I want to admit right at the start that I am a sucker for albums that tell stories. When done well I can find myself sitting eyes shut imagining the characters and the scenes that they are playing out. I also love theatrical bands who put on shows that entertain but also manage to make you either think or laugh. Anyone who does all those things tend to have my undivided attention. Now I am looking directly at you… Ward XVI (yes YOU Ward XVI) who are releasing a second album called Metamorphosis Friday 25 September. I hadn’t heard of the band before so was unacquainted with the previous album The Art Of Manipulation which deals with the same story or character known as Psychoberrie (also the name of the singer) who is not a well girl! The first video I watched she was in a straightjacket in a padded cell and having visitations from an even scarier looking incarnation. I knew right away this was an album for me! Musically they merge rock and metal with prog and demented circus-type music whilst telling a story which in places reminded me in part of Welcome To My Nightmare by Alice Cooper, Scenes From A Memory from Dream Theater and The Wall by Pink Floyd along with a dash of The Musical Box by Genesis. They really do put everything into what they do (very much like Gandalf’s Fist who had actors voice parts as well as lots of sound effects on their Clockwork Fable) and in the press info, they explain how the timelines of some songs on this match the first album filling in spaces. The story is all pre-written and there is, even more, to come from it apparently.
The Songs/The Story – In Words And Music:
So onto the songs. It opens with “Retrogression” where the psychiatrist (played by Chrs Barton) communicates to Psychoberrie by phone, obviously kept apart by perspex for his own safety. She is totally isolated and talks about how much she loved her mum. Notice the past tense “loved”! This is followed by the longest song on the album (and my personal favourite) “The Cradle Song” which opens with the sounds of a musical box, a baby crying and a mother talking to her baby remarking at one point “you’ll be something special one day, you’ll see“. As the accordion plays (by Martin Crawley) the feeling is quite manic (reminded me a little of Stolen Babies) yet playful and a tad pretty. As the drums and guitar come in the melody remains with the guitar solo using that refrain making it very tasteful and haunting keeping the solo perfectly in tune with the track. It fits and blends beautifully. Good work from Doctor Von Stottenstein (one of 3 actual members the other being bassist Wolfy Hunstman. The rest of the cast are all guests or inmates for this period of time). Lyrically it is a love song to her now-deceased mother with some lovely disturbing lyrics (knowing what is to come) like “I put my head against your chest to find your beating heart“. The vocals on this are very impressive and I think this is one of the songs that also features guest operatic singer Anabelle Iratni. The song drops back down to the sound of the theme being played via the musical box. Seriously this track is fantastic. It certainly does not feel like 8 minutes long.
“Mr Babadook” opens with a prayer (of sorts) whilst rain and thunder are heard clearly. It takes 2 minutes before the music fully comes in. For a song exploring a nightmarish scenario it has a very infectious chorus, I mean “why do monsters only come out to play at night“? It has an interesting and fun stop start finish. “Daisy Chains” is almost full oompah music. It is dark yet has a swing element about it. Lyrically looking back at her making daisy chains, as she was an “ordinary child“, or at least until the first day mummy “hit me“. There was no escape whilst stuck in a cupboard. Again the guitar solo mirrors and plays with the main melody line. The change or the end of innocence and childhood starts here! She still has her toys but the way she plays with them has changed as revealed in “Broken Toys” where her toys mirror what she now is, broken. You can sense the isolation and despair between the lyrics and the musical accompaniment. My notes on this said “chirpy yet disturbing”. Think I will stick with that. “Imago” is one of the angriest or heaviest tracks where she asks the listener/psychiatrist “do you want to know why I am this way” as she goes between fragility and scathing and sarcastic in her responses and vocal delivery. She sings how the “devil now welcomes me in as his guest“, she is apparently now the “Devil’s slave“. There is a slight industrial vibe to this adding another texture to what they can do.
Crime And Punishment:
The next 3 songs deal with the crime, the reaction and the attempted getaway! “A Goodnight Shot” starts very classical, it sounds like strings, melancholic with some drips of water in the background (possibly in her mum’s whiskey). As she speaks/sings the opera singer wails in the background adding to the drama. Before she does the crime she repeats the line “I know where you keep your gun mother” like a mantra getting more fervent. The music follows the action. You can hear the madness going on. Anyone who remembers “Steven” by Alice Cooper will understand how claustrophobia and multiple personalities can be produced in song. These guys and girls nail it. “Burn The Witch” goes all Russian Cossack dancing in style. This could easily be music in a movie soundtrack! It changes about 3 minutes in when it goes heavy with some fine drum fills from John Badger before a very tasty guitar solo. Most headbanging section of the album is here. “Catch Me If You Can” is another track where the opening shows their admiration of Alice and his “nightmare“. It becomes more frantic yet it still has a section that sounds like a banjo playing, perhaps to confuse and delight. She explains she has no “car or cash” but she does have a “backpack and a gun“. Her view is doing more crime shouldn’t make a difference to the time she does. When she is caught the police show no mercy. There is the sound of a choir and a little piano solo at the end.
“The Verdict” is very much what you would expect with the judge handing out her sentence. It isn’t played in the over the top way “The Trial” is done by Pink Floyd, rather it is played straight. The judge speaks of “mitigating circumstances” so only gives her 8 years but in an asylum believing that after that she should be of little threat. I think we may see about that on coming albums.
Closer “Shadows” finds Psychoberrie in a padded cell looking back on her life whilst feeling trapped as the walls “think I’m insane, they hate me“. The sense of isolation and continuing madness/evil gets louder and louder as the music builds in intensity and she hears lots of voices possibly the demons in her head. I do particularly love the way she mocks the experts saying she is insane with a sneering “Me?”.
This may feel (what do you mean “feel”? I hear you ask!) like a long review but I can promise I had lots of other notes which I didn’t use here, showing that there is still PLENTY to be surprised and delighted by whilst listening to the album. The quality and the flow is superb and works so well it can easily be enjoyed in one sitting. There is no chance of losing interest or getting bored as they have added lots of little touches to amuse whilst telling this unpleasant tale. I await part 3 with interest and hope they can pull off another tight flowing piece of theatre. Fittingly then all I can think of by way of finishing this is by shouting “BRAVO! ENCORE!”
Out Friday 25 September on Metal Rocka Recordings