MP3 Ritual Space Travel Agency - Ratbelly vs Gorgotron
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13 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Progressive Rock, ROCK: Math Rock
"Equal parts Frank Zappa, Rage Against the Machine and latter-day King Crimson...RSTA has set out to push the envelope beyond recognition through a diverse mix of instruments...progressive-rock arpeggios and a surprise beyond every corner. ...hold on tight and enjoy the ride." -- Joe Cherry, Rockpile Magazine
Hard rocking band that sounds something like Primus with metallic guitars and horns. Technically proficient band, some of the playing is particularly impressive. Hyperactive, loud rock propelled by explosive rhythms and masculine vocals. Intense and wildly energetic.
Imagine if Fishbone got into a car crash with Rage Against the Machine, and the surviving members had a spontaneous jam session amid the burning wreckage. Now, beyond any sense, imagine that it sounds downright bitching. This gives you a rough idea what this Pennsylvania quintet sounds like. Ska horns throw down with distorted guitar while the bass and drums play tug of war with the complex, jazzy rhythms. Over top of this rage the sing/rap vocals of Jesse Prentiss (aka SAIC Chico), whose schizophrenic shouting borders on Nu Metal style. Before you get the wrong idea, however, this is not some attempt to cash in on the current trends; in fact, the disc's running theme is a punk DIY ethic that bashes the recording industry. "Puna Co." chants "Make a profit" over a twisted rhythm workout, while in "Mengele", Prentiss takes on the persona of a businessman who disses a former mover-and-shaker as "just a liability / just a killer." This frustration reaches a head on "Mud Pit", a brilliant diatribe that spits out the chorus "the art is in the money". Too often, rock artists make this sound either whining or hypocritical, but in the hands of Ritual Space Travel Agency, it sounds a vitriolic as it ought to. Ratbelly vs. Gorgotron takes all of the righteous frustration of the best recent metal and mixes it with jazz fusion in a way that sounds angry, natural, and absolutely badass.
Ritual Space Travel Agency's music sounds heavy, but never bombastic. The opening chord on their second album might pin you to the wall. But once they've landed a blow to the gut, they follow up with a verbal hit to the cerebrum. In other words, there's more to their sound than simply a hard bottom. The distinction between heavy and heavy-handed comes in the way the local band termpers a thunderous rhythm section and metallic guitar leads with sharp saxophone lines, jazzy melodies and lyrics full of thoughtful social commentary. In person, their ferocious attack and high volume is enough to compel the baseball-cap-wearing fans of grunge-metal to throw their fists in the air. But the subtleties that might be missed at a live performance come through loud and clear on the band's second CD. Bassist Jesse Prentiss takes aim at the standard hot topics - religion, world leaders, capitalism - avoiding simplistic, good-vs-bad platforms in favor of incisive tomes.
"Mud Pit" offers one of the best examples. He envisions a world where art and small profits are forsaken for the money-making world of wrestling and its superficial rewards: "We're not willing to starve for this/ we're going to dummy it up and get paid/ there's no point in self-expression/ without the prospect of getting laid." It wouldn't leave much of a dent if it didn't reflect the shaft that artists in this country receive. The album's sequencing never sticks with one mood too long, throwing the jazzy swing of "All Alone" between two heavier numbers. In the case of "Puna Co.," a jazz break comes in the middle of the song. Two instrumentals show the band working with complex, shifting time signatures, falling somewhere between the art rock of King Crimson and fusion of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Alto saxophonist Jamie gives the music an edge, by supporting the melodic line with a rugged tone similar to John Zorn or Tim Berne. A few tracks get a little too rough. "Schizo Scherzo" lives up to its name, and lacks focus. "Fractured" pile drives the sound just a little too much. But ultimately, Ratbelly vs Gorgotron proves that brains and brawn - in the musical sense - aren't musically exclusive.
RSTAs second cd is full of the kind of stuff that makes people like me happy. The band makes good use of it's technical ability and musicianship wise, outshines just about any local rock band I know of. It doesn't end there though. The songs are more focused and stronger than their first release.
