I have always loved storytelling. As a child I rapidly ran out of interesting books to devour in the library, and nowadays I get my fill with online free-form role playing. This extends to music as well; a cool concept can really elevate an otherwise unremarkable album. What a good story needs first and foremost is interesting characters though, and The Neptune Power Federation get that. Their vocalist, Imperial Priestess Screaming Loz Sutch, assumes the mantle of a time-travelling space witch for their fourth album, Memoirs of a Rat Queen. 70s space rock that mixes Heart with Hawkwind and AC/DC, a sexy vengeful bombshell on the mic, and a story scattered from the French revolution to boning in a parking lot; what could possibly go wrong here?
I guess we won’t find out, because not much does. That largely comes down to the Imperial Priestess. Like an Oscar-worthy actress, she completely falls into the role. Her character is straight out of a Neil Gaiman novel, a demi-goddess of lust and wrath, of regal rage and justified arrogance, and you believe her every syllable whether she sneers about the deaths of her enemies (“Rat Queen”: ‘Their last words as they fell / were damn that bitch to hell!’) or seduces a mere mortal with her eons of experience (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” not even close to a Disney cover!). It certainly helps that her technical skills are off the charts. Her voice is razor-sharp. Some might consider her too shrill, but she conveys supreme passion and power, and with a few momentary exceptions, she is always in complete control of her vocal chords and her role alike.
All that would go nowhere without solid songwriting, and boy, are there some fucking jams on this platter. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is both incredibly seductive and a fantastic fist-pumper, reminiscent of the very best glam ever had to offer. “Rat Queen” has more hooks than an angling store and more girl power than a female bodybuilder competition, while single “Watch Our Masters Bleed” goes from reflective reverence to rousing revolution. Every track has a different vibe, thanks to the distinct hooks as well as selective use of classic instrumentation, like the cowbell in “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and the Hammond organ blasting throughout “Pagan Inclinations.” Traces of soul are plentiful, thanks to the frequent female choir piping in, giving a gospel atmosphere to the electrifying boogie space rock anthems.
There’s a couple tracks of insufficient voltage, though none could be called bad by a long stretch. The imaginatively titled “Flying Incendiary Club for Subjugating Demons” is a bit more repetitive than the title suggests, and energetic closer “The Reaper Comes for Thee” overshoots the theatricality with jarring gang shouts and an overdose of mad cackling. Moments like these do take my overall enthusiasm down a tad, though there is still material to enjoy in both tracks. I’m particularly fond of the ritual closing the album, which is echoed in the intro to the first track, making repeat spins more than inviting. The production is nothing to sniff at either. The sound is crisp, the balance well-struck. The guitar has a lovely retro crunch, the various adventitious instrumentation is integrated smoothly, and I adore the thick and throbbing bass on “Bound for Hell.”
A frontman or -woman performing as a fictional character can be a blessing or a curse. A band that can’t pull it off will often wind up looking all the more ridiculous for it. When they can, however, it gives the band a huge presence and central identity to rally around. We’ve seen this in recent times with Ghost, but as much as I enjoy the Papas and the Cardinal, the Imperial Priestess has them beat. Backed by an excellent band that puts their own face on a myriad of 70s influences, she is an enticing protagonist, a vision of female power with a throat full of pride and rage, elevating a superficially silly concept with empowering, fist pumping rock ‘n roll. All hail the Rat Queen, baby!
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Cruz Del Sur Records
Websites: theneptunepowerfederation.bandcamp.com | theneptunepowerfederation.com | facebook.com/theneptunepowerfederation
Releases Dates: EU: 2019.09.20 | NA: 09.27.2019