Thursday, February 2, 2012
Album Review - Admiral Browning: Battle Stations
Instrumental bands are an interesting lot. With no lead throat to stand out front and suck up all the attention, the instruments are laid bare…placed solely in the spotlight for listeners to experience, digest and ponder. Admiral Browning, from Middletown, Maryland, is just such a trio. Consisting of guitarist Matt LeGrow, bassist Ron McGinnis and drummer Tim Otis, this is a band that is perfectly content to let their instruments speak for themselves. And on Battle Stations, the band’s latest musical statement, those instruments have quite a lot to say.
The album begins with a robotic voiceover sounding straight out of some campy 70’s sci-fi flick…”their power is great, enough to ruin our plans”...after which Admiral Browning proceeds to unload a series of well orchestrated stops and starts that flow into mesmerizing guitar solos, fluid bass runs, jackhammer drum fills and yes…riff upon glorious riff. This is the oh-so-appropriately titled album opener, “Riff Crisis”. And right on its heels comes the near eleven minute epic “The Binary Language of Moisture Vaporators”, which proves two things about this band. One…they can flat out jam and two… they are some serious Star Wars geeks. (Don’t worry guys…I didn’t have to look up "moisture vaporators" to know they’re critical to life on Tattoine.) This one meanders along for the first five minutes with LeGrow carelessly noodling away while Otis pounds out a tribal beat and McGinnis runs up and down his frets with reckless abandon. And then just as the song appears on the verge of collapsing into complete chaos, someone yells “1…2…3…4”, and the trio erupts into a controlled groove that will have all you heavy fuzz lovers grinning from ear to ear.
“One Lucky Canary” scales back the intensity, opening with the subtle and introspective plucking of a guitar overlaid by a jazzy backbone of drum and bass. The three instruments build in intensity, at times appearing to be headed in different directions, but always managing to merge back together. And that’s the beauty of Admiral Browning…their uncanny ability to meld what often seems to be haphazard and almost disorganized noise into cohesive pieces of music that are carefully and intricately woven together. Even the brief “Interlude” displays a knack for toeing the line between standard song structures and loose improvisation with its combination of Middle Eastern sounds and otherworldly effects.
But it’s the finale “Dreams of Hammurabi” that not only ties the album together, but best showcases Admiral Browning’s instrumental prowess. With a run time of just under thirteen minutes, this song covers the gamut of all the band’s tricks and techniques. Take for example the first two minutes in which the trio unleashes a nasty metal riff with enough speed and precision to induce whiplash. But just as soon as you wrap your head around the intensity, it disappears…fading into a voiceover about the Babylonian king for which the song is named. What follows is a lush dreamscape of sound created by the guitar and bass, while Otis hammers away at a militaristic beat as if to remind you that Admiral Browning is never far from the edge of musical insanity. And this of course continues to build and build into a crescendo and when the band finally levels out and the song gallops forward...well, it’s safe to say that speakers…and minds…will be blown.
With a lot of instrumental bands, it isn’t immediately noticeable why they’ve decided not to incorporate vocals into their sound. Not so with Admiral Browning. Adding a singer to this mix would only serve to overshadow or perhaps even detract from the intricacies of the music. Keeping the listener focused on the interplay between each instrument…the tempo shifts…the signature changes…the myriad stylistic shifts…are all crucial components of becoming engrossed in this music. Keep that in mind next time you're buzz is righteously killed by some over the top vocalist drowning out an otherwise kick ass groove. When that time comes…and it will come…I suggest that you be prepared to man your Battle Stations.
01 Riff Crisis
02 The Binary Language of Moisture Vaporators
03 One Lucky Canary
05 Dreams of Hammurabi
Tim Otis – Drums
Matt LeGrow – Guitars
Ron (FeZZy) McGinnis - Bass
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