The first release since 2011 for Seven Against Thebes, Art of Deception, is a thirteen song studio recording that picks up where their self titled 2011 full length leaves off and advances the band’s reach with memorable results. Bands opening their first studio album in years with an instrumental, particularly one as idiosyncratic as “MMXXII”, are serving notice they intend on pushing their personal musical envelope with just as much force as ever before and aren’t interested in playing it safe.
It establishes the dominant mood of the collection – the walls are closing in, tribulation rains down on Seven Against Thebes’ speakers, and lives are about finding a way to withstand the assaults coming at us from within and without. “’Til Death Do Us Part” takes a dim view of matrimonial bliss, but holds hints that there’s some blame to go around without ever striking too one dimensional of a note for listeners. Seven Against Thebes, likewise, demonstrates a strong commitment towards keeping these often heavy subjects lightening a little with the entertainment value of their playing.
Few songs on Art of Deception make that clearer than “Killing Time”. It’s a song about many things, losing your way among them, and has a poetic flash to its lyrical content that makes the song’s subject matter all the more poignant. The song’s instrumental breaks are particularly effective; the wailing quality of Cyrus Rhodes’ lead guitar playing provides a perfect counterpoint for the impassioned despair running through Rusty Hoyle’s singing. The lengthiest track on Art of Deception, “Ashes 2 Ashes”, never has to scream or turn the volume up to capture your attention. It’s a stark, musically and lyrically, portrayal of a fallen world where survival is up for grabs – the neo-blues phrasing and tone of the arrangement falls in lockstep with Hoyle’s singing and makes hearing this recording a near cinematic experience. It’a a track lit up in shades of crimson and red, deepening as the song progresses.
Their willingness to experiment a little results in one of the most successful tracks on Art of Deception, “Fly Paper”. The sitar-like sounding flourishes scattered throughout the song mix well with Rhodes’ more customary rock playing and the production accentuates the strengths of each performance while keeping the mix in a good balance. Seven Against Thebes, for their return, might have decided to play things close to their vest and go for safe songs, but “Fly Paper”, if nothing else, proves that isn’t the case at all. Their willingness to unflinchingly face hard subject matter is further confirmed by “Slave 2 the Needle” and the uncompromising hard rock crawl they use for the bulk of the song has a pulverizing effect on the audience while still conveying its story. “Yama” is familiar, yet obscure, at least lyrically, and does what any good album should do, regardless of genre – bring everything to a satisfying conclusion consolidating what the audience has just experienced and, hopefully, crystallize it in a memorable closing.
You can hear some of the band’s exploratory side, their mastery of hard rock/metal fundamentals, and the instrumental excellence that elevates the entire package. The sensitivity and lung busting quality of Hoyle’s vocals gets a final airing as well. This is a wicked good return to form for one of Seattle’s best guitar bands.