As a rule, I don’t like guitar albums, particularly if they are full of power chords or metally, growly things; but that is just because they don’t make them like ‘Paradise Park’ the debut album by Ham Legion. This album contains all of the above and remains heavy as a brick while avoiding empty shows of testosterone. And crucially, it also simultaneously dares to be light as a butterfly.
The effect is stunning; and I mean that in a literal and visceral way. In order to hear what goes on in the subdued and near-silent parts, you can’t help but turning up the volume knob – then, when the guitars thunder and the screams rip, your mind is blown and your head is physically smashed against the wall if you pull back too fast.
At the beginning of the year, I boldly announced that the Lost Crowns debut album ‘Every Night Something Happens’ was the album of the year. I knew that was a dangerous thing to do, but I couldn’t in my wildest fantasies imagine an album like this coming along. Now, this isn’t a competition and there is no need to announce a winner. Suffice to say is that if you liked that album you will love this. And there is a connection between them in the form of legendary pronk band Cardiacs: ‘Paradise Park’ has been mastered by Mark Cawthra, and William D. Drake plays keyboards on one of the tracks. (Cawthra was the original drummer in Cardiac Arrest, and Drake was in the classic era Cardiacs lineup.)
If anything, this is much more in pronk territory than the Lost Crowns. Come to think of it, this is much more progressive rock than the stuff they write about in Prog Magazine; there is no set evolution for the tracks here. On the contrary, they often seem to be made up of discarded bits and pieces of failed attempts at songwriting that are just haphazardly strung together. On paper that obviously doesn’t work, but somehow Ham Legion turn these impossible collisions of ideas and styles into journeys of discovery. As a listener you feel a strong urge to go a long for the ride to see where it all goes. Invariably, it goes off the chart, and sometimes off a steep cliff into empty space as well. But it certainly is thrilling.
Take for example the track ‘(I Would Like To Have Significantly Larger) Portions (Please)’; the title itself conjures up bits and pieces of leftovers that have been scraped from their plates and left in a big ugly pile. And that sums it up rather well. The track fades in gently with a distorted, sustained guitar tone that is then taken over by a basic heavy rock riff lumbering on until it via a finger picked bass segues into a more energetic metal beat topped by a death growley vocal. However, soon the noise disappears and there is a lone and bedroom singer-songwriter a line about something “so early in the morning”.
Here is where you start dialling up the volume in order to hear what he is singing about… But just as you lean into the speaker, the frail vocal is replaced with a big Queen-like hard rock chorus, that then exchanges a few passes with the muted vocalist before you are carried away on a stretch of guitar rock into the sunshine. Like I said, it doesn’t work on paper!
If those where the leftovers, then ‘Oooodles’ plays like its diametrical opposite; here we get all the bits and pieces of good ideas that were saved in order to be expanded into full pieces later on. Unfortunately that never happened, and by the way the good ideas were not as plentiful, hence the track is only half as long as ‘Portions’.
That is not to say that there are moments of exquisite beauty here. Take the first minute of ‘Moths Bugs & Bees’ for example, which is back to the bedroom poet’s frail and contemplative pop. Until the track is taken over by satanic screams, that is…
There are also more traditional song structures, proving that Ham Legion indeed are quite capable of writing catchy pop thingies if they wish, such as on ‘Curse the Weather’. Although the instrumentation is a bit wonky, the tune does have identifiable verse and chorus parts and would be a given hit in an alternative universe where good music means as much as good marketing budgets.
But picking out tracks like this doesn’t do the album justice. It is not only that there isn’t a duff moment here, but also that the tracks taken together become bigger than their sum. Simply brilliant!