The Rebel Wheel - 2010 - "We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks"
(64:00, 10T Records)
The Canadian act THE REBEL WHEEL has been around for a number of years, and while their history can be traced back to the early ‘90s, it wasn't until 2003 that they issued their first album. Personnel changes have been a constant feature with this band. For their third and latest effort, "We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks", issued in the summer of 2010, the rhythm section consists of two new members. As David Campbell and Angie MacIvor are the other regular members, this is a rather different band from the one that issued "Diagramma" back in 2007.
1. We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks 6:30
2. Klak 5:31
3. Wordplay 8:21
4. Scales of the Ebony Fish 5:33
5. Settling of Bones 4:52
6. The Discovery of Witchcraft 30:26
7. Evil Clocks-2 2:47
David Campbell – guitars; keyboards; vocals
Angie MacIvor – sax; vocals, keyboards
Aaron Clark – drums
Claude Prince – bass
Guy Dagenais – bass (1)
Guy LeBlanc – synths (4)
Rick Barkhouse – piano (6)
Line-up changes can do much for a band. They can prevent them from settling on a distinct stylistic expression, hamper their evolution as collaborating musicians and generally cause success to be harder to achieve. On the other hand, new blood in a band can invigorate it, it can lead to a new direction being taken and creative impulses added, as people offering new points of view are involved. In the case of The Rebel Wheel, it seems that the new members have had more of a positive effect, as their latest production sees the band creating its best effort so far. While I'm not familiar with their initial effort, their second one is a part of my collection, given to me by the band in a hotel lobby in Philadelphia a few years back. One of the main characteristic traits of that album was its eclectic nature. Much the same can be said about this disc. The overall mood and atmosphere explored are dark ones. From the menacing non-melodic dissonant industrial first half of the opening title track, repeated at the end of the disc, through the compositions leading up to the epic suite The Discovery of Witchcraft, dark textures, brooding presences and ominous atmospheres are presented and thoroughly explored. Quirky drums and a heavy, often dominating bass guitar form a solid foundation for the proceedings, while the guitar provides dissonant riffs and licks of a Robert Fripp-ian nature as well as textures with more of an inclination towards psychedelic hard rock. Piano and synths add in details and backdrops, while MacIvor's saxophone gets a bigger slice of the limelight with several key solo passages, many of which seems to have somewhat of an improvised nature to them. The stylistic expression is one belonging to the art rock family, with an approach that should please King Crimson fans and an overall sound not really closing in on any recognized artist that I'm familiar with. The compositions tend to be elaborate and challenging, with several thematic shifts, sophisticated instrumental performances and an above average level of challenging features, dissonances and disharmonies arguably the most common of these. And while most of the tracks reside within the heavier parts of the art rock universe, gentler and more dampened passages have their place as well, and several instances of passages featuring more of a jazz-oriented overall style add a nice degree of variation to the proceedings. In the aforementioned epic suite, which clocks in at just under 28 minutes, dark but gentle acoustic-oriented pieces with an obvious folk music inspiration are in fact a key element, with the three variations over the theme Hags adding a neat continuity to this grand effort. The only major flaw I could find on this CD was the track listing on the back cover, where most of the track lengths were faulty. Although I suspect that this may have been done on purpose, highlighting the thematic title of this production. Apart from that, whatever faults one may find will most likely come down to individual musical tastes, as this is a thorough and well-made effort. Pretty close to a truly brilliant one in fact, and I suspect there are quite a few who will find it to be just that.
Sophisticated, challenging art rock with a great deal of variety in expression, thoroughly exploring dark moods and menacing atmospheres: if this sounds like a venture you'd be likely to enjoy, The Rebel Wheel's latest effort "We Are in the Evil Time of Clocks" is one you should take an interest in, and most likely one you'll enjoy from start to finish.
The Rebel Wheel - 2010 - "We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks"
Hailing from Ottawa (Canada), THE REBEL WHEEL was originally formed in 1991 as a fusion-based midi ensemble. After many line-up changes over the years, the band finally released their self-titled debut album in 2003, followed by “Diagramma” in 2008, and finally, in the first half of 2010, by “We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks”. At the time of writing, vocalist/ keyboardist/ saxophonist Angie MacIvor is on maternity leave, but is planning to rejoin the band in 2011. The Rebel Wheel are continuing their live activity as a trio.
