Let’s address the elephant in the room: Family the Smiling Thrush literally makes no sense as an album title, not in English, or really, any other language. But for the mad geniuses that comprise Boss Keloid, it’s par for the course; just look at their last three album titles. Odd vernacular aside, perhaps it’s a metaphor for just how weirdly awesome this band is; on paper, their wild and whacky fusion of sludge, psych, stoner doom, prog and even splashes of dub shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, and oh, is it glorious. Simply put, there’s no other band on the planet that even comes close to what Boss Keloid does, and it is downright criminal that this delightful quartet of Wigan gentlemen isn’t more known the world over. Lord willing, Family the Smiling Thrush will change that, especially given the band’s newfound home with the righteous and reputable Ripple Music.
The shapeshifting that Boss Keloid has gone through in their 10 years as a band is staggering. What began as a sludgified metal act resembling Keelhaul mixed with Clutch on Angular Beef Lesson and The Calming Influence of Teeth has confidently evolved into its own entity entirely. The band truly began to come into their own on the monolithic Herb Your Enthusiasm and then made even greater strides in developing their style on Melted on the Inch. And now, with Family the Smiling Thrush, Boss Keloid has truly arrived. The album catches Boss Keloid at the top of their game musically, to be sure, but more chiefly, it finds the band as the most themselves they’ve ever been. This feels like the album Boss Keloid has been champing at the bit to make, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. While a heavy album at its core, it beams positivity and uplifting vibes; it’s the album 2021 deserves after the dumpster fire that was 2020.
Family the Smiling Thrush opens with “Orang of Noyn,” a nine-minute, psychedelic space odyssey that shows Boss Keloid leaning into their prog tendencies more potently than ever before. It’s an interesting track to open the album with, but it’s also unpredictable, which aligns perfectly with Boss Keloid’s “keep you on your toes” mantra. Equal parts King Crimson and Soundgarden, two elements stand out right off that bat in this track: Paul Swarbrick’s subdued yet guiding guitar melodies, and Alex Hurst’s commanding vocal presence. Of course, the song also brims with their signature omnipresent groove, courtesy of Ste Arands behind the kit and Liam Pendlebury-Green holding down the low end.
“Orang of Noyn” sets the tone for the album nicely, yet stands as a stark contrast to the following track, “Gentle Clovis,” a groove-infused rocker of a tune that bleeds euphoria. Again, Hurst’s vocals are a real highlight here; not only is the chorus he belts out a total earworm, the cadence, and theatricality with which he delivers the lyrics rival that of Neil Fallon of Clutch-fame. The song brilliantly builds to a massive crescendo with a series of chunky riffs and achieves precipitous polyphonic perfection in its final moments. In fact, special mention of Swarbrick’s superb guitar work throughout the album is warranted; his thick, polyphonic tone is truly something special and is unmatched in modern metal – think a Les Paul fused with a mid-century pipe organ and fed through a huge stack of Orange cabs.
Much could be waxed poetic about each track on Family the Smiling Thrush, but it’s better to simply put on a pair of good headphones and get lost in it. Each song is a work of art in and of itself, packed to the brim with heavy and harmonious sonic delights that simply cannot be fully absorbed with a single spin. Family the Smiling Thrush is likely to be on repeat for the remainder of the year and beyond. The album leads the listener through an entrancing sonic journey of emotional peaks and valleys punctuated by incredible musicianship and an addictive quirkiness that only Boss Keloid could deliver. It’s a special piece of work that’s bound to elicit ear-to-ear smiles, full body goosebumps, and even a tear or two – in a good way. Doom and sludge rarely gets more transcendent than this, and Family the Smiling Thrush is a masterful statement from one of the best bands of the past decade.
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Metal Injection – Album Review: BOSS KELOID Family the Smiling Thrush
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June 11, 2021