Now here’s a band that takes its own name from the very poem just tripping over itself in metaphorical meaning designed to demonstrate the “fearful symmetry” between the beauty of God’s own creation in felines and wet-your-pants ferocity. Such is the tiger.
Such is the UK band, Fearful Symmetry. who have worked out, in their words, a set of principles “defining our approach to this music – not constrained by genre, but seeking to blend a mix of styles.” Which upon listening is true where the back inside page of their CD booklet thanks and pays homage to Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Camel, and a few name dropping favourites we all love, too. What is apparent is these musicians are here to play solid Prog right from the first title track, ‘Louder Than Words.’ It starts off with a belting church organ intro accompanied by barking dog and then while the deep bell tolls a slide guitar reminiscent of Trevor Rabin’s slide on Talk heralds in a track of many shifting parts filled with short bursts of keyboard and guitar solos. One thing you soon discover is this band doesn’t rest on their laurels in their song selections for this one. The third track ‘Innocence’ did have a Camel vibe for me, while the next one shot off into the direction of a heavier version of 10cc meets Return To Forever in parts. Well to my ears at least. And that’s the thing. The band challenges Prog fans like themselves to listen in and see what band does it remind you of?
There’s a lot happening in this album and that’s not surprising given the number of musicians involved. Jeremy Shotts does main and backing vocals with some bass thrown in while his cousin, Suzi James is attributed on guitars, bass, keyboards and backing vocals. They both conceived, wrote and produced ‘Louder Than Words.’ They are Fearful Symmetry, but wait, they also welcome other “players” to the fold. They have a great and enjoyable vocalist in Yael Shotts on the tracks ‘Form and Substance,’ ‘Rule of Reason,’ City of Art,’ and my favourite ‘Orc and Luvah.‘ On drums is Sharon Petrover; vocal on ‘Ceaseless Strife‘ from Ray Livnat ; Ben Azar providing the second guitar solo on ‘Rules Of Reason;‘ Ian Stuart Lynn providing vocals, piano, soprano sax and strings on ‘Innocence;‘ Amanda Truelove (London Symphony Orchestra) on Cello for ‘Innocence,’ and Matthew Rutherford, double bass on ‘Innocence.’
Suzi added, “We’ve been prog fans for a very long time (among other genres) and decided we’d like to make our own album that reflected the broad range of prog music we’ve enjoyed over the years, as well as what’s around now. “
And what they chose to do is your typical garden variety type concept album, except not just based on a historical theme. The genre of Prog was the theme! “I composed the music for what became the title track,” Suzi continued. “And asked my cousin Jeremy to come up with some lyrics. He’d written about William Blake for his thesis and decided to raid his own ideas. It seemed to work well and so the idea of a ‘concept’ album was born (life and works of William Blake) – in keeping with recreating a ‘classic prog’ album.”
“We had a checklist of thing to include – animal sounds, bells, gongs, tempo/time signature and mood changes, you know the kind of thing. I think we ticked them all off. It’s a bit ‘genre-defying’, I guess.”
“I play guitar, bass, and keyboards for nearly all of the album, but musician friends were keen to contribute – including a London Symphony Orchestra cellist on one of the more pastoral songs! Jeremy played bass on one track, and came up with some of the song melodies, as well as sang on the opening track. Otherwise we used guest singers. We also saved up and got a friend who is a session drummer to add real drums, and paid for the album to be mixed by a mastering engineer.”
“We think it’s really paid off and some internet radio programmes have played and favourably reviewed the album. To be clear, we’re really only hoping for as many people as possible to at least hear the music.”
First impressions count and Fearful Symmetry get plenty of brownie points for starting with a concept album. They’re not as easy to pull off as one would think. For starters the total sum outweighs the singularity of any given track especially when its subjective to telling a story from start to finish. One part comes across as weak totally takes you out of the event and ruins the whole concept. Thankfully there’s a lot to draw from their intended canvas to make it interesting. William Blake was many things that have outlasted him over the centuries. In a way he is the poster-child for the Romantic Age of the late 1850’s. His poetry and artwork are still printed. Likewise with H G Wells, he entertained the notion of “free love,” far removed from the Christian values and virtues of the day. In fact after his death a good number of his work which had been left in the guardianship of the church were burnt including twenty full length tragedies and a number of paintings that they deemed heretical. Oh, and he also admitted to having visions most of his life. So as you can see, there’s plenty to draw from this man’s amazing life and works, and Fearful Symmetry do so with relish on these eight songs.
And why not? Blake has had such a strong impact and influence on modern musicians ranging from John Lennon to even Led Zeppelin who used some of his poetry (The Dance Of Albion) for ‘Achilles Last Stand.’ Tangerine Dream came up with a track titled ‘Tyger, Tyger‘ and U2 were inspired by him for their albums, ‘The Joshua Tree’ and ‘Song Of Innocence.’ Oh, did I also mention William Blake championed women’s rights? There is just so much of interest musicians can’t ignore that took place in this artist’s life.
In conversation with Suzi I mentioned: “That’s what excited me about your high concept of this brilliant yet tormented artist who balanced between the creative and self destructive (as you know he was almost hanged for an accusation of sedition).”
“I was fairly typical of most people when it came to seeing Blake as some kind of ‘cool icon’,” Suzi added. “To only skim the surface – before Jeremy and I first talked about why he thought Blake was a suitable subject for our album. Jeremy has been deeply into the Blake story, his life and ideas. It caused me to go deeper and discover how much more there was to discover. Especially the eternal challenge of being creative in a conformist society. Making your own rules to express yourself. Some of his ideas, thought of as wild ravings at the time, were ahead of his time. Once enlightened, I was gripped – and musically inspired. After Jeremy produced the lyrics for the opening track, it was only natural to continue in the same vein.”
Instrumentally this is a solid album with some interesting parts to it layered in guitar and keyboard solos. Add in bass and drums to get your attention and find new things going on within each listen. Then on top of that the vocals. Oh boy! They really do have a keeper there with Yael Shotts. That’s a wonderful pure and rich heavenly voice that you just wish would keep on singing. Throw in Jeremy’s main vocals and you have an album strong in story, interesting in lyrical content, and plenty of depth musically to see this realised in good ol’ prog fashion. For me even last two tracks ‘Orc and Luvah‘ and ‘City Of Art’ make this a very rewarding listen.
I asked Suzi if they had any plans to take this album on the road and perform?
“A nice thought but there’s no plan. I play all bass, guitars and keyboards, apart from a couple of exceptions/guests, and the drummer was recorded in studios in Tel Aviv. I’d have to hire a whole new band and rehearse them, when I’m already working on a follow-up album, as well as a pure ‘rock’ album with singer Yael. The latter does include plans for live performance.”
I pointed it was a shame, as this would be a good show to see around their subject matter.
Suzi concluded: “The only way I could envisage live performance would be if this was a ‘commercial’ enterprise with financial backing – which we never actually considered – believing that it’s such a narrow field of interest, the best we can hope for is for discerning people who like to listen to music outside of the confines of mass production, get to hear it through the global pockets of interest there appears to be. We are thrilled that people who have listened, have enjoyed it and regard it so highly.”
Look forward to it. There are so many levels to this album. Enjoy.
More information and CDs are available via their website: http://www.fearfulsymmetry.rocks
Digital downloads of their album from Bandcamp: https://fearfulsymmetry.bandcamp.com/releases
You can also purchase Louder Than Words from Amazon and other music outlets
Fearful Symmetry Facebook page go to: https://www.facebook.com/FearfulSymmetryRocks