ALBUM REVIEW: Diablo Swing Orchestra – Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole
Photo Credit: Alexander Crispin
When heavy metal music was being forged amongst the backdrop of the industry in the Midlands of the UK, it’s hard to think that anyone involved thought “I can’t wait until we mix this all with the swing and jazz music that was popular decades ago.” It’s a sentence that most likely did not manifest from the brains of anyone in Black Sabbath. But in 2003, a fine group of folks from Sweden decided to go all in on this idea, and thus Diablo Swing Orchestra was born. Now on their fifth album, Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole, the band are determined to go so far beyond the original idea that it’s hard to fathom. If this is your first experience of the group, strap in for a colourful and unforgettable ride, because you have never heard anything quite like this.
Opening with Sightseeing In The Apocalypse, a top five song title of the year, the group once again lets you know that you are in for a wild, creatively freewheeling ride. It’s when you get to War Painted Valentine that you hit a point that might make you walk away, as the “Brian Badonde impersonating a chicken noise” may break your soul in half, or bring you so much joy you find yourself humming along to them as you eat your breakfast. The swing and groove on the drums recalls percussionists like Gene Krupa and Tito Puente more than Lars Ulrich or Dave Lombardo. The multi-vocal, glorious bewilderment from Kristin Evergard and Pontus Mantefors is a delirious mix of rapid fire noises, which would be boundary pushing for any other band except this one, where its just another stupidly entertaining and brilliant song in the tradition of classics like Black Box Messiah and Balrog Boogie.
If anyone had “delirious Charleston song about an arsonist” on their 2021 bingo card, congratulations, your ship has come in, as Speed Dating An Arsonist is here to delight, confound and leave you dancing around whatever space your in like its a speakeasy. Evergards’ impish and utterly delightful vocal turn on this song really sells the mood, and the band locks into an astonishingly peppy groove. It’s so wonderfully chaotic and just puts the biggest smile on the listener’s face. Jig Of the Century continues the delirium, by throwing Queen-esque multi-tracked vocals, some squalling evil trumpet and another catchy vocal hook.
The three-song run of Malign Monologues, Out Came The Hummingbirds and Snake Oil Baptism are some of the most fun, riotously colourful and creative pieces of music you’ll hear for some time indeed. Malign Monologues features a delightful lead vocal from Daniel Hakannson, also finding time to match its shuffling groove with gorgeous strings and some cheeky barbershop harmonies too, before culminating in a fabulous polka. In the lyric “follow me into my theatre of lunacy,” Evegard continues her streak of killer Kylie Minogue-esque songs with Out Came The Hummingbirds, something that began with the superb Jigsaw Hustle from 2017’s Pacifisiticuffs. The song slinks across the ear like it’s decided to hit up a tastefully decorated Berlin nightclub, and it’s complemented by some excellent bass guitar from Anders Johannson. Snake Oil Baptism brings in a gospel element, and the ending is suitably massive, with a gospel chorus playing against the horns and guitar so triumphantly. If only that was even longer. The much grander Les Invulneables resembles a James Bond theme song in all the best ways. The album ends with a grand one two punch. The Prima Donna Gauntlet is suitably dramatic, building itself up from a plucked, delicate intro to a bumpy, bouncy pace anchored by Mantefors vocals. Overture to a Ceasefire brings the tango vibes, and also manages to remind the listener of the music box dance scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. No, really!
If we had to be nit-picky, the guitar tone on the record just doesn’t quite hit the mark, feeling like the only instrument that is not allowed to fully fly. This is most egregious during Jig Of The Century and the intro of Out Came The Hummingbirds, as the hard riffing sections just don’t quite roar as they should. The album also feels a tiny bit too long; if one or two of the songs had been cut it might feel that little bit tighter. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, but you just get that nagging sense of their being just a bit too much here in terms of length. It’s the same feeling you get when you go for a nice dinner, order a dessert and whilst you enjoy it and it’s well made, you end up feeling so full you struggle to get back to your car and can’t do anything else afterwards, without lamenting your gluttony.
Now that the negatives are out of the way, let’s round this piece off. In a world that regularly tries to tell us a metalcore band using the occasional synth line, and maybe some strings, is the height of experimentation and “so brave”, Diablo Swing Orchestra have, for the fifth time, utterly shown up most bands as painfully lacking in any imagination, ideas and even just joy in playing music. If you have been crying out for music that really is pushing boundaries, this is it. If you want music that will make you dance the Charleston, the tango and the jive as much as headbang, this is it. If you want music that will have you grinning like a horror movie clown at the abandon at which it’s played, then this is it. This is a band that theatre kids who also like heavy guitars should have been taking to their hearts and minds fifteen years ago, as well as anyone who claims to “listen to everything,” because pretty much everything gets a nod here. The musicianship from start to finish is absolutely incredible, and every one of the band’s eight members is on top form. The song always comes first with Diablo Swing Orchestra too. They continue to swagger and stroll down the rabbit hole of the vast, endless sprawl of musical forms. Whilst they may not be for everyone, here’s hoping they keep growing and finding more and more devoted admirers.
Standout Tracks: Speed Dating An Arsonist, Jig Of The Century, Out Came The Hummingbirds, The Prima Donna Gauntlet
For Fans Of: Queen, Between The Buried And Me, Devin Townsend, Sigh
Written by: Louis Tsangarides