The Grand Astoria_The Mighty FewImagine, 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.

The Grand Astoria_2015

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”

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Not sure what the DR score is, but it also sounds really good. And it’s nice to see that there are writers who know the proper way to use “crescendo” in a sentence. A little pet peeve of mine. So often you see someone write “… and it builds to a great crescendo”. A crescendo is a build up! The build up leads to climax (or, less often, an anti-climax to undermine expectations)! It seems some people don’t like to use “climax”.

    • Lars Barres

      Well, since I’ve always used “crescendo” to mean the apex of a build up, your post alarmed me, so off I went to Merriam Webster’s site to find:

      Full Definition of crescendo
      plural cre·scen·dos also cre·scen·does or cre·scen·diplay -dē
      a : a gradual increase; specifically : a gradual increase in volume of a musical passage
      b : the peak of a gradual increase : climax
      : a crescendo musical passage

      So it looks like it is a build up for music and only a peak for other things like smog. I have been schooled! Thanks.

      …maybe I better look up “apex” now…

      Anyway, I’m digging the tunes quite a bit. Very cool stuff.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        I had a prof who always encouraged us to look up words we use a lot, even simple ones whose meaning seemed obvious. Origins of words can be fascinating. I thought “Decimate”, for example, was some variation on “destroy”. Apparently, it comes from Roman times: if a soldier deserted during battle, the General would line up the remaining soldiers and kill one out of ten men (hence “deci-“) as a warning to the others. Soldiers would then always try to prevent fellow soldiers from deserting. So then, kill in the sense of thinning out the ranks, not total obliteration. There are other variations on the Roman origins of “decimate”.

        Annnywho… not sure I agree with definition 1.b, but can’t really argue with Webster’s. : )

        • [not a Dr]

          Sure you can!
          And be repentless about it.

      • Kalsten

        Well, crescendo literally means in latin/italian “growing”, so it is a building up process, not and end by itself.

        • John Mosley

          Crest has a common etymology, and a crest is very much the tappered end point of something which grew.

  • Worldeater

    Besides sounding brilliant, bringing it up in my peer-group will give me bonus points for introducing cool new stuff, thx!

    • El_Cuervo

      Some obscure stuff gets overlooked. It makes me happy that this hasn’t been.

  • You wot m8?

    Well, I got about 10 seconds into the embedded, and I’m already hooked. ggwp

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I do love the AMG, TYMHM pieces and it’s good to see one posted over on the chat board being picked up by the staff. I was very impressed by this, it’s great. I also always want to get behind self releasing artists. The only problem I had with this is that I can’t see why those songs had to be so long. I want more than 2 songs from these guys…

  • Innit Bartender

    AMG is an institution in great incipits/beginnings/hooks in reviews (probably second only to Dashiell Hammett), but this one is Incipit of the Year thanks only to the inclusion of Hail Spirit Noir.
    Great find!

  • Jukka Alanen

    Last day of the year at the office and I’ve already found this, Tau Cross and Slugdge via AMG. Life’s good. :)