Tuesday, May 26, 2015

…weathering the storm: BILL WARD BAND – ‘Accountable Beasts’

Seemingly out of nowhere and as if in response to critics Bill Ward drops ‘Acountable Beasts’ merely two weeks following a handful of promising posts on social media about writing and rehearsing. Also notably, the release follows flare-ups between the Sabbath (particularly Ozzy) and Ward camps, but for more details you can fuck-right-off to Blabbermouth.net. Coincidental or not, the estranged drummer was once again under the spotlight due to what is quite an embarrassing feud just prior to his newest album’s release. And what of ‘Accountable Beasts?’ The album is a multilayered affair that, in short, can best be described as “spastic melodicism.” This is a far cry from anything produced by Black Sabbath in any incarnation and is, for better or worse, a much more creative endeavor than what was produced by Sabbath on ’13.’ While it would be difficult to justify calling ‘Accountable Beasts’ “metal,” it is definitely not bereft of heavy moments. Don’t get me wrong, ‘13’ was a highly enjoyable album, albeit a minor album within Sabbath’s extensive and mighty canon, but one cannot help wonder how the ‘13’ sessions—Iommi and Geezer willing—could have benefitted from Ward’s creativity and songwriting skills.

Though the album seemed to come out of nowhere there is no denying that this is a fully realized release that is both well-crafted and seemingly meticulously composed—a testament to Ward’s skills as a songwriter. ‘Accountable Beasts’ ebbs and flows with compositions that are often cinematic in scope and punctuated by orchestral embellishments that are intricately woven throughout the entirety of the nine tracks spanning the release. This is progressive hard rock with occasional heavy metal tendencies. Perhaps the best points of reference would be Brian Eno’s first three albums, particularly ‘Here Come the Warm Jets,’ or any of Kevin Ayers’ first three post-Soft Machine solo albums. The eponymous title track, “Accountable Beasts,” kicks off at a scorching pace, but like most of the tracks on the album it is composed with several peaks and valleys. Blistering lead guitar and tastefully restrained keyboards add texture to the track.

While the metal elements are used sparingly, anything resembling doom metal is all but absent, save for the ominous creeper “Katastrophic World.” Excellent drumming and percussion in general—including tambourine—are at the forefront while the tune uncoils around the precise and adventurous percussive elements. Heavy riffs are present, especially midway through the track, but are not overly abundant. The song oozes with a goth-rock undercurrent that is unparalleled by any other track on the album.

One of the greatest strengths of ‘Accountable Beasts’ is the musicianship and Bill Ward has managed to surround himself with some excellent players who are just as capable of producing finely textured tunes that meander through multiple styles and tones as they are at crafting hooks. Both “D.O.T.H.,” with its anthemic chorus, and the chorus of “First Day Back” are extremely infectious, the latter of which finds Ward pushing his vocals precariously, yet satisfyingly close to exceeding his capabilities. Multi-instrumentalist Keith Lynch, who handles all guitar duties, contributes his fair share of hooks whether it’s a well-placed lead or a riff designed to add heft. His playing really stands out on “Ashes,” first with his spacey guitar solo, followed by melodic heavy metal shredding.

‘Accountable Beasts’ will have no shortage of naysayers, particularly to those who have no interest in music outside of the metal realm, or potentially to those who have biased feelings over Black Sabbath’s latest, yet seemingly never-ending string of petty feuds. I’ll admit, the first spin was a bit jarring, but a second spin was highly rewarding. While Black Sabbath seemed to stagnate to a degree under the direction of Rick Rubin, Bill Ward’s creativity seems to be untethered. Hopefully the boys can get their shit together for a final album and tour, but if not? One can find solace in the fact that Iommi, especially with Geezer, is truly incapable of producing a dud, even with Ozzy’s tired, spoken word vocals laid over the top, and Bill Ward will weather the storm and soldier on...

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