It’s been a tough 4 years for Bigelf. After the critical acclaim for their 2008 release Cheat The Gallows and tours with Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree, founding member and lead vocalist Damon Fox decided he wanted to take some time away from the band. Internal conflicts led to the band being disbanded and for intents and purpose, Bigelf was no more. Fox himself says “I was forced into an introspective state of hypersleep and had to contemplate my future. I love the other guys in the band as brothers, and I am extremely grateful for they contributed to help get Bigelf this far. I was heartbroken when that line-up came to an end but change nonetheless was upon the band”. Fox found a source of strength in the shape of Mike Portnoy who urged Fox to stick with Bigelf and not give up. A friendship between the two had developed when Bigelf tour with Dream Theater, further cemented when both Fox and Portnoy experienced similar inter-personal problems within their respective bands. All of which history leads up right up to the present day and Bigelf’s triumphant return with Into The Maelstrom.
‘Incredible Time Machine’ kicks things off in a suitably space age fashion with effects that sound like a space machine reaching hyperspace leading to a big, fat, dirty, stomping guitar riff which eventually dissolves into a wonderfully melodic, wistful ending. This juxtaposition of chunky riffs and melody has been a hallmark of Bigelf albums in the past, but on this record Fox has reached a sublime balance of the two. Just check out the fuzz-distortion grooves layered over ‘Hypersleep’, ‘Vertigod’ and ‘Control Freak’ all while vocal harmonies weave in and out deftly. It’s like the Beach Boys meets Zeppelin.
Bigelf are often tagged as ‘prog’ and whilst I can see why this happens, this album shows that musically they have much more in common with Revolver-era Beatles and Barrett-era Floyd than they do with Yes and Genesis. There’s a sweetness and melody shot through every song on this album and where the brilliance of this record lies is in the ability of Fox to create a song that you’ve sworn you’ve heard before yet is completely fresh and new. Standout track ‘Already Gone’ could easily be the song Harrison and Lennon never wrote. It’s melancholic and uplifting whilst still encasing enough musical twists and turns that by the end of the track you can barely remember how it all started.
There are so many awesome moments on this album it’s almost testament that from struggle and darkness can come genius and salvation. From the sitar-tinged intro to ‘The Professor & The Madman’ to the funereal march of ‘Edge of Oblivion’ to the drumming from Portnoy on the outro of ‘Alien Frequency’... I could go on. Speaking of Mike Portnoy his playing on this album is superb. Very Ringo-esque in its restraint and tasteful when he does get of the leash. I also can’t let this review be published without very briefly touching on the song ‘Theater Of Dreams’ which Mike stated on his forum was written for/about him. Knowing this certainly adds poignancy to the lyrics “friendships are bleeding away”, for me the saddest part of the whole Dream Theater debacle was the apparent destruction of friendships going back many years.
Kudos to Damon Fox for striving to continue to make music and for persevering when it seemed too hard. The end results for him, I hope, should more than make up for the struggle to get here. This is an album packed full of brilliance. It’s melodic, it’s heavy, it’s weird, it’s poppy and it’s just utterly listenable. It is a testament to following your dreams and to keep on keeping on even when it feels like there is nowhere to go and no reason to go there. Damon Fox: I salute you. Be proud of this, your finest work to date.