Another month and seemingly another release from prolific Newport collective Spider Kitten. Having made critical waves following the release of their 2014 extended EP/mini album Behold Mountain, Hail Sea, Venerate Sky, Bow Before Tree, a three track epic exploration of Doom that provided the backdrop to a story of Norse folk tales, there was talk of a concept album framed around a Welsh Hobo riding the rails in America (as you do). However before this manifested itself, the band stopped off to release Toker. An EP of covers and original material which seemingly paved the way for this by throwing a curveball of Americana influenced sound that stepped away from the crushing down tuned slabs of the previous release and concentrated more on the folk side of things.
The band entered the studio once more and the result is not the long expected Wolftooth Yakbone story but instead Ark Of Octofelis, a psychedelic tale of a subversive rock band in the desert that cost the band heavily in terms of personnel and probably sanity with the departure of long serving bass player Alex White, replaced by ex-The Witches Drum tub thumper Steveo Jones and lead to the arrival of Ozzy (from Hogslayer) on 3rd guitar. This shake up has had an impact on the sound and the song writing dynamic, but in typical fashion Spider Kitten have ploughed on, walking their own path, reinventing themselves yet again.
Despite this trauma, Ark Of Otctofelis is here in its sprawling glory, clocking in at roughly 46 minutes. It is another chapter in the constantly evolution of Spider Kitten where the long term listener should expect the unexpected.
Desperate not to be labelled and restricted by the tag of ‘the Welsh Doom band’ Chi Lameo and his cohorts have attempted to subvert their style and the capacity for this expansion should not be underestimated as this release is not only their most ambitious, but at times the furthest away from Behold Mountain… that they could get.
Beginning the journey with Underestimating The Consequences Of Effective Propaganda (Part I), a dry humoured drawl that recalls Nate Hall or Scott Kelly with its whiskey soaked drawl. Here, overlaid with samples that make it sound like some retro film score the track creeps from the almost spoken word intro into the track Feline Will which essentially makes up the first half of the album. Clean vocal harmonies wash over hissing cymbals in a gentle folk caress that is both dark and tender at the same time. This woozy ebb and flow shares a passing affinity with Gary Arce’s Yawning Sons project as the song moves at a sluggish pace, dipping in and out of consciousness like trying to pay attention after a bong hit. The retro keyboard flavours the track with prog rock and the female vocals add yet another layer of other worldliness to the epic proceedings.
People familiar with Spider Kitten may well have expected heavier at this point, rather than a lullaby like piece of spaced out rock, but this mammoth track paves the way for the concept and atmosphere of the album. Its haunting repeated, ear worm refrain, of ‘I submit unto the spider, his feline will be done‘ – both a nod to the name of the band and the concept of surrendering yourself to the concept, like the young people in the story, are drawn to the band.
The Ark‘s folk tinged picking ushers in the second half of the album on a light airy instrumental that thematically links back to the first half. This mellow atmosphere builds and builds until One From The Heart, the teaser track for this release, rips from the speakers and flexes its heavy Doom muscles. This track is probably what people were expecting as it roars with a Sabbath vibe that collides with huge bends and cavernous echoes. Chi Lameo’s vocals are a mercurial mixture of throaty bellows and the Alice In Chains dirge like harmonies that the band have been using for some time. The result is one of power and menace that gives constantly shifting textures.
The transitional track Hymn with its baritone chanting and the spoken word passage of Duplicitous that morphs into an almost trademark weird off kilter harmony set to steel strings. This in turn gives way to the massive stomping Doom instrumental of Launch before Underestimating The Consequences Of Effective Propaganda (Part II) closes the album out with a loop back to the thematic story.
These tracks show the diversity of the band and their inability to sit still creatively, not too mention an intense amount of focus and detail that has gone into the creation of Ark Of Octofelis. With the exception of One From The Heart it would be very difficult to separate the album out as layer after layer springboards off the sound that’s just preceded it; in terms of ambition this is the most complex, most intense and most varied release the band has created.
Naturally the band are heading back to the studio already with the intention on recording and finishing the Yakbone album, but who knows what they will emerge with at this stage. In the meantime the rest of us should pause and give this incredibly unique album time to grow, and be appreciated, as Spider Kitten once again have confounded all expectation and created something magical.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden