Stolen Babies – There Be Squabbles Ahead

20/03/2007 § Leave a comment

Recently The End seem to be thrusting themselves in an eminent direction, as least with regard to unique releases. In fact, it’s likely that from 2007 we’re likely to see the rise of the avant-garde femme band purely as a result of The End’s contributions to the scene. In the last few months people are going crazy for crazy metal, and with bands like uneXpect, Giant Squid and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum coming to prominence it’s hardly a surprise. What all these have in common is that they’re all signed to the same label and Stolen Babies, the next addition to the category is certainly among good labelmates. Since In a Flesh Aquarian hit the shelves and the internet a few months ago more peoples’ eyes have been opened to the unusual jazzy tomfoolery of experimental metal, and it’s nice to see a new genre gaining popularity rather than being made up because people want to rename an existing one with a cooler title.

But the problems are already starting – people aren’t happy enough labelling something progressive or avant-garde because even though the avant-garde metal bands have been around for years, this doesn’t mean anything to those newer to the ranks. Earache bands like Ephel Duath and Carnival In Coal are likely never to cross the ears of those who like their avant-garde stuff femme based, and already I’ve seen the subgenre renamed with ridiculous monikers such as ‘avant-goth’ and ‘spooky core’. To an extent it doesn’t matter exactly what kind of music you’re listening to as long as people know what you choose to spend your time with has a cool or impenetrable/nonsensical name. Whatever you want to call Stolen Babies, it doesn’t matter: this is female-fronted metal with as many twists as it wants to throw you. It thinks, moves, breathes and lives for itself, and whatever rubber stamp you want to punch on it won’t make any difference to what’s already there.

And movement is key to how this band translates their sound to the listening demographic. Whereas bands like uneXpect stop and start all over the place with clever, questionable and slightly self-inflated hubbub, there’s no such thing with Stolen Babies. Though there is a great idiosyncrasy to their sound with rhythm changes, whirling guitars, noise and heaviness aplenty, the music never loses track of itself, it always seems to know where it’s going. A lot of similar bands give the impression of having no direction, but it’s easy to feel not so disorientated in the presence of Stolen Babies since their freak-show, accordion-fuelled metal shanties have some sense of purpose and self-knowledge and it’s possible to sit down and relax among all the chaos rattling against your eardrums as a result.

Right from the start if the album singer Dominque is screaming along to the fast groove of the token basslines which drive every song with a particular buzz. Her vocals always switch between clean and screams, sometimes beautifully to the point where she alternates them every other word. The album takes us through 13 songs ranging from galloping, furied shouting; to dinky, metal jaunts with electric guitars, and to slower, thoughtful ballad-like numbers, or at least ballads as far as Stolen Babies are concerned. There really is a lot of variety in the album though not so much that the band ends up suffocating themselves. Each song certainly has its own personality through taking acceptable, standard song structures and contorting them into something more interesting, provocative and confrontational without tripping over themselves in the process.

A lot of the time one gets the impression with debuts that bands have laid their signature sound and there needs to be some development from that point. However, with their debut Stolen Babies have clearly made their mark since everything about the album is solid – the vocals, the song writing, the musicianship and even the sound production. Not only that, but I get the impression that the band have far from spent their chips and that this is just a taste of things to come. There Be Squabbles Ahead is certainly one of the most interesting and welcome releases I’ve come across in a good long time and it sets itself apart from other femme music by being unpretentious, matter-of-fact, and not making an effort to impress its listeners. It is a fabulous, well-structured and original debut. It’s great to see the genre doing something truly inventive again.

9/10

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