Guitarist Cyrus Rhodes has said the theme for Seven Against Thebes debut is “self-destruction.” It covers “the full cycle of life,” “from cradle to grave.” Clearly, this is an ambitious pursuit, especially for a first recording. Even so, Seven Against Thebes takes this big artistic bite and succeeds at creating an extremely reward effort.
To accomplish this high bar, Seven Against Thebes has augmented its hard rock musical base with some unusual and unexpected instrumentation. Sure, there’s plenty of fantastic guitar rock throughout, but the attentive ear will also pick up on world music percussion, mandolin, and Indian music-inspired sitar interspersed within. This puts the album’s sound in a sonic category all its own.
Don’t let the release’s eclecticism dissuade you from missing the truly amazing hard rock tracks on it, however. Just partake of the crisp, percussive “Mask,” which charges like a runaway freight train. Its drumming is as forceful as it is accurate. It may make your heart rate rise significantly, but it’ll be well worth it. This one is followed by something completely different. Titled “7th Sign,” it is one of the album’s most exotically instrumented pieces. With its acoustic guitar backed arrangement, it comes off like Nirvana unplugged, in all that group’s faded glory. It proves — as if that were even necessary — how it doesn’t always require high volume to create a meaningful musical statement.
Speaking of Seattle music, listen to the way lead vocalist Rusty Hoyle’s voice nearly breaks during the high energy “Pray for Me.” This is not a suggestion to pray; it’s a desperate demand for it, instead. The way Hoyle pushes his voice to the limit expresses just how much he needs spiritual affirmation. No matter how you may feel about religion — always a touchy subject — most of us will readily accept prayers from others. When life gets messy and confusing, we’ll readily take all the help we can get. So, yes please appeal to a higher power on my behalf, many of us will say.
With its significantly slowed down rhythm, “Feed the Furnace” methodically makes its points. Commenting on hellish living conditions, the emotion on this one is especially heightened by Rhodes’ expressive lead guitar solo. “Swandiver” mixes a hard rock groove with psychedelic rock elements, which gives it enough spice to leave it sounding much more exotic than your typical rock song.
This album’s life-to-death theme takes on especially dark tone with “Suicide Note,” which comes along near the release’s end. This time, the band plays at nearly a hard rock pace. And rightfully so, as its lyric addresses an untimely end of life. Lyrically, it suggests how the end of a relationship has left this person feeling hopeless. Yes, all of us will die eventually. However, it’s always tragic when one dies at his/her own hand.
It’s both heartening and surprising when a band comes out of the gate sounding so fully formed. Seven Against Thebes is just such a rare animal, though. And then to saturate this first music with so many surprising against-type instrumental elements, it puts the act’s ambition at an extremely high level. With this self-titled release, Seven Against Tebes aims high, and nails it.