “Airsharks” (“I dreamt I swam with Airsharks / I am aquatically blessed”) for those too afraid to let their girlfriends or wives anywhere near an album which proclaims that “Us men are starting to wake up to you”! (Amen to that, brother!!)
But where would lyrics be without the vocals to convey them? I’m pleased to report that this may well be the album to see Adam Glynn finally shake off those endless Mike Patton comparisons: A subject towards which he has, granted, shown a frequently healthy and self-deprecating sense of humour. To say that he “just wants to be Mike” has, to date, been easy (and lazy?) enough – and something I myself have been guilty of – but with Matriarch he confidently finds his own voice, with only the occasional moment here and there reminding us why anyone made those comparisons in the first place. Also, for anyone tempted to accuse him of the eternal monkey-on-the-back of the modern metal scene, the “He just growls like that ’cause he can’t sing” line of argument…track 4, “Swarm”, should put ’em in their place quite nicely. This boy can sing, roar, do wacky spoken words and make all manner of strange and wonderful noises with the best of ’em.
Most importantly, though, he has a band behind him who are also no slouches when it comes to stretching themselves and the narrow “genre” confines others might shackle them with. To put it simply, this album has it all: Brutality, melody, insane time signatures, atmospheric soundscapes…inspired lunacy of all shapes and sizes. Try “Forlorn” on for size: A hearty dose of crazy, experimental jazz worthy of no less than John Zorn himself, in which drummer Marc Whitworth and bassist Cam Macdonald in particular get a chance to shine both high and bright. It’s always nice to hear an ostensibly “metal” band willing to resist the urge to “get brutal” for the entirety of a whole track (see also the cosmically epic “Paramountain”)! But fear not, heavy music fans…there’s plenty of that here too, evoking not only the likes of the aforementioned Patton and Dillinger, but also Fear Factory, that Serj Tankian fellow’s projects (both past and present) and even the mighty Godflesh (LOVE that guitar tone on “Loss Of Gravitas”)! Any musicians curious to hear a piece of “math-metal” which manages to be technically challenging yet breathtakingly minimal at the same time should listen to, and learn from, the instrumental portions of “Empire Made Flesh”, especially the elongated one near the end…without doubt, one of the most attention-grabbing song moments I’ve heard in many an aeon.
After the deliciously intriguing but ultimately messy Slaves Of Virgo, ’tis awesome to hear what is easily one of Oz’s (if not the world’s?) current top five “heavy” bands get squarely back on track. If you’re as weary as I am of the same-old, same-old “contemporary metal” scene, this is one album you seriously HAVE to check out: It’s enough to restore your faith, and then some. Oh, and did I mention that the cd artwork also kicks some pretty serious arse? Well, it does, so how about BUYING the fucker instead of downloading it off some friend for free? Bands like this only come down the turnpike once in several blue moons, and without much-deserved support will doubtless go the way of the dodo…and all we’ll be left with is the likes of Nickelback. Think about it: Is that the kind of world you want YOUR children to grow up in?!
© Michael Bowser, Music Vice