Once upon a time, many moons ago, I wrote an essay discussing the effects of politics on modern literature. Now, the topic is pompous bullshit for (at least) two reasons: 1) what constitutes “modern” literature is incredibly arbitrary, 2) politics have been affecting all forms of expression since man first put chisel to wall. In other words, it’s completely redundant, but at least makes for an interesting debate. In my thesis, I opted for George Orwell’s Animal Farm as my exemplar, mostly because its allegorical satire of the Stalinist Soviet Union is as thinly veiled as possible, and purposefully so. I was heckled by my peers for choosing the easy option, but it just so happened to be the best one, too. Perhaps they would have preferred Gogol’s Dead Souls… Complexity is an issue which many an academic seem to confuse with quality — the same can be said of progressive music as a whole. Sure, intricacy is a hallmark of the genre, but sometimes less is more [How is that even possible? – Steel Druhm]. England’s The Mute Gods are a particularly fine example; a crew of dyed in the wool musicians pumping out highly musical platters of prog rock with lashings of memorable pop-rock sensibility. With their previous outing Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me being expertly reviewed by our very own L. Saunders, I delved into follow-up Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth with an open mind.
The Mute Gods are already something akin to prog royalty. Members Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett), Roger King (Steve Hackett) and Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, Joe Satriani) are all tried and tested musicians, and it’s impossible to imagine artists of this caliber ever creating something truly bad. Unsurprisingly then, Tardigrades (eight-legged, nigh-indestructible, water-dwelling micro-animals, in case you were wondering) smacks of quality through and through, full of intelligent lyrics and thoughtful compositions. Beggs and company have slavishly committed to writing music with an emphasis on song-craft rather than the boundary-pushing noodling you might expect. Intro “Saltatio Mortis” sets the scene with a huge, keyboard layered orchestral soundscape, building into enough of a crescendo to herald the first track proper, “Animal Army,” a great song peppered with hard rock rhythms, all accentuated by a dramatic string section. As soon as Beggs’ lofty vocals float in, it’s clear that the trio put a premium on memorability, evident in the indelible chorus.
The album carries its fair share of variation — my particular favorite, “We Can’t Carry On,” is one of the record’s more rock-oriented moments, armed to the teeth with classy hooks and driving melodies and sporting more than a hat-tip to the melancholic observations of fellow Brits The Manic Street Preachers. It’s Beggs’ vocals that underpin the understated performances on the record; although his voice may not appeal to all, it manages to infuse the material with a unique, retro character, heard in the title-track, which helps itself to more than a share of Rush‘s synth-infused sound of the 80’s to deliver the album’s prophetic warning.
All, is not entirely well, however. Many of the negatives on Tardigrades come down to personal preference rather than a dearth of quality, but the rambling “The Singing Fish of Batticaloa” and its ’60s inspired pipes and keys does little for me, similarly unnecessary are the instrumentals that bookend it. In truth, although there is nothing overtly deserving of criticism, I find myself truly enjoying only half of the album, which is somewhat frustrating considering how strong some of the material is. Sporting a velvet production, Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth sounds fantastic – shining guitars ring out and the keys and strings are luscious. Marco Minnemann’s uncanny drumming, full of adept fills, does the heavy lifting while Beggs’ crystalline voice sits up in the mix and truly shines, peaking on closer “Stranger Than Fiction,” which is about as far away from rock/metal as possible and absolutely beautiful.
Uncomplicated yet commanding songs are a rare commodity, particularly in our community of increasingly frenetic extremity, but The Mute Gods have certainly stepped up to the challenge, albeit intermittently. Although Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth only sporadically hit the mark for me, I urge anyone with a remotely open minded, prog proclivity to give the album the attention it deserves — I’ll spend no time apologizing for your musical Napoleon complex.