The first full length song, Death To The Bloodstained Giant, kicks off with lots of sax and the type of intro that one might expect from a 70's period King Crimson. Lyrically, the song takes on a news documentary feel with it's various narratives within. If you need comparisons, try a weird hybrid of previously mentioned, King Crimson, Primus and lyrically, something like Peter Gabriel era Genesis. Puna Co. has a little in common with the first song. A nice melody driven bassline that counterpoints the sax and guitar. Almost jazz-like in it's delivery. The song, Mengele, deals with the name-sake historically infamous figure. Making sure they plant the 'angel of death' visual in your hand. Musically, it is once more jazz in tone, it erupts into an incredible climax of an ending. Going from the jazz feel, to a prog metal coda. Fractured shares a lot in sound and tone with labelmates, Coinmonster. It also has a pretty nice instrumental break towards the end. On An Island has a surprising melody on the sax that sounds like it could have been lifted from a Coltrane piece. This is followed by what I think is the cds centerpiece. All Alone has a bit of a dark, New Orleans feel to it's intro and leads into the bombastic psuedo-bridge. It then returns to the original pattern but with a Cuban twist to shake it up some. As to drive the point home, it carries one of the best sax melodies on the album. The song shifts gears throughout, but doesn't lose the main core of the piece. So as to not be outdone by earlier songs on the cd, it climaxes with a nice outburst of energy. Next up, we have a very solid instrumental in Aliens in Appalachia. Starting with a Fripp oriented pattern it develops into a sweet guitar solo that made me want to break out some Larry Carlton for some comparison listening. The Mudpit, once more, has an excellent guitar solo that made me rewind a few times. It has a nice change-up towards the end, taking the song into an almost hardcore feel. Very nice indeed. Another instrumental comes next. Chicken In My Pants. Some nice soloing throughout bewteen Andy Fitz and Jamie. Schizo Scherzo walks that Coinmonster ledge again. Can't blame them though....why not flatter such a great band. Mara boasts the most enduring vocals on the cd. A very descriptive love letter that ends in an abusive turn....more weird dichotomy as is the whole of the cds lyrical content.
All in all, a fantastic release from these mavens of musicality. My only downspot are the vocals in general. They aren't bad, just a bit too typical of what is used in stellar music like this.
Musically, the band falls into many niches. They emulate such bands as the ones mentioned above, along with Mr. Bungle, Primus and Zappa, yet tread very fine jazz lines reminiscent of previously mentioned Coltrane (mainly due to the large amount of jazzy sax throughout the bands sound). Don't get me wrong though, this band is unique by all means.
Exceptional musicianship and performances make this a must for anyone who considers themself a musician and very interesting listening for anyone else.
-- Pittsburgh Rock Magazine
On the bone-crushing, freewheeling, high-concept "Gorgotron vs. Ratbelly," Ritual Space Travel Agency rages against the machine in a musical universe where System of a Down meets John Zorn's Naked City to talk about Zappa and Primus and smashing the state and how the United States likes to snuff its victims -- as Bill Maher so impulsively noted -- from a distance.
It's practically metal. And practically jazz. And practically something Tom Waits would have done if he'd been born a couple of decades later. With a voice that wasn't half so deep.
It's certainly rock -- in that it rocks, with personality and attitude and energy and words that get all in your face about how dumb the world is but in a way that's never preachy and/or obvious.
It's also weird as hell. And powerful. And angry. And intelligent. A soundtrack to an animated monster film they haven't finished yet that, at the same time, finds them launching an attack on U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the "unpleasant comedy of mass murder," it is the record Spin thought System of a Down had made.
On "All Alone," lead singer Jesse Prentiss rocks the U.S. War Against the Have-Nots with "As I stepped into the street, I was hit/I was hit by an ambulance/It picked me up on the way back from dealing with someone more important."
On "Death to the Bloodstained Giant (A Play)," he could be addressing the recently stolen election when he sings, "We're in the country/We took a poll/You want us here by a quiet margin/A little politics, a little genocide, the right face to pump up our numbers/As long as you believe us, we'll never lose control/We'll never lose control/We'll never lose control."
On "Mengele," he notes the difference between a Joseph Mengele and what we'd consider a war hero here in the home of the brave -- "A less intimate Angel of Death," as he calls it.
"We want to kill them from a distance," Prentiss sings. "We want to kill them like we're pushing pins in a map/We want to kill them like statistics/We'll work out the logistics. ...We want to keep our hands spotless/We want to keep this all anonymous. ... This is strictly business, baby."
As you may have guessed, he's not the biggest fan of America's newfound sense of national identity.
"Generalizing your enemies, I think, is the big reason why we lost so many people in New York City," Prentiss says. "Because America was seen as the enemy. And so, all American citizens became enemies when really the people that had caused all the problems and made these other countries so angry would be just our government. It's not that they should have had anything against regular people working in a building."
