I have had great fun witnessing The Earls Of Mars live a few times and seeing people stagger out of the show at its conclusion with dazed looks on their faces, not knowing quite what they have heard and witnessed. Eyes take a while to focus as drunkenly they lurch as though having been taken over, perhaps zapped by some strange mind control gadget. Eventually eyes clear and with dribble running down their chins the words gradually take clarity, “the Earls are my new favourite band!” All I can do is nod knowingly having had the fortune to have been a test subject when they transported me back to the year 1889 to witness a practice session and see just how mankind would react to their musical wonder.
The cover story is that the band actually got together fairly recently spurred on by ex- Centurions Ghost guitarist Dan Hardingham aka Dan 138 hitting things up with the equally out there Harry Armstrong, a name you may know of from his involvement in Hangnail and End Of Level Boss amongst others. Somewhere, no doubt a place that should not be discussed, they drew together drummer Dave Newman and bassist Si McCarthy. It should be mentioned that Si is no normal bassist as he plays one of those big upright floor standing thingumyjobsagoodun instruments which is one of the focal points of the live shows. These have led them to play on tour with Orange Goblin and at the Jaeger stage of Bloodstock where they confounded many a person by their strange musical necromancy.
One look at the track titles of their debut self-titled phantasmagoria of an album will have you simply delighted unless you have no imagination. The music is equally delirious and deranged and takes us through many stages of delirium (tremens) and should possibly not be approached unless you have the mental capacity to withstand it. We start with ‘Poor Whores Petition’ a tableaux of psychedelic insanity and after a wild shriek the theatrical gentlemanly croons of Harry. The song is a short one at three minutes or so but once heard the melody will have you robotically taken over and will be with you forevermore. It’s a certifiable lunacy in a tune and one relayed with great eccentricity devoid of any tangential musical rules and regulations. ‘The Swinger’ does just that and it is here the bass really gets into its own literally strutting in an almost Stray Cat fashion down the alley, cocking its leg like a tom on the prowl. This is a musical old school number and no we are not metallically speaking here but old school as in the sound of the ballroom. Vocally I am reminded of the equally mad Vulture Industries here as Harry hits the rafters and mix that with the strange old world ghostliness of Diablo Swing Orchestra and this equally takes you right back in time.
‘It was chosen that ‘The Astronomer Pig’ would be the number to be released as the single to prepare the world and bring home the bacon. It snorts and snuffles its way into a slow waltz, which far from boars but has feet tapping solidly in time. Off key notes unsettle and smash the optics you will have desperately no doubt by now gathered and be clinging to for dear drunken life and the song goes through all sorts of weird before the Pigs In Space (one for the Muppets fans) finally crash land back on earth! With insane tales like this and Cornelius Itchybah who song wise gets what I can only describe as a complete avant-skronk work-over I can’t help but think of some fantastical novel waiting to be written here. The narrative and themes are as strong as they are insane akin mayheps to the likes of recent Robert Rankin (minus any sprouts) and goddamn as the keyboard crashes in a jagged frenzy I want to actually read these stories. Perhaps not all of them though as the skiffle-etched tune complete with scat singing vocals of ‘Otto The Magnificent’ is a film noir too far for all but the most hardened detective. Is that a trumpet I hear before me or did an elephant fly into the room?
The Ballad Of Ben Ayre is probably the burst of manic adrenaline that will draw the masses to the band if it were included on them cover-mounted disc magazine things. It’s a short efficient dose of manic intensity citing the likes of The Cardiacs with System Of A Down and some metallic licks from the guitars which seem to have the singer losing the plot himself as he descends into crazed scientist cackles and yells about the cutting off of heads! The tune and persuasive and beseeching vocal patterns of ‘The Last Glass Eye Maker’ really get their claws in and despite the fact this is the albums longest track there is something about it that makes it one of those numbers that really clings to you tenaciously like a limpet. Somewhat creepy and kooky the piano canter that goes up and down ‘The Mirrored Staircase’ adds an ethereal spooky touch as we carefully tread towards the end. If you make it out of what has turned into a bit of a house of horrors be warned do not get ambushed by Mr Osbourne’s Hazelnuts, sucking these is definitely inadvisable and we take no responsibility for any loss or injury to your molecular structure by doing so!
If you like your music to swing in avant-garde directions then The Earls Of Mars are going to completely captivate you, that is not saying that you should not approach them without caution though as you could well be completely hooked in, which no doubt is all part of their nefarious plan. Seeing them live is the icing on the cake and Londoners are freely (ie it’s bloody free) invited to witness the launch of this album on Halloween at The Camden Unicorn. It’s the 1st step towards world domination for these pesky Martians!
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)