Sound — 8
Bigelf originally formed in L.A. in the early '90s, and while enjoying some "cult" success internationally, has unfortunately remained largely unknown. The band has had some lineup changes over the years with Damon Fox remaining as the only founding member with the band, who is also the sole writer and composer for the album. "Into the Maelstrom" marks their first album in approximately 6 years and will be their 4th full-length studio release. This is the band's first release with the InsideOut Music label, which has historically specialized in progressive rock and metal. Mike Portnoy supposedly acted as a catalyst in getting Damon Fox to write new music when Damon was considering dissolving the band. The album contains 12 tracks and clocks in at a few minutes over an hour. While Damon performed much of the guitar, keyboards and vocals, Mike sat in on drums, while newer members Duffy Snowhill held down the bass and Luis Maldonado handled the lead guitar duties (including a few solos).
The album opens with the track "Incredible Time Machine," which immediately lets you know this is a sci-fi themed album while it teeters just on this side of "rock" while flirting with a more classic metal approach. "Hypersleep" starts with a spaceship computer reading off coordinates, then opens with a classic kind of rock riff - really reminiscent to me of some of Alice Cooper's earlier solo efforts, but with vocals probably more similar to David Bowie. "Already Gone" starts out as a mostly acoustic track, with an almost "Sgt. Pepper's" type of feel to it. "Alien Frequency" is another song that has some pretty straightforward acoustic guitar and some heavily processed vocals, and lyrically tackles some of the "big questions" of existence. "The Professor & The Madman" is a fuzzed out rock fest, more enjoyable for the riffing than anything else. "Mr. Harry McQuhae" opens up relying pretty heavily on the keyboard and vocals, but builds into a much fuller rock song pretty quickly. "Vertigod" is another crazy psychedelic track with a great fuzzy riff, which seems to really evolve throughout the track into something more and more interesting. "Control Freak" is essentially the song they've been using as the promotional soundtrack of the album, though they don't seem to have taken the step of releasing it as a single. Honestly, the song is okay and exemplifies the sound of the album fairly well, but there are better songs on the album. "High" is really pushing the psychedelic envelope pretty hard, and is essentially a song about being "sooooooooo high." "Edge of Oblivion" starts out with a monologue that reminds me a lot of some of the monologues in Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare," and then grows into a neat little guitar riff with an odd percussion line running along with it. The vocals seem to more closely mirror something you would expect from Ozzy Osbourne later in the track. "Theater of Dreams" really seems more like a bookend to the album than the actual last song, but it is still a very enjoyable song. The album closes out with the track "ITM" that is a little over 8 minutes and has 3 movements - "Destination Unknown," "Harbinger of Death," and "Memories." "ITM" is an interesting roller coaster of a track, but seems like Damon Fox was trying to call on the spirit of David Gilmour at times (or is that Luis Maldonado?). This was a very enjoyable album, and I was surprised at how good the overall vibe of the album was - it was fun to listen to.
Lyrics — 7
Damon Fox has an interesting type of voice, but in the 20-some-odd years that he has been doing this he has worked out some tricks that work well for him. His voice seems to really at time emulate Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Brendan Small's clean vocals, and the more spaced out vocals of David Bowie. I definitely have enjoyed this album, which is largely thanks to some truly interesting vocals (even if they are occasionally derivative of other vocalists). Here are some lyrics taken from the lyric video of "Control Freak": "I'm a control freak/ and my gaze turns you to stone/ I'm a control freak/ and I chill you to the bone/ I'm a control freak/ and you best do what you're told/ I'm a control freak/ and my touch turns things to gold/ to gold," then an awesome fuzzed out riff, then it repeats the previous lyrics and goes into "Please God help me/ to let it go/ I can't control it anymore" then an awesome squiddly-squee guitar solo. Actually, listening to the lyrics of this track more closely has made me enjoy this track more - this dude is a solid songwriter and a fairly versatile vocalist within the context of his genre.
Overall Impression — 7
I haven't listened to Bigelf very much before this release, but spent a good deal of time getting to know them recently. They've got a quality to them that makes it seem like they're really embodying their influences at any given moment. I was making a game of seeing how many different artists/musicians they reminded me of during the album and came up with a list that included David Bowie, Ozzy, Brendan Small, and a twist of Alice Cooper. Something that Bigelf seems to be doing that a lot of bands are missing the boat on, is that they are crafting some solid tracks that somehow sound both "dated" (in a good way) and "timeless" at the same time. This was something that I used to really think about when listening to a lot of The Moody Blues - they hit that sweet spot between sounding old and timeless. My favorite tracks from the album are "ITM," "Edge of Oblivion," "Vertigod" and "Alien Frequency." I would recommend this album to anyone who is already a Bigelf fan, or is a prog fan (especially classical prog, which Bigelf has more in common with than modern prog), or is just a fan of really great rock fuzz riffs.