Godsticks is a Welsh progressive rock band with a difference. A three-piece band consisting of bassist Dan Nelson, drummer Steve Roberts and led by Darran Charles who does the vocals, keyboards and guitars. They are an interesting mix of funk and progressive rock that won't initially sit well with a number of listeners, including myself. When you get an album from a band that lost its bass player just before going into the studio, brought in one of the best bass players around in order to make this CD and then immediately replaces him with a very young bass player you ask yourself one question. Do I really want to listen to this?
Some albums at first play can completely rock your world. Others can be so boring and dull that you find yourself wondering why you spent that money and what on earth had the band been taking that day. And then there is the category of albums that don't cause any initial reaction, but sit in the back of your head telling you that it's worth listening a few times. Spiral Vendetta is clearly one of the latter. It didn't immediately spark my interest but at the same time, I found myself unwilling to just write it off as a waste of time. Instead, I ripped it to the iPod in my car so that I could listen to it again. Over the next few days, I listened to the album five or six times and then it started to grow on me.
The music itself is extremely complex. Darran Charles isn't an average singer and until I actually met the band, I was almost convinced that he was using some form of vocal enhancement. It turns out he isn't, which makes his delivery all the more interesting and adds to the ways this album differs from a 'normal' progressive rock album. Steve Roberts - by comparison - is an enigma, even by the normal standards of drummer strangeness. He has the ability to change the tempo multiple times throughout a single track which keeps you off guard as a listener. If I'm truly honest here, I was initially put off by the number of tempo changes, but eventually I started to understand and expect them. When that happened, the music seemed to change substantially.
Dan Nelson is not only very young, but impressively talented as a bass player although in live sets he seems a little shy. When I saw Godsticks at Riffs Bar, Swindon, England recently, Nelson was also charged with managing the laptop and maybe it was this that kept him from rocking it up at the front of the stage. The irony in Spiral Vendetta is that the original bassist Jason Marsh, who worked on the compositions of the album, left to pursue a more funk orientated career. What he left behind was a very funky bass line that Roberts and Charles have mixed with complex tempos and rock overtones. This fusion of funk and progressive rock is hard to pull off, yet Godsticks have managed that both on the album and in their recent live sets.
You can hear the variation in Charles' voice between The Offer Still Stands and Unnerving Allure. The difference in Charles' tonal shift and the number of times that Roberts changes the tempo in Unnerving Allure is quite marked. In fact, having now listened to the album a couple of dozen times, I would have to say that Unnerving Allure has become a bit of a favourite mainly due to these changes. These two tracks are immediately followed by Timshel which starts off with a more typical progressive feel, but it's not long before Roberts changes things around and the track begins to weave its own magic. Norman has much more of a rock feel than the first three tracks and while it really shows of Charles' keyboard skills as a studio track, it really comes alive while listening to it on a live stage. Both Put Seven In Bold and Withdrawn Was The Giveaway are solid studio tracks that sit well on this album and lead you into Traverse which opens with Charles on the keyboards and vocals. It's a good rock ballad and one that demonstrates yet another change up on this album. Just as you start to relax with Traverse, along comes RRR with yet another set of unique tempos and a mix of major and minor keys.
A solid instrumental track often shows up weaknesses and strengths in the playing abilities of bands. The Continuation Of Livid is unquestionably my favourite track on the album. Charles, Nelson and Roberts all get the opportunity to showcase themselves and demonstrate their unique funk and progressive mix. Unlike many bands who overdo their instrumentals, these three show why they work so well together on this track. The album is topped off by Unravel, another ballad-like track which brings Spiral Vendetta to a conclusion. At a little over 49 minutes this is a good finish, but I found myself wanting a little more.
With one EP and now this studio album behind them, Godsticks are an exciting prospect. Nelson has already started to make some changes to the tracks to suit him and if you get a chance to see them live you will see how the music is already beginning to change. I'm told that they think about a follow-up to this album and I, for one, can't wait to hear it. Hopefully, on their current tour, they will show where one or two of the new tracks are going.
**** Ian Murphy (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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