Neo-Prog Licks, 2003

Do Woodenheads accrue tree rings as they age?


For a CD recorded for $600 and containing barely 26 minutes of music, this one sure seems long, though the title suggests that’s exactly how these five recent high school graduates from Menlo Park, California, want it. “Rabid fans of Yes, Queen, Dream Theater, Grateful Dead, and Metallica,” reportedly not at all fluent in indie rock, they open with a symphonically keyb-kitsched “Prologue” and close with an “Epilogue” that likewise offers Shakespearean pronunciamentos about heroes and battlefields. In the four majestic metal “chapters” between, our young virtuosos keep their mouths shut, ride the intricate ego-thrash lightning, dance medieval jigs in a woodland clearing, fight star wars till the empire strikes back, and cross the desert blowing away dust devils in a timely “Arabian Gunparty” whose Mideastern modalities may or may not be indebted to Ishtar. The aural equivalent of Eragon, maybe: Now that emo punks are jocks who shop at the Gap, it’s about time Dungeons and Dragons kids regained their geek status.

EXTOL, Synergy

Loud-rock mags rave about how these Norwegian death-metal Christians with a guitarist named Christer incorporate “jazz and classical.” Neither is especially audible, but no matter—you still get zillions of dense notes atop notes within very tight quarters, wearing curlicue-noodle complexity on their sleeves, stop-starting and herky-jerking and gurgle-lurching ahead at impatiently frantic hardcore-headache tempos, then giving way to ’70s drama and mountaintop clouds. “Paradigms” has a duet with a Kate Bush-like pop singer; “Aperture” is a sweet Spanish-strummed ballad. Grace and aggression of several varieties, complete with machine-pressed Voivod oil-can drums and throat-scratched Die Kreuzen monster-shriek sermons righteously denouncing “self-righteousness, bleeding arrogance, and pride.”

WOODENHEAD, Perseverance

The press packet for this active-since-1975 coed New Orleans instrumental quintet awesomely piles on glowing recommendations from aging proggers who remember what the Dixie Dregs, Happy the Man, Gentle Giant, Matching Mole, and Hatfield and the North sounded like, and their sixth album resides within a perfectly appropriate foldout of a skeleton pieced together from fossils of a dozen extinct animal species. The music spyrogyrates with forward motion throughout, and at best twangs rural—circular Celtic-rock parlor-room reels, Marshall Tucker spaghetti-western stagecoaches rolling across the prairie. Clumsier tracks feature trombones and deluded titles like “Funk Tune” and “Dance No. 2.” But when harmolodic wah-wah stomps toward Pomp Heaven in the closer, the fusion feels funky despite itself.

Village Voice, 16 December 2003

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