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Black Bonzo: The Guillotine Drama

The Guillotine Drama is the third offering from Swedish retro proging rocksters Black Bonzo. Released in 2004 and 2007 respectively Lady Of The Light and Sound Of The Apocalypse received favourable reviews across Europe highlighting the band's ability to write evocative 70's inspired heavy prog rock that saw influences such as Yes and a less obtuse early Genesis moulded with loads of Uriah Heep and Deep Purple into an altogether heavier, more threatening beast than either of the former two bands. Things are however slightly altered for this third offering, yes those prog tendencies are still strongly in evidence, however now the mellotron and Hammond are king and instead of being rock inspired prog, what has been offered up is more hard rock led with the ability to stretch out and add progressive idiosyncrasies when the need arises. Put away the fear however that the Bonzos have suddenly become a straight ahead rock band. Oh no, not at all!

Exploding into life with cymbal bursts and the beefiest of organ sounds "Guillotine Drama" snatches your shirt collar and drags you at full pelt into swirling guitars and pounding drums that hold everything together without ever doing anything as boring as just keeping the beat! It's impossible not to imagine the vibrancy of vintage Uriah Heep as the vocals of Magnus Lindgren evoke Byron at his best and the guitar and keyboard interplay of Joakim Karlsson and Nicklas Ahlund doesn't so much nod its head in the Heep's direction as violently headbang in their faces. From there the determined march "Because I Love You" confirms the rhythm section of Anthon Johansson on bass and Mike Israel on drums not just as vital components, but as key drivers of the encapsulating sound that Black Bonzo produce. Johanssen's runs and flurries add colour to the music, however he gives such a solid grounding to the complex structures that surround him that Israel has the freedom to throw cowbell rhythms, tom rolls, off kilter ride patterns and manic snare motifs off at will. This means that unlike so many bands all five members gel together for the entirety of the album with everyone getting their chance to shine in almost every song.

When you add to that musical flexibility one of the best vocalists to hit the scene for years and it's an intoxicating mix. Lindgren possesses an angelic voice that he can shape into a powerful majestic roar and I defy anyone to find me someone doing this style of vocal better right now.

"Zephyr" adds some phenomenal vocal arrangements to the mix and just in case things aren't dense enough already sax and trumpets make an appearance. This is the first of the slower more considered tracks and illustrates perfectly Black Bonzo's ability to mix things up at different tempos and moods. "Sudden Changer" is music for a summer's day with a lazy riff that induces a state of complete relaxation which wonderful soaring lead breaks and keyboard stabs only heighten. Lindgren is in complete control again with his authoritative yet laid back melodies leading a gentle acoustic riff into "War Machine", it's undoubtedly the simplest song on the album, however it has the most memorable chorus and it's a testimony to their skill that nothing more than simple chords, a great vocal and stunning guitar solo are needed to make a charismatic impression.

The eight minutes plus of "How Do You Feel?" rushes by with the first half of the song slowly building on the back of some tremendous organ playing and melodious vocals before fading out mid song and being replaced with a focused, bighting riff the swoops and dives with Lindgren really stretching his voice while never sounding out of control. Drums and bass are back to the fore for "Tell Me The Truth" as it's another of those tracks where the drums never sit back and let the song ride, instead they constantly push the tempo with rolls, breaks and crashes charging out of the speakers. Mixing that with a laid back solo shouldn't work, so why do I find myself pressing repeat again and again?

"Nest Of Vipers" highlights the wonderful pacing of the album with its brittle fragility making it feel vulnerable, however as the floating vocal harmonies and piano merge together the song's confidence seems to flourish into something completely at ease with itself. It's almost like watching a butterfly warm in the morning sun, spreading its wings and floating off into the blue sky, wondrous and uplifting in equal amounts. Clocking in at eight minutes ten, "Supersonic Man" closes The Guillotine Drama as it began with each of the members of Black Bonzo coming together with supreme confidence and skill to create a slow, steady track that glides from gentle strumming to determined rocking with ease before building into a dynamic keyboard led stomp.

Housed in a classy digi-pack with a nicely put together booklet (you can even make your own little guillotine set if the mood takes you) and wonderfully produced, there really is no down side to Black Bonzo's third offering. If you enjoyed their first two albums or have any sort of interest in progressive keyboard led 70's heavy rock, this album is an absolutely essential purchase.

Track Listing
01 Guillotine Drama
02 Because I Love You
03 Zephyr
04 Sudden Changer
05 War Machine
06 How Do You Feel?
07 Tell Me The Truth
08 Nest Of Vipers
09 Supersonic Man

Added: February 12th 2010
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Band's Web Site
Hits: 4213
Language: english

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