CHEST ROCKWELL (whose name comes from a character in the movie “Boogie Nights”) is a quartet hailing from Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA. The band was originally due to be a solo project of vocalist/guitarist Josh Hines; drummer Nick Rouse and bassist Nick Stewart joined him in 2004. “Total Victory” is their third album, which follows “Chest Rockwell vs. the World” (2007) and “Back to Square One” (2005).
1. Being an Able Man There Are Always 5.30
2. Pumps Away 4.26
3. Within 10 Paces I Cannot Fail 3.51
4. Body Prop 4.55
5. Body Prop-2 3.54
6. Body Prop-3 5.24
7. 11 Is the New 7 6.44
8. Colossus 5.05
9. Mortal Universe 7.35
Josh Hines – vocals; ac. & el, guitar, el, sitar; wurli
Nick Stewart – bass, baritone guitar; keyboards
Nick Rouse – drums; piano
Seth Wilson – el. guitar
Jon Craig – keyboards, omnichord
CHEST ROCKWELL has made a name for itself as an unpredictable act, incorporating a multitude of different stylistic elements on their albums as well as in each individual composition. This time around they are slightly more coherent and, although still unpredictable and quirky, this time around you won't find compositions going from jazz to metal, and over to symphonic rock, within the span of a minute. Despite this, their most recent effort appears to be stronger overall, with strong and well thought out compositions as the first and foremost reason for this. The first six tracks on “Total Victory” all seem to have a foundation in some sort of indie, alternative or post-rock territory. The tracks are all quirky, either with multiple changes in intensity, sound and pace like the oddly-named opening number Being an Able Man There Are Always, or experimental on a totally different level like the excursion Within 10 paces I Cannot Fail - the latter more of an ambient soundscape, where a wandering guitar pattern underscores various radio clips with speeches from historical characters. It's the guitar patterns that are the key element in all those tracks though, some with a distinct U2 vibe to them, while others venture out into more alternative waters. In several passages the guitar is used to supply textures rather than melodies as such, which as far as I know is one of the central elements in the stylistic expression called post-rock. Those enjoying subtle dissonances and odd time signatures should also find much to enjoy on this part of the album; while the ones enjoying even more diversity, as well as ventures into metal territories, should find the last three pieces on the album right up their alley. Colossus, with its signature guitar solo theme placed over an insistent riff pattern, and a pretty varied excursion into riff-based territories, is a distinct highlight, while final creation Mortal Universe contains some of the heaviest passages I've heard by a band not defined as a metal act, mixed with some pretty intriguing mellow sequences. The first of the metal-tinged pieces, Eleven Is the New Seven, does offer the most diverse soundscapes, but for me at least this number isn't as strong as the following two in spite of this, but I assume many might find that number even better than my personal favorites on this album.
Challenging music taking on a number of different stylistic expressions in a creative manner – if this sounds intriguing, and you don't mind getting familiar with an album containing these elements in more of an indie rock setting, with brief visits to post rock territories and some longer excursions into alternative metal landscapes, this is a production you should get familiar with. On the other hand, those who prefer their music to be more distinctly progressive in style, and isn't too keen on the more modern take on art-rock, might find this one to be a tad alienating. Personally, though, I'll give this one my recommendation; one of the better and also one of the most intriguing albums I've encountered so far in 2009.
