Sunday, 17 November 2013

Fish's 'A Feast of Consequences' - Album Review

Every so often, an album comes by that has a certain buzz surrounding it months and months before it's release. A Feast of Consequences, Fish's tenth solo album, is one such example. This is an album that had been in the works for some time, and the title A Feast of Consequences had been floating around on the internet for at least a couple of years before it's release. This is his first album in five years, since the excellent 13th Star was released in 2008. Lots has happened to Fish in the meantime, including a couple of vital operations on his vocal chords which probably saved his singing career. As far as two rock albums go, 13th Star and A Feast of Consequences could not be more different. The former had a stark, almost industrial production quality that really suited the bleak and angry material; whereas the latter feels much warmer and organic. The link between the two is the main writing partnership of Fish and bassist Steve Vantsis who has returned to the touring band after a few years away. The two of them seem to have an excellent chemistry and understanding and, between them, have created one of, if not the, best albums in Fish's solo career. Joining Fish and Vantsis we have guitarist Robin Boult, who has played with Fish a lot in the past; keyboardist Foss Paterson, who again has had significant stints with Fish throughout his career; and journeyman drummer Gavin Griffiths (Karnataka; Panic Room; Mostly Autumn). Boult's return to Fish's setup has really bolstered the band in the studio and live. No disrespect meant to Frank Usher, but I think Boult is the perfect guitarist for Fish. He has also made significant writing contributions to many of the songs on the album and I think this is one of the reasons for it's success. The biggest thing that strikes me about this album though is that it does not really feel like a solo project, it feels like a proper band. The five musicians really work well together and the songs they have created are tight, melodic and interesting. This will probably be quite a long review as I have quite a bit to say about A Feast of Consequences but the short version would be: it's brilliant! If you have not heard the album before, then stop reading this and go out and buy yourself a copy. Before talking in more detail about the music, I would quickly like to talk about the packaging. I do not normally do this in my reviews but, since I bought the delux version, I thought I should mention it briefly. The special edition comes in a 100 plus page hardback book full of excellent artwork by Mark and Julie Wilkinson and a DVD documentary by filmmaker Dave Barras called Preparing the Feast. This is a really insightful look at the songwriting process of the album and is well worth a watch.

The album opens with the slow-burning epic Perfume River that really sets the tone. The song has two distinct sections. The first part is an atmospheric, progressive piece with some excellent rhythmic drumming from Griffiths and swriling keyboards from Paterson; and the second part is a more up-beat rock section led by an acoustic guitar. Vocally, this is the best Fish has sounded in quite a while. He seems to have accepted the limits that his voice now has and has written material that showcases his remaining strengths. As usual, his lyrics are excellent. He is one of the best in the business at creating really vivid mental images with his words and this song (and album) is no exception. Perfume River is a hard song to describe. It reveals itself over repeated listens, so is a real 'grower'. It is just quintessential Fish! All Loved Up is much more straightfoward. It is a cynical look at the current culture of being a 'celebrity' and contains tonnes of Fish's trademark black humour. Based around a simple riff from Boult, the song steams along at a good pace and is catchy as hell! Seemingly, this song is doing well in the Polish charts and I am not surprised as this song screams 'single'. If only the UK radio stations played music like this instead of the types of 'musicians' that this song is ridiculing. It is just a really melodic song that does not take itself too seriously but makes a statement about today's society. Blind to the Beautiful is a really nice acoustic number in the same vein as A Gentleman's Excuse Me from his 1990 debut solo album Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. This is also the first song on the album to prominantly feature Elisabeth Troy Antwi on backing vocals and her contributions to this album should not be underestimated. She harmonises well with Fish and is the icing on the cake. Towards the end, there is a really good violin solo from Aidan O'Rourke that personifies the melancholy of the song as a whole. The album's title track is up next and this is another straight ahead rocker based around a neat riff from Boult. All three main components of this song are excellent. The main verses have a nice groove, the pre-chorus backed by the piano is delicate and that leads nicely into the catchiest chorus on the album. Throughout his career, Fish has always been able to tackle many different types of song. He does the longer, more progressive songs well; but he also has a knack for much simpler, melody-driven songs and this is one of the best examples of that.

Following A Feast of Consequences we get to the centrepiece of the album: The High Wood suite. This is a five-part epic that is inspired by a trip Fish took to the World War I battlefields in Arras, France. Both of his Grandfathers faught in the war so these songs are based partly on their experiences, which he learnt about during his trip, and partly on more general military history. Paterson made significant writing contributions to these songs and they are, unsurprisingly, quite keyboard dominated. The first part, High Wood, which, after a gentle intro, is pretty dramatic with some spiky guitar work and almost orchestral keyboard parts. Fish sets the scene of the High Wood, which is a small wood in which many people died during a major World War I battle, in this song which leads beautifully into the second part Crucifix Corner. Atmospheric is a good word to describe the opening. Fish's voice and the piano intertwine well as the song slowly builds up and it is not long before Boult's big guitars come in. During this section, Fish's vocal melodies are possibly some of the best that he has ever come up with. When listening to his hypnotic voice, you really can imagine the scenes of the First World War that he is describing. My favourite part of The High Wood suite however is the third song The Gathering. It has a similar vibe to The Company from Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors and details how people from the towns and cities of the UK all signed up to the army together. It perfectly captures the pride and excitment that these men had, but it also describes a much more naive and carefree world where the horrors of war were largely unknown and unreported by the press. I dare anyone not to listen to this song and not feel slightly patriotic! From there, the album moves onto Thistle Alley which could not be more different from The Gathering. The horrors of war are now fully known to all serving and this heavy, murky song makes this clear. Musically and production-wise, this is similar to the style found on 13th Star. It is a very dark piece that pulls no punches and sees Fish almost approaching metal territory in places which suits the horrific subject matter perfectly. The fifth and final part The Leaving sums up the suite really well and seems to be more of a reflection on the war as a whole. It is very poignant and intelligent piece that, for me, has given some meaning back to things like Remembrance Sunday. It ends with a line repeated from The Gathering that seems to take on a totally different meaning out of context and set to different music. I have to congratulate Fish, as The High Suite is easily the best series of songs on the subject of war. It is similar in style and structure to that of Iced Earth's Gettysburg trilogy but better in every way, plus much more relevant to British listeners.

Luckily, the final two songs left on the album manage to stand up to the genius that has just been witnessed. Other Side of Me is a typical Fish ballad, and by that I mean that it is brilliant. Antwi's vocal contributions on this song are again excellent and features the first proper guitar solo from Boult on the album! It is strange to think that this album contains hardly any solos and does not suffer from it at all. I guess that Fish's music is primarily a vehicle for his excellent lyrics but it is nice to hear the odd solo on occation. The album's last song is The Great Unravelling which brings the album to a close very well. I really like the call and response vocals from Fish and Antwi and the really atmospheric keyboards. It also has the best instrumental break of any song on the album as Boult finally cuts loose for a really monster solo, which is the last thing you really hear before it ends. Overall, this is just a brilliantly written and contructed album. It is quite long, but it is so well paced that it just flies by without every feeling boring or contrived. Being that there was quite a big gap between this album and 13th Star the fans were expecting something special and they have certainly got that! When I get around to deciding my end of year top 10 albums list, this will come in at a very high place. This could very well be my album of the year, but I am not 100% sure which album will take that crown yet. 2013 has been such a good year for new music, but A Feast of Consequences is one of the highest of high points. I really love it, and you should too!

The album was released on 14th September 2013 via Chocolate Frog Records. Below are a couple of previews of the album released by Fish to promote it.

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