If there’s one album I recommend that was made after Jan. 1, 2001, more than any other it would be 2006’s There Be Squabbles Ahead by California-based Stolen Babies.
That album was a masterpiece leaving both fans of heavy metal and the avant-garde satisfied. If I were to die after listening to There Be Squabbles Ahead, I would have died at least knowing that there’s still creativity in the heavy metal scene, which has become dominated by screamo-emo and older bands writing the same songs over and over.
As someone who has been an avid music listener since the early 1990s, I know it would be wise to temper my expectations when their second full-length album, 2012’s Naught, finally came around. After all, there was no way they could top There Be Squabbles Ahead, which I consider as near to perfect as you can get.
There were really two ways that Stolen Babies could go. They could either try to make There Be Squabbles Ahead Part II, by writing the same sort of songs with different variations. They could also try to write something totally different, expanding the band’s musical direction. While regularly, people would say this would isolate fans, I doubt that it would turn off the sort of fans Stolen Babies has. After all, they are not only metal, but avant-garde too.
So, what direction did they go with Naught?
The songs on Naught both compliment There Be Squabbles Ahead and expand the band’s sound into new directions.
The intro track “Never Come Back,” No. 2 track “Splatter” and standout track “Mousefood” could all fit perfectly as tracks There Be Squabbles Ahead. All of these tracks keep that heavy sound which is blended with keyboards and accordions which is glued together by lead singer Dominique Lenore Persi’s vocals.
The band, consisting of Persi (vocals, accordion), Rani Sharone (bass, guitars and a lot of other instruments), Gil Sharone (drums, percussion) and Ben Rico (keyboards, percussion) also pushes into new directions.
“I Woke Up,” is probably the most avant garde on the album. It’s more industrial sounding with it’s menacing bass and staticy vocals. But, it doesn’t last very long and doesn’t follow usual song-writing structure, with Persi straining to whisper the lyrics.
“Dried Moat” is another track where the band tries sort of a funky direction with an almost Depeche Mode (think “Personal Jesus” type sound). In a similar vein is “Civil Disguise” which continues the alt-80s type sound.
Surprisingly, my favorite on the album is “Birthday Song.” It’s a funky little number with clean guitars until the chorus. It’s the most stripped-down sounding song on the album and really catchy.
“Behind the Days” and “Swimming Hole” see the band move things into a slower direction. Persi’s accordion, violins and other non-traditional rock instruments move to the forefront. “Behind the Days” actually sounds almost like a song you’d find on a Disney soundtrack, maybe for a scene involving gypsies.
One song that really sticks out as sort of a meeting between Stolen Babies expansion of its sound and the sound it had made with There Be Squabbles Ahead is the single for the album “ Second Sleep.” “Second Sleep” moves Persi’s accordion to the foreground along with some creative drumming by Sharone. The title fits the music as it is a dark song that sort of envelops you.
Listening to Stolen Babies is less about hearing a bunch of songs and more like an experience. That experience being a trip through a demented circus with There Be Squabbles Ahead followed by a twisted gypsy caravan with Naught. They mix a variety of music and moods, taking you from the thrill of watching the tortured lion finally biting off the head of the cruel lion tamer to a lonely waif singing alone under a dead tree.
I definitely recommend Naught. But, before you buy it, I recommend buying There Be Squabbles Ahead first.