Birdeatsbaby almost managed to sneak their fourth album TANTA FURIA beneath our local new music radar, which isn’t so surprising when you consider how outward looking the band have grown: setting their sights on distant shores in Europe and the Americas. I think it would be fair to call them a cult band, with their own group of loyal and dedicated followers, aptly named The Flock, whose support through crowd-funding services such as Patreon has been indispensable in helping them to achieve their goals. It can’t hurt that the proprietor of their recording studio of choice (Audiobeach) joined the band just prior to completing their last album, 2014’s The Bullet Within. Multi instrumentalist and Co-producer, Forbes Coleman, has helped founder and band leader Mishkin Fitzgerald to realise an increasingly bold vision of the band’s sound. TANTA FURIA, which translates as ‘lots of fury’, picks up where Bullet left off and widens the scope even further. Where once the band exhibited a punk-cabaret rawness, now their sound is more polished and sophisticated but as diverse as ever. The overlying themes and aesthetic remains the same: dark, Gothic, macabre, theatrical; but the sound has expanded far beyond the faithful-to-the-live-band efforts of yore. The current line-up – Fitzgerald and Coleman joined by guitarist/bassist Garry Mitchell and violinist Hana Maria (aka Hana Pirhana) – is easily the strongest in the bands history, and, on this album they’ve had the opportunity to stretch their skills and play to their strengths. Birdeatsbaby have historically been a band whose key melodic instruments were the violin and the piano, with the bass and drums forming the rhythm section beneath. On this album we see the electric guitar playing a much bigger role than ever before, with wailing lead lines and heavy-as-fuck rhythm parts that do more than just stray into metal territory.
The album opens with ‘In Spite Of You’; it’s epic, taking its time by introducing neo-classical piano and string flourishes which turn pizzicato for the verse before the guitars kick in: fuzzy, densely dirty and so broad the piano, that ever-present centre-piece to almost all Birdeatsbaby material, almost disappears. There’s a long instrumental passage, allowing us to hear all the guitar work, before stripping back again to show off first Maria’s wonderful violin tone and then Fitzgerald’s clever piano playing. ‘Part Of Me’ wastes no time, rolling straight out of ‘In Spite Of You’ via some rock riffage, at just a shade over 3 minutes it’s the shortest number on the album, apart from a brief bridge that plays with some jazzy ideas, it’s full-on, concise and likely to become a live favourite. ‘Scars’ introduces more of a mellow vibe, with an intimate close-mic vocal from Fitzgerald, and again it’s a guitar-lick and drums which set the song up, instead of the usual piano. There’s a lot of Muse in this track, picking the sort of insistent chorus groove that they do so well, and there’s some classic rock on display in the guitar solo before the half-time turnaround.
‘Deathbed Confession’ takes us back to more familiar territory from the off, Fitzgerald’s vocal and piano taking centre stage, on this number – the new sound they introduce here is a thick, multi-layered choir on the chorus, it’s very effective, hammering home the theatricality. ‘Temple’ was an early single, showing off the new direction, sounding almost sleazy with whispered verse vocals and the refrain of “if my body is a temple/ desecrate me”. At the heart of this track is a traditional three-piece rock band, with any keys and violins used to add textural flourishes, with some great production ideas in the backing vocals adding depth to the track. ‘Elliot’ goes in a more music-hall direction, again reminding of Birdeatsbaby’s earlier incarnations, although the verse-drumbeat working against the expected groove slightly bugs me – interrupting the natural flow of tension from verse to chorus that you might expect by throwing in a few too many beats of the kick drum. The piano break in the middle of this is off the scale though, there are some fantastic bits of arrangement that get me thinking from time to time of Jeff Lynne’s ELO. There are moments when a strong male vocal takes over the lead on this track, or, at-least, joins the lead – another example of how the band are stepping outside of their comfort zone, trying new things and expanding our idea of what Birdeatsbaby can do with this album. ‘Spit’ takes us into almost thrash metal territory, continuing a trend of flipping between piano-led and guitar-led tracks by bringing the six-string to the fore once more. When the chorus comes in it turns everything on its head by switching to half time and letting the pianos and strings flourish – the shift back into metal for verse two is a little jarring, deliberately so one imagines.
In my opinion this is the point, in the last third, where the album shifts gears and starts to really excell. ‘Mary’ is a classy ballad, there’s surprisingly a hint of Fleetwood Mac, and the choral voices are back, singing counter-points to Mishkin’s lead. It’s full of tension and expectation that doesn’t quite resolve in the way you’d think it might. ‘Bones Of God’ again sounds like it would fit in well on a Muse album, an arpeggio piano line creating plenty of atmosphere, the dark religious theme fitting this nicely into their back catalogue. At moments it almost sounds like they could have been pitching for the next Bond theme. The drums play a backseat on this track, doing a good job of building a little tension here and there, then tastefully backing away. The title track ‘Tanta Furia’ pulls out all the stops and throws the kitchen sink in, as you might expect, everything that has shown up before getting put to good use on this track. It’s got a bit of a balkan/polka feel, albeit seen through a fug of fuzzy guitars, there’s even what sounds like an accordian solo in the middle, before a dramatic violin dashes expertly up and down its fingerboard. ‘Eulogy’, the final song on the album, is possibly the most interesting piece, restrained and majestic, it borrows a few ideas from the Radiohead cannon (that bass rhythm is like a sped up ‘Nude’ and the overall feel quite reminiscent of ‘A Wolf At The Door’), but dials in an extra touch of soul for the chorus. It’s gorgeously spacious, with almost spoken word verses, and spine-tingling reverb drenched atmospherics.
This is certainly Birdeatsbaby’s most ambitious work to date, a perfect dose of esoterica for fans of theatrical rock music and alternative aesthetics. It might take you a few listens before you’re able to peer through the wall of sound that exists on some of the tracks, but that closer inspection is rewarded as you discover many subtle layers and lots of great ideas. This album is sure to please The Flock, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it also opened the doors to a new breed of fan.