Album Review: Gravity Field
Album: Gravity Field
Label: Self Released
Is it a coincidence that Gravity Field‘s self titled album should fall into my mailbox just a few weeks after BBC4 aired its revealing insight into the birth and subsequent shaming of progressive rock? Has one genre ever been more of a universal laughing stock than the one that in its heyday had the biggest artists dressing like flowers and hiding behind walls? Regardless of what the world thinks, John Bassett, the single member of Gravity Field bravely storms out of the gate with his ambitious debut album.
It’s good to see such overreaching ambition though for once -Bassett is clearly happy to have the odds as insurmountable as possible; what with his sole participation and his eager plans to release a ‘sequel’ to this album later in the year. But is his determination something of the past, or could he just about be able to scrape the egg off of prog-rock’s turning corpse?
Opening with a volatile guitar riff that exudes classic rock influences such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, the track gives way to more modern muses with the gentle Porcupine Tree inspired melody, and Bassett’s Chris Cornell-esque vocalisation. The big riff is definitely the highlight, especially come the bridge where everything sinks down in the mix, sounding like its coming from the floor below, with a real grimy Kyuss vibe running throughout. Of course, being a proggy album it wouldn’t be complete with some warped vocal effects that add a fleeting otherworldly nature to what is a pretty blistering opening track.
The opening half of this album is a good combination of traditional rules combining with new influences, and Bassett carries a certain amount of relevant swagger throughout with some great guitar riffs. ‘Paris Based Think Tank’, another track laced with an Orwellian paranoia, may feature some fairly conventional riffs, but the reverberating production exudes an air of modernity, making it much more enjoyable to an audience who can’t stand the tinny production on classic albums such as ‘In the Court of the Crimson King‘. ‘Psychoanalyze’ expands on this Crimson influence, Bassett’s vocals supported by a tension inducing synth effect which makes him sound as if he’s trapped forever in a Frippian nightmare. Again though, it’s the heavier guitar riffs that prove to be the most enjoyable aspect of the track, easily capable of getting you to nod your head in appreciation. Before ending the song breaks out into a deep bassline full of spacey wahs whilst over the top an autonomous Francis E. Dec spares a few paranoid words, tying in perfectly with the Big Brother fearing lyrics.
There are few breaks from the looming omnipresence that feature so heavily on tracks like ‘Chapter 332’ and ‘Sheeple’. ‘Illuminati Apocalypse’ is the token instrumental track, a pacey number that pays its respects to the likes of Dream Theatre and the brilliantly titled ‘Dead Cat Bounce’ eschews its haunting atmospherics with a tune that bounces along presumably like said dead cat. It’s a shame the poppier attitude seems to sacrifice a lot of Bassett’s invention on the latter, as a fairly good track is somewhat dulled by a repetitious sense of wallowing in a lack of creativity.
For the most part the album plays up its progressive influences to a very high standard. Bassett’s vocals rely on a machinated effect to create a futuristic but perversely dated sound (see ‘Sheeple’) which brings back fond memories of fairly dodgy 70’s concept albums that you probably wouldn’t admit to having in your record collection. Its final track, ‘The Well of Sorrow’ is the big, brooding ballad that evolves over an eight minute run time. For once Bassett does his voice some justice and puts it right out there in the mix. His verses are a bit dour and tuneless, but there’s certainly a certain oomph when the chorus bursts in with a wall of distorted guitars and Bassett’s reflective but uplifting vocal delivery. It makes a change, because the weakest part to the whole album is Bassett’s vocals – very rarely are the vocals commandeering enough for an album that is bending over backwards to be a slab of hard hitting progressive rock, instead often sounding frail and unsure.
There’s another interesting aspect to Bassett’s project – available for a pocket change value of just £3.99 on his website, he’s following in the footsteps of industry heavyweights such as Radiohead and Trent Reznor, musicians that critics are continuously hailing for their apparent genius. But the true test of such a distribution method isn’t carried out by artists with massive, dedicated fanbases already willing to throw themselves at the mercy of their musical gods. No, the true test of sustainability is a battle to be fought by the likes of Bassett, who haven’t got the luxury of such a convenient market – to this extent, it will be interesting to see what kind of response, if any, the album receives.
Progressive rock may be looked upon with blushed cheeks in this day and age, an archaic genre that you’d rather your dad didn’t go on about, but back in the 70’s/early 80’s it was these bands that pioneered the technology and concepts that so many of us take for granted in this day and age. Gravity Field is by no means a stellar album, but it’s an accomplished piece of work from a man who is utterly devoted to his cause, and even if it might be thirty years too late, Gravity Field is more than worth that humble four quid.
This review is also published at Sonic Dice.