Iconolous - Fell Walkers Review
Guitarist Mark Hill and drummer Matthew Kotaka formed Iconolous in 2017. They released their second album, Fell Walkers, on August 21 2020. The album signifies their dip into the progressive rock world after their blues and folk focused first album. It mixes their older influences like Black Sabbath, Muddy Waters, Led Zeppelin with their newer progressive influences like Tool and Pink Floyd. The Sabbath influence is very apparent as each song includes a raunchy guitar tone and a vocal style similar to theirs. Sections with just guitars and drums are very common in the album, not so much in any other prog song. The resulting Krautrock-ish sound defines Fell Walkers, yet doesn't cover all the ground. Worth mentioning are cello parts in "Lórien", the muted guitar riff in "A Red, Red River," and of course, the grand finale that is "Telomere". Ending with a 6-part saga, Fell Walkers primes us for Iconolous's next album, which they just started working on.
Mark Hill - guitars, vocals
Matthew Kotaka - drums
1. The Heart That Fed (04:39)
Before listening to the song, one should first be aware of the meaning behind the words spoken in order to fully understand the whole composition.
Besides the music, the lyrics itself represents an important figure in world history. Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem about Ramesses the Great (Ramesses the 2nd) was directly used as lyrics on the track while making a few adjustments and additions here and there in order to fit the poem to the vocals melody. Even though Ramses the Great is arguably the most fundamental figure in Ancient Egypt, it is exciting for the band to chose a poem written about his Athanasia and turn it into a song.
The way that the song starts out with guitar-strumming with a tremolo effect was certainly an unexpected approach to a song about Ramses the Great. As far as it can be understood, they first wanted to capture the melancholic feeling of being one kind of historical figure and losing your importance - since you've been gone for a long time. Their approach reminded us as if they were trying to see and talk through the biden statue of Ozymandias.
As the song changes direction and gradually increases the tension with a riff that loops and creates a war-like environment (because they used the band marching rhythm), we hear the revolt of Ozymanndas who has been sick of being just a statue, a dead God that no longer can make the whole world kneel down on their knees. Although the production of the whole track is not the best that one could record and put out to the music scene, the way that vocals and their ideas fit the song show a lot of potential for the young band. It would make a solid song with enough contribution from other bandmates and producers.
2. Crown Shyness (04:29)
The two musicians of Iconolous cite their favorite bands and biggest influences as Black Sabbath. "Crown Shyness" seems like a tribute to them, with its 4.5 minutes of constant rock 'n roll. It uses a similar structure to most classic rock songs. A simple guitar riff interlaced with high register vocal verses, and a bridge into a solo. I found the most interesting aspect to be the solo. It seems very normal at first because the layers are integrated together very well. However, 2 guitars playing complex phrasing in the same register at the same time is a rare occasion. They seem to balance each other with contrary motion and playing at different speeds. For example, the first guitar switches to dotted eights when the second guitar plays a faster line. The song overall never calms down, even when the solo hits a plateau, because the second guitar solo fills that space before it can ever be heard.
3. Ziusudra: Life of Long Days (01:58)
The romantic opening and guitar tone of the third track reminds us of the first track, probably because it follows the same progression and style, and feeling that they wanted to capture. Interestingly, the way that they used the vocal telephone vocal effect fits perfectly with the intro and the tone of Mark's voice - which they probably got influenced and adopted from Black Sabbath. However, rather than reminding of old rockers and metal bands, the main atmosphere and musicianship are reminiscent of the great Jeff Buckley - which they may not be aware of.
This short track is the most obvious one of the album that includes a massive progressive rock influence (ironically, it is the shortest track), in terms of the use of uncommon time signatures. The song goes on in between 7/8 and 3/4's in the verse-ish part. Although the vocals may seem distant and hard to adopt in the first place, you get used to Mark's voice and get along with the sound waves of screaming expression.
Considering the lyrics, the song carries on the theme of greatness through being a king and/or a strong historical figure - just like the first song.
