WARD XVI – The Art Of Manipulation

“The gates of Whittingham Asylum have been struck open and for the first time in history the high security Ward XVI invites members of the public to meet face to face with the UK’s most violent serial killers. The ward’s longest-standing resident Psychoberrie, listed as the UK’s most dangerous criminal, will give an insight into her life prior to her incarceration. With assistance from medical staff Alex and Dr Stott and fellow inmate Jake she will tell the story of the reckless life led by herself and former partner Beardy McStumble and the narcotic induced murders that took place prior to his own decapitation. This is a sordid tale of deceit and manipulation represented with a genre defying mix of hard-hitting metal riffs, off-beat ska rhythms, melancholic piano, accordion, catchy female vocals, a hint of electro, and to top it all off an engaging, energetic theatrical live show.”

What is written above is a copy-paste from the band’s homepage since the press release I got was a bit short on info. The band was formed in 2013 in Preston, Great Britain and they decided early on that Ward XVI would be a theatrical and conceptual project, something that this 16 track record will show. But not only that, the band also went for a unique sound that would sound like no one else. They hold more well-known acts like Alice Cooper, Alter Bridge, Avatarium, Jason Becker and Lordi together with lesser known stuff like The Kintz, Stolen Babies and Diablo Swing Orchestra as their main influences and as you read above, no instrument or arrangement is wrong when it comes to creating arrangements and an atmosphere. Also, the members’ stage names goes hand in hand with the story and concept – how about Psychoberrie (vocals), Dr Stott and Lex Whittingham (guitars), Beardy McStumble (bass), Jake (drums) and Min (keyboards, accordion)? Me, I didn’t have a clue what this was before I listened through the album but let me tell ya, love it or loathe it, you’ll be in for real twisted musical journey where unpredictability seems to be the main key. For me, it took a couple of spins to get this at all and here is my thoughts on the songs. The rest of you might see things totally different.

The album starts with a spoken word intro, a very cinematic speech that helps the listener to get into the story. That works brilliantly. The intro takes us into “Take My Hand”, a tune that starts out calmly and ballad-like, melancholic with a twisted melody that oozes insanity. But it soon turns into a thrashy belter that rages on. Still. there’s a certain weird cacthiness to it and the pop melody really makes the song stick. They continue with the title track that sports a sleazy beat, gritty metal guitar riffing and a punky attitude, fast and kicking. There’s a great melody that takes a hold of the listener and never lets go.

“Interlude 1” kicks off chapter 2, Another spoken word that lets us in to the continuing storyline. “The Flight” comes along with a heavy and infectious rhythm mixed with an electronic and techno sounding vibe over the straight forward hard rock and metal riffing. This schizophrenic beast takes us right into the magnificent single “Crystal Ball”. This one marches on with a carnival sounding melody, based on accordion and a dance groove that sounds like it had been written by some loon in an asylum. However, the melody and chorus is very catchy but I doubt this will ever be played on national radio. “Hold Me” is a piano ballad with a big 60’s feel. The pace is upbeat and the melody is seductive and it leaves me humming it throughout the upcoming interlude.

An interlude called “Interlude 2” brings us into chapter 3, a chapter that starts with “Blackened Heart”. This tune is a heavy, striking, straight forward hard rock rocker that brings in another nuance of psychopathia. Song wise, it reminds me some of the latest Kobra & The Lotus record. “Run For Your Lives” mixes some thrashy heavy metal with gypsy carnival influences and a slice of tango even. It’s memorable yet punky, hard and aggressive – great! “Adrenochromania” starts off softly albeit with a twisted mix where 70’s Alice Cooper meets King Diamond and also a chunk of dark Black Sabbath-like heaviness. Insanity is all over this track. “Cry Of The Siren” is a muscular, ballsy and Heavy rocker that holds a dance laden arrangement and a twirky melody that’s again reminiscent of Mr Diamond. The contrast within the song is the catchy as Hell main melody – this is some awesome stuff. “Toybox”, that’s the closer of this chapter, lies on a foundation of hard rock and metal but the Music sounds like a circus attacking me. I’m just waiting for a horror clown to show up here at any time. Add a tense groove and a striking melody and we have yet another winner.

The closing chapter starts with “Interlude 3” to take us to the final. “Inner Demon” is very straight forward, rhythmic and groovy metal, headbanging-friendly with a kicking melody with both edge and hooks. A nice contrast to the other twisted and weird structured tunes. Closing track “Ward XIV” starts out in a mid pace, a bit mellow with an atmospheric and cinematic arrangement. But it soon heavies up and becomes more melodic but still very atmospheric. The whole tune is dark, evil, spooky and deranged and it brings chills down the spine.

As you might have figured out by now, this is not a regular metal record. In fact, I’m not that sure how to label this. What is is though, is adventurous, unpredictable, weird and unstructured yet structured. Musically, the contrasts and the unpredictability keeps the music together, where the anomalies are the normalities. The phrase “the more things change the more they stay the same” fits this record like a glove. Also, the narrative interludes and the rock opera-like structure makes this record feel just as much as a crime/thriller as a musical experience. I know this stuff might not be for everyone but this is a thought through, well written and incredibly elaborated record that needs the extra spin or two to actually stick – an album that will have you discovering new stuff with each listen and that you won’t get tired of anytime soon. My advice to every music fan is to at least give it a couple of fair shots. Highly recommended!

8/10

Tracklist:

1. Intro
2. Take My Hand
3. The Art Of Manipulation
4. Interlude 1
5. The Flight
6. Crystal Ball
7. Hold Me
8. Interlude 2
9. Blackened Heart
10. Run For Your Lives
11. Adrenochromania
12. Cry Of The Siren
13. Toybox
14. Interlude 3
15. Inner Demon
16. Ward XVI

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