My first encounter with London-based Temples on Mars was at ProgPower Europe this year. I learned that this London-based band was previously called Agent, hardly a stand-out name, and this is effectively a re-launch. After the band’s entertaining heavy melodic prog rock set, I picked up this debut album.
On their web page, Temple on Mars note their liking of a number of bands from the heavy rock and metal spectrum. One of them is not Pain, of which “Gods and Kings” reminds me strongly. For an opener this is a very good choice. It immediately provokes attention and interest. The Tätgren-like vocal effects, which are used to good effect throughout this recording, make it more spooky. There’s an eastern rhythm in there and a killer epic chorus. Wow. “Gods and Kings” is heavy and impactful. This heavy element continues in “Afraid of Living”. The sound is expansive. The line “looking for signs of life” is drawn out to maximum effect. It then bursts into instrumental explosiveness and another epic chorus. Subtleties are abundant in the guitar department. “The party is over … you didn’t notice … didn’t anyone tell you”… then wham, it’s over to that chorus. It would be too mundane a description to call the end of this song just progressive. It is too tense and exciting for that. “Afraid of Living” totally captures a heightened emotional state.
“So In Love With Your Own Drug” is one that I remembered from ProgPower. In the recorded version, that echoing distant vocal works so well. The drum is prominent. The sound mix is superb. This is a rock-pop song. This could be mainstream, and I mean that in a complimentary way. I don’t know what my fellow passengers on the Stansted to Cambridge train thought as I joined in the infectiously catchy chorus of this one but I don’t care. Moreover it’s so well constructed.
Is there a bad track on this album? It’s maybe too much to hope that a newly formed band, albeit on a technicality, was going to produce a full album of magic. “How Far Will You Go” is a different type of song. It’s more acoustic and softer but once again it’s hugely powerful. The power is cranked up, there are screams and instrumental high points in it, so yes, it’s another hit. I am faintly reminded of Kingcrow, a favourite band of mind. We are in rich pastures here. “Death in the Afternoon” reminds us that this is fundamentally a rock band but one which has mastered the art of the heavy melodic song while not missing out on its progressive element with supporting sound effects. It may not go down well in some quarters if I say that there’s a bit of Bring Me The Horizon metalcore about it, which I certainly didn’t pick up when I saw them live. People may not agree with me with that comparison but in any case this is carefully crafted and coordinated musically and vocally. “Black Mirror” takes us into the Zero Hour world of technical metal. It expands and leads us to a pleasant and interesting, but not devastating heavy prog song. One thing this album isn’t is uniform, and “Suicide by Tiger” proves this. Although slow-moving and driven by a leaden drum, the riff is colourful and the song breaks open, combining emotion with power. I like it, but I liked “When Gods Collide” even more for its heavy energy and bright structure, which while progressive is all about the mobility and impact of the song. I liked “Dining With Devil, a song I remembered from their set at ProgPower, even more. As ever it’s an edgy melodic song with heavy elements, but enhanced by an ambient prog soundscape. It’s an entirely coherent song and indicative of the firepower that Temples on Mars have at their disposal. As if to prove that they’re neither one thing nor the other that we cannot fit into a neat box, the album finishes with the industrial electro ambience of “Chief Seattle”. I’m not sure where it fits in to anything else I’ve heard but I guess there’s no law about that.
One thing that comes across from this album is that Temples on Mars are finding their own place, and this album is the tangible result. I like the fact that they acknowledge the bands they like, and there are identifiable elements of Muse, Tool, Queens of the Stone Age and others, but all this comparison does them an injustice. They will undoubtedly develop for themselves what works and what doesn’t work but this is a fine start. The highlights for me were the hard-edged melodies and sometimes the catchiness, the sound effects especially on the vocals and the integration of ambient prog. There’s a lot going on within these structures. At times this album struck every nerve in my body and was absolutely stunning. Along with those vocal effects, the timing is impeccable, and the instrumentals are sophisticated. This really is a good album.
(8.5/10 Andrew Doherty)