The Animal State is a genre-defying, one-man band, created by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Col Mullins who hails from Portsmouth, UK. Mullins style is a “dark driving energy” blending elements of alternative and progressive rock and metal on his debut Genus – a “conceptual offering” with each song packing in “compelling riffs, propelling forward through a melodic progression which never pauses for a rest.” It’s an “ambitious album – an epic journey through the misty reaches of ancient history to the bleak landscapes of some post-apocalyptic future… invoking the structural traditions of the prog rock era” while also having newer sounds and styles of metal prog rock. The lyrics are provocative and fit into the larger concept of the album, which deals with mankind’s precarious relationship with the natural world.
The album was recorded and mixed by Col Mullins at his home studio Colmination Music. Drawing from a wealth of influences, from the classic psychedelic and prog rock acts of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the contemporary post rock and progressive metal scenes, The Animal State could be placed somewhere on the rock spectrum between Mastodon and King Crimson—loud, metamorphic and utterly compelling. Mullins is currently in the studio working on a follow-up and is writing material for a second full-length album.
To begin, “Bucephalus” is an epic 11 minutes plus, filled with plenty of drum fills, intricate guitar playing and yes or course, a guitar solo. I did not expect a string section though, which was quite enjoyable in the first few measures. Mullins then switches into playing some heavy metal guitar chords with a rock metal style. Bucephalus, if you remember your ancient history, was the name of a favorite horse of Alexander the Great, whom he rode through many battles. The lyrics read like an epic Greek or Roman poem, or for the modern times, think Iron Maiden, Dio or Led Zeppelin. I liked what Mullins did about midway into the song, repeating guitar chords as if mimicking a war battle. The prog rock edge comes a bit later after this, with keys, bass, varied time signatures and a style that’s more dramatic and inspirational. “Talon” begins with a repeating guitar chord build up and then explodes into a metal riff that’s memorable – a lot of great guitar action here, especially the separate layers of fingering guitar parts to rhythm parts towards the end. The speed in which the drums are played and the “take charge through the battlefields” approach of the guitar remind me of Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand.” Mullins’ guitar work and songwriting structure will easily be lodged in my head for a while with this one.
Next up is “Cerberus” – the three headed dog who vigilantly guards the gates of Hades in mythological lore - gets good and heavy for starters. Mullins takes a line from a poem about the interconnectedness of humanity by John Donne, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Mullins’ words suggest a time when Hades and the devil’s hordes of demons will rule the earth, even though he doesn’t explicitly mention that in the lyrics, he hints at a time soon when Cerberus’ reckoning will come “and know, you shall feel his wrath.” The words to “Howl” were quite chilling – “I dwell in darkness / I haunt the spaces in between / maybe you can hear my breath in that urgent moment as you fall asleep.” I thought Mullins’ writing in the first person were effective and his words reminded me of those dark ‘80s metal masterpieces that kept me up all night, wondering what was lurking under my bed. A fantastic head banging moment comes about midway.
The last number is “Fawn” which I thought was the most prog rock sounding song, at least in the traditional way of the classics. The lyrics read like a letter written from an elder to a young person, giving them guidance and encouragement before they take leave to some far-off land, never to return. There is more hope and optimism in this number in my opinion – “but these days of dread won’t last forever / so don’t surrender your heart to despair / there’s beauty in this world beyond all measure.” I also thought this was Mullins’ most creative and dynamic song on the entire album. There are a lot of great parts to it, both softer and harder-edged moments with styles of prog rock and metal. There’s even a break with bass, drums and keys in the latter half of the song that give the album as a whole, a sort of concluding feel – a musical story that has reached its end.
If you like progressive rock and metal with imaginative lyrical stories from the ancient past, as well as visions of an apocalyptic future, stay a while, and give The Animal State’s Genus a listen.
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