Following Leemun Smith's upgrade from occasional guest vocalist, to fully-fledged band member, Castrovalva release their 'Thug Poetry' single.
Immediately, both tracks feel more like 'proper' songs, rather than the extended, mind-twisting instrumental jams of old. It's not that Castrovalva have conformed, it's just that prog with full lyric and vocal accompaniments will always be easier to digest than instrumental prog. Castrovalva's founding members are churning out the same dense, bass-heavy racket they've always done, just with the added distraction of Leemun's voice to make it more accessible.
'Thug Life' is an apocalyptical rumble, with buzzy-edged riffs that groan and grind away, and generally sound like a cross between conventional guitars, an animal in pain, and a flat, twisted, alt-electronica sound effect. 'Thug Life' drags itself along, gradually thickening to that ponderous, bowel-troublingly bass slug that have come to characterise Castrovalva releases.
Leemun's vocals are such a perfect fit, it's difficult to believe he hasn't been a part of Castrovalva since their inception, but, at the same time, he's an unusual choice of vocalist for a prog band. No hardcore gnashing, deathcore bellows or yelping here; Leemun favours a trembling falsetto that's incredibly, and unexpectedly, catchy. His hooky, speed-up squeaking at the beginning of the song is pop-music infectious; and when he breaks out the vocoder at the end, it's pure, electro-pop cheese, and a stroke of bizarre genius.
'Outlawz' continues Castrovalva's mission to be, musically, just the same as they've always been, whilst shooting off on mind-bogglingly random vocal tangents. Opening with a multi-layered falsetto chant of "bangin' the drum / bangin' the drum" that lasts just long enough for the established Castrovalva fan to worry about where this is all going, Castrovalva then pitch us into a familiar landscape of grinding bass and twisted riffing.
If 'Thug Poetry' is any indication, then it's a pretty exciting time in camp Castrovalva at the moment. This two track release is the sound of a band with countless new avenues to explore now they've acquired a vocalist. Leemun doesn't sound like he should be at the helm of a grinding, bass-drenched juggernaut, but that's what makes 'Thug Poetry' all the more refreshing. Castrovalva have even managed to retain the core of their sound. Existing fans can breathe a sigh of relief: 'Thug Poetry' sounds like Castrovalva have always sounded, just with Leemun's wonderfully unhinged vocals slapped over the top.