Grabbing attention, certainly for a moment or two is pretty much within the ability of most artists with an inkling of imagination in their sound and presentation; sustaining it across a parade of tracks and releases is not so easy but a prowess well within the capabilities of British outfit Ward XVI. They poked at ears and an initial awareness of their individual adventure with a self-titled debut EP in 2015 and now truly stoke the fires of both with their first album. The Art Of Manipulation is a 16-track escapade as diverse and bold in flavours as it is compelling in theatrical imagination and oh so enjoyable and fun.
Hailing from Preston, Ward XVI is a sextet of musicians bringing an array of widespread inspirations into their individual and united creativity. Since the release of that first EP, the band has shared stages with the likes of William Control and The Men that will not be Blamed for Nothing, played the main stage at O2 Academy Leeds in the final of the Soundwaves Music Competition, and increased their reputation and success across their native North West with a host of headlining shows. Recently signing with Germany’s Rock ’N’ Growl Records, the band is now teasing and tempting national recognition with The Art Of Manipulation, a release which has you rocking in body and imagination from start to finish with its multi-flavoured avant-garde rock.
A concept album telling the introspective story of a female psychopath locked away in a high security asylum, each track a delving into her past life and telling the story of how she manipulated a man into killing for her using her feminine charm, The Art Of Manipulation introduces itself with doctor and protagonist tempting and contemplating the story leading to the waiting embrace of Ward XVI. Take My Hand emerges from its lead, melancholic guitar and keys caressing the senses as vocalist Psychoberrie adds her potent lures to its entrance. Soon a gentle stroll, the song swiftly reveals an infectious swing, a low key flirtation which soon finds a hungrier intent as the song explodes with a fusion of metal/rock tenacity. Two minutes of rousing rock ‘n’ roll, the song sets up appetite and attention with ease and ready for the album’s following title track. Again a mellow start beckons ears, guitars weaving an elegant web before the darker shadows of Beardy McStumble’s bass and the senses clipping beats of Jake step in. There is an elegant but portentous air to the joining keys of Min, a threat which ignites as the song slips into a tempestuous canter of riffs and rhythms led by the increasingly enticing and impressive tones of Psychoberrie. Theremin lures add to the intrigue and appetising character of the track, punk and metal essences colluding with the rapacious rock ‘n’ roll steered by the guitars of Lex Whittingham and Dr. Von Stottenstein with the song ebbing and flowing in energy and aggression across its eventful body, every second a tease and temptation to devour.
A verbal interlude bridges one rich highlight to another as The Flight takes over, the track at first a heavy boned hard rock stomp but soon surrounding its heady march with electro revelry. It is a glorious rousing mix, a fusion of flavours which, though not exactly in a similar sound, ignites the imagination like a fusion of Kontrust and Russkaja, heavy metal flames extra spicing to the fiery mix. By now the diversity of the Ward XVI sound is inescapable, a magnetic trait among many which continues into the next up and brilliant Crystal Ball. Instantly capturing ears with its open Stolen Babies inspiration, the song quickly adds some gypsy dance revelry to the mix, Min’s accordion a flirtatious enticement as it aligns with Molotov Jukebox like antics and emerges as another unique track in the Ward XVI asylum.
The piano nurtured beauty of Hold Me calms things down a touch, the key’s suggestive writing courted by spicy guitar strains and the bewitching voice of Psychoberrie as the song irresistibly serenades the senses. Becoming more volatile with each passing minute, the track keenly captivates before another revealing interlude splits its draw and the equally potent call of Blackened Heart. A heavy rock roar, the song shares its own creative dance of varied spices and individual craft to keep the pleasure flowing even though it misses the bolder attributes of other tracks around it such as Run For Your Lives. The track is a boisterous mix of antagonism and flirtation, the keys mixing gypsy punk with the hard rock throes of riffs and rhythms and with vocals just as textually mixed and gripping, irritability increasingly brewing in them as the sounds until the carnival dance of its finale, it is another pinnacle of an already highly addictive proposition.
Adrenochromania seduces like a dark dream, its predacious shadows and spatial melodic caresses a weave of emotional disorder and euphoria; a union careering towards rock ‘n’ roll psychosis which breaks with zeal and enterprise as the guitars subsequently sizzle and keys progressively weave with equal relish. Psychoberrie gives the recipe to manipulation within it all, her tones a lingering essence as the song departs for the lively electro rock ‘n’ roll of Cry Of The Siren to step up and stir up body and energy.
Its potent temptation is instantly overshadowed by the psychotic nursery room smile of Toybox, the song recalling Stolen Babies again with a touch of Venus De Vilo to the vocal dance of Psychoberrie. Accordion and guitars wrap around rhythmic trespasses as the song hits its full weighty voice though it is that initial innocence spawned discordance which steals the passions most on its subsequent return into the track’s muscular tempest.
The outstanding Inner Demon has ears and thoughts flared up again with its rapacious punk ‘n’ roll, hooks and grooves as dangerous as the edge in the vocals and the song’s rhythmic infestation of the senses. Providing another major highlight, the song brings another hue to the landscape and adventure of the album, as all those before it, pushing and stretching the band’s sound and drama to another slightly different and deranged quarter without losing the inherent infectiousness of the release.
The album closes with the track Ward XVI, its own and its inmate’s final destination reached. An initial keys crafted gentle start deceives; its suggestion of contrition and realisation soon consumed by the raging blaze of sound and intensity which erupts as the release burns its final success into the senses and imagination. It is a fine end to an encounter which offers a little more with every listen; a striking affair from a band we for one are already hungrily waiting to hear more from. The Art Of Manipulation is a must for the bold, musically adventurous, and yes slightly deranged.
The Art Of Manipulation is out now on Rock ’N’ Growl Records @ https://wardxvi.bandcamp.com/album/the-art-of-manipulation
Pete RingMaster 11/07/2017
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