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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Bigelf

Cheat the Gallows

Review by Rick Damigella

So one Saturday, whilst strolling the aisles at the Virgin Megastore on Hollywood Blvd., a particular disc caught my eye. Staring back at me from the cover of the album were four long-haired and bearded lads with enigmatic looks about them. One in particular, presumably the leader, was coiffed in a top hat and had a look in his eyes that was seemingly trying to bewitch ne into picking up the disc. It worked.

I found that this band is known as Bigelf. I’d never heard of them before. I looked over the song list and the artwork of Cheat the Gallows and thought that this might be something I would enjoy. Perhaps they are metal or a heavy rock/folk hybrid? It had been quite a while since I had picked up an album that I had absolutely no idea what it was - no preconceived notions of the band. It was pure, unadulterated chance. One purchase later I popped the disc into my car CD player and found that I had fallen down the rabbit hole into Bigelf’s phantasmagorical world

The progressive rock of this LA-based quartet is a blend of all the classic elements one would expect, but with so much more. There are complex and altogether otherworldly time signatures in places, maniacal carnival barkers screaming for your attention, orchestral movements, crunching metallic guitars, Hammond organs and analog synths, but there is also an intangible element they seem to have polished this recording with that gives it an accessible sheen. This is not some album recorded in the 1970’s left sitting on a dusty studio shelf all this time. So, won’t you join me, down the rabbit hole?

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Gravest Show on Earth
There’s no mucking about here. The band gets right to the point and lets the listener know that this is not some trite, nonsensical listen. Like the great Karn Evils of the past, this one is full of bombast, shifting moods and modes, and degrees of aural stimulation. With no lyrical guidebook included, I think it best to let the adventurous listener hear the words for themselves. Know this though, it segues straight into song 2.
Blackball
Thunderous blasts of neo-prog grandiosity continue what was started by the carnaval diabolique album opener. The chorus slides into a Ziggy Stardust-esque riff, featuring delicious analog synth colorings. At the 3:00 minute mark, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s become a new song, as the whole thing has transitioned into a rock groove straight from Deep Purple’s In Rock period, replete with Lordian organ, Blackmoreish guitar chug and Gillanized vocalizations. A well-placed saxophone helps offset the pallet as the song builds to an over the top blast of controlled sonic chaos. Altogether, the conjoined opening numbers amount to an over 12 minute long musical statement which lets you know you are now safely (perhaps) in Bigelf’s realm.
Money, It’s Pure Evil
This is a shorter, contained piece at a mere three minutes in length. If there is something faintly Fab Four about the arrangement and tone of this one, it isn’t surprising, as the band’s publisher is called Evil Beatle Music. There is wonderous guitar riffage here from Ace Mark.
The Evils of Rock & Roll
Mmmmmm, you’ve got to love that delicious sound of prog-sensibility mixed with NWOBHM guitar. There’s a bit of something for everyone in this one. Since this review is not something pitched at me by a publicist, I am going purely by what I am hearing as I listen. As you the listener continue your journey through it, you may or may not agree with me that there is some underlying concept lurking within this album. This song surely justifies that notion, but I shall leave it to you dear traveler and I won’t color your opinions or theories.
No Parachute
There is something very Roger Waters-like about this one. From the vocal delivery to the acoustic guitar. This is not a bad thing though, as this shorter piece is one of the best numbers on the album. That notion of the underlying concept comes back around again with the “marching throb” riff which made up the opening portion of “Blackball.”
The Game
The Floyd-ian influences are also present here, though much less so. Rather than being rooted in Animals territory like the previous number, this one feels more like shades of DSOTM with perhaps a bit of Bowie thrown in.
Superstar
Well, alternate universe where such things still exist, here’s your hit single. With a radio-friendly unit shifting riff, this one comes straight to us via the wonderful world of glam rock and frankly you can hear the spirit of Marc Bolan being channeled successfully into it. It features a fun, fuzzed out guitar solo and a sing-a-long chorus.
Race With Time
Show of hands, who remembers Laserium? This one just screams for a tripped out visual accompaniment projected on a ceiling. No more making comparisons. This is Bigelf doing it their own way. Even the neo-metal dropped-D guitar bridge feels unique and not at all out of place.
Hydra
This is much heavier than the previous number, but as that one did, this feels like it's Bigelf being themselves. The influences are there, but much more indirectly.
Counting Sheep
Well, how about a nearly 12 minute closer that careens all over the prog map? I didn’t go seeking a guide book for this musical journey. I’m not sure I really wanted one. Again, I wasn’t given a handy cheat sheet on what the album’s deeper meaning is, but this one definitely feels like the climax of a concept. Dreamy, Floyd-like choruses make up the first two minutes. The titular sheep are not truly the late night counting variety it would seem from the lyrics. There feels to be something much more sinister going on here. The music is huge – grandiose - dissonant in places. False crescendos abound. And I am utterly dumbfounded around the nine minute thirty second mark upon hearing the line “It’s built to please true music lovers. It stays with you a lifetime. All that’s left for you to discover, it’s like no other.” I kid you not. So apparently the deeper meaning here is… no, I will follow Bigelf’s mantra, and let you discover it for yourself, fellow music lovers.
 
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