Friday, April 28, 2023

Mike Ross - Third Eye Open

Mike Ross is, it seems, mad as hell and he ain’t gonna take it anymore.  And he’s channelled his feelings into some goddamn heavy stürm und drang on his new album Third Eye Open.
One listen to the opening track ‘I Swear’ tells you Ross isn’t messing about.  An intro of spidery, keening guitar draws you in, and then blam!  He lets loose with some seismic riffage, underpinned by lead-weighted bass from Derek Randall, who exploits increasing licence to rumble as the track progresses.  Meanwhile Ross delivers a controlled but emphatic vocal that gains extra edge on the off-kilter chorus – a chorus that’s ultimately repeated over some swooping and soaring guitar commentary.  Yeah, it’s heavy, but it’s not blunt – it’s angular and clever.
Mike Ross contemplates the need for a safety warning on Third Eye Open
Pic by Rob Blackham
The following ‘Cool Water’ is mid-tempo neck-snapping fare, all static-charged guitar and bruising drums from Darren Lee, with a juddering pre-chorus that gives way to a melodic chorus and some bursts of organ to offer some light and warmth.  But that’s just an interlude before ‘Third Eye Open’ itself crunches into earshot – brace yourself for some earth-moving guitar chords and bass, and jagged riffing, before Ross gets going with a teeth-grinding vocal over tense, staccato guitar chords.  To provide some respite things eventually subside into a halcyon, Floyd-like bridge, all swooning slide guitar and background chatter – and then they’re off again with those sledgehammer chords, overlaid with spiky soloing.
It's not all like this mind you, and given that the album extends to 72 minutes that’s probably just as well, or you could end up punch-drunk.  ‘Face By The Window’ goes with a blues framework, but still has a slightly oddball feel, with a repetitive twirl of guitar over drum paradiddles, and a slithering, serpentine slide solo.  ‘The Preacher’ also has more of a blues-rock vibe, but with its fuzzy, grinding guitar it still has a distinctive, British kinda feel.  And there are echoes of the Black Crowes in both ‘Ugly Brain’ and ‘(Be With You) Tonight’, though with its revolving, spiralling riff the former pulls off the trick of sounding familiar and fresh at the same time.  ‘ . . . Tonight’ takes a different, more serene tack; a duet with Jess Hayes, it’s all about the yearning vocals, and if it’s a bit Southern rock-ish it’s certainly not imitative – though for me it’s overlong, as is the rather different ‘Fallen Down’ despite the appeal of its hypnotic, shimmering opening, bristling guitar, and even some guitar transmissions from occupants of interplanetary craft.
‘Kicks Like A Mule’ is the most radio-friendly type o’thing on offer here, with jangling guitar over a pulsing rhythm section, and Ross doubling up the guitars for some harmony/interplay work, before a big anthemic solo – though it does seem to get snagged on the riff for a bit before wrenching itself free to bring the album to a close.  But I’m more taken with ‘Eulogy’, which sounds nothing like its title suggests as it steams in with another landslide of a riff.  It calms down a bit after a while, but with its tense vocals, stabbing guitar punctuation, and some tangled, discordant riffing it feels a bit like having your teeth cleaned by the dentist – abrasively good.
Wish I’d had a bit more time to get properly to grips with the lyrics on Third Eye Open, as Mike Ross seems to be in acerbic, truth-telling form.  But future listens will doubtless reveal more detail of where he’s at, and add a bundle more volts to the power of this album.
Meantime, I recommend that you grab your hard hat, adopt the brace position, and turn up the dial on this sucker.
Third Eye Open is released on 28 April, and can be ordered here.

Check out the Gimme 5 feature with Mike Ross talking about his favourite music and people, here.

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