Style: Progressive Rock
Release Date: 9 Sep 2022
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I hate using the word curiosity, because it conjures up ideas of novelty Christmas singles and that is absolutely not what this is. However, it's a curiosity to me because it does everything and that's kind of the point. That does not mean that it's not immersive and fascinating and worthy of many returns, because it is. Even Mike Mills, the one man behind all Toehider music, acknowledges that "it sounds like a sonic journey through the last 50 or so years of prog rock and metal." While I should clarify that this is far more prog rock than it is metal, he's not wrong.
This is a fifth studio album for Toehider in just over a decade, but that doesn't explain how prolific Mills really is. There are also a whole slew of singles and EPs, which include the twelve he released in 2004 alone, a gimmicky approach that makes him a little less prolific than Buckethead but more than most bands. And he's one guy.
To make this album as accessible as possible, he opens with the single version of The Hoarder, one lively three minute chunk of a larger piece. It's busy and upbeat and rather schizophrenic, because Mills covers a heck of a lot of ground in such a brief span. There's Queen here for sure, but there's plenty that's more modern too, including some post-production glitching for effect. Some of it's as light as a single release might suggest but some of it's pretty heavy too and there's an alternative vibe to what we could call the chorus. It takes a little adjusting to but it's a lot of fun.
And then we get the larger piece that it's excised from, which is the title track that runs for a full forty-seven minutes and forty-seven seconds, as if there's some sort of numerological meaning to it. It's a vocal piece, with the drive of the lyrics having to do with the modern take on memory, an abiding need to experience everything through recordings, even if we're there live. Some sections are clearer to catch than others, but I never managed to follow this lyrically. I was too absorbed in the music. And there's plenty of that.
Initially, though, it's only a vocal piece, because it features half a dozen parallel universe versions of Mike Mills harmonising together, sounding like a bizarre hybrid of Yes and Queen. There are an array of high and low pitches, words and vocalisations, eventually operatic grandeur. Then it shifts quickly into music, as immediately frantic as Liquid Tension Experiment would make it. And we will either find ourselves lost in a bad way, like "What the hell is going on here?" or lost in a good way, because we dig that we have no idea what's happening and let it wash over us until we figure out some of it.
And I recognised a lot of styles. There are ELP keyboards early on. There's some Ian Anderson type vocals a little later. There's some Genesis. There's definitely more Yes in the layering a quarter of the way into the song. That's a great period because it shifts into something sassy and funky, only to shift back to Yes again. The sheer variety on offer brings Mr. Bungle to mind, but this rarely has anything else to compare directly with that famously schizophrenic band. There's definitely genre-hopping here, but within the rock and metal spectrums rather than beyond it.
The first and only logical stop is at the sixteen and a half minute mark, where everything ends for a moment and the tone changes completely. My second favourite section is here, because the new sound grows as a swirling synthesiser from which a slow riff gradually materialises. There's Black Sabbath here, of course, and early Sabbath even if Mills's darker voice is closer to Dio than Ozzy, but there are hints of doom metal from much later too.
My favourite section comes later still, around the twenty-six minute mark. It's all bouncy seventies keyboards at this point, with obvious drum programming, but it grows into a sort of maelstrom of heaviness that bursts wide open into riffs. Somehow it finds a way back to keyboards, but they're 8-bit keyboards from the eighties. It's gloriously inventive and it ably highlights how magically Mills can segue from one style into another and back again before going somewhere completely wild in what seems like a completely effortless manner.
Who else is here? There's some Blue Öyster Cult, for sure, in the most commercial section, which is oddly sped up until it finally decides to slow down. However, I feel like I've only scratched a surface of the surface, because there's an astounding amount of depth here. I dig prog rock and I've heard a lot of it, not only from the seventies British standards but from much further afield. However, I'd love to watch a YouTube reaction video to this made by someone who dived into prog in 1970 and is rarely found listening to anything else. I want to know what else is here.
And that's either sold you on this album or driven you completely away from it, depending on your particular tastes. Which is fine. I should add that there are two different endings to this song, one on the CD and the other on the vinyl release. So if you find yourself in the former category, maybe you need to buy this twice.
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