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The Devil’s Staircase: The Devil’s Staircase

If you’re looking for old-school prog -- and love mathematics -- this debut self-titled instrumental album will not only engage your ears but also your brain. Indeed, The Devil’s Staircase is a five-man band helmed by acoustic guitarist Tim McCaskey and bassist Luis Nasser of Sonus Umbra and Might Could, that writes and performs songs inspired by math and science.

How do these guys pull that off? I’ll refer you to McCaskey’s blog, which features the mathematical stories behind the songs. Suffice to say that, like high-end math, this is complicated often chaotic stuff. But it will appeal to a broad range of listeners, whether you were raised or King Crimson and Gentle Giant or are simply into vintage-sounding prog played with a high degree of musical dexterity.

Songs like "Morse" (based on a binary sequence, just like Morse code) and “Cantor’s Dust” (based on fractal geometry) are highly melodic, technically challenging and thoroughly enjoyable. Elsewhere, squawking off-kilter jams and angular arrangements require the listener’s full concentration.

But best of all, you don’t have to understand anything about math to appreciate what The Devil’s Staircase has managed to accomplish over the course of five tracks and 41-minutes. I abhor math yet actually kind of adore this album.

Track Listing:
1. Gravitation (Parts 1 and 2)
2. Rule 34
3. Room 101
4. Morse
5. Cantor’s Dust

Added: April 17th 2022
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: The Devil’s Staircase on
Hits: 1006
Language: english

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The Devil’s Staircase: The Devil’s Staircase
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2022-04-17 15:06:01
My Score:

Maths, science and music… surely there are multiple pairings of those subjects which are related but never quite all three? Well, in a famous quote (well, paraphrase) from legendary drummer Ginger Baker “it’s all about time - it’s ALL about TIME!!!”. And if you can twist the formulas about in your head, then realistically every time signature is suddenly at your fingertips. However, there’s much more precision and craft than even that going on here and as evidenced by my colleague Michael’s excellent review above, to truly delve into the meaning and numbers behind all of this album, then follow the link to the blogspot of The Devil’s Staircase, where these themes will be explained in much more descriptive detail than I can here.

Does that make this self-titled debut album feel a little daunting? Well, possibly it should, because this is serious music with serious chops and yet somehow it’s also a huge amount of fun. Put aside the intricacies of its creation and simply revel in the astounding musicianship and compositional skills of Aaron Geller (electric guitar), Ramsés Luna (saxophone, MIDI wind, electronics), Tim McCaskey (acoustic guitar), Luis Nasser (bass, holophonics), Mattias Olsson (drums, percussion, Mellotron) and Edgar Arrellín Rosas (sound design) and you’ll quickly be rewarded by an album which engages on a variety of levels.

The feel of the whole endeavour comes across as vintage avant-garde with a modern twist. Yes, King Crimson probably looms largest over the majority of what you’ll encounter but this is no exercise in re-treading old ground, with a fresh forcefulness deep in the heart of the excellent two part opener “Gravitation”. Cleverly, what is truly complex music is allowed to reveal all manner of jumping on points, with melodies always trickling underneath the muscular instrumental torrents. The shorter pairing of “Rule 34” and “Room 101” expand things in different directions, with the former being quite single minded in its jagged eclecticism. Of all the pieces, this is maybe the one where we find the musical collective stretching out and attacking you head on, whereas the latter track tempers the fiery nature just enough to add a more even flow for the listener to be swept away on - and it has to be said that both Geller and Nasser really are quite incredible here.

Taking that journey further, “Morse” relies much more on atmosphere and setting to bring you along for the ride, with this change of tack proving a smart diversion from what has come before. On first listens it might sound a little superfluous to proceedings but subsequent visits have actually revealed the opposite to be true, with the change of mood provided here integral to allowing everything else on show to make sense. With “Cantor’s Dust” adding a slightly moodier outlook as the album closes out, what really strikes you as this debut album casts its spell isn’t just the incredible talent that’s gone into it, but also the scope of the ground that’s been covered. Few albums are this wilfully intense, while also being so multifaceted, and while first impressions were immediately favourable, I have to say that the real joy of what’s been presented only truly shines through once you let these compositions take hold.

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