If you are one of the few visitors to this site who has somehow avoided our near-cronyism levels of praise for The Lord Weird Slough Feg, fear not, as a necessary description and history follow. Throughout their first several albums, Slough Feg performed an entirely thrilling form of classic heavy metal filtered through folk rhythms, tempos, song structures, and rhyme schemes. It gave them a sound more original that it initially seemed, and allowed them to amass quite the cult following. Things hit their creative peak with the near-perfect Traveller in 2003, a sci-fi masterpiece that made it onto our list of the last decade’s most essential albums. After this, the band seemed to settle into less metal, more rock terrain. Atavism remained brilliant but at a lower plateau, while Hardworlder injected the seed of worry into the minds of the Feg faithful, containing some classic material but also appearing disjointed. Thankfully last year’s Ape Uprising restored all faith, launching itself into the top tier of the band’s catalog with its fresh combination of prog, traditional metal, and one superb take on doom.
So how does the band follow up their fantastic offering of fan-faith restoration? Well, in safe mode, that’s how. The Animal Spirits is Slough Feg set in one-half reset, one-half play-it-as-we-write-it mode. It has everything you want out of one of their albums–the memorable riffs and Maiden-esque harmonies, unmatched levels of rawk-roll fun times, and the unorthodox approach to melody–but there is something a tad hindered or even tame about this album that makes it sound like a collection of leftovers as opposed to a true follow-up to Ape Uprising. The fact that it sounds like a mixture of Atavism and Down Among the Deadmen only supports this suspicion.
However, as rapid-fire (and lyrically genius) opener “Trick the Vicar” quickly points out, even an album of seemingly leftover Slough Feg tunes can incite a neck-bobbing fury. The opener is quickly replaced by the Deadmen-styled “The 95 Thesis,” followed up by excellent instrumental bit “Materia Prima,” in which the band shows off a bit of their prog side. A couple tracks later things divert into much slower terrain. At first, this is carried out excellently: “Lycanthropic Fantasies” is a layered, self-evolving, and engagingly guitar-driven song that was already a part of live sets leading up to this album’s release and will assuredly remain thus. Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be allotted to either “Ask the Casket” or “Heavyworlder.” The former is downright boring, and the latter exposes just how much Mike Scalzi is recycling vocal melodies, bringing to mind the previous album’s “White Cousin” a mite too much at times. They are possibly the only tracks in Slough Feg’s great catalog that warrant a skip.
Luckily neither of these tracks are able to derail the album, and Slough Feg gets back on track with the final act, albeit not quite as “on track” as we’ve heard them in the past. Beginning with a riff-rocked and Lizzyed-up cover of The Alan Parsons Project’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” things instantly have a higher energy here, even more so than on the first few tracks. Heavy rocker “Kon-Tiki” and essential folk track “Second Coming” continue the quality. The latter is the strongest on the album and easily one of the best acoustic/folk tunes of the band’s career, but even this doesn’t give The Animal Spirits that one HUGE track that we have come to expect. There are plenty of good songs here, but there is no “High Passage/Low Passage,” “Tiger! Tiger!,” or “Traders and Gunboats” to give the album a classic stamp and firm anchor.
By no means does this make The Animal Spirits a poor album. It may be among Slough Feg’s least-essential platters, but it is still an enjoyable, well-written, and fun heavy metal album by one great goddamn band. (There’s that cronyism.) Longtime fans will undoubtedly have a blast with it, but it has to be considered a mild disappointment after the spectacular Ape Uprising reminded us exactly how truly great this band can be when fully honed in on their craft. A bit of refinement may have pushed it up a notch or two, but one gets the impression that Mike Scalzi does everything just the way he prefers it 100 percent of the time, and he wouldn’t have changed one iota. At the end of the day that is what puts the “Lord” into “The Lord Weird,” and mild disappointment or not, this is really what matters.