I received The Rebel Wheel’s “We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks” a few months ago, together with Mars Hollow’s self-titled release. Though both albums impressed me deeply, I view them as different sides of the progressive rock coin. While LA-based quartet Mars Hollow draw upon such sources as Yes, Kansas and Spock’s Beard, displaying a keen ear for melody and catchy hooks amidst their seamless instrumental proficiency, Canadian quartet The Rebel Wheel delve deep into King Crimson’s and Van Der Graaf Generator’s legacy of controlled chaos and mesmerizing gloom. Though “We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks” is not a depressing album by any means (unlike a good deal of the output of progressive metal bands), it is definitely dark-hued, as its title and stylishly macabre artwork clearly suggest. Most of the songs bear esoteric titles, with the album’s piece de resistance, a 30-minute, seven-part epic, dedicated to witchcraft. However, I am happy to report that there is no satanic subtext here, since we are not dealing with black or doom metal, or any Coven/Black Widow wannabes: the album revolves instead around a gloomily dystopian view of the future, much in the vein of Sinfield-era Crimson. The Rebel Wheel’s distinctive lineup features guitarist/keyboardist David Campbell and keyboardist/saxophonist Angie McIvor sharing vocal duties, and a very strong rhythm section – Claude Prince’s extremely impressive bass work being, in my view, the real cornerstone of the album. They also manage to shift almost effortlessly between aggressive passages and more subdued ones, with dissonant patterns occasionally lurking in the sax and guitar lines, and an overall sense of driving intensity. Even though King Crimson are undoubtedly the main term of comparison, the band succeed in presenting their own personal twist on some of the most influential, cutting-edge music produced in the Seventies. Not surprisingly, considering both the album title and its subject matter, “We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks” opens and closes with the eerie, ominous sound of ticking clocks and assorted machinery. Its structure distinctly resembles another impressive release of the past few months – Shadow Circus’ “Whispers and Screams” – though in this case the epic is located in the second rather than the first half of the disc. Like Project Blue, The Discovery of Witchcraft is split into seven sections that function as stand-alone tracks as well as parts of a whole (they are also read separately by CD players). The three short songs (mostly interpreted by Angie McIvor) titled Hags act as interludes between the main episodes of the suite, their mellow yet subtly haunting mood reminiscent of Sinfield-era King Crimson, or even The Mars Volta’s slower numbers such as The Widow. The remaining four parts, however, are very effective at conjuring up the titular witchcraft. Convent is a stunning, bass-led piece with suitably sinister Hammond organ and eerie whispered vocals that may bring to mind a cello-less Anekdoten, and the strident, dissonant MadNight is very much in the mould of King Crimson circa “Starless and Bible Black”, while Invitation to the Dance boasts clear jazz-rock influences (not surprising, considering the band’s beginning as a jazz-rock outfit), enhanced by the swingy piano and sax, and Cavort blends spacey electronics with deep, powerful bass lines in an intense yet controlled build-up. The first half of “We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks” consists instead of five songs, most of them in a similar vein to the epic – with the sole exception of the folksy, atmospheric Settling of Bones. Angie McIvor’s distinctive voice – warm and melodic, yet with a slightly plaintive quality – is enhanced by gently plucked guitar and bass strings. The title-track, on the other hand, opens the proceedings with a forceful, King Crimson-meets-VDGG punch that turns more melodic in the song’s second half. Soothing and menacing in turns, Klak sports a huge bass sound and choppy rhythm in the best tradition of Fripp’s crew’s many incarnations; while the excellent Wordplay shifts from a gentle, acoustic mood to a more intense, bristling pace again reminiscent of Red-era Crimson. “We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks” is undoubtedly a striking effort, though in my view it would have had an even stronger impact if it had been a tad shorter. On any account, it seems that the band has finally reached a measure of stability after its many line-up changes, and the overall feel of solidity and maturity projected by the album spells positive developments for The Rebel Wheel’s musical career. Definitely a band to watch and one of the most interesting releases of the year so far.
Lovers of the more angular and eclectic manifestations of vintage progressive rock – as well as those who enjoy some dark and foreboding nuances in their music of choice – will definitely find “We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks” a very rewarding proposition. Such an intriguing, well-crafted album, however, has the potential to appeal to most prog fans, especially on account of the admirable way it manages to strike the right balance between melody and intensity.