DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA play music that is extraordinarily difficult to encapsulate in a few words, or even sentences. Other Avant-Garde Metal acts can at least be very broadly defined, rather easily, in a few genre tags. UNEXPECT's spastic circus-sound, SIGH's often Classical-themed Black Metal; sure, these bands incorporate hundreds of different sounds and instruments into their music, but a short, general description can be made that fits most of their sound.
With "The Butcher's Ballroom," that is not at all the case. The majority of the songs featured here are so drastically different from one another musically that, barring vocals, you would never know the same band wrote them all. The album opens with "Ballrog Boogie," DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA's own brand of slightly-macabre Big Band swing, complete with creeping bass lines, goblin-style grunts, operatic female vocals, and heaving guitars...what the...? Adding to the confusion are the minor key tendencies of an otherwise very upbeat song; welcome to "The Butcher's Ballroom."
Next up is the genuinely great "Heroines," a darker, string-driven tune and probably the best on the album. The brooding verses, accompanied by soft vocals and pulsing cello, is made all the more effective by the following chorus, which builds slowly towards the eventual climax. But it's the little things that make the big difference here: the subtle guitar picking in the background of the verse, the echoed chord voicing that bridges the first two verses, the absolutely perfect cello "riff" at the halfway point - these songwriting subtleties help lift "Heroines" to the next level, but unfortunately aren't as prevalent on the rest of the album.
And the album only gets weirder, with far-out songs being the norm: "Infralove" and it's didgeridoo-meets-techno riffage, the full-blown fiesta that is "Poetic Pitbull Revolutions," or the Hard Rock-turned-oriental orchestra-turned-who-knows-what-the-hell-genre-this-is that's featured just in the first 30 seconds of "Porcelain Judas." And is that Tuvan throat singing I hear?
"The Butcher's Ballroom" will be a musical experience unlike anything you've ever heard before, at least not all in one place. And though DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA is certainly not a gimmick, songs like "Ballrog Boogie" and "Poetic Pitbull Revolutions" come dangerously close. But when it comes down to it, they still rank among the best on the album, if for no other reason than they are not only interesting but immensely entertaining - and this is where tracks like "Ragdoll Physics," "Velvet Embracer," and "Pink Noise Waltz" fall far short. All in all, "Butcher's Ballroom" is a mostly entertaining, always mind-bending musical journey that I would recommend to any fan of unconventional music.
(Online September 6, 2011)