Review: Diablo Swing Orchestra ‘Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole’

Described in the promo-notes as ‘Tim Burton’s dream band’, Diablo Swing Orchestra are a Swedish eight-piece progressive/experimental outfit who formed in 2003. The current line-up consists of Daniel Håkansson – guitar/vocals, Kristin Evegård – vocals/piano, Pontus Mantefors – guitar/synthesizer/FX/vocals, Andy Johansson – bass, Johannes Bergion – cello/backing vocals, Daniel Hedin – trombone/backing vocals, Martin Isaksson – trumpet/backing vocals and Johan Norbäck on drums/percussion/backing vocals. There are also a mammoth nineteen guest musicians which are too exhaustive to be listed here.

Diablo Swing Orchestra ‘Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole’

This latest release is the band’s fifth and the follow-up to 2017’s Pacifisticuffs. The title’s meaning is explained as follows; ‘a rabbit hole is a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorienting or the mentally deranging. Venturing too far down is probably not that great of an idea.’ The artwork links to this with a rather menacing General Woundwort style rabbit and possesses a somewhat nightmarish quality.

Sightseeing In The Apocalypse is the shortest track on the album at just over two minutes and more subdued than I was initially expecting. It features Brian May style guitar playing and some 1980s synth vibes, a genteel way to commence the album. War Painted Valentine is the first single to be released from the album and combines thrash, funky bass and horns in the vein of Mr Bungle, Fishbone and very early Red Hot Chilli Peppers if they relocated to Rio and started playing the carnival. An ideal pick me up for anyone who may be feeling low.

Celebremos Lo Inevitable (let’s celebrate the inevitable) is sung entirely in Spanish and is absolutely beautiful, the wistful melancholy and heightened drama reminding one of a Pedro Almodovar movie. Speed Dating An Arsonist has a 1920s feel and accompanying images of the Charleston, flappers and other such associations spring to mind, a fantastic track that even a gloomy deathrocker like me can appreciate. Jig Of The Century has an Irish folk Riverdance spirit, as well as a Danny Elfman influence ala What’s This? from A Nightmare Before Christmas, there is a musical sing-along quality rendering it immensely entertaining.

A fascinatingly quirky listen…

After all the hyperactive hi-jinks of the previous tracks The Sound Of An Unconditional Surrender marks something of a departure and a welcome relief, imagine Kate Bush but far less dramatic and bombastic. Malign Monologues mines a similar territory to Speed Dating An Arsonist while Out Came The Hummingbirds embraces the Industrial approach of early Ministry, as well as the dancey indie pop of The Go-Team. Snake Oil Baptism features some pretty tasty Led Zeppelin grooves with the vocals especially reminiscent of Robert Plant.

Les Invulnéables (The Invulneables) is the longest track on the album and is akin to a proggier Radiohead and Saluting The Reckoning has more than a passing resemblance to Miserlou by Surf-Rock pioneer Dick Dale, making for a fantastically riveting listen. The Prima Donna Gauntlet is a curious mix of Volbeat and Elder, maybe not the most appetizing sounding on paper, but not half bad in reality. Finally, Overture To A Ceasefire concludes the album on a classical music influenced note which, were it to be featured on the pompous Last Night of the Proms, then I’m sure more people would be inclined to watch it. 

Diablo Swing Orchestra like Zappa, Mr Bungle and other experimental outfits before them tread that fine line between being annoying and innovative. As a result of the aforementioned artists, I may be a little more predisposed to this sound than others and hence why it appealed as much as it did. A fascinatingly quirky listen.

Label: Candlelight Records | Spinefarm Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills