Black Bonzo - Sound Of The Apocalypse

Year of Release: 2007
Label: The Laser's Edge
Catalog Number: LE 1048
Format: CD
Total Time: 54:05:00

Sorry folks, a long one ahead ? on a subject well worth your attention:

My first exclamation when I first heard Black Bonzo's Sound Of The Apocalypse was "Cool!" And that doesn't even capture my reaction to this -- one of those releases that engendered a 5-star rating from me right from the get-go! The first time I'd played it, I was out and about after a stop at my/our p.o. box. It was there waiting so I put it in the player to make the drive more interesting? that's when the exclamation came out of me. It soon after went into rotation, but even then I wasn't ready to write the review, because then I would have to move on to the next disc.

But, sitting at my desk at work, I jotted out these notes (with additional comments in brackets):

If you recall the buzz that surrounded Cryptic Vision and Magic Pie before their RoSFest appearances, then I fully expect the same kind of buzz for Black Bonzo. And if it hasn't started yet, let it begin here. The Sound Of The Apocalypse is an immediately attractive progressive rock album. If you want touchstones, firstly, it is well dipped in a 70s prog sheen, but also recalls The Flower Kings at times, especially in the heavy use of keyboards/organs... but then, TFK are retro sounding, too. Also, with track 3 ["Yesterdays Friends"], I kept thinking of Paul McCartney. Not in the music, but in the vocals of Magnus Lingren. To hear what I hear before you buy this and can actually hear what I hear, think of Macca's vocals during the verses of "Gotta Get You Into My Life" ? sort of.

But, the other reason I bring CV and MP is that there is also a great deal of excited energy suffusing the music, regardless of whether it's retro or not. You just get swept along.

"Intermission: Revelation Song" recalls Jethro Tull, and not just because there's a flute. Although the vocals aren't Anderson-like. [It's a folksy kind of track, with acoustic guitar and a slightly Native American feel in the percussion; it's a short track at just about a minute or so]

So, I?m listening to this for the umpteenth time now and I'm still just bowled over about how good this is. The more I listen, the more May can't come soon enough to see if they can create this kind of energy live? I would love to hear the sleek and shiny "The Well" live, for example. But truly every track here could be listed as "tracks I'd love to hear live." Just the thought is giving me goosebumps.

So um? what can you expect to hear musically? Epic progressive rock; everything is writ large, even the more intimate moments. Hammond organs are everywhere, mellotron is employed throughout, and a grand piano, too, for good measure; all rendered by Nicklas Ahlund. These dark and rumbling, turbulent and gloomy sonicscapes wouldn't be possible without the drums and percussion of Mike Israel and bass work of Anthon Johansson. The emotional draw in is the strong vocals of Lindgren and the great guitar work of Joakim Karlsson. It's a dark album dealing with dark themes - the title alone suggests that, of course. There's a sadness to the grand piano that plunks in "Sounds Of The Apocalypse: A. Twins," a section that builds to a crescendo as monumental as the end of the world as we know it. Hinting at something more cataclysmic than the dire results of global warming? and yet, looking at the lyrics, it is very much about that. The middle, instrumental section, "Towers Collapse," is a dark jazz rock fusiony excursion including a demonic sax courtesy of guest Adrian Holmström. Mellotron and piano set backdrop to the final part, "The Boiling Point," along with, during the outro, some sweet guitar soloing and tinkling percussion. In the mind's eye, the once shining blue and white marble is now a blackened and pitted thing? lit only by an ominous orange glow as fires become symbolic of mankind's dying embers? then the camera moves away from the dying earth to take in the entire solar system?

Every ending has a beginning; here it's "Thorns Upon A Crown." A parpy, spacey synth intro leads into Hammond, which is then accompanied by streaks of guitar, pounding bass, and guitar in short order. A chorus of voices come in and the picture is set. It is an assured and focused opening track that shatters whatever fears fans might have had about a sophomore slump. Though, not yet having heard their first album, if this less than the first? well, I can't imagine if I could survive listening to anything finer than this. I mean, Black Bonzo just have it all. Even if you think that they are too retro, it doesn't matter because they are terrific!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love music that has a cathartic quality, whether lyrically or musically. I get that here; it's that moment where the instrumentation just expands outwardly in the vastness of sound-space. It happens at the end of "Thorns?" and is a core component in "Giant Games" - one my favorite favorites here. It's intense and heavy; although it starts out as a lullaby, it just explodes from there, before returning ? Genesis-like in the mix of pastoral and rock, but darker and heavier than I think of with Genesis? I think most will find stylistic references to Gentle Giant, and more so than to Genesis, actually. And there's a slyness in a sing-along-able chorus that ? well, here's the lyric first: "And they look to the sky with the finger on the trigger / Let us all sing along, come along, sing the song? " All sung in a sing-song kind away that makes you sing along? and makes you feel complicit in whatever "they" are doing?*.

Speaking of pastoral, an acoustic guitar and flute (both Karlsson) opens "Yesterdays Friends" before the march of drums and bass give the piece a militaristic feeling. Reading the lyrics, I couldn't help thinking about the "Iraqi situation" where one-time neighbors are now pointing guns at each other or calling in the police on each other in the civil war? excuse me, sectarian conflict (or so the news reports, and we know how impartial they are). That isn't a unique situation; in the US's civil war, even brothers were on opposite sides of the issue? I should say there's quite a bit of mellotron here, too.

"The Well" is another propulsive track with the added element of rolling grand piano and tastefully widdly keyboards. Subtly tension is built in a track that reminds me of The Who ? a dash of "I Can't Explain" but not exactly? there's a dreamy quality to the piece? the guitar work, tight and focused, reminds me of Brian May's in parts of Night At The Opera and The Game? it's a back-of-the-throat kind of sound.

"Ageless Door" is another cool track, the putting muscular guitar and drums front and center, though Hammond is never far away in this tumultuous tempest. A stately guitar solo evokes the guitar rock of the 70s, mixing in a smidgen of Queen via another Brian May-sounding solo? When everything throttles back, it's to spotlight the guitar? which sadly seems as far back in the mix at the rest of instruments. A rare flaw, as everything during that brief passage seems too quiet. Throughout this track, aside from the May-like guitar, there are moments where I think of um? the title track to the Flash Gordon soundtrack (esp. the pounding piano) but also of other parts of that album (the somewhat corny "Football Fight" -- well, yes, alright; you don't need to remind me; the whole movie was campy).

"Iscariot" is another highlight. There are 8 tracks full of rich sound - there's no filler, so truly all 8 are highlights. And given the mood and tenor of the tracks have a similar feel, there's a consistency to the music that makes it also feel like one track with multiple, distinct parts? And that consistency holds true for "Iscariot," a track that may or may not make reference to the tsunami that hit southern Asia and the hurricane, Katrina, that devastated Louisiana and parts of neighboring states? but certainly taps into the collective memory about those two events to make the tidal wave mentioned as metaphor for the expected end-times seem concrete (nevermind the existing apocalyptic? references in the Bible?)?

Yes, there's a danger in thinking that it's good because it channels the great sounds of the past that prog fans have already embraced. You know, the looking backward is only a part of the equation, because I think it's bringing the past into the present, making it not only familiar but fresh. Certainly marrying these classic sounds with a decidedly modern and current lyrical theme brings all this into the 21st Century? although our think global, preserve the earth for future generations ideals did seem to start in the 70s, so?

May I say that this will surely enter into my "hallowed" collection of all-time favorites that includes Marillion's Misplaced Childhood, Rush's Moving Pictures and Signals, and Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon (though that isn't the entirety of the collection? and not all are prog releases).

Okay. Let's wrap this up so you can get to the store, shall we (assuming you're still here and haven't done so already?).

Here's the quote: If this is the sound of the apocalypse, then let the end come. Never was there a more beautiful, dark, and haunting sound made where the end of everything seemed welcome?

Conclusion: Even if my justified hyperbole above was laid on a bit thick, this album is sitting at #1 on my favorites of 2007 list. This gets my highest recommendation.

Released in Europe by B&B Records (BCD017 LC8433)

*Nirvana did the same thing, deliberately, methinks; in that case a joke on the "following the herd" listeners in "In Bloom"? "Hey - He's the one / Who likes all our pretty songs / And he likes to sing along / And he likes to shoot his gun / But he knows not what it means / Don't know what it means, when I say?" (Nevermind that Cobain often mumbled and no one knew what he was saying to know what it meant? which in itself might just have a wink? "what'dya say?" "Nevermind"?)
Thorns Upon A Crown (6:51) / Giant Games (5:56) / Yesterdays Friends (7:10) / The Well (6:10) / Intermission - Revelation Song (1:59) / Ageless Door (5:23) / Iscariot (7:22) / Sound Of The Apocalypse (13:01)

Magnus Lindgren - vocals
Mike Israel - drums, percussion, Indian chanting
Anthon Johansson - bass
Nicklas Ahlund - Hammond, Mellotron, grand piano, synthesizers
Joakim Karlsson - electric an acoustic guitars, bouzouki, flute

Lady Of The Light (2004)
Sound Of The Apocalypse (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin SE

Added: October 16th 2007
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1920
Language: english


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