Album: “Reprehensible Tales and Penny Dreadfuls” (2012)
Genre: Progressive Metal
Members: Kurt Nelson (Vocals/Keyboard, Lyrics)
Bobby Lewicki (Guitars)
Josh Racine (Drums, Lyrics)
Location: Melvin, MI
Reviewed by: Grey Matter
Metal has, is, and always will be, filled with bands that sound like one another. There will always be trends in the metal scene and people will always follow them. Bands that adorn a trendy sound will more than likely come and go without people noticing.
To Be Fed is certainly not one of these bands. Upon listening to their most recent album, “Reprehensible Tales and Penny Dreadfuls”, I found myself being caught up in the overall sound of the album. The composition found in the album is brilliant and defies everything that most metal bands you know are doing, and they pull it off very well.
If you knew To Be Fed before reading this review, you should know a couple of key points that make the band what it is:
1. They adorn an immense style of vintage romanticism in their music, giving their sound and appearance what I would call “a beautiful darkness”.
2. Their music is unpredictable, leaving the listener clueless of what is to come next.
3. This is a band that likes to have a fun time.
To Be Fed formed in 2007 as a band vocalist Kurt Nelson cites “a band similar to the Butthole Surfers”. An odd comparison, but judging by the unpredictability of the music in “Reprehensible Tales and Penny Dreadfuls”, this band most likely takes inspiration from the most interesting of places. With over 20 members through the revolving door of To Be Fed, I’m sure this band has experienced numerous changes in sound.
Kurt Nelson’s ability to compose the overall sound of To Be Fed’s music is extraordinary and worlds apart from anything Michigan’s bands are doing. The plethora of sounds Nelson creates with his keyboards is fantastic. The great thing about Nelson’s talents is that he knows when to play and when not to play. The song “Backstreet Butcher” is a perfect example of what I’m describing here. As the beginning of the song starts, an introduction of vintage piano, akin to what one would hear in a 19th/20th century classical tune, soothes the ears of the listener and slowly leads into what emerges as a behemoth of keys. A solo by Nelson is placed after his fantastic performance of vocals. If the sound didn’t already give off a dark vibe, reading the lyrics gives an even more plague-like feel to the song:
“As societies crumbled and rose anew, only to fall in foetid corruption. Chimney sweeps, buthcers selling rotten meat. Borax is the answer, to dispel this miasma. Feed it to the miserable. And let them die, let them die, let them die and die again…”
Bobby Lewicki’s riffage and lead work is a perfect fit to the overall sound that is To Be Fed. Whereas most metal bands use the guitar as the meat, Lewicki appears to have a better idea of composition and serves the song properly with his key changes and leads. Like Nelson, Lewicki knows when to play and when to back off and let other members have the spotlight. I notice his guitar composition reminds me of a good blend of black metal, death metal, and power/shred metal. His lead parts make him stand out among the guitarists in the Michigan scene.
Drummer Josh Racine displays a great performance of showing that, similar to the rest of his bands, he knows when to shine and when to simplify his playing for the sake of the song. “Phlegethon” displays an extreme connection between Racine and guitarist Lewicki. The unpredictability during this song, switching from intense death metal styles to jazz/swing measures, shows the listener that he is a sturdy backbone for what the rest of his band is doing.
When it comes to bassists, I’ve always been most impressed with the ones that aren’t always flashy, but serve the music first and foremost. The bassist in this album (could not find a name) does just that, and adds some key parts now and then that make the music virtuosic. I will admit, in the studio mix of this album, it is pretty hard to pick out what the bassist is doing. The bass is fairly low toned in the mix, and I would’ve preferred the bass to be a bit more audible on this album. However, whatever he has performed in the album that I could distinguish (specifically in the song “Spilling the Sun’s Blood”), he has proven to be an extremely fluent composer in my view.
After three listens of the album, I found myself submersed in the full sound of “Penny Dreadfuls”. Mostly, I found myself hitting the replay button on songs such as “Backstreet Butcher”, “W.M. Parker’s Expedition”, and their music video “Commonwealth Cannonade”. I was not dissatisfied with a single song on this record. If I had one complaint with the album as a whole, it would be that I would’ve preferred to hear this album in a professional studio with a professional mix. However, for a band at “local” status, this is not an issue that needs to be largely taken into account. For a band like To Be Fed, the listener must focus on the content of the music, rather than the recording quality.
To close, if you do not check out this band after reading this review, you are doing your ears a huge disservice. They’ve got a new drummer by the name of Kirk Fortune, and he’s brought a lot to the table. To Be Fed is a force to be reckoned with, and will only grow if they continue to do things the way they’re doing. If their next effort is recorded in high quality and is on par with “Penny Dreadfuls” instrumentally and in composition, I have no doubt in my mind it would be a legendary album among the most fine tuned metal ears.
Go support To Be Fed and purchase the album “Reprehensible Tales and Penny Dreadfuls” as soon as you can. I plan on getting myself a physical copy, if they are available.