The Sleep of Reason
, November 14th, 2012 08:52
People talk about a 'meteoric rise', but given that meteors invariably fall, isn't it more accurate to say – as with Dublin quintet BATS – that a band arrives with meteoric force? At any rate The Sleep of Reason is their second album, and stone me if it isn't the best alt-rock record to emerge from the Republic of Ireland since On the Turn by Kerbdog.
BATS are a different beast, though. After Kerbdog were unceremoniously dropped by Fontana Records in 1997 they became a touchstone for heavy bands with heart, beloved to this day by Biffy Clyro, INME and Funeral For a Friend. BATS splice a different order of heaviness with dancey grooves and lyrics which sound like a running commentary on the present-day battle of ideas between science and religion.
Named after Francisco Goya's iconic 1797 etching, The Sleep of Reason is a mean sequel to BATS' debut Red In Tooth and Claw. Where the first was produced in Baltimore by Kurt Ballou of Converge, this follow up has been produced by Chris Common of These Arms Are Snakes, making the sound somehow grander and more direct. Opening passage 'Emergent Properties' conjures a prehistoric landscape, the pulse of blood round the inner ear giving over to pick scrapes and tribal toms. The bass is Palaeolithic, the intro a mini-crescendo suggesting the dawn of time, raptors on the horizon, a stone-age chase. It's kill or be killed.
First song proper 'Wolfwrangler' shows precisely what BATS are about: staccato stomp from three guitars, switching to hip grooves with gritty bass and disco beats, with Rupert Morris' red-throated vocals creating scenes of panic and pursuit. His lyrical clarity is an advantage. You know exactly what he's singing about, and it's smart stuff. After 'Stem Cells' comes 'Astronomy Astrology', the chorus beginning "What effect could something so distant have on my birth? / Oh, the arrogance / We would do well to accept that the universe wasn't built for our benefit." Lines like this present the band's allegiance perfectly, pushing the idea stated so beautifully by the late Christopher Hitchens that religion "comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species."
That said, BATS stay on the disputatious side of didactic. They are sceptics, not cynics. Religion is an easy target these days, but Morris aims his righteous attack at folly wherever it arises. 'The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters' explains the 'prog' part usually included in any hyphenated classification of the band, showing Morris' talent for folding ideas into images. He rails against the indoctrination of the young and against those who, throught the ages, claim to be moral authorities. One part suggests persecution and Medieval tyranny – "On your knees, or you'll burn in the furnace!" – but the message is, ultimately, "Beware he who says he knows."
This goes for destructive science, too. Driven by a dark groove like Rammstein at a rave, 'Thomas Midgley Jr' berates the inventor of ozone-depleting leaded petrol with a feral, despairing roar: "Thomas Midgley, what have you done? / I have created the death of the world…" There's an arc to the album beginning with the birth of man, running through his grandeur and his foolishness, ending with the ten-minute 'Terrible Lizards' and the sound of his ultimate, final destruction. Throughout, the energy from each song carries over to the next, and in terms of sheer heaviness the album reaches an apex in the middle of 'Heat Death' with a blast that sounds for all the world like the chorus to 'Straighthate' by Sepultura.
This all sounds terribly brutish, but BATS carry themselves with an elegance, an obvious swing and sophistication which zaps the idea that they're some kind of gimmicky dance-rock act. 'Luminiferous Aether' creates a sense of wonder with a glassy intro and punchy, positive verses: "What can we learn by attempting this task? / Knowledge provides us with questions to ask." They actually have something to say, and do so with aplomb, hammer-ons and a dose of cowbell to boot. The big ideas might be too much for some, but for thrash, imagination, groove and invention, BATS never drop a beat.