Review: THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY – ‘Abject Tomorrow’… Posted: 10/05/2017 by Philip Morrissey
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done”. One of the most well designed comments made by Bruce Lee about time ever made. Even before he was cut down in his prime, he appreciated the need to live for the moment and cram as much as he could possibly do into his life. It is a common dilemma experienced by many musicians. Some feel obliged to rush proceedings in the studio due to time and monetary constraints and this can be shown in the end results. The ideal situation would be to have the freedom allowing ideas develop organically. The creative vision can then be truly achieved.
What happens when an artist becomes stymied by their own need for perfection? Far too often, as fans, we have been (im)patiently waiting on a promised release. TOOL, NECROPHAGIST… I am looking at you. All too often on the local scene this length taken results in a loss of interest or the band having to admit defeat in their goal. The priorities of life away from music can be a deciding factor in this. Family and work life are the realities of many working musicians. It can jolt them back into life in some circumstances though. Graham Keane initially conceived ‘Abject Tomorrow’ as a solo project upon returning to Ireland in 2010 from music college in the UK. Being slap bang in the middle of nowhere didn’t help his search for other members so the decision was made to belt on by himself. Not much happened other than sporadic noodling away. The diagnosis of his wife with cancer in 2013, and the realisation of his own mortality, snapped him back into action.
Writing and recording became an escape of sorts from all the associated pressures. In the absence of a defined line-up, and wishing to use real instrumentation instead of virtual ones, the search began to find musicians worldwide to help bring this to life. That brought its own challenges and financial burdens in itself. The process took its time due to the recording process. Keane recorded mostly at his own home studio, with guests recording elsewhere. Wilmer Waarbroek (AYREON), Derek Sherinian (DREAM THEATER, PLANET X, BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION), Kevin Talley (SUFFOCATION, DYING FETUS, GROT), Pat Byrne (HEDFUZY) and others helped make up the additional parts. The task he has set for himself is a weighty one. The album is placed in a dystopian future (is there ever a positive future?) where humans are fitted with emotion inhibiting implants from birth. In the case of our protagonist, his implant malfunctions, and it follows his re-connection with his feelings. So! Heady stuff. Can he pull it off though?
Album opener ‘Sycophants’ kicks off with a stabbing keys courtesy of one of his guests, Nahuel Ramos. This leads into an eerie riff reminiscent of ANNIHILATOR’s ‘Alison Hell’. It creates a weird fuzzed up sensation. The keys continue before the synth work by Keane makes themselves known. A heavy interlude by session drummer, Klemen Markelj, takes place before all the key components come together. Wilmer Waarbroek’s vocals bring to mind those of classic power metal front-men such as Jorn Lande or Geoff Tate. Impressive dexterity and range on display here. The track revolves around the sudden discovery of sensations and emotions by the subject. This is backed up by a series of tasteful guitar solos. The synths reappear in an ebb and flow. The vocals are strong leading to a tribal sounding beat. Keys and synths compete in a race to catch the attention of the listener. The second half of the song creates a sense of unease and wariness. Is he all alone? The melodic nature from before is altered as the mood changes on its title track. Coming from the perspective of the controller, it states that humanity are cattle and should be subservient to the control grid. There is definite weight behind both the guitars and drums by Kevin Talley. A trade off is accomplished through the incorporation of airy synths. A guitar solo is introduced to heighten the sense of tension. Percussion taps away prior to the main weight of the drums. The vocals by Nathan Pickering soars above the crashing drums. Pickering was only able to contribute to this track alone. This is unfortunate as his vocals at times are catchier than ebola. The tempo drops briefly as another solo takes place. There is a variation on the vocals as harsher ones take over. All the players combine as whispered threats provide a back-drop. This leads into another cracking solo.
