Thursday, April 12, 2012

Classic Album Review - Galactic Cowboys - Space In Your Face (1993)

When Galactic Cowboys came onto the scene they were touted as the heavier cousins of King’s X. As I was a huge King’s X fan at the time I immediately latched onto them. It took me a while to get into their debut album because it truly was much heavier than anything I’d been listening to and to this day I still find this album sonically sludgy. Their second album, Space In Your Face, cleaned up this sludge and gave the whole mess a nice polish. It retained the heaviness, much to the chagrin of my roommate at the time who couldn’t understand how I could switch from this mass of metal to Keith Green.

This second and finale Cowboys album to be produced by Sam Taylor, the same guy who produced the first four King’s X albums, spent over a year in my CD player. Say what you want about this guy, he can bring out the best in musicians. After this album they, like King’s X, dropped their producer and much of the progressive element from their sound and went more power pop. Good stuff but not the greatness of Space In Your Face.

So what’s so great about this album? I was hoping you would ask.

The title track introduces the album, 1:38 of twisting molten metal that effortlessly and playfully mangles the meter before jumping into a jazzy mid-section sure to puzzle all die-hard metalheads. Then comes “You Make Me Smile” with more non-conformity to 4/4 time signatures and an extremely aggressive speed-metal-like riff. But when the song gets to the chorus it’s all four-part vocal harmony candy. It’s also the first exhibition of their melodic prowess… this stuff is stick-in-your-head-for-weeks catchy! And not just in the vocals… the bass and guitars each lay down lines that refuse to leave your head. “I Do What I Do” is another vocal masterpiece, this time contrasting even stickier, sweeter vocal harmonies against an edgy, spooky verse. And let’s not forget the vocally intricate lead up to the chorus…. WOW! Pick a part and sing alone, will ya? And then, like in “Smile” there’s the lengthy instrumental passage at the end full of crazy chicanery. “Circles In The Fields” is a smiling poke at the then oft-reported incident of crop circles, complete with jack hammer sound effects and call/answer vocals. “If I Were A Killer” takes unique aim at abortion and abortionists. “Blind” is packed with gorgeous vocal harmonies so rich and lush that you want to eat them, contrasting softer passages with heavy crushing guitars. But ya know, I don’t think the harmonies stop once. Lyrically the song is a modern version of “I once was blind but now I see,” one of many Christian themes that run through the album.

Typical of CDs at the time, the band hid a couple of tracks. I’d read that their label only wanted nine songs and they had eleven so these were tucked away, one after ten tracks of silence and one in the negative space before track 32. It is to this final track, “Still Life of Peace,” to which I now draw your attention. Simply put, this song is astounding! It’s like nothing else I’ve ever heard and I love it, which means that most everyone else probably hates it and likes that it’s easy to skip. But where else can you hear a sitar and tabula battle against a cello? NOWHERE! Yes, sitar and tabula open the song while the boys do their vocal magic in the verse and then the song smashes into a prog-metal romp with six tons of low end. A brief instrumental passage occurs after verse two where the cello and the sitar lay down melodic solos and the song takes a brief divergence into ¾ territory before returning to the metal riff, this time with the cello joining in. They jump back and forth between ¾ land and the metal riff, sometimes only for half a measure just to keep you on your toes, and then introduce a speed metal riff into the mix. The cellos are front and center for verse three, sliding and gutsy in a manner that is not befitting a proper orchestral member.

I should mention that while I use the terms "progressive" and "prog" that's not really the focus. Yeah, the flip the beat around and have longer songs and somewhat complicated song structures, but they're no more progressive than early Metallica albums. That is, the songs and melodies are the focus and the technical flourishes are extras thrown in at no extra charge.


Adam said...

Amazing album! I agree completely - though I did like the sludge of the first album.

I never really liked anything from this band after "Machine Fish" and even that really depends on my mood.

md23 said...

you make me smile video...

Uvulapie said...

Their post-Space In Your Face albums have grown on me a bit and there are some amazing highlights ("Another Hill", "Ants" and a few others) but as a whole I don't think they ever again came even close to these dizzying heights.