Elephants of Scotland – Execute and Breathe (Album Review)

When you are good at something, you’ll be rewarded. That must be what it felt like for Vermont (US) based Elephants of Scotland. Founded in 2010 by Adam Rabin, they recorded their first album Home Away from Home in 2013. This got them invited to perform as opening act on RosFest 2014, a gig so good and well received that they released it on DVD afterwards. Thanks to my friends at House of Prog, at least indirectly, I met bass player Dan MacDonald in the chat room of Nick Katona’s weekly Mad Platter radio show, and he was kind enough to send me both their albums (in digital form) – for review. So here goes – a review of their second album Execute and Breathe, one for the debut will follow in a few weeks.

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As said, the band was founded by Adam Rabin, who takes care of the keyboard work and part of the vocals. He initially established the band with Ornan McLean (drums) and John Whyte (guitar, vocals). This trio was extended with bass player Dan MacDonald, who also sings his parts, after they ran into his ‘bass player needs band’ advertisement in a news paper. Given the prominence of his bass in the bands music, a perfect addition.

The album is filled with powerful, layered rock that I could compare to many of my favourite bands, but I’ll limit myself by saying that some of it sounds like a modern version  of 80s UK acts like Marillion and Pallas, with a bit of Rush mixed in. This becomes clear immediately on the opening track A Different Machine, which has a driving, punchy bass underneath a wailing keyboard – an immediate show of the energy this band has on offer.

This continuous in a completely different way in The Other Room, on which the guitar takes over the lead role from the keyboards. This allows John to show what he is capable off after 40 years of playing while Adam  takes over the vocal duties from Dan. An amazing track about someone using their telepathic abilities to influence others. A short, sinister roller coaster ride of 4 minutes.

This is followed by Amber Waves, which opens with a short keyboard tune and develops into a very well built up rock song, with different moods (with 8 minutes its a short epic with a few movements) that really shows how much of a modern version of aforementioned bands Elephants of Scotland are. Something new to hear in this one on every play.

On TFAY it becomes very obvious that John has a soft spot for Rush and has played as single person tribute to that band in the past. This is a track that, after the Floydian intro, easily reminds of late 70s, early 80s Rush (think Permanent Waves) – and John’s playing and vocals come close enough to fool a passing listener. Apart from the vocals, once again by AdamBoxless, could fit the same era, but has a completely different feel to it. Here bass and drums cooperate really to put down a bass well underneath keyboards and vocals that build a nice melody together, catchy but not even close to poppy at the same time.

The two parts of Endless, two separate tracks that together fill just over 10 minutes are the cream on the pudding this album is. Again, all influences mentioned before are evident, this one has keyboard walls, a very present bass, melodic guitar and a driving drum beat. The ending of (instrumental) Part 1 actually reminded me of a keyboard infested version of Rush’ 2112-Grand Finale. It is followed by acoustic guitar and keyboards on Part II, a brilliant contrast, which support Adam’s well sung vocals. The percussive work of  Ornan in the build up to the heavier, more up tempo piece that follows is something only an experienced drummer can come up with – just like the drumming he shows in the instrumental mid section. This Part 2 lets all four band members shine, through the tempo  changes and different atmospheres in the separate parts.

But cream needs pudding, and the pudding is what we find in the end of this album in the form of another very much Rush-like track, Mouse Trap. Oh boy, I made that comparison a few times now, blame it on John and Dan, they do sound like Geddy and Alex at times. Still it is the keyboard of Adam and the drum patterns of Ornan that make this into an original Elephants of Scotland track in the end.

In terms of production, I like the way the instruments are mixed here, all instruments can be clearly heard at all times (at least when played, dôh). In terms of sound, a little more dynamics might have been nice – for example in Amber Waves, the choruses could’ve been more dramatic if they were a bit less loud. However, that’s nit picking on a fine album.

I really enjoy this album, and recommend it to anyone who likes powerful modern prog. Looking forward to reviewing their debut and the DVD as well – the former has had a few spins already, the DVD is still in the shrink wrap…