BATS: THE SLEEP OF REASON (2012)
1) Emergent Properties; 2) Wolfwrangler; 3) Stem Cells; 4) Astronomy Astrology; 5) The Sleep Of Reasons; 6) Heat Death; 7) Creature Collecting; 8) Thomas Midgley Jr.; 9) Luminiferous Aether; 10) The Fall Of Bees; 11) Terrible Lizards.
Although the official release date for BATS' second album stands as October 2012, it remains without a «physical» CD version as late as April 2013, and I suspect that is the way it is going to stay. After all, it would be in accordance with these guys' progressive orientation to leave behind the antiquated laser disc form and distribute their music directly through «luminiferous aether» or, at least, through a more conventional means, like optical fiber.
In most of the other respects, though, this is very much a near-carbon copy of Red In Tooth & Claw. Same unerring, brain-teasing, «polygonal» riffs. Same nickel-plated group vocals, alternating between robotic announcement tones and hell-metal screaming from outer space. Same edutainment value in the song titles, pressing you to learn the latest news on stem cell research and what sort of (dis)services exactly did Thomas Midgley, Jr. provide for society. Same maniacal attention to every tiny detail as should characterize the work of everybody guided by science. If there is going to be an explosion, it has to be meticulously planned — these guys have a musical Los Alamos here, not a musical Chernobyl.
Same problems, too. Most importantly, everything still sounds alike: no matter how individually different those riffs can be, they all strive for more or less the same effect — to provide us with a respectable source of headbanging that no high school nerd could be ashamed of (I mean, how the heck would you want to explain the ass-kicking powers of ʽHells Bellsʼ to your physics professor from a conventionally agnostic perspective?). Everything is loud, technophilic, moves at the same tempo, and even the levels of distortion, which distinguish their Discipline-style King Crimsonian riffage from their Tool-influenced riffage, usually fluctuate within the borders of every given song rather than in between.
In other words, there will be no talk of individual compositions here: if you have heard one BATS song, you have pretty much heard them all. But if you loved that song — and I almost did — you will want more, and, well, they are based on slightly different triangular configurations, even if the angle sum still equals 180°, no matter what. I guess that some of the songs, sonics-wise, move a bit closer to alt-rock / grunge territory (ʽWolfwranglerʼ), whereas others feature guitar tones more typical of thrash (ʽHeat Deathʼ — here is one track I'd be interested in seeing them perform with Metallica), but that does not mean that anything here can really be pigeonholed as either. This is BATS: it is, for all it's worth, a relatively unique style, and they make certain that the trademark is duly slapped on every single track.
Repeated listens confirm the suspicion that the album may be, indeed, just a tad heavier, screechier, and more particle-hell-raising than Tooth & Claw, and also that the song structures may be just a tad simplified — although, seeing as how this sort of music cannot cry out for mass appeal by definition, I doubt that these subtle changes have been in any way intentional. In fact, I even doubt that they have been, period: maybe my mind is just playing games here, or maybe it is the song titles that suggest a tiny extra bit of an apocalyptic feeling here (for one thing, BATS are now singing about the negative side effects of science as well — "Thomas Midgley, what have you done?" goes one of the refrains). Not a lot, though: this band is still defiantly «pro-science», and there is nothing here that could indicate any influence on the part of the «industrial» scene, with its spooky sonic robots warning us about the evils of all-out mechanization.
If this sound, attitude, and dedication were not so immaculately combined, I would probably have to give the album a thumbs down — a band that sings incessant praises to progress without progressing itself is a rather suspicious phenomenon. But the punch is so ferocious, the craft is so... crafty, and the very concept of BATS-style music is so enduring, that, instead of reasoning with cold, testable, failsafe logic, I yield to temptations of the heart and, just like the title suggests, put my reason to sleep and go with a thumbs up in the meantime. Maybe that actually comes off as an insult to these guys, I don't know. But next time around, I'd really like to see some development — or else they are only going to confirm suspicions of scientific stagnation.