The power of metal, the improvisations of free form jazz and the lunatic complexity of prog; expect this and more from the Belgian band SH.T.GN. This guitar, keyboard and vibraphone driven band is the brainchild of keyboardist Antoine Guenet (The Wrong Object), who's ably aided by vocalist Fulco Ottervanger, vibraphonist Wim Segers, guitarist Yannick De Pauw, bass player Dries Geusens and drummer Simon Segers. Together they weave their vision of what can only be described as maniacal, twisted, aggressive and ultimately chaotic progressive music. Overdubs and edits are absent, but instead you hear a raw, live-in-the-studio atmosphere. MoonJune Record label promoter Leonardo Pavkovic knows where to find the odd, the sick, the twisted and the talented. I believe he nailed yet another with SH.TG.N.
The album opens with an instrumental entitled Dead Baby, which prepares the listener for what's to come: heavy guitar riffs with a vibraphone undertone. With its King Crimson-like tone, the song evokes the mood set on Starless And Bible Black. The second track Deejays Should Have Low Self Esteem, introduces vocals more connected to guttural utterances which work for the vibe. The guitar is feedback happy, all with an electric piano-vibraphone backing. Eyjafjallajökull has an almost Rage Against The Machine feel; very modern in approach. At this point the album begins to resemble less of the typical prog sound as evidenced by Shitgun. The lyrics are borderline, rapped rather than sung, with some very nice tempo and time changes. Power chords, a spoken word vocal line and some emotional screams fill out Camera Obscura, a track that can easily tire out the listener
The Led Zeppelin-like riff on Shotgun (Afraid Of), combined with a hint of the vocal styling of Robert Plant soon gives way to a chaotic bar or two until it segues into Save Us From Bloody Women. Some very cool guitar and keyboard interplay and the now ever present scream vocals blend towards the conclusion of the track, which again segues into the next tune, Erase Her Dad. The King Crimson influence appears again, a combination of seventies and Discipline era's all lumped together. A Glimpse Into Eternity starts out with some wonderful electric piano phrases, then explodes into a distorted, wah-wah drenched guitar solo. Keyboardist Guenet shows his chops throughout this one of the stronger pieces on the album. Esta Mierda No Es Democracia follows with a wicked bass-electric piano-surf guitar intro and undertone. Again with a vocal line that is spoken rather than sung, the song could have appeared quite comfortably on any Sepultura album, speaking to the diversity of styles present throughout.
Chaos abounds on J33 (I Don't Wanna See), with its heavy riffs, brief pastoral keyboard passage and the return into a stoner metal vibe. Final track Black Beetle shows more of an orchestrated approach to the song structure. Odd time signatures, eerie vocal lines and feedback-loaded guitars share the stage with a deep vibraphone backbone, while bass player Geusens holds down the bottom end. This track pulls together the identity of this band: riffs ā la King Crimson, Frank Zappa induced orchestrations and plenty of chaos.
I've never been comfortable with providing a personal opinion when it comes to reviewing an artist's work. There's no such thing as good or bad music, it's just music. What I may love, others may detest, so I will keep to my impressions. The overall feel for this album is one of progress, that is, stretching the boundaries of what one will consider progressive. The lyrics are overall rather dark and dangerous, which is to say they perfectly compliment the music. The live-in-the-studio sound is refreshing in these days of pristine, disinfected production values. SH.TG.N are players not seeded in pure virtuosity, they are rather musicians who understand what it is to create an atmosphere. If you like your music edgy and in anyway similar to any of the bands mentioned within the body of this review, you will enjoy this disc. It's rough and in a tumble, raw and energized, dark and twisted. Enjoy it if you dare...
***+ Ray Loboda (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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