Fists of Righteous Harmony
2008 / The Lost Records
1o tracks; 39:10 minutes
Reviewed by Tobin Mueller
Macjammers know Fists of Righteous Harmony as perceptualvortex (David Thomas), rock drummer and audio producer. In FORH he is joined by guitarist Steve Vaccariello. The combination is seamless and synergetic. David never gets in the way of Steve’s great playing.
The duo’s self-titled debut album features heavy funk and hard rock grooves layered with crunchy, varied guitar leads and inventive arrangements. Steve plays the guitar and bass tracks and David provides all percussion and backing music/sounds. They create songs that range from heavy funk to rockabilly to progressive rock. The playing is sophisticated yet not complex, extremely catchy and groove ladened.
My favorite cut on the album is the first, Free Fall, which David made available to MJers as a demo a few years ago (although the album’s version is a stronger mix). I love the funk groove, the show-stopping lead, the carnival-barker-meets-arena-rock-god feel. Ultimatum (attached below) is in that vein, as well.
By way of contrast, the second track is Module T-17 (you have to buy it to hear it!) strays into hard rock blues in a genre-busting way, combining with electronic backing and entertaining sound clips, showing off David’s production prowess. There is something in nearly every track that surprises.
The album has excellent audio separation. Fabulously clean. Nothing is ever muddled; the bass lines never get lost. The use of reverb is just enough to create a sense of grand size and bigger-than-life energy which permeates the entire recording. Truly, it is hard to sit still when listening. It may be instrumental music, but it’s not background stuff. These tracks demand your attention and make you want to stand up and move.
The CD features 10 instrumental tracks. Although some might find 10 tracks of rock instrumentals tedious to listen to end to end, there is enough variety here to hold interest. If you listen to tracks randomly on your iPod, I can guarantee that when one of these comes up, you will be bobbing your head and totally rocking out.
Steve Vaccariello and David Thomas have had the occasional jam sessions since they first met in 1990, but were never in a band situation. They’ve talked, over the years, about making recordings, but it hadn’t happened until David began producing music on his Macintosh. With the help of Drums on Demand loops (expertly edited - truly, I had no idea what was real and what was memorex), they’ve brought their own dream recording to life. A great listen.
1 - Free Fall
2 - Fists of Righteous Harmony
3 - Module T-17
4 - Vera
5 - Red-Shift
6 - Ultimatum
7 - December Rain
8 - Gold Dust
9 - Animal Magnetism
10 - Lakeside
Not to be confused with the Righteous Fists of Harmony, who are another group entirely (or, for that matter, the original Righteous Harmony Society, a political society in China who staged the unsuccessful Boxer Rebellion towards the end of the 19th Century, and from which both musical projects presumably took their name), Fists of Righteous Harmony are an instrumental rock duo, a collaborative project between guitarist Steve Vaccariello, who provides all the guitars and bass on this self-titled debut album, and producer David Thomas, a rock and roll drummer who here provides all the sounds on the album that aren’t guitar or bass (and also worked on the CD artwork).
Basically David combines production, mixing, arranging and adding digital drums, spoken-word samples and other elements, to help provide the album’s overall atmosphere, texture and bigger sound, all of which really adds to Steve’s easy-to-listen-to, foot-tapping, stellar rock guitar playing, without ever overwhelming it.
There are ten tracks on the album, all written by Steve and David, and all tracks are entirely instrumental, except for the occasional tasteful use of spoken-word samples. One might assume that this relatively low-key approach would make for a rather boring album, but there’s a number of reasons why this is certainly not the case.
For a start, Steve and David are talented composers and every track on here is very different, but at the same time the album is consistently catchy, so you’ll find yourself rocking along, or tapping your foot, or just digging the cool sounds of every track.
Another reason is that the tracks are all fairly short (there are only a couple of tracks over five minutes in length and then only just) and none of them are overlong or allowed to becoming boring. This shows a rare degree of parsimony in their composition, something that many other musicians (particularly those working in the instrumental and prog rock fields) could certainly learn from. This means that the album itself is quite short at around 37 minutes, but given that there are few CD albums over 45 minutes where every track could be considered essential it’s refreshing to hear something that doesn’t outstay its welcome, where every track adds to the overall listening experience, and never makes you want to reach for the skip button.
The final reason is the degree of eclecticism on the album, given the relatively limited range of instruments being used here. This is not a full band, and there are no keyboards, orchestras, or vocalists, but despite that the music draws on straightforward incendiary guitar rock, progressive rock, funk, rockabilly/Southern rock, and spacey, almost psychedelic rock. This is in part thanks to Steve’s versatile and sophisticated guitar playing, but there’s no doubt that David’s arrangements and layers of additional sound are also a crucial part of this.
Who do Fists of Righteous Harmony sound like? Well, I don’t think they sound like the following bands, as such, but elements of the FoRH sound will appeal to fans of Pink Floyd, Liquid Tension Experiment, maybe even Ozric Tentacles (but FoRH are much less spacey and dubby), or any great guitar-driven instrumental rock music for that matter. I would also say that if you like the British band Glow you’ll probably love this, and vice versa: the two bands complement each other perfectly and, if they ever find themselves on the same continent, should definitely consider doing a gig or two together.
Anyway, this is an extremely entertaining album and FoRH are an excellent addition to the growing roster of great artists on The Lost Records of the World label.
Where to buy?