4. Capra (09:46)
"Capra" starts off with a brilliant electro guitar solo, and, to be honest, this solo could have continued for more than twenty seconds. As it ends, a 4/4 drum beat and the vocals enter, saying “Autumnal waging wars/Satisfying crown/Everything lost before/The past is winding down.” These lyrics carry a sense of change, almost like the change in seasons as the words “autumnal” and “winding down” suggest. The vocal carries a sort of melancholic tone in itself, and together with the lyrics, until the 2 minute mark, the song is mellow and almost bluesy. As the beat in the background picks up the pace in the second minute, and as the guitar comes forth in the melody, the song builds up to the change in 3:20.
If anyone of you is into ethnic rock genres, you would certainly know that the small solo-ish thing of the guitar(the melodies itself) instantly hits you reminding the Turkish Anatolian rock. Although the approach to this song is no different than the others, you can realize that it is not really because of the compositional side of the track, rather more because of the unintense dynamics and lack of variety in instruments. However, you can clearly see where the ideas are coming from and going, and also their signature sounds that they have been building throughout their childhood together.
The sudden change in tempo resembles the style of Tool, and this is not surprising as the band was an inspiration to Iconolous. From this point forward, the electro guitar is in the spotlight again, and it's as if the 20 second guitar solo in the beginning was just a preview to the solo between 3:20 and 5:07.
The vocals enter and this time the lyrics are darker just like the melody: "Your brother's treason/Leaving your heart down/In the wider sense/We lost the story long ago/Now you're all evil." The general theme of the songs seem to be related to certain mythological or religious stories, and here I couldn't help but relate the lyrics to the story of Cain and Abel. The lyrics fit with the strong and fast paced guitar well, although sometimes it felt as if the vocals had a hard time catching up with the chords in the next minute.
The song makes a dramatic finish with another well-performed guitar solo and slowly fades out. Though the varying tempo, lyrics and vocals all contribute to the song, the electro guitar really seems to be the component that brings this song all together and creates a 9 minute journey.
5. Lone Star (05:33)
Lone Star's main riff is exchanged with a short solo in the background of the first 3 minutes. The repetition of the riff brings attention to the lyrics while the solos fill the space between verses. If bas was turned up a notch higher, you would hear that the riff still plays under the solo, just in a lower register.
The third minute surprised me greatly! It first seemed like it switched to another song, but the bass slide connected 2 seemingly unrelated sections together. The bass and guitar duet creates a very curious atmosphere. While the bass seems very care-free, the guitar turns its volume up gradually on every note, introducing tension to the section.
This dip in mood is immediately antagonized by the strong break immediately after. It seems like it will lead somewhere while it continues to increase tension with tom grooves, hi-hat splashes, and repetition on the guitar part. The tension is never resolved; "Lone Star" leaves that job to the calmer next song "Lórien".
6. Lórien (02:25)
The sixth track of the album is literally only Hill and his guitar, in a cozy atmosphere with some background noises that doesn't interfere with the emotion he is conveying. On the contrary, it makes the song even more intimate than if there was none. It feels like a long intro to the next track, "A Red, Red River", since that also starts with an acoustic guitar. Though it can feel boring after a while, since it is only the guitar with some repetitive sections. The band could've played more with sound effects to further convey the story of the song.
7. A Red, Red River (03:53)
"A Red Red River" starts with a thirty second acoustic guitar riff that has an almost Spanish style to it. As there are several references to Dante’s depiction of hell throughout the song, and as the title of the song resembles the river Phlegethon which is made up of blood, there’s certainly a contrast between this serene melody and the general theme of the song.
The angsty vocal and the drum beat enter near the forty second mark, and take the initial melody to another level, one with a very different atmosphere. This up-tempo part of the track does resemble Rush with the drum beat and guitar, and the song in general seems to have drawn inspiration from the iconic band. The lyrics here to talk about a soldier standing in nature, and as still as this image is, the mention of the frozen hell from Dante’s depiction of hell’s 9th circle continues the image of hell in the lyrics. The lyrics, in this song especially, are well written with a lot of imagery. The band seems to be using figurative language a lot in their songs which works quite well.
