posted on 6/2009 By:
Seven albums in, and Slough Feg are still fighting. Not merely surviving, but thriving. Even as an entity ignored by many, they remain revered by a strong and vocal few--which is cool for everyone involved. Band and fans alike are relatively unconcerned with reformatting the Lord Weird's worldview for purposes of mass appeal. Sure, it would be cool to see Slough Feg's timeless wares elevated to a more widely celebrated status; a reward for the years of toil, turmoil, and triumph. If the broader metallic masses aren't astute enough to knight these purest of warriors, though...fuck 'em.
Recently, however, the steely reverence put forth by their loyal cabal seemed to be in danger of weakening, if ever so slightly. It's a rarity for a metal band to age gracefully, and Slough Feg aren't the most youthful crew on the block. Furthermore, the band's last go-round, Hardworlder, was of (relatively) inferior quality. Granted, I gave the disc high scores and higher praise upon its release; and as an experiment in warping their sound into a mild vortex of 1970's proto-metal, it's a pretty rad album. But it was padded with two covers, its metalness was tenuous, and the drumming was borderline terrible. For the first time, excitement was tempered and fingers were crossed in the run-up to the release of a new Feg record.
Thankfully, the band has counterpunched such foolishness with the release of their best album in years. Bursting with an immediacy and poignance last seen on the stellar Traveller, Ape Uprising! is damn near everything a Slough Feg fan could ask for, almost to a fault. Rumbling out of the gate with an amusing (but far from gimmicky) take on traditional doom, the aptly/goofily titled "Hunchback of Notre Doom" primes the listener for a heavier, more grizzled Feg. Mainman Mike Scalzi's vocals are as smoky and world-hardened as ever, adding another dimension to what is already arguably the most distinctive and infectious voice in contemporary metal. (Though there really isn't much to argue. After the startlingly mundane The Devil You Know, RJD has officially crossed the Rubicon to Classicland, leaving true contemporary competition to fresher contestants. And power metal nerds--if you're still out there--all of your Dickinson and Halford rehash artists should just close the door to their costume shops and keep tinkering with their fog machines and stage fans. Don't even bother.)
Anyway, by the time they switch gears into the more familiar territory of "Overborne," it's apparent that something special is brewing under the surface. "Overborne" treads familiar territory--the groove-laden, Thin Maiden bebop is in full-force--but something about the guitar interplay between Scalzi and Angelo Tringali is especially kinetic. But while they leap out with sharp barbs and solid jabs, but don't quite go blasting through the roof. The fight has yet to come to a head.
"But our battle's begun
Now you're biting your tongue
All the world is your stage
Until you rattled my cage...!"
The Uprising begins, and the lid flies off--the ten-minute title track explodes in a riotous firestorm. Scalzi's storytelling is a brief prelude to six minutes of four-man fury--fury that flexes the band's classic strength while boasting a new vitality amid a complex series of strikes. The majority of this newfound vibrancy comes courtesy of new drummer Harry Cantwell, who provides the crucial sonic weight that Hardworlder sorely lacked. Finally, bassist Adrian Maestas has found an ideal partner to collide his boiling n' roiling wares with. Cantwell guides the song like a general with kettle-bell fists, and the rest of the band runs through an exhausting crash-course in everything that makes them awesome, culminating in an ultra-climatic freakout at the nine minute mark.
"Simian Manifesto" and "Shakedown at the Six" follow a similar arc. Scalzi introduces the tracks with howling calls-to-arms before the band whip themselves into torrents of tongue-in-cheek, bartop soloing and unintentionally sexy low-end swagger. "White Cousin" is the obligatory vocal-driven folk tune, cast in the mold of "The Sea Wolf" and "Baltech's Lament." "Ape Outro" is the rumbling thrash metal counterpoint to "Hunchback," providing Deadmen-styled heft and panache, while "Nasty Hero" is an atypical closer. Uncharacteristically bright n' shiny, it conjures bad memories of the Devin Townsend Band's craptastic addendum "Sunshine and Happiness" before breaking itself apart after a few awkward minutes, finally sliding into Ape Uprising's jam-session glove.
The more straightforward moments certainly recall what is arguably their most complete album, Down Among The Deadmen, and as such, much of Ape Uprising! will seem instantly familiar and comforting to longtime fans. There's nothing on here that can compete with the likes of "Fergus Mac Roich" or "Traders and Gunboats," but the joyous, understated technicality found on Ape Uprising! renders it virtually free of fault. Slough Feg's newfound focus on instrumental shreddery not only sends an electric shockwave through their veins, it also serves to refute any unwarranted "retro" tags that may be floating in the wake of Hardworlder's over-the-shoulder glances. Certainly, the band takes it's cues from it's twin-guitar forebears, but they've always boasted a wholly unique approach to classic heavy metal; one that has subtly shifted with each successive release. This entry showcases a Slough Feg that is brimming with confidence and pushing their limits to the brink. Ape Uprising! is an exciting, exuberant entry into the Slough Feg catalog, and one of 2009's most essential albums.
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