KING MOTHERSHIP – ‘The Ritual’

By Ian Kenworthy

It’s finally here. After years of looming on the horizon the band known as King Mothership have arrived, ready to whisk you away to the strange world of ‘The Ritual’. As the side project of Spencer Sotelo, vocalist of tech-metal band Periphery, you knew this was going to be a technical feast but what might catch you out is its showmanship and style. This is a ten-track rock opera heavily influenced by Muse-style bombast and Jamiroquai-esque funk. It’s a sound based heavily on keyboards so perhaps not one for the metalheads, but for the open-minded it’s a real treat.

The project – and indeed the songs – has roots back in 2011. During the recording of ‘Periphery II’ Sotelo laid down a few demos that embraced a grander rock sound. After sharing them with his bandmate, drummer Matt Halpern, the two realised they were onto something and King Mothership became a real project. Its release was announced and teased online. However, despite the songs being constantly rewritten and worked on, their plans never quite worked out, enthusiasm waned and the demos were shelved. Yet, because of fan persistence Sotelo’s desire to finish them was finally rekindled. The results speak for themselves; it was so worth the wait.

If you’ve followed Sotelo’s other projects, you’ll be aware of his song-writing talent, but with these songs he wanted to try something ‘weird’ and ‘funky’. He succeeds at both. You would never find songs like these on a Periphery record, they’re too unbridled and gleeful, not to mention catchy as hell, which is what makes ‘The Ritual’ such a pleasure. More than that, it’s frequently awesome, especially when fully embracing the funky, jazz influences like on the ‘The Devil’s Train’ or the groovy ‘Only You’. Other highlights include the massive repeating basslines of ‘Death Machine’, which might be deceptively simple, but are arranged for maximum impact. The rock ballad ‘I Stand Alone’ also maintains a meatiness over its 8 minutes runtime that can’t be overstated. Even on the more forthright songs like ‘Babby’ you’re never left waiting for the next grand idea to come swooping out.

Unsurprisingly, due in part to the album’s long gestation, it has one foot in the past. Back in 2011 loose overarching album structures were still en vogue and ‘The Ritual’ harks back to this trend. Yet, having been constantly reworked, it has a modern sound, but feels like The Receiving End of Sirens or (wait for it) ‘The Black Parade’ on acid jazz.

Despite embracing a grand sound and not shying away from a little bombast, the album retains its poise and never goes totally off the chain, which is a good thing. By keeping the music relatively grounded it emphasises the melodies and vocal hooks which are Sotelo’s speciality. As you would expect, his vocal performance is the real draw here. Most singers would give their right vocal cord to have his talent, let alone the way he can fluidly switch styles. One moment he’s crooning softly, the next he dials his performance back or shifts gear, often to a massive chorus. This is especially true of songs like ‘Ego 101’ and ‘Gold’ although every song is crammed with so many hooks it is like falling into a box of fishing tackle. While singing is the staple throughout, Sotelo can’t resist a few aggressive screams, notably on the title track. Yet, no matter how hard he pushes things his voice remains expressive and expansive but never buries the music, a testament to how well it all works together.

Good things come to those who wait, and King Mothership’s debut album ‘The Ritual’ is the embodiment of that statement. Far more than just an aside and brimming with ideas, it is a tasteful, brilliantly constructed record that is more than worth your time.

IAN KENWORTHY

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