BATS: RED IN TOOTH & CLAW (2009)
1) Higgs Boson Particle; 2) Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date; 3) Credulous! Credulous!; 4) Andrew Wiles; 5) Lord Blakeney's Arm; 6) The Cruel Sea; 7) Shadow-Fucking; 8) BATS Spelled Backwards Is STAB; 9) Star Wormwood; 10) Vermithrax Pejorative; 11) The Barley.
Science has always needed its home band, but, for some reason, most rock bands have always either shyed away from science completely, or drawn upon para-science, pseudo-science, and science fiction instead (yay, Hawkwind!), or, every now and then, would just borrow a nifty scientific term or word combination to entitle their latest intricate jazz-fusion instrumental. Now enter BATS, a little-known five-piece entity from Dublin, to occupy that niche. (So little-known, in fact, that most sources still keep misspelling their name as «Bats», resulting in confusion with the equally worthy, but altogether entirely different kiwi-pop band from the 1980s. Not that anyone has ever guessed what the capitalization is supposed to mean).
The music here has been alternately classified as «post-hardcore», «screamo», «extreme metal», «math-rock», etc., sometimes all of these at once, but, clearly, «math» is the number one association to come up here. BATS are clearly in love with numbers, particles, rays, arrays, and the theory of everything, and their love goes far beyond stealing hard-to-pronounce Greek and Latin definitions in order to make their musical bastions even more impenetrable for the layman. It simply cuts off the layman. If the idea of spending large amounts of money on searching for the Higgs boson, to you, seems like a complete waste of the taxpayers' confidence, BATS will simply whup your ass and be on their merry way.
With five members in the band, you'd expect at least one keyboard player, and maybe some indie-style fixture like a cellist, or a harpist, or a multi-instrumentalist that prefers vibraphones, alto sax, and authentic guqin. In this respect, it's all simple with BATS: one drummer, one bass player, and three guitarists, which makes most of their music dependent on «weaving» techniques — which, in turn, reminds one of the good old school of post-1970s King Crimson or Talking Heads, expanded with six more strings. The difference is that BATS also want to make it r-a-w-k, in the good old way. That's where it all really begins.
The first couple of minutes on the album are so blatantly obvious that it's... marvelous: when was the last time a rock band with artistic pretense would so explicitly state its message to the audiences, instead of shrouding it in complexity and obscurity? One looped guitar note, steadily increasing layers of perfectly aligned percussion, and a robo-guy monotonously intoning "we have been un-able to i-den-ti-fy the par-ticle seen in the i-mage be-low", before all hell breaks loose as the entire band, in a fit of scientifico-religious frenzy, starts yelling "WE HAVE NOT SEEN YOU! WE THINK YOU'RE TRUE!" All of a sudden, «math-rock» starts making basic sense.
The downside of the band's loudness is that eventually you realize that, for the last ten minutes or so, you've been having a splitting headache; you have simply failed to notice it because of all the accompanying «awesomeness» (put that in quotes, because otherwise it would look like I'm praising the album with the strongest praise, which I'm not). The drums are tremendously high in the mix, the screaming is frequently overdone, and the guitars too frequently put a higher value on metal than on math. That is a bit of an inadequacy — an album dedicated to the glories and mysteries of science should not be so much of a headbanger's dream.
But other than that, Red In Tooth & Claw is an incessant source of enticing musical ideas, close to a true riff-lover's paradise. Most of the riffs in question are in a New Wave type of paradigm, except far more «technically perfectionist» than any of the New Wave kids ever dreamed of: I was all set to write how the main paranoid riff of 'Vermithrax Pejorative' could have easily been taken off a Talking Heads record, and then I remembered that these guys are twice as tight in their playing than the Heads could ever be. (Not that it's necessarily a good thing — just an indication of how the times have changed).
Sometimes several of these mechanical riffs go off at the same time (not surprising when three people are playing guitars in your band), which makes tracks like 'BATS Spelled Backwards Is STAB' hard to follow, but does not diminish the coolness of the effect. Also, BATS do not experiment much with the basic rhythmics: if I am not mistaken, most of the time signatures are fairly straightforward. In fact, nothing on the album is particularly «complex» per se: the effect of complexity is cleverly attained through the «weaving» technique — no individual person on here is a superhero per se, but, together, they concoct a maze that might really induce people to take them for some sort of virtuosos.
Then, of course, there are the song titles and the lyrics — through which some might, for instance, get interested in who the heck is Andrew Wiles, what the heck happened to Lord Blakeney's arm (I certainly did not remember that one, even though I had seen the movie), where does the image of Star Wormwood come from and what it stands for, and what really happens upon the burst of a gamma ray (other than a bunch of upbeat rock'n'roll riffs flowing off in several directions). The lyrics are not altogether important — most of the time, you can barely make them out — but they add further coherence to a record that, in a rare show of mercy towards the listener, lays out its reasons for fucking him/her up before fucking him/her up.
As a sort of scientist myself, I should probably feel offended by such shameless peddling and pandering, but I do not. Instead, I feel vaguely amused — and secretly wishing for these guys to become major players on whatever minor scene they will be condemned to for the rest of their career. Thumbs up for sure.
Check "Red In Tooth & Claw" (MP3) on Amazon