Later on in the song, there is a nice solo that goes on for about forty seconds and once again, the band shows off their guitar skills. As the song continues, it keeps on switching back and forth between calm and fast paced melodies which continues the contrast mentioned in the beginning. In the end, we can say that Iconolous has done a successful job in using the guitar to create such varying tones and in portraying a scene with the lyrics and music at the same time.
8. Telomere Pt. 1: Approaching the Gates (06:00)
The first part of the epic closing journey of the band Iconolous directly hits with an unexpected and different opening of a retro sampled speech and atmospheric background noises. That's probably where their major progressive influences come from-from the ideas of the 70s experimentalism. Part one of the trippy voyage, "Approaching the Gates" is certainly a new direction that they wanted to experience and further discover.
After the Pink Floyd-ish opening, the song continues to an evil, headbanging stoner-rock direction-with a repetitive riff and vocal melodies that you cannot escape. The song continues with this groove and riff for minutes, probably instantly making this part of the song the direct expression of the whole part 1. The riffing and tone certainly reminds us of the slow stoner, Iron Maiden, olwith a deficiency of a harmonic guitar that enhances their music. Adding a harmonic partition to riff-based songwriting might be a way to sauce things up compositionally so that the riffs themselves don't bore the listeners and increases the dynamic possibilities for the songs.
The repetitive riffs translate to the next song very well that one cannot distinguish that if its a different song or just another section for the first part of the Magnum opus.
Lyrically and musically, the band makes a good introduction for the whole long-run song, however, it is not enough to keep the audience listening to the story that they want to tell-especially with the lack of a straight direction in their minds.
9-13. Telomere Pt. 2 - 6 (10:01)
(Since the rest of the songs on the "Telomere" suite is fairly short compared with the first section, we decided to analyze them all as one track.)
"Apprehension" starts as the riff from the first section ends, and to be fair, it rescues the listener from the repetitiveness of its ending. Comparatively, it is more energetic than the last section (a slight change in tempo helps too) and shows more of drummer Matthew Kotaka's chops behind the kit. This short interlude leads to the same riff from the first section, but this time, getting faster to build tension. Lyrically, this riff might signalize that the demons that the narrator encountered in "Approaching the Gates" and how they are still after him. This theme of "escaping" is also reminded to us in the title of this section. It is hard to find the balance of when to release tension in music, and Iconolous's attempt seems too prolonged to achieve the full potential of this effect.
"Escape on the Wind", like the name suggests, has a flow reminiscent of the wind hitting your face, slowly but surely. The guitar strumming along with the synth, which deliberately sounds like a wind instrument, is a perfect way to release the tension from the last section. The emphasis of snare in this section feels like it is straight from the 70's.
"The Tertian Stair" shows more of the fantasy-side of the band (again, a 70's prog influence is apparent). But combining this lyrical perspective with the punk-ish feel of the song creates an interesting mix indeed. This is a good place to talk about how Iconolous uses music to convey action in their songs, especially in the "Telomere" suite. Like escaping from demons and wind hitting your face, this section creates the sense of rising by fully embracing the more distorted and heavy side of their sound, which makes the listener feel "pumped up".
"Amygdalic Inspiration" is perhaps the most enigmatic section of the suite. Its short lyrics are hard to decrypt, as well as the title. Amygdalin is a chemical compound that is falsely promoted as a cure for cancer. One possible interpretation is that this inspiration is the narrator's way of escaping from his hell, but with the twist that it isn't actually the cure he was looking for. This theme of a cure is further supported in the lyrics "Turn out around and I feel free/Torrential downpour of the sun" (which, by the way, sounds a lot like a Jon Anderson lyrics).
"Transcendental Object" is a much more intimate section, with only Mark Hill's vocals and an acoustic guitar. It is an honest reflection on the whole suite and partially the whole album. When Hill sings "And your voice / It soothes me so", we want to remind him that his band's music, in turn, soothes us, the listeners.