British Theatre: Mastery

British Theatre – Mastery
Entry point: Gold Bruise/Capra
Personal highlight: Newman

Full disclosure: I was a backer of this project on PledgeMusic. I am unashamedly a huge fan of everything these guys do.

Quality music follows them; Oceansize, their solo projects, Biffy Clyro (where they play the part of hired guns) and now British TheatreOceansize are one of the few bands I’ve ever known to master dynamics in rock music. A feat made all the more impressive when you factor in their three pronged guitar lineup and then bass on top.

British Theatre exists as an electronic outlet from Mike Vennart and Richard. A. Ingram, or “Gambler”.

The first British Theatre release titled “EP” feels like catharsis. Intentional or not, it’s the break up album (technically three songs, and one of them is instrumental). The lamentation of what could have been and what was with Oceansize.

For me the first release has such range. The vocals are on point, the synthesizers and electronic elements feel mature. This isn’t two teenage kids experimenting, this is two hardened professionals thrown in the deep end. Starting again after 13 years of being in a relationship, albeit strained and untenable in the end. That’s what being in a band is like most of the time.

The first EP feels like an Oceansize experiment. It sounds like some of my favourite Oceansize experiments – “Paper Champion” and “Superfluous to Requirements”. Absolute gold, yet one of them is a B-side on the “New Pin” single. Jerks. Talented jerks.

After teasing short snippets of video set to stock footage on the web, British Theatre released their second EP “Dyed In The Wool Ghost”.

This particular video whet my appetite for the new music and as good as it went on to be when released, this a capella snippet is beautiful.

“Dyed in the Wool Ghost” is an evolution. The beats are dirtier. The guitars present but more subtle, providing texture rather than taking the spotlight. This release feels less like Oceansize and more like something new, something experimented on and tinkered with. The vocals are (finally) prominent in a mix where Vennart sings, a long overdue and welcome change.

In the lead up to Mastery, British Theatre released the single “Cross the Swords”. I was nervous. It’s not my favourite track on the album, though I’d love to hear it without the drums. The cohesion between the all the elements on previous releases is missing. Too many elements doing too much is my take. With that said, I’m sure there are people who love it.

Next stop, the actual review. Mastery by British Theatre.

‘We didn’t want to do anything that screams ‘rock band goes electro!’’ says Mike. ‘We made the decision that I wouldn’t play guitar on this; sure there’s a little bass guitar on a couple of tracks but there’s no real drums, no guitar, even the singing’s pretty different to anything I’ve done before. – independent.co.uk (accessed 23/10/16)

No guitars hey, this will be interesting…

“Blue Horror” opens the album. The prominent feature is a big sweeping synth sure to give any stereo a workout. A minute in and other elements join in, this is British Theatre 2.0 rolling out. It’s not until the first chorus of “Blue Horror” that some of the familiar elements seeped through. Vocal harmonies that were part of the Oceansize DNA, and British Theatre are all the better for it.

“The Cull” starts small. Drums, bass and a relatively naked vocal performance from Vennart. Unlike with Oceansize the places to hide vocally are few and far between on Mastery. Vennart’s vocal are under the spotlight more than previous recordings and he seems to rise to the occasion.

“Dinosaur” is an assault on the senses. The drums and bass drive this song with a repeated motif, it’s a relentless song that is sure to go off live. The breakdown/outro in particular are a sonic assault at higher volumes.

“The Coldest of Shoulders” is an instrumental segue after the barrage of “Dinosaur”. Adding proof that the majority of this album is the brainchild of Gambler, the atmospheric side of things that is present in his solo releases.

“Capra” is the opposite to what has come before it in many ways. It has an almost relaxed feel. I get a bit of Duran Duran‘s “Ordinary World” from it, though a notch or two back from reaching the same theatrics.

“Newman” builds and grows from a sporadic smattering of synthesizers and vocals into a hooky collection of segments. The elements are there, but it feels more like an experiment than a coherent song. It’s a slight shame as the ideas that exist within are very solid.

“Cross the Swords” is my least favourite part of the album for reasons outlined above.

“Gold Bruise”. This will be interesting. The song itself remains fantastic, yet when compared to the EP version doesn’t hit the same highs. The album version feels a touch too sterile compared to the EP. Vennart’s vocals on this track are fantastic.

“Thunderlips” acts as another instrumental segue between sections.

“Favour the Brave” sounds a lot like it has guitars to me. Driven by a pulsing bass loop the song makes a feature of dynamic range. Sonically large choruses help this track feel like another live classic.

“Mastery”, the longest song on the album is also the closer. It’s a slow burn and never aims for the full on sonic assault that happens elsewhere on the album. It’s a mature, restrained song that rounds out the album.

Mastery to me is two musicians I love conducting an experiment. Some parts work, some parts fall short. The difference between “Golden Bruise” on the first EP and “Golden Bruise” on Mastery is subtle, yet noticeable. Four years of evolution while playing with Biffy Clyro on the road, four years of toying and experimenting. Refining.

Take a listen. The EP version:

The album version:

You can hear the evolution from Oceansize, through the British Theatre EPs, through Gambler’s solo piano recordings. It all comes together as Mastery.

It’s not a release for everyone. Some parts are great, some parts are filler and I’m sure two fifths of Oceansize wouldn’t release something that isn’t also a slow burn. Songs I don’t like now may very well grow on me after a few more listens. That’s the Oceansize way, I can’t help but feel British Theatre have carried on that legacy.