In 1997, this "unknown" band (relatively speaking) called Bigelf — one word — was contracted to fill a void left in ProgFest '97's schedule by the Swedish group, Ritual. Then-organizer Shawn Ahearn introduced the band as a group he saw perform in the region (Los Angeles), though the trio was from "Lilliput," according to the program. Aside from Jonathan Swift's novel, Gulliver's Travels (in which the title character awakens after a long sleep in the land of Lilliput, inhabited by people as tall as his shins), this didn't appear to be a joke, but we were unsure, considering keyboardist/vocalist Damon Fox spoke with a perfect American accent. To make a long story short, the band is originally from the States, dates back to the late '80s, and their first EP, Closer To Doom, was recorded at Grandmaster Studios in Hollywood. Bigelf made the move, which eventually paid off, to relocate to Scandinavia (quite a change from hot to cold). Yes, the people of the north were a bit more receptive to Bigelf's stellar brand of retro-rock than America's mainly trend-driven audiences (oh, well). System Of A Down singer Serj Tankian even released Money Machine (the fully-fledged debut) on his own label — unfortunately, only a thousand copies were issued, and it's already out of print. To make a short story even shorter, Bigelf finally inked a deal with Warner Scandinavia after much bloodletting. The baby you hold is christened Hex.
Hex is a beautiful thing: everything a retro-keyboards fanatic pursues, something a classic hard rock fan will appreciate, and even vintage prog-heads can swing to these jams. Once a trio and now a quartet with the addition of a fulltime bassist, Bigelf's influences are overt yet the writing avoids plagiarism like, well, the plague. Imagine Gracious meets The Beatles meets Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd meets MC5, and you're a level away from knowing the splendor of Bigelf. The band is Damon Fox, guitarist Ace Mark (who's also quite an artist), bassist Duffy Snowhill, and drummer Steve "Froth" Frothingham. Bigelf subscribes to a very hands-on mentality when it comes to music, and Fox is, along with Eddie Van Halen, very vocal about his aversion to the (ab)use of Pro Tools and other pro software programs which tend to suck the humanity out of music-making, today. Naturally, the band is going to sound as good live as on album (that certainly was the case seven years ago at ProgFest '97).
Now, this album is very much Bigelf's best effort, yet; Hex even charted on the Scandinavian Top 10 — what's holding the band back from success in America? Isn't retro one of the currently favored trends, even? Hell, these guys even look hip enough to appeal to the Fuse-lit masses; if videos by The Darkness or Fireball Ministry (a band which faithfully apes '70s Sabbath down to the scarific Ozz-like vocals) can air on Uranium [Fuse's metal videos hour], so could Bigelf's. Head and shoulders above nearly everything presently circulating through mainstream music aisles, the album opens with the searing single, "Madhatter," a catchy Mellotron & crunch-driven hard-psych number that sounds as though Sabb's ICBM detonated above The Byrds' underground shelter. The rich tone of Gibson guitars permeates throughout, and while primarily a keyboard player (he sticks to his 'Trons, Moogs, and a Leslie'd Hammond C3 in concert), Fox does pick up a Gibson 'Flying V' to rip it up with Ace for a few bars. "Bats In The Bellfry II" isn't a page from Floyd's book so much as an addendum; filters open freely on analog synths for those ephemeral slides the likes of which Richard Wright liberally played with. "Pain Killers" is a thunderous, relentless escapist anthem, while "Disappear" is cemented by Duffy's plodding bassline and gurgling Hammond swells and 'Tron string washes topped off by a transcendent guitar solo. Lest so much attention be given to the top-notch instrumentation that one may suppose this is to make up for sub-par vocals, let us dismiss that idea, entirely. Damon's lead vocal is terrific, and he prefers a moderate range versus banshee wails or toadlike croaking.
"Rock & Roll Contract" is surprisingly Supertramp-esque, boasting an infectious hook and great lyrics that slam a fist down upon the corporate rock engine — one line in particular that stands out is We don't wanna take Sundays off / We just want another #1. "R&R Contract" is also a largely piano-driven tune that allows Damon to attack the ivories with a calculated fury (which helps to invite the Supertramp comparison). "Sunshine Suicide" is an equally hook-equipped vehicle. Halfway through the album, the proof of this band's caliber is so immense, it tends to overwhelm. Rather than spoil the fun for all of you concerning the remaining songs, I will add that "Falling Bombs" contains some fairly spectacular synth soloing, and Hex itself concludes with…okay, I won't.
One of the best releases of the last few years. Gang: this is a no-brainer.
2. Bats In The Bellfry II
3. Pain Killers
5. Rock & Roll Contract
6. Sunshine Suicide
7. Falling Bombs
8. Black Moth
9. Carry The Load
10. Burning Bridges
11. Bats In The Bellfry I
Total time: 60:56