Sloth Metropolis- Humanise,
Sloth Metropolis formed in Glasgow in 2012, and comprise Alastair Milton (keyboards), Peter Fleming (bass), Steve McNamara (drums) and Calum Calderwood on electric violin and vocals. There are a few guests, but there is not a guitar to be heard, with the scratchy electric violin foiling with the keyboards. Apparently, they often have masked guest acolytes onstage adding a flair of musical, acting, and ritual expertise, which is somewhat unusual it must be said, but there again nothing is normal with these guys. This is their third full-length release and they describe themselves as a “musical mythology and ongoing sloth-themed rock opera told in prog, psych, folk and paper mâché”. Just the name of the band was enough to get me interested, let alone the concept, and while the instrumentation in itself is not strange, I cannot think of another band utilising exactly this format. As for the album, from the Bandcamp page we learn that in their last EP, “the Sloth of the Metropolis was forced to go flat hunting and found a mysterious manuscript whilst clearing out his old house. In ‘Origins’, the Sloth opened up the manuscript and read the story of Aengus Rudach—a Scottish bard and Alchemist from the 17th century who sailed to a mysterious island in the Atlantic after being accused of witchcraft. Aengus put together an alchemical experiment, aiming to combine the superhuman powers of the Island’s two inhabitants, the ‘Master of Matter’ and the ‘Master of Mind’. Instead of the perfection he hoped for, Aengus found himself transformed into a blissfully static sloth. In the new album, ‘Humanise’, we turn to the Next Page of the manuscript and find a combination of lyrics, music and ceremonial instructions known as the ‘Songs of Aengus’. The gist of the ritual is simple. Step one: bring together 4 musicians. Step two: compose 4 songs. Step three: perform them live or record them for an outside audience. Step four: let the transformation begin. Sloth Metropolis have recorded their attempt at the ritual found in the Songs of Aengus.”
I must confess that when I first came across the band name, I fully expected a sludge act, but nothing could be further from the truth, as here is a prog band that actually have high energy. I am at a loss to understand how they play live though, as a major facet of their music are the vocals and violin, both provided by the same musician. Keyboards are often used to play riffs on a Hammond while the violin goes off at massive tangents, deliberately with a rougher harder approach than those utilised by folk musicians, deliberately stressing the electric nature of the instrument. It can be used in a gentler style, but that does not fit in with the music which combines a gentleness with real edge. The sounds being incorporated gives the music a certain strength and depth which makes one think of the early Seventies. Their influences are obviously the likes of Gong, Van der Graaf Generator and King Crimson, with VDGG being the real stand out. There are times when the organ, bass and violin are all playing the same melody and it is only here that one realises the guitar is missing as there is a certain lack of depth, but this very much gives the music a flavour all its own.
There are times when this is quite abrasive, with tones being provided which will undoubtedly stir a reaction, and then there are others when it can only really be described as twee. The band’s obvious sense of humour carries all the way through to the arrangements. It is adventurous and compelling in a truly progressive sense, taking ideas from bands who have gone before but turning them on their head so while one can pick up inspirations, they are very much their own band. This is a really interesting release, and I can see that I need to look back into the earlier albums to discover more about the mighty Sloth Metropolis.