It takes a hell of a brave band to take on Holst’s ‘Mars’ suite and render it in the style of Wendy (originally credited as Walter before the transition) Carlos, the innovative composer behind the Clockwork Orange soundtrack. Brave, or foolish, depending upon your perspective and yet, in terms of attention-grabbing album openers, it most certainly works. A bizarre cross between Nine Inch nails, Dream Theater, Fantomas, Holst and seventies kitsch it is nigh on impossible to imagine, let alone describe suffice it to say that as the song develops your finger ceases hovering over the skip button and you slowly become engrossed in a sound that is quite unlike anything you’re likely to have encountered in a long time, if ever.
We appear, however, to have gotten ahead of ourselves. The album in question is ‘The last album before the end of time’ by Science NV, a musical collaboration born of four insane geniuses – Larry Jay Davis (that’s Dr Davis to you), David Graves (another damn Dr), Jim Henriques and Rich Kallet (both proudly without academic titles appended to their names) – whose collective influences include Rick Wakeman, Eric Clapton and, err, Holst. Opening track ‘Mars’ certainly emphasises the Rick Wakeman connection, whilst ‘Chinatown (the last song before the end of time)’ operates in a desolate, jazzy sphere with stately solo and muted drums all adding to the feeling of dissolution and loose moral standards. Gilmour’s presence is felt on the solo and hints of Pink Floyd’s ambient experimentalism slip through the jazz façade, even if David Graves appears to think he’s playing keyboards for the local matinee on Brighton pier. There is method in the madness – the music captures, and holds, the attention and Science NV are one of those rare (these days) progressive bands who want to play progressive music without feeling the need to add in the muscular ‘metal’ tag to make it more socially acceptable. Indeed, this may well be ‘the last album before the end of time’, but the sound is also strangely timeless, and you’d be in no way surprised if you were to be informed that this is actually a lost musical relic from 1971 thanks to the refreshingly organic production and rich vein of inspiration that proudly ignores the mainstream in its quest for a unique and idiosyncratic sound all of its own. ‘Molecular super-modeling’ (sic) is full-on jazz complete with wild solos and funky bass work. A short, sweet track, it showcases the band at their most conventional.
If ‘molecular…’ was the band enjoying a brief flirtation with normality, the hideously convoluted timings of ‘curved space’ sound like Miles Davis played on a wind-up turntable that keeps losing speed. Strangely coherent despite the fact it makes no sense at all (much like this sentence in fact) ‘curved space’ is arguably what would happen if Bugs Bunny decided to write a jazz piece with Yes over a bottle of Absinthe. It is, therefore, kinda cool! ‘Cold sleep’ opens amidst a wash of creepy synth, and develops into a marvellously kaleidoscopic work so riven with colour and detail that its nearest comparison is David’s epic journey at the conclusion of 2001. The finale to the album is no less ambitious – a single track, five part suite that lasts fifteen minutes (despite feeling like a mere five so rich is the vein of inspiration the band tap), ‘the ring cycle’ is a vast, sprawling work of unhinged genius which straddles the ambient wonder of Pink Floyd and Yes and the darker, more metallic work of King crimson. Here percussion is delivered in bursts, guitars rage with surprising depth and fury and the synth is torn straight from another dimension where stars and moons race across the sky, filling the void above our heads with colour and wonder. It is a masterpiece and it befits an album already challenging ELP in the pomposity stakes that the closing work should be so wondrously overblown a spectacle.
Science NV are a brilliantly ambitious, utterly demented band who hark back to Progressive rock’s heyday when bands would regularly challenge one another to release the most insanely convoluted bodies of work before punk reared its ugly head and left audiences craving simplicity and record labels unwilling to outlay huge sums of cash for the Rick Wakemans of this world to hire orchestras, jazz ensembles and exploding animals simply on a whim. Bold, ambitious and thoroughly out of fashion, ‘the last album before the end of time’ is a brilliant piece of work that belongs in any progressive fans collection. It is simply brilliant and even the simple act of reviewing the disc has been an unmitigated pleasure from start to finish. Challenge your senses today and track down Science NV, they won’t disappoint you.