As much as I love progressive rock (and believe me, I love progressive rock), I have to admit that, like mostly every other genre, there’s a lot of repetition and unoriginality going on these days. As virtuosic and ambitious as these artists are, they often seem content to simply emulate innovators like Dream Theater, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd. Few really bring anything new to the table. Fortunately, English quartet KingBathmat is an exception. While you can still trace some of their techniques back to older templates, they’re far more interesting, original, and fun than many contemporaries. Their newest CD, Overcoming the Monster, is a perfect example of why. With inventive arrangements, catchy hooks, and a delightful balance of space and eccentricity, it’s a true gem.
Founded by John Bassett (guitars/vocals), the group originally started as a solo project (think Steven Wilson and Roine Stolt). Bassett released the KingBathmat first record, Sun of a Nun, in 2003; since then, he’s expanded the group to include three more members and crafted six more studio works. They’re mostly opposed to concrete musical comparisons, choosing instead to define their sound as “a sonic expedition, a giddy aural excursion, visiting genres as diverse and contrary as the complex arrangements that inhabit ‘progressive rock’ interlaced with the cutting vocal melodies of ‘classic pop’ that then tear abruptly into an uncompromising sledgehammer heavy metal riff.” That’s a pretty damn accurate description, as Overcoming the Monster is chock full of prog timbers, metal aggression, and poppy melodies.
The most remarkable thing about this record is how well it juxtaposes the aforementioned elements without ever sounding bloated or boring. Instead, it provides a consistently thrilling blend of styles. Album opener “Sentinel” starts off heavy as fierce riffs and percussion recall the likes of Black Sabbath and Bigelf. Eventually, though, it dissolves into a stunning, emotional piano melody, which leads into a perfectly suited vocal line. It then evolves into a psychedelic frenzy full of invigorating keyboard theatrics, dynamic shifts, sharp guitar solos, and tight harmonies. Its chorus is undeniably infectious, too.
“Parasomnia” continues the excellence; its opening interplay between vocals and keyboard timbres is especially inviting, while its middle section, with its gripping guitar riffs, will suck you in for sure. Moving on, the title track adds a bit of complexity to the mix with overlapping vocals, while “Superfluous” concludes with a lovely piano motif. “Reality Mining” is a bit more folksy and light, with woodwinds and acoustic guitar contributions that help pay tribute to the stylistic greats of the ’70s, such as Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention. Finally, “Kubrick Moon” is an epic powerhouse of ever-changing tones, levels of intensity, and melodic flair. At times, it evokes the silky harmonies of Echolyn, as well as the colorful jams of Nektar. It’s a superb conclusion.
I could go on and on about how impressive this album is, not just on a technical level, but also in terms of how well it declares its own identity. Sure, KingBathmat pulls a trick or two from this band or that band, but considering how overly saturated the genre is with blatantly derivative artists (who are still quite worthwhile, to be fair), it’s easy to see how Bassett and crew are traveling on their own path. Overcoming the Monster is one of the most impressive records I’ve heard this year, and it should cement the group’s place at the top of the current progressive rock scene.