Imagine, if you will indulge me, Hail Spirit Noir. Subtract the black metal, all songs but two, then add stoner rock and multiply the length of the remaining songs by four. This is as close an approximation as can be construed for a review catering to metalheads as to the sound of The Mighty Few by The Grand Astoria. Or you could use theirs: “psychedelic fuzz rock having sex with heavy metal”. Either or. I often find stoner rock can border on lethargic but on this, the sixth full-length in as many years by these crazy Russians, there are so many ideas packed into its two tracks and fifty-minute duration that I can’t help but admire their ambition and revel in their success.
The first track, “Curse of the Ninth,” proves a very fitting title. Referring, of course, to the classical music superstition that the ninth symphony of great composers will be their last (somewhat like the 27 Club, but for the mighty and cultured), it transitions between various movements and is most impressive in its totality. To name a few of the sounds at play here, it opens with a slow, gentle passage overlaid with porn jazz through its saxophone and jazz keyboard. The groovy guitar lead kicking in at 2:50 (which recurs at 23:25 to bring the track together) is thick and heavy but has just the right hook to ensure you aren’t going anywhere once it’s started. The vocals straddle the fine line between incredibly smooth and maniacally strained, and the vocal harmonies employed in the breakdown at 20:50 are a perfect respite, especially when things are stepped up with the epic female vox at 23:00. The East-influenced breakdown at 6:40 is something entirely different and the almost-imperceptibly subtle jazz lounge crescendo starting at 11:54 builds to a surprisingly dense climax. It’s a huge song and one I’ve grown intimately familiar with as it encourages many listens to unfurl all its intricacies.
Moving on to the second track, we reach “The Siege.” It has a far more immediate opening by comparison, with zany synths and proggy guitar jamming fleshing out its introduction before stripping back into a very warm and funky passage which sparingly utilizes a trumpet to great effect. You can almost hear Evil Dead II‘s Ash and it settles into a chilled groove. The breakdown from 13:10 nails the ‘simple-but-satisfying’ quality that many bands strive for, with lonely chords and soft vocals resonating from the quiet darkness, and the succeeding guitar melody strongly recalls Genesis. Through all this guitar solos aren’t very frequent, but that embedded in the conclusion is excellent. In all, both tracks have a lot to offer and are unremittingly satisfying with repeat listens.
There’s admittedly a lot going on and lesser bands would crack under the multitude of influences at play, but the truly exceptional pacing and structure ensure that nothing ever feels extraneous or out of place. Each passage takes time to construct and gives meaning to those around them, offering reprieve, satisfaction or crunch as is required at a particular moment. Once familiar with the music, the linear, movement-orientated style foreshadows future parts but only teases progression, reining in to heighten tension or excitement. Bolstering this is a number of excellent transitions, the most notable of which is that at 14:42 of “Curse of the Ninth”; the drums ramp up and the meaty riff at the apex of the change is fantastic, becoming the lead of the next section.
The Mighty Few is a really great album and my unheralded surprise of the year, emerging from the left-field with a sound tying together many styles with precision and subtlety. It’s almost classical in its composition and is always meaningfully progressing with sparkling moments littering its duration. To quote Boney M, “Oh, those Russians…”
Tracks to check: “Curse of the Ninth,” “The Siege”