Regular readers of my reviews on SoT will know that I am not THE progressive metal guru that maybe some others are, but I was nevertheless pleased to be given the chance to listen to this new release from The Cutest Babyhead Ever, which is in fact their debut EP. It seems to me to be one of the most inventive pieces of music I've heard in a long time - and I'd be particularly interested in this instance to hear any readers' views about the music on Panoply.
You can buy Panoply on CD Baby for $6. Frankly, "The Devil is Five" is worth double that money on its own. Now that's what I call two minutes and 40 seconds of music! What a concept! I'm not going to tell you a huge amount about it because its biggest impact is on first listen, as the reality of what the band are playing out begins to unfold in your mind. Suffice to say that, despite there being numerous subdivisions of the metal genre - far too many for this reviewer to feel comfortable describing the nuances of each one - I would venture that the two Bretts that go to make up The Cutest Babyhead Ever have virtually invented a new sub-genre: to be called "spine-chilling horror metal" or something like that. John Carpenter, eat your heart out! Scary stuff!
Brett Zweiman (guitars, bass, vocals, tabla, synths) and Brett Levinthal (drums) comprise the band and they have self-financed the production of the album, which is released through OneStrokeFace Music. The CD comes with lyrics and interesting artwork. It's a good production too, and there have been additional costs in the hiring of other musicians: you will find five additional musicians across the CD playing percussion, cello, guitar and saxophone. Interestingly, one of those musicians is Dan Kurfirst (percussion on "Fire") from the band Scribes of Fire, whose CD Zauberer I gave a fairly mixed review (three-and-a-half stars) to back in September.
The interesting thing in this connection with Dan is the clear "theatricality" of both bands' music; there seems to be a shared willingness to explore the boundaries by trying new things, so I guess it makes sense to share ideas and effort. In this instance, The Cutest Babyhead Ever are getting a better review from me, but next time Scribes of Fire may hit the jackpot. Whatever, if any of you readers are living in the NY area then it may well pay you to keep an eye on these two bands; they're trying out some interesting things.
But back to Panoply. Overall, you'd put the EP on the "progressive metal" shelf but that would only be part of the story. The guys' concept is to compile their songs into short musical journeys that make sense together. I'm on board already guys! Panoply times in at around 24:29 - I would much rather be listening to a band putting out that kind of duration disc regularly than wait 3 years for a 75 minute disc that just seems to go on and on...The band are supposedly already working on the follow-up: great!
Panoply ranges from your "standard" metal, plenty of heaviness and growling to quieter sections that are more melodious and incorporate "normal" singing; elsewhere there are instrumental passages that border on ambient and, on "The Devil Is Five", there is some traditional jazz being played as part of the background to the scene. I'm not sure if the heavy passages will be consistently long enough to completely satisfy fans of metal; my overriding impression is that the band are intent on mood and effect rather than persistent riffing.
"Gallimaufry" begins with "standard" heavy metal before developing a second phase with mantric tabla playing - very effective - and wistful acoustic guitar, becoming almost "ambient". There's a neat segue into "Fire" on a lead guitar phrase that develops into a riff. The previous compositional pattern is then reflected over; the heavier opening, the tabla return, although we get some conventional singing rather than "Galimaufry"'s growling; then it becomes more metallic with growling; return to softer with singing; back to metal - good groove! - then slows to the mantric atmospheric tabla for its final phase. It's not only a very successful composition but the transition to "The Bow" is one of THE moments of the disc, as the machine-gun metal riff rips you body and soul out of the trance that "Fire" has lulled you into! I'm not sure I understand "Fetid" yet, it's perhaps just a linking piece. "Cosmic Rips", however, is another fine number, quite metallic in character through its various phases until the substantive outro provides some glorious melody courtesy of acoustic guitar (Jesse Ruiz), keyboards and cello (Elizabeth Ann). And then....then there is "The Devil is Five"...it's Damien all over again folks! Quite an extraordinary composition!
I'm slightly unsure how to score this. Whereas four-and-a-half is perhaps a bit generous from the point of view of overall listenability and the frequency of my return to the album, I think that the inventiveness and progressiveness shown are sufficient to cement the score as reasonable.
1) Gallimaufry (4:27)
2) Fire (6:41)
3) The Bow (3:29)
4) Fetid (1:51)
5) Cosmic Rips (5:17)
6) The Devil is Five (2:40)