‘Downfall (Voice in the Sky)’ is almost cinematic in its measured beginning. Our subject begins to hear tales from before but fears the consequences. Throbbing synths from Keane are set against a sparse drum beat and guitars. It is very much Floydian in its approach. This leads to a warm bass segment from Byrne and Talley shows admirable restraint with delicate hi-hat tapping. The vocalisation is slightly pronounced at times, displaying Waarbroek’s nationality. No major problem though. The players let loose in a mid-section period before more of the harsher vocals. This creates a slightly uneasy mix at times. There is a return to the more familiar power metal vocals before it switches back again. This works more natural with bands such as OPETH but not here. The end segment is much better as it becomes more expansive and melodic. Some wonderful moments come through Karen Kelly’s violin work. In ‘Agenda’ his anomaly is detected by the controllers who attempt to eradicate it. Sound effects announce its beginning akin to travelling through space. The pace increases and the musicianship becomes quite technical. Definitely hints towards the extreme nature of some of those involved. There are nods at ‘Spheres’ era PESTILENCE, ATHIEST and so on. The vocals are delayed before their entrance. Yet again, the two styles are interspersed throughout. This may work better against the keys rather than the synths however. Look at ‘The Key’ by NOCTURNUS for example. ‘The 11th Hour’ has a slow and gradual build-up. Our subject knows that the controllers are arriving to take him away. It is almost ghostly sounding involving whispered vocals before they soar impressively. Effects seem to be laid over them at certain stages. This is probably one of the more epic sounding tracks on the album. The harsher vocals work much better here as they lead into an elongated instrumental section towards its end.
‘Psychedelic Torture Trip’ sees our subject injected by the controllers to subvert his experiences. It forms the main solely instrumental track on the album. It also features some wonderful keys work from Sherinian. They work alongside the crashing drums from Talley and Keane’s guitar work. After the various twists and turns before, ‘Gods of the New Age’ is fairly straight forward. Our subject is battling between what he is being told and what he believes himself. Thematically it draws obvious comparisons with the magnus opus of ‘2112’ by Rush. In terms of post life regression, similar concepts have been discovered on more contemporary albums such as ‘Scenes From a Memory’ by DREAM THEATER and ‘Second Life Syndrome’ by RIVERSIDE. Not a bad track in itself but perhaps most prog fans are itching to get into the 18 minute closer ‘Analogue Spectre’. Our protagonist is hooked up to a machine in order to recondition him. Although he does not survive the procedure, his memories escape into the super computer to make everyone else aware. It opens up with more spoken word over a soundtrack that resembles a craft taking off. This leads back to events earlier on in the album. Keane has stated that he did not intend for this to be as long as it was. Briefly the stretched out sections are pulled too thinly but still manage to pull it off. When they are at their best however, it is a joy to behold. Fans of SPOCK’S BEARD, DREAM THEATER and SYMPHONY X would have a lot to enjoy. Especially that first instrumental section. A mellow section following is meant to represent his passing and the transfer of information. This eventually leads to a shortened jazzy piano solo before a thunderous guitar solo and a crushing breakdown. A dramatic conclusion is reached via a powerful chanting outro and a suitably massive orchestral finish.
Definitely an album full of ideas and some fantastic playing from Keane and the various guests. It’s inevitable that with a rotating cast of characters involved, that some work better than others. When given issues such as working around others schedules and expenses involved, it remains an admirable achievement. The overall concept works well and flows well throughout. Perhaps an idea which has been covered before but at least given a new twist. The ending perhaps leaves the idea open for continuation should he wish to re-visit it in the future. It begs the question of how this would translate into the live performance. As many were operating from disparate regions such as Netherlands, Slovakia, USA and elsewhere, employing all of them would be problematic to say the least. Perhaps a live collaboration involving Pat Byrne. A partial HEDFUZY, partial VICIOUS HEAD performance would be quite welcome, indeed. If this does not transpire, hopefully Keane will be able to work away on a follow up that will do it justice.
Reviewed by Philip Morrissey.