Love it or loathe it, there is no doubt that ‘modern’ progressive rock is in many ways a different beast from its celebrated (and reviled) ancestor. While the bands of the Seventies plundered the rich heritage of jazz, classical and (mainly European) folk music, their latter-day followers often turn for inspiration to more recent genres, some of which are viewed as almost incompatible with prog: punk, grunge, heavy metal, electronics, funk, and all the so-called ‘indie/alternative’ universe – as well as what is now known as ‘world music’. Chest Rockwell IS not a band to leave the average listener cold. Though theirs is the kind of music that devotees of ‘traditional’ prog may very well hate, or simply consider ‘not prog enough’, it undeniably contains enough distinctive features to attract the attention of those with a more open-minded perspective. Everything about the band – from their name to the faintly disturbing cover art (more suited to a punk album than a prog one) – spells a kind of genuine quirkiness, and a desire to push boundaries in a way that avoids the overly cerebral, out-of-left-field approach of many contemporary bands, while retaining that intriguing quality that is essential to good progressive rock. In some ways, Chest Rockwell reminds me of another interesting new band, Canadian outfit Half Past Four, at least as regards their attitude. Call them art-rock, alt-prog, modern prog, or whatever, these are bands that manage to push the envelope without becoming unapproachable – exploiting the countless possibilities offered by the song format instead of indulging in sprawling, often half-baked ‘epics’, and stamping their individual mark on the blend of diverse genres that is the foundation of their music. Therefore, if I had to compare Chest Rockwell to one of the iconic bands of progressive rock, I would definitely choose Rush. Though purists may scoff at the Canadian trio for having ‘abandoned’ the ways of true prog (if there is any such thing) from the early Eighties onwards, it is undeniable that they have never shied away from experimenting with genres that are often seen as polar opposites of prog (reggae, rap, new wave, etc) – and, as such, could be seen as forerunners of ‘modern’ prog. As for Chest Rockwell, at first the biggest source of inspiration on “Total Victory” would seem to be the diverse, hard-to-define ‘alt/indie’ galaxy. Josh Hines’ vocal style is indeed closer to alternative or grunge, and in my view is not one of the album’s strongest points. In fact, my first impression of Chest Rockwell – judging at least from the two initial songs – was that of another good, yet somewhat overhyped outfit purported to be the ‘next big thing’ to revolutionize the conservative world of progressive rock (a contradiction in terms!). The strongly riff-based Being an Able Man There Are Always contains more than a whiff of grunge, or even of the early work of U2, especially in the chugging guitar sound, while in 2 Pumps Away the Rush comparisons start rearing their head, with the bass sounding harsh and relentless when underpinning a gritty guitar solo, booming and meaty during the song’s catchy chorus. It is with the third track on the album, however, that things start getting really interesting for the prog fan. Echoes of Pink Floyd circa “The Wall” or “The Final Cut”, or even Roger Waters’ solo output, lurk in the instrumental Within 10 Paces I Cannot Fail, for the most part made up of snippets of recorded political speeches overlaid by odd electronic noises and melancholy acoustic guitar chords. The three parts of Body Prop bring the listener squarely into prog territory, and not just because of its structure, with plenty of odd time signatures, stellar drum and bass work, guitars hovering between emotion and grittiness, and occasional keyboard forays, the closest comparison would be Rush’s underrated Nineties output. The intense, choral, guitar-driven ending to Part 1 even hints at The Mars Volta, though in a more controlled, less manic way; while Parts 2 and 3 take a more moody, atmospheric direction, especially Part 3 with its faint but pervasive sounds of water. Hines’ vocal performance is quite powerful throughout, though clearly different from the high-pitched likes of Geddy Lee or Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The album’s final three tracks see the band head towards a definitely metal direction. The spectacular instrumental 11 Is the New 7 is driven along by a pumping bass line and guitar licks shifting from aggression to melody, with a vague Celtic vibe especially in the second half; besides the obvious Rush comparisons, something here points to a tighter, less self-indulgent version of Dream Theater. On the other hand, the Iron Maiden-flavored cavalcade of Colossus would have worked better as an instrumental, since the vocals are somewhat lacklustre, and do not add much to the song. Mortal Universe (the longest item on the album) brings things to a close in style, a somewhat muted beginning developing into a heavy riff-fest with a military-sounding guitar line, pounding drums and the omnipresent, pneumatic bass cementing the song structure. Judging by this album, Chest Rockwell undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of them. Even if I am not fully convinced by the vocals, their instrumental proficiency and songwriting skills should be enough to capture the attention of lovers of progressive rock – as long as they do not expect any faithful rendition of Seventies-style standard fare
Those who are always on the lookout for genuinely innovative outfits in the progressive field will be at the very least intrigued by Chest Rockwell’s third album, which finally shows them in a more mature, well-rounded light. Staunch prog purists, on the other hand, might not find much to admire in “Total Victory”, seen as it is undeniably distant from the traditional view of progressive rock. Anyway, though not perfect by any means, this is an album that points to interesting developments in the future of the band.