Bigelf – Cheat The Gallows

Bigelf
Cheat The Gallows

Very few bands wear their influences as openly on their sleeve as California quintet Bigelf. Their combination of bombastic production, melodic intuition, spacey keyboard atmosphere and vocal taunting creates a sound both very familiar and wholly original. Their fourth LP, Cheat The Gallows, is an hour’s worth of vintage hard progressive rock that is both rough and symphonic, goofy and intricate, and overall very interesting.

Bigelf was founded in the late 90s by vocalist/keyboardist Damon Fox, guitarist Ace Mark, bassist Duffy Snowhill, and drummer Steve Frothingham. Their look is part Rob Zombie and part Black Sabbath. They pride themselves on implementing the 70s glam scene with 60s pop sensibilities, kooky progressive rock and a kick of early heavy metal. With Cheat The Gallows, Bigelf attack our ears with something very fierce, very catchy and very complex.

Taking a page from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, opener “Gravest Show On Earth” serves as a psychedelic welcome to the album. This track insinuates that the remaining nine tracks are a performance located in a wacky circus act. In addition, there is the ominous, dark tone and audience participation of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Finally, the bombastic production reminds one of Muse and Alice Cooper. This quality bleeds into the keyboard/guitar riff segue of “Blackball”. Fox’s gruff voice gives the image of a Carney singing down to his audience from atop a platform, and the spirit of classic Ozzy Osbourne can be heard. The middle portion ventures into a bluesy jam before a keyboard solo straight out of Procol Harum. It’s a great build up to a kick ass conclusion that almost reaches the frantic heights of the Mars Volta. There is a great theatricality to most of Cheat The Gallows, but the third track, “Money, It’s Pure Evil” (which received its own, lengthier review a while ago on this site) takes a break from this, choosing to be a pure mixture of Beatles-esque melody with Muse-esque string arrangement. The vocals lose their gruffness to portray a cleaner quality. The guitar solo almost plagiarizes David Gilmour in some spots, but it’s still good. It’s clearly the single, radio friendly track from the album.

“The Evils of Rock and Roll” opens with an acoustic guitar arpeggio and background sounds similar to the production of Brian Eno. Again Pink Floyd’s dark side is channeled in the opening verses, but with a heavier guitar riff and solo, like Led Zeppelin. Near the end, things slow down for a monster build up into progressive jam. The conclusion implements a UFO timbre to the keyboard, which is pretty cool. “No Parachute” is pure David Bowie via “Space Oddity”. It opens with an acoustic guitar and soft melody, again featuring cleaner vocals. It brings to mind early Deep Purple as well. Half-way through, the keyboard comes in with a swirling sound like, believe it or not, Genesis. “The Game” opens with layered vocals before Fox sings. The accompanying orchestration is the highlight of this track, although the melody isn’t bad either. It has a slightly sad appeal. Like much of Cheat The Gallows, this track has a Queen quality in its production. It ends with the same tool it began with. “Superstar” is the weak track on Cheat The Gallows, as it’s a little too generic and bland. The song fades out with clapping as Fox says “thank you” (drawing back to the theme of performing for an audience). Things pick up again with the “Race with Time,” a ballad that would fit in fine with Dream Theater’s catalogue.

The keyboard driven background of “Hydra” again brings to mind Genesis. The middle section build up features a keyboard tone borrowed from Dark Side of The Moon era Pink Floyd. It’s a very catchy track and leads into the album’s fantastic conclusion, “Counting Sheep”. At just over eleven minutes, this one is very ambitious. Among other things, it bares comparison to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in terms of vocal overdubs and use of piano. In the last moments, Bigelf say goodbye in a western saloon style and the trumpet part has the lunacy of Devin Townsend. Contrary to their thematic inspiration, Bigelf do not include an epilogue track like “A Day in the Life” (which crept up after the conclusion of Sgt. Pepper as an afterthought).

If there is anything wrong with Cheat The Gallows, it’s that it may be a bit too heavy and rough for some. Fox’s vocals, most of the time, are not the most pleasant or beautiful, and some listeners may be turned off by this. Also, the pieces aren’t that deep. These are great tracks in terms of production, musicianship and the ability to involve the listener, but they don’t feature the intricate melodies or messages that make great songs. However, it’s not the intention of every band to succeed at great songwriting. Some, like Bigelf, sound exactly as they want to; they prioritize sheer creativity and appeal of sound over the depth of what is said.

Bigelf does sound like a bunch of other bands, but it is just that which makes them unique. True these acts have existed before, but no one has ever put them together like this. Cheating The Gallows is a fun, kick ass album that doesn’t take itself too seriously while also showing the mark of serious musicianship. It doesn’t matter if they sound like their influences because, with their fantastic ability to mix it all together, no one sounds like them.