As one of the regular people, Prentiss has certainly distanced himself from the government here.
In discussing the inspiration for "Mengele," Prentiss says, "The engine of our foreign policy since World War II was all about 'Can we get the people who make the rockets? Can we get the people who make those kind of explosives? We've got our atomic missile but how do we get it to other places without even sacrificing our own planes to get there?' And the defense industry that built up around manufacturing these incredibly sophisticated weapons ... once you've built that great big structure, it's like OK, now we have atomic weapons and some rockets. The only thing to do is build more of them because your opponents also have them. And why people like Joseph Mengele were not particularly prized is because they were just garden-variety psychotics. They didn't have as great a world view of their psychosis."
As political as Prentiss comes across at times, it's not all politics.
He's "still crazy," he says, "about trying to just make cool music."
And the music here is not just cool but also heavier than on Ritual Space Travel Agency's first release. It's a natural fit for the lyrics.
As Prentiss explains, "I feel like if you're making angry music, it should be about something worth getting really angry about. Getting angry about getting dissed by somebody, like 'You step up at me and I'll beat you down,' that kind of stuff that you keep hearing from the rap-rock kind of bands, that's not something that should get you that worked up. But in Rage Against the Machine's case, Leonard Peltier or the Mexican indigenous people, they're talking about things that are worth rage."
The goal of that musical rage, he says, is partly just to vent and partly to motivate people to think about the truth behind the waving flags.
And once they know the truth, he says, "then, we can move on to how to solve the problem. But when people won't even acknowledge that there's a serious problem with the way the American government has conducted itself around the world in the last century, then, what are you gonna do? As long as everybody still thinks that this is the land of the free and the home of the brave and that we promote democracy around the world, you might as well be talking to your shoes."
There are very few local bands that require listeners to wear a seat belt while their music is playing. Well, buckle up, because Ritual Space Travel Agency's latest release Ratbelly vs. Gorgotron is the rollercoaster ride you won't find in an amusement park. It's safe to say that RSTA's music is very reflective of their name -- listening to their music is similar to participating in some bizarre, space-aged, shamanistic ceremony designed to transport the mind and spirit to another mental plane.
RSTA's, Andrew Fitz (guitar), Jesse Prentiss (vocals/bass), Troy Cramer (drums), Kevin Deeter (percussion), and Jamie (alto sax) collectively created a wildly imaginative concept record of sorts. Ratbelly serves as a loose soundtrack to a short collage-animated movie-in-the-making about two giant, non-functioning robots battling each other. With everything on this record conceptualized, from the cover art to the lyrical content to small instrumental interludes that connect certain songs, RSTA have put together an interesting musical package.
For many people, RSTA is "a tough pill to swallow," as Prentiss rages in the intense tune "Mengele," but this is not because of some lack of musicality -- rather, perhaps, the opposite. The band easily can compact more ideas into a twenty-second transitional section than most artists can in two songs. For some people it's too much to handle; for others it's stimulating and exciting.
There's no doubt that RSTA wants to challenge the listener, to keep them on the edge of their seat biting their nails down to the nub. Songs like, "Death to the Bloodstained Giant," "Puna Co." and the dissonant "Fractured" are busier than a New York traffic jam -- and almost as loud. With the musical flexibility of a yoga guru, RSTA flips from hard jazz to tinkering with bossa nova, reggae, fusion -- even teetering the borderline of a progressive metal attack at moments. Simultaneously, Prentiss sings dry, offbeat lyrics painting vivid pictures of the cartoonish violence between the robots, while the band draws up a colorful cacophony of sound.
RSTA has developed gradually over the years. Prentiss' vocal range has expanded from the straightforward, barely-take-a-breath approach to an open, unique sense of phrasing heard in "On An Island" -- a vocal highlight. The underlying tug-of-war-tension in their music can be attributed to Fitz's dark and chunky, raging guitar tone verses Jamie and guest saxophonist Pat Leyden's fiery horn lines. The foundation of their sound comes from the solid drumming of Troy Cramer, who fluidly travels in-and-out of time signatures. Rounding out their sound is Deeter, who's percussive additions are like seasonings to the overall groove, but are tough to hear when the band is at full throttle, although he can be heard more in the instrumental interludes. Mix all of those elements together and you end up with RSTA: an interestingly sick and demented, frantic, off-the-wall sound that forces listener's to actively listen, hit the rewind button or constantly ask out loud: "How the hell did they do that?"
-- Pittsburgh City Paper
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