Monday, May 3, 2010

Rothgar - Inside the Glass Confines (1993)

Just once every now and again a band appears which changes the way you see metal for good by doing something so suprisingly different that it opens your eyes to a whole new direction. Pantera, Rage against the Machine, Korn, Alice in Chains, the list is different for all of us, but you know when you have heard something special. For me, Rothgar were one of those bands.

To understand the era, you had to be there and of course few of you were. 1992 seems only the other day, but in terms of recording and communication technology it may as well be another century. Nobody much had mobiles phones, There was no internet to reach out to the whole Earth, not much in the way of local distro networks to cast Metal out into the wider world. Although studios were up to the task of recording good quality albums, home recording capabilities were limited to cassette deck systems like Tascam 4-trackers and the like, analogue recordings done by extensive overdubbing rather than seperate tracking. Hell, much of what we take for granted today simply wasn't there. If you wanted to find out about Metal bands, you bought Hot Metal Magazine. Your mate would call you on the land line to tell you that he has copied a tape for you of this new Black album by a band called Metallica. No dowhloads. No websites. Few CDs. It's hard to conceive even for me, and I was there, in my late teens.

So when Rothgar released "Inside the Glass Confines", it didn't make a huge splash. Outside of the few of us who were going to gigs regularly or like myself playing in another local extreme band, it was virtually unheard of. The recording quality was not super flash, the tape cassette was not loud and had to be cranked up a fair bit which made the recording a bit hissy. It turns out that vthe whole album was recorded on a hired 8-track in a bedroom. The artwork was hand drawn and photocopied, as were most demo tapes of the era due to colour printing being much more expensive then. In a world where Metallica was number 1 on the charts and bands like Fear Factory, Sepultura and Machine Head were about to leap forth from the underground and conquer the world, nobody much was paying attention to a little demo tape from Perth.

They should have been.

Rothgar had made two other demos in the past, including the impressive if horribly low budget "Sea of Fire" demo. In a era when we didn't really differentiate that much between the genres, they wrote a kind of music influenced by Viking lore and Paganism, songs of the medievil and thoughts of dying. There were members of the band only 18 years old when "Inside the Glass Confines" was released, talented far far FAR more than they had any right to be and inventive to a degree that a veteran songwriter like myself is still suprised by their brilliance. Andrew and Michael wrote more melodic in nature than brutal, fast and aggressive guitars lash their way through the songs with abandon, sharp and punchy riffs interspersed with lead sections of jaw-dropping style. Distorted guitars give way to the clean at irregular intervals, sometimes for just a second or two at a time creating a strange sense of unrealty. Similarities to Iron Maiden can be found, although there is a inherit heavy groove that Rothgar use that leaves Iron Maiden in the dust. The basswork was by a guy by the odd name of Hywel and due to the eratic and melodic nature of the music is by necessity unpretentious, but is supertight with the guitars fattening the overall sound dramatically,

The Drums are spectactular for a guy so young, fast as lightning when it was needed, subtle and muted when necessary, tribal and inventive. Adam is amazing here, the thrash influence is there in the ferocious bits, but they are no much more alive and free-flowing than most thrash drummers allow themselves to play. Rothgar are masters of the unusual timing structure with every song having little twists in the fabric, and the drums not only deal precisely with these twists but make them sound like genius. Some of these timing signatures are jarring enough that I will not be truly appreciating them until years later.

Vocals are mainly sung, not clean but sort of shouted in key. In this era of extreme vocallist such a style can seem dated and less that "metal", but it comes through well, and fuck it is nice to understand the words once in a while! There are also moments of monk chanting, choir-like background singing and even spoken word, no rules seem to apply. Unfortunately, The tender years of the vocallist show at times where it seems that he is straining to deliver the key and/or intensity that he desires, but for an 18 year old he does a very good job. Lyrically, there are some poetic moments far beyond the ageof the lyricists, as in the lyrics of opening song "within these Walls":

"A mind that echoes tortured cries
a haven for the bloodstained eyes
where pillars fall and stop the light
and cries of anguish fill the night
Lunar blue seeps through the bars
tempting dreams of worlds afar
Praying for a peaceful healing
still these cursed woulds are bleeding"

Rothgar's style greatly influenced me on my journey through metal, inspiring me subconsciously in my future endeavours with the bands that followed and eventually shaping the style of Neverborn, although there is no simillarities in the music itself.

"Inside the Glass Confines" was a spectactular album for its time, and even now is remarkablely relevant. The members have long gone their own ways, forming and later disolving such bands as Leaf, Non Intentional Lifeform (NIL) and eventually - strangely enough - one became the drummer for Killing Heidi. How the mighty have fallen. But in all the times I saw them play and all the years I have mistreated their tape, the memory that stays with me most strongly of Rothgar is this: When I was about 20, Pantera toured and I and my girl - now my wife - spent the night outside the Entertainment Centre waiting to buy tickets. One person had a CD player there and he was playing all the usual stuff, and then he popped Rothgar's "Inside the Glass Confines" into the tape slot and we all had a joint and listened to the whole thing through.

It was a great moment to be alive.

Review by Jez.


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