I’m a bit wary of reviewing prog records because I don’t want to end up sitting through eighty minutes of decadent aural onanism from tedious Dream Theatre wannabes (I would rather listen to eighty minutes of “Wannabe”). But done well prog provides musical nourishment rarely offered by other genres, and having spent a large portion of the year listening to grindcore, I was ready to take a risk with Pseudo/Sentai. As I had never heard the band before I had few preconceptions, but a couple of clues suggested Bansheeface would not be the power-prog snoozefest I feared: firstly, it is a respectable fourty-five minutes long – only two tracks pass the five minute mark – and secondly, the promo material makes no mention of music conservatories.
I’m glad I took the risk, because this is a corker. On first listen, Bansheeface comes across as a blend of Yes and The Mars Volta, minus the frilliness of the former and the self-indulgence of both. But, though these influences are undeniably strong, there’s a lot more to Bansheeface than this initial impression suggests. Other references abound, from the catchy indie of “Terraformed Transcendence” to the brutal industrial beats on “Trap of Assassination,” the classic prog weirdness of “A Taste of Endangered” to the Hammers of Misfortune-tinged “Sleeping Closer to the Ground” and “March of the Selkies,” and from the Wishbone Ash dual guitars adorning the title track to the Radiohead-on-antidepressants rock of “Black Matter of Machinations.” These diverse ideas are blended perfectly and always executed with skill and taste (except perhaps the Weird Al rapping that opens the delightfully off-kilter “Immaculation”).
The fabulous songwriting really sets this apart from the majority of other prog. Pseudo/Sentai somehow manage to cram all their ideas into concise, catchy songs that inevitably leave you wanting more. Their songwriting approach means that each track has its own individual style, yet retains the distinctive Pseudo/Sentai personality. Even the shorter interlude tracks are memorable, particularly the deliciously sinister “A Taste of Endangered,” and the whole record has a vigorous flow.
None other than Colin Marston engineered and co-produced Bansheeface, so you already know that it sounds good. It’s simultaneously contemporary and vintage; Scott Baker’s vocals at times bring to mind a punkier Jon Anderson (ex-Yes), classic synths abound, and the drums are all natural, yet the mix is much denser than seventies prog records and a sonic grittiness adds an almost garage-indie vibe. Fitting their creativity into short, memorable songs has resulted in some very busy arrangements, meaning clarity is inevitably lost, but this fits with the vibe the band are going for and means that, even on my gazillionth listen through, I’m spotting new things I hadn’t noticed previously. The material might have benefitted from a slightly broader dynamic range, but I’m picking at nits here.
Despite my gripes with the genre, 2015 has been a good year for prog, with March in particular serving up a pair of albums that are likely to feature on several writers’ end of year lists. Though stylistically very different, quality-wise Bansheeface holds its own against these heavyweights, losing out only in terms of emotional impact – the music is excellent, but it doesn’t quite take you on the emotive journey that Steven Wilson and Arjen Lucassen provide. Nonetheless, Bansheeface is a fantastic album with broad appeal, and you should buy it immediately.