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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Album Review: Baaba Kulka - Baaba Kulka

I know, I know. You're about to start listening to me waffle on about fiddle-de-dee folk and bippety-bop pop music and you want to know why the hell as a rabid metal fan you should carry on reading. For now, all I want you to do is take a moment, a deep breath, as I try to explain who the hell Baaba Kulka are and what the devil they have got to do with Iron Maiden.

Comfortable? Then I'll begin. The driving force behind the Baaba Kulka project is the award-winning Polish singer/songwriter/pianist Gabriela 'Gaba' Kulka. Now, the idea of a jazz/folk artist citing Maiden as an influence, may seem a little out of left field but, to be fair, she is a bit prone to bouts of eccentricity (one listen to her off-the-wall lyrics should do it). Still with me? Okay. Well, such is her love for the Irons that she decided to gather other like-minded Polish artists (some of whom she'd worked with previously on her solo albums) to play a supposedly one-off show of Maiden covers at the Hard Rock Café in Warsaw. She could have had no idea as to how well it would be received so, needless to say, they ended up touring it all over Poland and following it up with this very album of classic Maiden songs. Naturally, us being a dedicated heavy music site, we needed to give you the lowdown on just how "metal" it is.

Well, let's just get this out of the way, it's not going to open any moshpits. However, hearing Baaba Kulka's unique take on each individual track is still a pretty rewarding experience. The familiar kick-ass lyrics, backed by a rich variety of tones and textures, takes you on a potted saunter through Maiden's early history. You can hear that each track treats each lyric as if it's something to be adored and cosseted; granted its own particular space and mood. Believe me, when I say you can feel the love.

The simple synth and deliberately-ponderous opening delivery of 'The Number Of The Beast' allows for each word to ram itself into your conscious, so hacking clear a path for Kulka's elongated quavering vocal peak to pitch you into string, brass and woodwind pieces that lope along to a stripped-back beat. The jazzy construction and salsa rhythms of 'Wrathchild' are joined by the soul and electronica of 'Aces High' for what could quite possibly be the spawn of Chrome Hoof and Burt Bacharach. 'Children Of The Damned', similarly, hits the groove pedal and fishes out an emotional, piano-led, funk-fuelled piece of pop that, for some reason, has me thinking of those oddball alt-rockers Foxy Shazam. Oh yes, the horns are high and the Devil is dancing tonight.

All too often, though, things get just a little too odd. Baaba Kulka manage to turn 'Prodigal Son' into a meandering Queen-esque dance track (with Marina & The Diamonds jamming to Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson on jazz flute) and the most metal track (you could call it a kind of black pagan metal), 'To Tame A Land', a 7-minute troll through a series of macabre theatrics, simply fails to ignite any level of curiosity. The different speeds and layers never quite seem to gel and you'll find yourself hitting the skip button pretty rapidly. Ditto the minute of Gregorian chant that forms 'The Ides Of March'.

But, worst of all, they've committed the ultimate sin and rather screwed up the legendary 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'. These heathens appear to have gone so lo-fi as to construct the entire backing for the track on a tinny keyboard no less. It reminds me of that dusty old Roland we have in the corner, set to that god-awful "swing rock" drum setting with accompanying, pre-programmed chords sounding off in turn. Burn them, burn them all.

Okay I'm exaggerating but, it's fair to say the second-half of the album fails to live up to the promise of the first. On the bright side, to keep the metal flag flying, several of the tracks have a habit of suddenly breaking out the heavy and this is definitely a good thing. Take 'The Clairvoyant' which starts out flying along, disjointedly cuts to insert a half-time flamenco rhythm (yes, they actually do break out the castanets), before that acquiesces to allow the guitars to charge back in. Odd.

Weird Al Yankovic, Flametal, Richard Cheese, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Hellsongs, early-Apocalyptica - we've been here before. Yes, we've all got at least one collection by a band who play odd covers of rock/metal songs. Off the top of my head, I've got a copy of The Darkness' 'Permission To Land' as performed by The Angry String Orchestra. If you don't have one of these and/or love the Maiden, then let Baaba Kulka be your slice of dairy. If you approach this with an open mind, the novelty value may wear a little thin after the first couple of spins, but you could do a lot worse.

Also online @ Metal Team UK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/july11reviews/cdreviews-baaba.htm

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