Two Star Symphony, Seven Deadly Sins
As I’ve proclaimed a few times before in these pages, it’s no small thing to try to convey an emotion, a feeling, using music alone. With a vocalist standing out in front of the band, you can make things a lot more clear, declare your intentions more succinctly, and actually pull the audience along with you to where you want them to go emotionally. If the lyrics of a song are about someone dying, then odds are good that you’re going to feel sadness or regret in some fashion.
With instrumental music, though, the instruments and the composition have to do all the heavy lifting themselves. And no, this is hardly anything new — music has been about conveying emotion since humanity first invented it, and there are scores of composers and performers down through the ages who’ve tackled the task. It’s just that it’s very, very cool to hear somebody do it really well, like Two Star Symphony manage to do with their most recent release, Seven Deadly Sins.
Now, before I go any further, I feel like I should note that Seven Deadly Sins is a suite of songs, at least from my non-band vantage point. It may just be, but it sure sounds like they’re meant to be listened to all together, not separately and out of context. Don’t get me wrong; they’re just fine that way, but you’re not getting the full vision, the full experience unless you listen to the whole deal. Because after all, what’s one lone sin all by itself?
So, seeing as it’s all (to me) one suite of music, with the tracks serving as different movements within that suite, it only feels right to step through the sins one at a time, in the order they’re played. TSS starts off with “Gluttony,” a lugubrious, almost funereal track that’s so slow-moving and ponderous it feels large and engorged; as it moves, though, it slowly shifts to a more playful (but still creepy as hell) little motif that makes me think of the Devil character in an old-school Tom & Jerry cartoon capering around.
The percussive instrumentation used is intriguing, like a machine in an old factory methodically cranking out widgets or something with a hiss of steam, a creak, and a bell. It’s also machine-like in that it feels like it won’t stop, with the afflicted person(?) devouring everything in sight, unable to realize its own satiation. Until the track’s end, when the music once again becomes slow and unsteady, almost drunken and woozy.
In my mind’s eye, what I’m seeing as these compositions unfurl is a eerie, foreboding, risqué animated film, where clockwork automatons with creepy unending smiles plastered on their faces act out the sins themselves: shoveling in food, stealing from others, committing bloody murder, copulating mechanically, and so on.
Maybe the clockwork sounds are meant to signify that human beings are essentially machines built for these very sins? Either way, it’s like something Tim Burton might undertake, were he to be convinced an R rating isn’t such a bad thing (and yes, it would likely give me nightmares to watch).
Then there’s “Envy,” which is slippery and quick where “Gluttony” slug-crawls along. It comes off slippery and insidious, creeping in behind your back with a barely-concealed hostility, until the xylophone (or marimba, maybe?) steps out front on its own and steadily gets faster and faster, like a double-time “Tubular Bells,” until it feels like the jealous (murderous?) frenzy is about to take hold.
“Sloth” follows and slows things down again, although the track is nowhere near as “weighty”-sounding as the first; instead, it feels tired and lethargic, like the band’s slipping the beat just slightly (and intentionally, I’m assuming). It does move, though, and the vibe of the piece becomes more and more sinister as it does, until the eerie, menacing ambience brings to mind Motherhead Bug’s Zambodia (which is a good touchstone, I think, for a lot of Two Star Symphony’s overall sound).
On subsequent track “Greed,” I’m not sure if they intended to imply it or not, but the deep-down opening notes of this track bring to mind the Jaws soundtrack…which is kind of appropriate, given the song’s title/subject. There are few things greedier, in a way, than a Great White Shark, although said shark could also stand in for several other tracks on Seven Deadly Sins, now that I’m thinking more about it.
After that ominous introduction, however, the track mutates into a surprisingly delicate, European-sounding samba, complete with accordion. There’s a hint of Tropicalia in there, too, and even a little bit of klezmer/jazz clarinet, and then the whole thing gets downright scary, with Debra Brown’s violin carving its way in and out of the meat of the composition until its furious end. Two Star Symphony never lets you forget that these are sins, things that can (theologically speaking, anyway) damage or destroy your very soul.
“Lust” brings down the tempo once again, a slow-but-sure, seductive track with a Middle Eastern-tinged melody running throughout, subtle hand drumming, what sound like belly dancer finger-bells, and almost sneaky-sounding plucked strings. It’s a siren song like something from the Arabian Nights, with a lithe dancer undulating behind a sheer curtain. It builds so quietly that you really don’t notice what’s happening until it’s already happened, sound delicately layered upon sound until it all builds to a fevered, lascivious crescendo.
Unlike most of the rest of the album, “Wrath” starts brash and strident, full of bravado and restrained fury, and by the midpoint of the song, it’s downright angry, with the strings slashing and stabbing at the listener as the drums crash and bash behind. It also comes the closest to a “classic” horror-flick theme song, something you could easily see Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees stalking their prey to.
Closing track “Pride” comes back to a slower pace, but this time it’s not creeping around or unable to move quickly; instead, it’s stately and measured, with a martial feel at several points. Of all the different pieces on Seven Deadly Sins, this is the one that actually becomes something truly “beautiful” in a classical sense of the word. The melody Two Star Symphony embarks on in the second half of the song is serene and gorgeous, like something off of a Sigur Ros album, and then, abruptly, that’s where the album ends.
Maybe the message in that last seeming ray of hope is that there’s redeption, in spite of all of our sins. Not sure what it says about me, in that case, that I want to immediately go back and start all over again with “Gluttony” — but hey, if I’m doomed, at least I get some damn good music out of the deal.
(Feature photo by Sarah Prikryl.)