The Ivory Maze: 'The Ivory Maze'
(Black Elephant, 2014)
The Ivory Maze had just finished recording their second LP: one that, in my opinion, will be among the greatest alt-rock albums of this year. And I think like that because their first album left quite a sweet taste in my mouth.
One of the facts that turn this band into a source of amazement is the sheer quantity of sound resources that it manages to deploy to change the seemingly predictable panorama laid out at the beginning. 'Avalon' seems to place the band among the cohorts of musicians that follow the steps of USA-made alt-rock luminaries all too closely. Though a Foo Fighters influence is audible through the album, the powerful and abrasive spirit of this first song (that still manages to keep a bright and crisp sound) is a sign of something hidden beneath the apparent compliance with the standards of the genre.
Their ominous riffs remind us of American highway rock and roll heroes
When 'Bluebird' makes its appearance, theses signs turn clearer: its jazzy fugue characteristics, broken by ominous riffs that remind us of American highway rock and roll heroes (like those Queens of the Stone Age) are coupled with several aesthetical limits, hidden touches that bring to mind sounds from this sound of the Atlantic. Bass guitar establishes itself as a basis for the song structures that, relying heavily upon the smoothness and prominence of rhythmic structures, demand a character both technical and expressive. Even in the less formally restricted sections (like the one at the heart of this second song), the bass player manages not only to execute every melodic line with sufficiency but also to maintain a personal and charismatic sound, kept audible by the careful production.
In the next song, 'By your side', the significant presence of the bass is needed more than ever, because the band surrenders at last to their will to explore every influence with their own voice, a resonant and powerful one at that . This song acts as one of those rare wakes when the one that arises from slumber feels energised, impulsed by the cold Northern wind, that carries his soul forward even before sunrise. At times, the sounds coming from the lead guitar remind us of metal and hard rock, sometimes it feels almost gothic: it even threads close to the territory of melodic hardcore . This "tag cloud" eventually dilutes, leaving a single homogeneous flux behind that can only be called by one name: that of the band. The Ivory Maze are speaking, and we like how they do it.
The great hangover left behind by the explosion of grunge greets us again in 'The weight of my ways', where lyrical scepticism about the possibility of individual redemption is expressed with an almost religious enthusiasm and great melodic character.
The band's intuition lets them assemble elements that are distinct and surprising: a balance between sentimentality and rhythm
Suddenly, a song appropriately called 'Break' bursts into the album, making psychedelic guitars and funk rhythms irrupt into a context where nobody expected them. However, there they are, serving as proof of the band's ability to assemble very distinct elements in a balance between sentimentality and rhythm, crafting an illusion that can drag their listeners from contemplative mysticism to dancing ecstasy with a careful shot.
With 'Hush', the spirit of that elastical funk essence forms a beautiful interplay with mechanical and powerful riffs: this interplay acts as a mutual enhancement of sorts that lets the band show their wide thermal gamut of their art: they may as well evoke the freezing cold of that winter morning or the wet, exquisite and brutal heat of an overnight concert, and they do it without losing not even a bit of temperance: they manage to never descend into brutality or vulgarity, two eternal temptations of common alt-rock.
Though torn in character, the voice can descend towards tender and caressing tones
Sceptical but hopeful realism can be felt again through the lyrics of 'Trouble with the times', an unclassifiable song that thrives impulsed by the sound of the bass guitar through the bright afterglow of a comforting and optimist melody, aided by the moderate usage of piano and distortion pedals. The voice, though torn in character, appears completely capable of descending towards tender and caressing tones, and the lead guitar reaffirms its excellent sharp sound during solos.
'I'm not here' is built around the dialectics between the serpentine riffs of its choruses and the floating lotus flowers that grow amongst the verses. The elements developed with the aid of production and electronic sound development are prominent in this song, thus making it ideal to check how band members manage to use both studio and mixing board to their advantage.
Their own expressive universe is delicate enough, but also complex and powerful
The diptych 'In the maze/Lost in the maze' reminds us of both QOTSA and Radiohead but within an expressive universe delicate enough to make their most subtle inspirations shine through, that is however also satisfyingly complex and powerful. Without a doubt, these double feature is the ideal climax for the album, making us wonder whether the expressive elements that comprise it (like its marvellous choral introduction or its precise distortion) will be present in their second LP or not.
Without a doubt, their personal voice, that is heard all through this album like an undeniable whisper, will become a scream on their next LP. But during the wait, let's enjoy the powerful and unsettling opus that The Ivory Mae has already gifted to the world.
Text: Dimas F. Otero
There's more in https://theivorymaze.bandcamp.com