Who would’ve thought that it would take a band from Sweden to do the obvious and claim that so-often overlooked London Underground station as their own? Until now it has mainly reminded me of a rather mediocre Macc Lads song (some fat blokes from the North of England singing about drinking heavily and catching venereal diseases). But with my 14 year-old days so long behind me and having long since stopped finding the Macc Lads even vaguely amusing (30 years or so, but the stains are still on my consciousness) it seems even north London localities can get a second shot at fame. And this time round with a straight face too because the band’s name is the only thing about them that borders on bromidic – for reasons we’ll see later on. Apart from that MaidaVale is like a breath of fresh air for this genre of bands revelling in the 1960s and 1970s – one which has often produced so many layers of nostalgia and bloated dark psychedelia for its own sake that I’ve sometimes struggled to see anything original in it all.
The band cruises through these nine tracks with a sharp focus that can only come from a total confidence in each member’s contribution and a sense of purpose and originality. MaidaVale bring together the past and present with such ease doesn’t hide its sins behind reverb, billowing smoke or pseudo-ritualism. Gone is the triumph of form over function and in comes substance in the form of decent songwriting. It’s not just that the singer’s voice is oozing with depth of character, but she’s also backed up by three musicians which each sound like they’re contributing equally to produce something that is far more than the sum of its parts. The guitar has a life of its own, and providing just the right amount of psychedelic swirl, while the rhythm section provides some show-stealing departures. Singer Matilda Roth struts though a range of topics – racism, war, the bible – but done with a thoughtful spin and a worldly concern rather than with disparaging bluntness or through the medium of pure rage.
Other aspects of the lyrics come from a more elusively personal place injecting more ambiguity that seems to fit with the band’s more whimsical side. And it’s all marked out with a heavy streak of blues that at times sounds like Witchcraft, at others more like Zeppelin or even Danzig (the track Restless Wanderer is a standout that could almost have been penned by good old Evil Elvis himself). The comparisons don’t stop there, however, and each contribution strides various influences across the past five decades that but which at the same time defy comparison because the band does such a good job of repackaging everything into nine tracks that each has something different to offer. From the more headbanging rockers like (If You Want The Smoke) Be The Fire to instrumental tracks there’s a nice spectrum at work here and it’s all delivered with a passion that makes you wish you could witness it all in person.
And did I mention this is an all-female band from Sweden? Not until now anyway – and why should I when it really isn’t the thing that really makes the band worth checking out. There’s a whole lot more to this band than just being one of the many fast-materialising groups (Oceans of Slumber being another good example) for whom having a female singer (or any other part of the band) with a voice that emerges from deep within rather than just another of the many comic book sopranos that have come our way over the past two decades. Okay, maybe they are playing on the four-women-in-a-band just a teensy weensy bit with the name MaidaVale. But if you find the time to check out Tales Of The Wicked West then you might just change your view of 70s-inspired metal bands – or else be a new take on the whole scene even if you feel you’ve seen it all and done that. Either way, you’ll never feel the same while travelling on the Bakerloo line between Kilburn Park and Warwick Avenue ever again.
(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)