Normally I start these reviews off with some witty paragraph before introducing the album in question. However, when going through the promo materials for this one, I was struck by a quote from the artist himself that does this new album far more justice than I ever could. When asked about the new record Songs For The Apocalypse, Jason Bieler was quoted saying: “It should sound something like if Neurosis got stuck in a blizzard at a Wawa with Supertramp, then Jellyfish showed up and they all decided to do Barry Manilow covers in the style of Meshuggah, but in waltz time with slight country underpinnings… yet accessible for the masses.”
So, did his witty description hold? Well if Songs For The Apocalypse was conceived in a Wawa, it does exude the joy of a Wawa Hoagiefest, but unfortunately those happen during the summer, so checkmate Mr. Bieler! As you’ll see in the “FFO” section at the end of this review, classifying this album is a challenging task. I mean sure, it is a rock album, but that’s an oversimplification. There’s also a looming metal influence on many of the tracks. It djents a tad with its drop-A riffage, but not enough to summon the ire of a djent-hater such as myself. There’s definitely a large dad rock quotient present here too, but in a fun way like Cheap Trick rather than the vacuity of your standard blues scale worship played on a Les Paul.
After a brief ambient intro track, the album kicks off with its first two singles “Apology” and “Bring Out Your Dead”. It’s easy to see why these two tracks were picked as singles, as they possess both immediacy with their massive choruses and staying power with their intriguing compositional components. These are strong showings for the Baron von Bielski Orchestra as well, as Bielski has reeled in Andee Blacksugar and Devin Townsend for scorching guitar solos on “Apology” and “Bring Out Your Dead” respectively. While you may already be aware that I am a huge Devin Townsend fanboy, Blacksugar’s solo is actually my favorite on this entire album. Those cascading, percussive plucks are undeniably mind-blowing!
Usually starting an album off with its lead singles is a sign of danger, but that’s not necessarily the case with Songs For The Apocalypse. Those two singles are the best tracks on the record, but there’s still a ton to stick around for… and a ton of surprises too! For example, “Beyond Hope” comes out of left field melding djent and dancehall and it works surprisingly well. I guess it isn’t too surprising when you’ve got Benji Webbe on vocals, but I enjoyed this track way more than expected. The result is something evocative of an erupting island volcano. This song is flanked by two other anomalies: “Horror Wobbles the Hippo” and “Crab Claw Dan”. The former is a moody electric guitar jazz instrumental, while the later sounds like what would happen if Pink Floyd scored the Moana soundtrack. “Crab Claw Dan” is a very alluring track for a song that, as far as I’ve gathered, tells the tragic story of a deformed man who’s been relegated to a life in a circus freak show.
Maybe you read that last sentence and thought to yourself “hey, where’s that normal old dad rock you promised?” There’s definitely some sense of “normal” among the Songs For The Apocalypse, whoever loosely Jason Bieler would allow you to define that word. For example, “Anthem For Losers” has a 90’s sitcom feel to it, and it’s a perfectly catchy, feel-good rock song, however pessimistic its lyrics may be. “Born Of The Sun” would fit snugly in a playlist between Alice in Chains and latter-day Mastodon with its driving rock beat and electrifying vocal harmonies, while “Stones Will Fly” could make its way onto rock radio in between spins of the Foo Fighters and Boston. There’s also a political folk rock number here in the form of “Very Fine People”. This song feels especially prescient given that it will be released just a couple weeks after MAGA psychos stormed the US Capitol Building. With obvious mentions and condemnations of the racism within the MAGA cult, it’s ultimately a hopeful, unifying song with it’s resounding chorus of “we all need love.”
The only real gripe I have with this album is it’s simply too long. With nearly an hour of runtime, the album does start to feel a little bloated towards the end. Songs like “Alone In The World” lose their punch in comparison to the tracks that came before, while the song transitional “Baby Driver” feels pointless, especially since the album essentially already has three superior transitional tracks.
While I do find length to be an issue here, overall the album is a fun listen. With all its twists and turns, it’s definitely worth your time and it’ll probably be more of a rewarding listen than most of your so-so January releases. Creating the Baron Von Bielski Orchestra was a genius idea on Bieler’s part, and the way they were integrated into this album is even more impressive. Each musician’s contribution bleeds through in its own way, but the guest spots (which also include appearances by Dave Ellefson, Bumblefoot, Clint Lowery, and several others) never eclipse Bieler’s overall creative vision for the project. “Eclectic” is a word that I surprisingly haven’t used yet in this review, but if you’re looking for something eclectic to brighten up this dreary winter, look no further than Songs For The Apocalypse.
Jason Bieler‘s new album Songs For The Apocalypse is available on January 22nd via Frontiers Music. Pre-orders can be found here.
Best Tracks: Bring Out Your Dead, Apology, Crab Claw Dan, Beyond Hope
Weakest Tracks: Alone In The World, Baby Driver
FFO: Devin Townsend, They Might Be Giants, Moon Tooth