CD Review of Cheat the Gallows by Bigelf
Recommended if you like
Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Deep Purple
Label
Custard Records
Bigelf: Cheat the Gallows

Reviewed by Carlos Ramirez

W
hen Sweden’s Opeth released their fine Watershed album earlier this year, the rock community took notice: Here was a band with its origins deeply rooted in the early ‘90s Scandinavian death metal scene, now injecting its material with the ‘70s progressive-rock leanings of bands like Uriah Heep and Focus. These were hardly groups the Ozzfest generation was name-checking, let alone claiming as influences. Luckily for the group, their fans have not only accepted their new stylistic departure with open arms; they have even praised them for it. It seems like the perfect time for a band like Bigelf to release an album -- the Los Angeles-based group has more in common with many of the long-forgotten bands that Opeth favor than they do with most of the stuff cluttering modern-rock radio at the moment.

The quartet’s Cheat the Gallows might be their new release, but its potent mix of Big Muff-kissed guitars, reverb-drenched vocals, and Ian Pace-like organs screams 1971. When an analog-rich track like “The Evils of Rock and Roll” comes blaring out of your speakers, your first instinct is to start air guitar or drumming; whatever your virtual weapon of choice might be. Frontman Damon Fox has a powerful enough voice, but his keyboard work is the revelation here. Fox’s organ runs on songs like “Superstar” and “Hydra” add an earthiness that is sorely missed in most current rock releases. The carnival-styled introduction to the album on opener “Gravest Show On Earth” sets the tone, and from that point on, it’s a powerful union between Fox’s keyboards and Ace Mark’s muscular guitar riffs.

In a perfect world, the album’s leadoff single, “Money, It’s Pure Evil,” would be playlisted right alongside the Black Crowes and Cream on classic rock radio one day. The expansive track channels the honeyed vocal harmonies of Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd into the type of anthem tailor-made for arena-sized crowds. There’s a timeless touch to the song; even among the rest of the excellent tunes, it stands out a little more. Hopefully it can be included in a future edition of “Guitar Hero,” because it’s doubtful the track will otherwise get to reach the huge crowds it deserves.

Big Elf

With so much revisionism going on, it would have been easy for Bigelf to get lost in the motions. But they never sacrifice their songwriting smarts for the obvious and kitschy posturing many of their similarly ‘70s-obsessed peers do (Cathedral, I’m looking right at you). Whatever the formula is, Bigelf have it down. Every single song has a gigantic chorus and there are enough surprising nuances to keep even the most attention-deficient listener engaged. If Cheat the Gallows had a Harvest Records logo stamped on the back of its jacket and this was 30 years ago, the band would have a hit in its hands. Sadly, they’ll have to settle for underground buzz for now.

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