21 April 2023 (released)
02 July 2023
There's more to being heavy than just pure weight. There are plenty of bands that lean fully into the incessant plodding of downstrokes, beating you down into submission. But there is another, craftier and more satisfying way to be heavy. Instill a sense of weightlessness in your audience then pull the rug out from under them and let gravity do the rest. Talented progressive-minded groups can take a riff, splice it in an odd meter, and have the notes cascade over each other slingshotting you up and down like a bungee jump. It's the levity and uncertainty that makes the fall all the more impactful.
The Ladderman have crafted such a sound on their latest album Figures on Demand. The Cyprus-based group uses a sludgy rhythm section, an inventively melodic guitar team, and tightly woven vocal harmonies to create a highly evocative bluesy grunge mantra. They take many sonic cues from the more technically proficient of the early 90s hard rock groups while advancing the genre further with progressive elements of stoner rock and doom metal. Figures on Demand showcases the band's song crafting prowess and their ability to stew in a particular mood.
A richness of tone pervades the album. Swirling uneasy slide guitars sway around the delicate acoustic lick preluding the opening track 'Stale'. The intro erupts into a dense and ever-evolving riff. Guitarist/vocalists Andreas Matheou and Rolandis Laziidis lock in their vocal lines in much the same way that Cantrell and Staley did to get effect on the Alice in Chains records. At times, one is more guttural holding down the centre while the other wails. Other times the two pick a note of the chord and they lock in as if it's one instrument playing. In the final minute and a half of 'Stale' the band pierces the atmosphere in a series of lear jet barrel rolls. Rocketing up, dive-bombing, showing the power of this well-oiled machine.
'Sidestepping' builds itself on proggy riffs and howling vocals that recall Swedish metal masters Opeth. Pummelling sections are offset by a certain comic levity in the guitar melodies. Songs like 'Moving' and 'Frame This' are decidedly post-grunge, echoing late 90s bands who's legacies may not be viewed as favourably as their progenitors. And yet there are always new creative pathways that set The Ladderman apart from those predecessors.
The album's true force comes in its final two pieces. The penultimate 'Enochlydian' enters with an ominous aura; breaths from the shadows envelop a dementedly repeating guitar phrase. Like a stampede at the gate, the band comes in crushing earth underfoot. A bruising riff hitting in all the right ways. A step back in the verses allows Matheou's bellow to sit nicely in the pocket of the loose-but-tightly grooving rhythm section. Then like conquering titans, the band rides the monstrous lead riff off into the sunset.
The closer 'Tired State' is led by a greasy fuzz bass and a beautifully choreographed blend of guitars. A shapeshifting lower riff slithering around a soaring lead. The punchy erratic verses are an homage to Homme, complete with the oil-can slap delay that the desert rocker loves to employ on the Queens of the Stone Age records. 'Tired State' in a way, is the band at their most adventurous. Playing more wildly with swing than on any other track. An incredibly expressive progression of the lead guitar into a final descending dovetail makes for the perfect conclusion to the Cyprus rockers opus.
Figures on Demand is an impressive record that challenges the listener enough while still maintaining a good headbang. The push and pull of the riffs is exhilarating and underpinned by tremendously executed melodies. Recommended for those who love a good progressive jam and people who get excited by turbulence on airplanes.