The Earls of Mars - The Earls of Mars (Candlelight Records)

Strangely strange...
Release Date: 
20 Oct 2013 - 11:30pm

In 1977 English psychedelic warlords Hawkwind produced an album called Quark, Strangeness and Charm. Thirty six years later, another ‘weird’ bunch of Britishers, The Earls of Mars, have released an album that could easily, to my mind, have been called something like Squawk , Weirdness and Harm. An unwieldy simile I know, but this really is such a strange album I found it really hard to get this band into any sort of lazy-journo pigeonhole by way of explanation for you, the curious punter.

Ostensibly coming from England’s very healthy stoner rock scene – they’ve supported genre titans Orange Goblin on tour- TEOM are actually closer to some mad seventies art rock experiment – actually probably not too far removed from the field Hawkwind were working in in the early seventies, minus the whooshing noises and the ‘exotic’ dancing; Whack in some Faith No More at their most arty to the mix and you have a tantalising, if incredibly confusing, bunch of music confronting you.

You’ll find that the opening couple of tracks, Poor Whores Petition and The Swinger, pass you by whilst you’re getting your bearings, and it’s not until track three, the menacing The Astronomer Pig, that the music settles down and enables you to get a handle on what’s going on. This is incredibly progressive stuff, vocalist Harry Armstrong moving from ape-like grunting to an alluring falsetto reminiscent of SparksRuss Mael or, even more improbably, The DarknessJustin Hawkins almost in the same breath. Musically rooted in the seventies works of acts like Cockney Rebel, the likes of this track and the doomy, unsettlingly grinding Cornelius Itchybah really demand some commitment from the listener, but the rewards are boundless if you can tune in to what’s going on. 

The creepy Otto the Magnificent sees Armstrong unleashing his inner Louis Armstrong as the band put together a sleepy jazz shuffle as accompaniment, before the excellent Ballad of Ben Ayre, which is perhaps the most accessible thing on offer here to metalheads, featuring as it does some tasty riffage from ( I think) multi-instrumentalist Dan Hardingham and another nice falsetto from Armstrong. 

The Last Glass Eye Maker heads back to the ground covered by The Astronomer Pig, without actually reprising it, rising to a nice n’heavy crescendo and some more tasty guitar work. 

There’s a lot of humour here too – song title Mr Osbourne’s Hazelnuts carries a big whiff of British absurdist comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer – but that sense of the ridiculous never undermines what is an exceptionally well played and put together record. Highly recommended – but only for those of a very open mind.