Knifeworld – The Unravelling

Knifeworld - The Unravelling

Knifeworld are one of those “Marmite” bands, and although I can see why the more conventionally atuned ear may be initially put off, a veritable cornucopia of modern psychedelia awaits those with the chutzpah, and indeed, the intelligence to persevere. As with any band that divides opinion, the positive and negative responses are often exaggerated beyond any reasonable point. A reviewer hiding behind the pseudonym Second Life Syndrome on Prog Archives hates it to the extent that he finds it “pretentious” and the ” music is merely cutting and paste (sic) grooves and melodies from classic bands”, particularly Gentle Giant. He accuses Knifeworld of ripping the “brassy bassy groove” (careful, that sounded like a compliment!) of The Skulls Have Regrown Their Eyes from GG’s The Power And The Glory.

Firstly, I assume he means the opening track Proclamation? Yes there is a fleeting similarity, but the two are distinctly different. Secondly, I would point out that GG on that particular LP employed just the one saxophone, technically not a brass instrument, and they used it sparingly at that. Ultimately, Mr Syndrome is well wide of the mark, for although Knifeworld use obvious and many more not so obvious influences they are not one of those “museum curator” bands whose entire existence appears to hinge on recreating their idols’ best works from 1972-73. As I’ve said, the reviewer in question goes by the pseudonym of “Second Life Syndrome” which indicates he is a big fan of Polish post-proggers Riverside. The irony is that Riverside based their entire sound on a certain band with whom Steven Wilson was long associated, and could not be called “original” by any stretch of the imagination. One final thing Mr Syndrome; if you actually knew what mostly unimaginative fare falls under the dreaded “prog” banner these days, you would realise Knifeworld are a million miles from the “prog-wanabees” you so wrongly claim they are. Progressive in the literal and proper sense yes, prog in the stylistic sense, absolutely not!

..and now, Ladies and Gents…the review you thought I’d never get round to!

My take on Knifeworld is that had the years 1969 to 1975 been erased entirely, then this band of musical pranksters are what Simon Dupree And The Big Sound might have sounded like, post-punk. Yes, I know that group became Gentle Giant and I do not deny that there is an element of the wilfully obtuse and brilliant Portsmouth band in the mix, but equally one can spot XTC, Cardiacs (unsurprisingly, and another reason for the Marmite, I’m sure. Even I find Cardiacs a tad beyond me), Flaming Lips, even Queen!

However, Knifeworld go beyond all these influences to become something quite unique. The aforementioned The Skulls… is a menacing thing built on that contentious – to some – circular Rhodes piano riff, and swirling bassoon and saxes, none of which are brass instruments, I hasten to add. Clever arrangements abound; the multi-layered vocals on Destroy The World We Love, hanging off the repeated refrain “You hold a secret in your hands” being especially noteworthy.

Leader of the band is one Kavus Torabi, a seemingly irrepressible force of nature who is all over this record. He has Cardiacs, Guapo, Chrome Hoof and much else on his CV, and he wrote all the music and words as well as producing and arranging The Unravelling. Reading interviews it is obvious he has an all-consuming passion for his music, for once he gets going on the subject he is hard to stop!

Kavus’ lyrics have a frequently dark edge without ever descending into the self-pitying “woe is me” defeatism so popular among some bands, prog or otherwise, who would be better advised to remain instrumental in my not so humble opinion. Take this from the first verse of cinematic opener I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight, sung in a resigned fashion by Melanie Woods:

“That halo won’t have far to drop
’til it becomes a noose
And I’m not gonna break you loose”

A tale of bitterness, jealousy and bile told over a densely packed psychedelic maelstrom-symphony, Kavus chips in with “Why’d you grow those teeth in your heart?” responded to in harmony with “Has it unravelled enough for you?”, setting a recurring theme for the album.

Send Him Seaworthy, a choppy trip on a rough but navigable sea, with a very XTC guitar line from Kavus, is a homage to those who set an unusual course through life, and must surely be a song written for his erstwhile and now bedridden colleague Tim Smith.

“I just can’t face up to what’s happening to you here
Now that you’re half dead.
In a half-life my sweet captain’s sailing away”

It does not get much more heartfelt than that. “Pretentious”? I don’t think so!

Even a ballad of regret and doubt like Don’t Land On Me is rescued from becoming maudlin by the bold and striking arrangement, and a good riff topped off with a bit of theatrical warbling. Quite mad, but it all comes together nicely.

Kavus gives reign to his avant instincts on the occasionally discordant, and for once musically minimalist ghost story for the living-yet-dead that is This Empty Room Was Once Alive, referencing once more his “sweet captain”, who leaves behind an unfillable hole. All very sad and poignant, and a major part of the psyche unravelling.

My one problem with this album does not stem from the content but from the production. While the review copy mp3 I had sounded fine, well, as “fine” as that regressive music storage system can be at any rate, the CD I later bought sounds a little flat. The bottom end is nowhere near prominent enough, reproduced via “Source Direct” on my not inexpensive hi-fi amplifier. Thankfully the CD does not sound over-compressed when turned up loud, an all too common failing in this day and age, but the “no bottom” effect is a bit of a let down, particularly when one considers that the sound was mixed by go-to avant sound man Bob Drake. Steven Wilson’s albums, famously produced with no compression do not suffer this problem, so feeling generous I’ll put it down to a manufacturing rather than production glitch. Very few in the music industry seem to care about sound reproduction these days, especially on CDs it seems.

No amount of my pleading will change the minds of the cloth-eared, but I recommend this busy, busy bee of an album to anyone with a sense of sonic adventure. With eight people in the band it will be interesting to see how they all fit on the tiny stage of Leicester’s Musician venue next month. Personally, I can’t wait to be unravelled!

1. I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight (5:14)
2. The Orphanage (1:34)
3. Send Him Seaworthy (6:37)
4. Don’t Land On Me (8:02)
5. The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes (4:45)
6. Destroy The World we Love (6:05)
7. This Empty Room Was Once Alive (3:50)
8. I’m Hiding Behind My Eyes (9:15)
Line up:
* Kavus Torabi – Guitar, vocals
* Melanie Woods – Vocals
* Chloe Herington – Bassoon, saxophone, vocals
* Emmett Elvin – Keyboards
* Charlie Cawood – Bass
* Ben Woollacott – Drums
* Nicki Maher – Saxophone, vocals
* Josh Perl – Saxophone, vocals

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: